Ten years ago this month I obtained my first passport via super-expedited gotta get it right away overnight courier service after receiving word that my employer needed me to fly to Spain ASAP; spoiled by the ease and speed that comes with a $330 (company paid) price-tag for overnight passport needs. That initial trip abroad infected me with an incurable case of wanderlust and the Passport pages illustrate the extent of my travel bug; entry stamps from far away lands, dates of travel forever emblazoned in colorful ink, the folds and creases in the book- signs of wear and tear evidence of a passport well used. With the final chapter scheduled to close on my first little blue book I filled out the paperwork for renewal, simple and painless except for my inability to actually mail it to the passport agency; paralyzed by fear of being trapped, unable to travel at a moments notice.
It was actually the perfect time for my passport to expire; my insane work schedule leaves no time to travel abroad and my bank account is still recovering from 3 weeks down under earlier in the year. Besides a now passed trip to Canada in August (which requires a passport) my travel calendar is clear until September 2008. My irrational fear of being trapped in the United States had little to do with any actual travel opportunities or illegal activities that required sudden trips, but was directly related to the changes in passport rules this year and the consequential delays experienced by everyone needing new or updated travel documents. The media reported horror stories of people having to cancel trips when their passports were delayed over 4 months; what if George Clooney invited me to visit his home in Lake Como or if the UK decided to privatize their health system and needed someone to architect their new business processes? Anything can happen in 4 months! Although I had nothing exciting planned the thought that I could not plan anything or be spontaneous scared me.
After several months and countless hours spent agonizing over the expiration date on my blue-plethered friend I was alerted by several TSA security officials on a trip to New York that my passport was about to expire. My plan was to fly to New York and renew my passport from my hometown in some sort of odd symbolic personal ceremony. There was no rational reason behind this, if anything it was fated to be a stupid move; my hometown post office is world renown in their ability to lose important items. Suddenly, the thought of my very first passport with all the beautiful stamps and stickers being lost forever caused intense sadness, like I was losing a good friend, shifting my focus from fearing delay of my new passport to the possibility of having to say farewell forever to my old passport. You are supposed to get your old passport back after renewing, but I have heard from far too many friends that this is not always the case, especially if the post office sent my document to Peoria rather then Philadelphia. I considered claiming it was lost so I would not have to risk losing my original passport but knew this was a surefire way of landing on the FAA “suspicious persons” list. So I did what any other obsessive compulsive person would do; scanned all my passport pages onto photo paper as a souvenir, kissed the book goodbye and mailed it priority on the fifth of October.
I am happy to report that I experienced a joy not often felt by those dealing with government run agencies when retrieving my mail on October 18th; my new passport arrived a mere 13 days after I mailed it and my old passport arrived the very next day. Between the reported delays and my being too cheap to pay the expedited fee, I fully expected the process to take at least 3 months. I had dreams of lost opportunities to jet off to warm Caribbean islands in January because I was still passport-less. With my brand spanking new passport I am free to move about the world but now to the untrained eye I look like an amateur traveler; the blank book a false indication that life has yet to take me to the corners of the globe. My first passport displayed an interesting mix of locations; Russia, Thailand, Australia and New Zealand among my many stamps. A certain feeling of pride came each time a border agent inspected my passport and questioned my past travel and now I have to start from scratch again.
Rather then view this new passport with sadness at the vacant pages, I am trying to be more positive, looking at this new book as an open canvas; each trip a new brushstroke on a priceless masterpiece that takes ten years to complete. This new book will be the second in a series as I build my passport anthology. Will this new passport, a reflection of my thirties, be as beautiful and exciting as the work of art created in my twenties? I have ten years to make it so…