If you’re just finding my “The Best Worst Trip Ever” series of posts, then I suggest that you start by reading Part I. Click here.
I had just finished explaining that my passport was expired to the postal worker at the North Broadway office.
The woman’s smile sank into a frown.
“Is there anything I can do?” I asked.
“Oh, you’re screwed” was her answer.
Thanks for stating the obvious, ma’am. The small silver cross taped to her nameplate and the note that read, “God is good and His love lasts forever,” lacked any external resonance that day.
Her insensitivy must have registered in my facial features because she corrected herself. She bent underneath the counter, pulled out a sheet of paper, and circled a number with her blue pen: 1-877-4-USA-PPT.
“You can try calling this number,” she said. “They might be able to tell you something.”
I waited until I got back home to try the number. I was “agitated” and needed to calm down.
The woman at the National Passport Information Center with whom I spoke expressed more sympathy, though she could do nothing except pass me down the line, referring me to one of the regional passport agencies.
Question #1: What do New Orleans, Miami, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Washington, D.C., and Aurora, Colorado all have in common?
Answer: They all have regional passport agencies.
Question #2: Does Tennessee have a regional passport agency?
Answer: No. Tennessee has country music, Jack Daniels, and Graceland. Unfortunately, the drunken Elvis on Market Square in downtown Knoxville singing covers and frightening the children couldn’t renew my passport. Oh, and for your information, Mr. Elvis Impersonator, white spandex shows your genitals.
I weighed my two options:
1) I could cancel my trip and potentially compromise my biggest job to date in my fledgling career as a marketer and copywriter.
2) I could fly to one of the cities on the list, try to get my passport, and potentially salvage a couple of days of meetings in Turks & Caicos at The Tuscany.
Canceling the trip was out of the question. Against all odds, The Tuscany had accepted my proposal, and I wasn’t going to give up that easily.
I called the Automated Appointment system and scheduled an appointment for 11am in Miami on Wednesday, November 18.
My plan was to book a flight to Miami on Tuesday, spend the night there, and hopefully get my passport within 48 hours. The flight to Provo from Miami only takes an hour or so, so in the best-case scenario, I’d lose one and a half to two days.
I’d have to eat the expenses, but a few hours of face time with my new client was better than none at all. I planned to pick Paul up and take him to the airport at 7:45am, then come home and pack, book a flight, and find someone to give me a ride.
Elizabeth called me back close to midnight. She was excited. A supervisor at U.S. Airways told her that an expired passport, an official, “raised seal” birth certificate, and a current U.S. driver’s license were good enough to get me into Turks and Caicos. She wanted me to call and double check.
If what she had heard was true, then I could be waiting outside the Knox County Health Department at 8am, be the first in line, get my birth certificate, and rush to the airport. I called U.S. Airways, and the woman helping me couldn’t log onto the Star Alliance system because her Internet connection was slow.
I found a page on their website describing travel documentation requirements for the Caribbean. For the Turks and Caicos Islands I found the following information:
– Passport and/or passport replacing documents must be valid
– Warning: if departing from the U.S.A.(regardless of any destination passport exemptions), a valid passport and/or accepted departure document (TIRULES/R9) is required by the U.S. immigration authorities.
– Nationals of U.S.A. if holding an original (or certified copy of a) Birth Certificate accompanied by an official photo ID (i.e. driver’s license. Note: Voter’s Registration Card is not acceptable as identification).
– Holders of a U.S. Certificate of Naturalization, accompanied by an official photo ID (i.e. driver’s license). Visa required, except for A stay of max. 30 days:
– Visitors must hold return/onward tickets, all documents required for their next destination and sufficient funds to cover their stay.
– Admission will be refused if not complying with the entry
I almost started crying. There was my salvation under “Passport Exemptions.” I went and woke up my roommate and told him the good news. He agreed to take Paul to the airport so that I could get my birth certificate.
The woman at US Airways talked to her supervisor. He said that what I’d just read on the website was no longer valid.
Who should I trust?
I looked closer at the web page then clicked on an unassuming link in the middle of the page, TIRULES/R9, that came after “a valid passport and/or accepted departure document.”
The guillotine fell, again:
R9) Passport Requirements when departing the USA
Effective October 1, 2007 all nationals departing the U.S.A. will be required to hold a (valid) passport (booklet only,
U.S. Passport Card not accepted).
Exempt are holders of:
– U.S. Permanent Resident/Resident Alien Card (Form I-551);
– U.S. Military ID Cards when traveling on official orders;
– U.S. Merchant Mariner Card;
– NEXUS Card;
– U.S. Travel Document:
**Refugee Travel Document (Form I-571); OR
**Permit to Re-Enter (Form I-327);
– Emergency Travel Document (e.g. Consular Letter) issued by a
Foreign Embassy or Consulate specifically for the purpose of
travel to the bearer’s home country.
Whoever wrote that jargon certainly wasn’t preoccupied with clarity.
Here was the gist: before 2007 I would have been okay. In 2009 I was, to use the postal worker’s parlance, “screwed.” Things started moving really fast from here.
Paul put me in touch with Mark, who works at the airport. One of Mark’s friends gives him “Buddy,” or stand-by, passes, and Mark agreed to use one to book me a flight to somewhere with a regional passport agency.
He was up in the Smoky Mountains watching a meteor shower. His cell phone was receiving poor coverage.
In case you’re unfamiliar with Murphy’s Law, it states, “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.”
After checking the Automated Appointment system for the times and dates of every available appointment for the next 72 hours, I found one at 10:30am that Tuesday in Boston.
In other words, if I found a way to get to Boston, I’d be getting my passport renewed an hour after I was supposed to leave for The Tuscany on Grace Bay in the Turks and Caicos Islands.
I had no other choice, so I decided to make the best of it.
I left Mark a message on his cell phone, and then I showered, packed, and headed for the airport.
The password that he needed to log onto Delta’s internal booking system had changed just a few days before, so he wasn’t even sure if he could get me on the 5:45 flight to Atlanta, where I was hoping to catch a connection to Boston.
A polite Delta woman kept on asking me if I needed any help. I ignored her at first, but when she came around the desk to get in my line of vision, I had to turn to her and say, “I’m fine. Thank you.”
[Thank you but no thank you. Can’t you see I’m trying to have a conversation!]
He called me back as I walked into the airport, and I gave him my credit card number and other information about forty-five seconds before one of those self-serve kiosks spit out my boarding passes.
Phew. So far, so good—relatively speaking.
I hadn’t slept a wink.