So my passport is about to expire — August 18, to be exact — and I’ve spent the last 40 minutes or so applying for a spanking new one, filled with precisely 28 crisp blank pages watermarked with stirring visions of Americana, from the Statue of Liberty to orbiting spacecraft; from an Alaskan grizzly eating a fresh, flopping salmon (true!) to the noble, jut-jawed mugs of Mt. Rushmore. It’s like a little picture book to remind you of home while you’re happily clomping around and spending money in someone else’s fine nation.
To get this desperately necessary booklet (I travel, therefore I am), I have to send thoroughly filled out PDF forms, a check for $110, a new mug shot (I’m camera shy, so that’s delightful) and my old passport to whatever U.S. department of whatever. Then, in several weeks, I’ll have a crease-free dark blue book that will allow me to get the hell out of here to somewhere new, exotic and magnificently dangerous. Or maybe just to Paris.
I will miss my current passport. For one, my photo isn’t ghoulish. I look young, boyish, and remarkably tan. And I’m proud of the stamps from other countries I’ve collected in the course of its 10-year life: Lebanon, Syria, Russia, the Netherlands, France, Turkey, Spain, Canada (well, Canada), England, and more. I will stick a Post-It note on this passport with the earnest message: Please return this! When I did that last time, they returned it, but punched a bunch of holes in it to invalidate it. Fair enough. Old passports make fond keepsakes.
It’s crazy and not a little depressing that it’s already time to renew my passport. Ten years is a stretch. But I’ve given this pocket pal a good workout, gripping it to far-flung places, some of which I never imagined I’d ever go. I don’t look the same, but only once has a customs agent done a double-take when checking my photo. “That was a long time ago,” I assured her. She smiled. I sighed.
The last time I renewed a passport and got the one I have now, the one about to expire, I did it a couple years before its expiration. That’s because I was traveling to Lebanon and Syria (before the current war) and my passport contained a stamp from Israel, where I had been years earlier. Both Lebanon and Syria bar entry if your book has an Israel stamp for obvious, if arguable, political reasons. So I had to get a whole new passport. What with paying for a Syrian visa to boot, those pre-trip costs were onerous.
This time I’m cutting it close. In some countries your passport must be valid for more than three months before the expiration date. When I went to Amsterdam a few weeks ago the airline attendant looked at my passport date, did some quick math in her head, and paused before letting me check-in.
I’ll have none of that. Time is of the essence if I want to travel anytime soon, though I have no plans. I’m off to get a new passport photo, which for me is like getting a colonoscopy, an uncomfortable, possibly traumatizing event. If the recent picture on my Russian visa is any indication, the new photo will be monstrous, even gargoylian.
I have no idea where I’m going next with the new passport. I don’t travel in summer -— too hot, too crowded, too pricey — so I can relax and blithely research the next adventure. Then, by fall, I’ll be off, ready to deflower the new booklet with its first kiss, the loud, mechanical thomp of the customs agent’s stamper.