Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Paying through the nose to have the no-travel blues


I had to venture into our family’s fireproof box of priceless valuables for something recently, and got distracted by its contents. Our daughters’ birth certificates. Detailed instructions written out by my father-in-law about how to access his safe deposit box at the bank if he “doesn’t survive Obama’s presidency” that include various passwords and a minuscule key that seems custom made for a dollhouse. An encased Michael Jordan basketball card that I had planned to retire on but, at last search, was literally worth less than the fireproof box in which it resides. My passport.

I opened my passport book, humored by the idea that I once harbored dreams of traveling the globe. I had obtained a passport solely for our honeymoon to Barbados, a trip that took place almost 10 years ago. Its lack of cool travel stamps confirmed that I had not stepped off North American soil since. Also, I noticed, it was set to expire in two months.

I needed to renew my passport, and I was probably already too late. When I first entertained the idea of getting a passport many years ago, I would hear all these various warnings about the absurd length of time it takes for one to process. “If you’re even thinking about getting a passport you should do it now! Those things take like four years to get back. They’re like the Olympics. If you want to go abroad for your honeymoon, you should file for one before you even fall in love.”

Making matters worse was that, according to my wife, who heard it on “The Today Show,” the government shutdown had set back things like passports for months. Maybe years. Decades? One day of government production = six months civilian time, I guess.

Still, I figured it was better to at least try to renew then let it expire and get deported because I had nothing current to show Sheriff Joe. So I went about renewing my passport, which is a super fun thing to do when you have no imminent travel plans because your two girls can’t handle Safeway, much less Australia.

Speaking of super fun, having the Department of State website gently guide you through the process is a virtual obstacle course of silly hijinks: Fill out form D/SS2343 if you are renewing. If first time application or if you plan to travel with bags use form D/SS2343J, which MUST be obtained in person at participating government branch (lone participating branch in Gainesville, Fla). Use the checklist—if anything is missing from application you WILL be arrested for treason. STAPLE PHOTO VERTICALLY OR DEMOCRACY ENDS. I have a dang bachelor’s degree and I’m 100 positive my renewal application is going to be returned stamped “Fail.”

Also, guess how much it is to renew your passport? Seriously, just take a guess. Ha, ha, wrong! It’s $110. One hundred and ten dollars. For a dinky passport book! You can publish and distribute a series of children’s books for less than that. I actually cannot afford to travel now because of the cost of the documentation that allows me to do so.

And you have to mail it out with, according to the website, a “device tracking service.” I told the guy at the post office I needed one of those and without looking up he just stamped something and asked me if any liquids were in my flat, manila envelope.And I owed him $7.87.

Oh, and you also have to get your picture taken. While driving the girls to and from various things last Saturday, I hurriedly stopped in Walgreens to have my updated passport photo taken. The kind woman excitedly asked, “So, where are you going?”

“Nowhere,” I said. “I am going … nowhere.”

She specifically told me not to smile because, I guess, the government frowns on smiling. Then, this happened:

Booked on charges of wanting
to go to Europe one day

That picture cost me $11.99 plus tax.

Thank God this will just be sitting in a fireproof box when it gets here in six years.

Note: This column appears in the 12/5 issue of The Glendale Star and the 12/6 issue of the Peoria Times.

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