Every year I enjoy a week on a beach in Mexico with the ladies on John’s side of the family. It’s a wonderful tradition, and we all look forward to it. His mom, aunt, Godmother, sister, sister-in-law and wife (me). Sunning. Reading. Shopping. Sleeping. Eating. Drinking. Listed in reverse order of importance, of course. I adore these women and we all appreciate the chance to recharge our batteries.
Like most people, the weeks leading up to my vacation are usually crazy. This year’s trip to Mexico was no exception. Trying to beat work deadlines and arrange for “coverage”, laundry and packing. My kids were going to start school while I was gone, and I had a business trip and big meeting right after my return. Not to mention my animal care responsibilities, especially knowing there were 105 degree temperatures forecast for the entire week I was gone. Scary.
I was pleased with myself when I identified a month in advance that my passport had less than six months to go before its expiration. Mexico wouldn’t let me in without a new one, so I got busy with the renewal application.
“Should I expedite it?” I asked my assistant who had just produced the two required mug shots for the application. “If I send it today with regular service, it would arrive right on time.”
“Yeah, you’d better expedite it,” she said wisely. “That will get it here a week or more in advance. You don’t want to cut it too close.”
“So true. One less worry.” I wrote another check adding the expediting fee, and felt proud to have been so cautious. Another detail checked off the long list.
The week before our Saturday departure I was getting busier and busier. Dreaming of margaritas and ceviche, madly checking more items off my list. Plenty of chicken feed…Board of Directors’ presentation ready…sunscreen packed…kids’ school paperwork complete and checks for class pictures, PE clothes and yearbook written. What else is there?
Wait a second. The passport.
The passport’s not here yet.
It’s Monday. It should have been here last week.
Each day I would check the mailbox before I pulled up the drive. Each day I would tell myself, “OK, this is cutting it close, but I know it will be here by Friday for sure.”
On Wednesday, I decided to call the State Department to see if I could trace it. It was the first day I thought, “What if it didn’t arrive? I actually couldn’t go.”
Wow. What an absolute and unexpected drag that would be.
The State Department was so polite about it. I’m not being sarcastic. They really were. They tried to trace the passport, and all they could do was confirm that it was being processed, and that it was an expedited passport. But their on-line tracing mechanism was not working and no one could tell me more. They were able to provide me with a 35-digit Express Mail tracking code, but it kept coming up as “invalid”. Maybe it hadn’t left its East Coast birthplace. Uh oh.
“They’re a little behind, but they’ll do the best they can,” the lady on the phone said very sincerely. I’m sure she hoped so. But I couldn’t imagine someone in some big, cavernous office, sorting through six-foot-high stacks of passport applications saying, “Hey guys! Look! Here’s one for a lady in California who is going to Mexico this Saturday! Maybe we should do hers first…” After all, I wasn’t going to visit my dying grandmother or picking up by adopted infant or anything. I was trying to get myself to a margarita. They processed 14 million passports in 2014. That’s about 54,000 every workday. I suddenly wished I’d sprayed my application with some irresistible cologne…or maybe attached a tip.
I know people need passports to travel to other countries. I get it. But Mexico? It’s right next door I go all the time We’re friends. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could give a wink-wink at the Passport Control person and say, “Yeah, I’m a regular” and have him wave me on through? It seems like kind-of a fuss between friends. Me and Mexico, I mean After all, I’m sure the U.S. State Department could vouch for me. “Yeah, she has a perfectly good passport…somewhere in the mail. Here’s the 35-digit invalid tracking code to prove it.”
Nope. I’m nobody. I was stuck. Waiting.
Still I found myself feeling eerily calm. I kept checking items off my list, only momentarily realizing I might be enjoying a quiet weekend at home with my chickens with a homemade beer in one hand.
Come to think of it, maybe that’s why I wasn’t stressed. Home’s pretty sweet.
Still, I wanted to go. And none of my travel partners – including my sister-in-law who was on the same flight as me – knew my trip was in jeopardy. I was getting perky texts about buying a round of drinks on the plane. I played along. It helped me imagine the best possible outcome. And besides: there was nothing more anyone could do.
And you know what? Still calm.
I didn’t have to talk myself into being calm. I just was.
Thursday came and went. No option to tear over to San Francisco in person to get an emergency passport, either. No appointments were available. Truthfully, I had a little trouble imagining myself explaining my “emergency”. “See, there’s this place in Puerto Vallarta called ‘Joe Jack’s Fish Shack’, and they have this indescribably great Tune Poke and killer Mojitos like no other….” Nope. First World problems.
So Friday was the Big Day. With an 11 AM flight, I had to be at an airport 90 minutes away by 9AM on Saturday. If I wasn’t leaving home at 7:30 AM, I wouldn’t be able to get on a plane until Tuesday morning, The 2:00 mail delivery on Friday was it.
Still calm, I texted John Friday afternoon from work. “Anything?”
He delivered an official military response: “No joy.” So descriptive.
But then that John-of-mine drove himself down to our little post office and explained our predicament to the ladies there.
“The Express Mail usually comes in Saturday morning by about 8. We’ll look for it and give you a call if it’s there.” So helpful. I love small towns.
A thread of hope. Hm. Maybe it’ll work out. Better be ready to go in case it does. I tried the 35-digit Express Mail tracking number. Still “invalid”. No new information. For all I knew my application was still squeezed at the bottom of that six-foot stack of more fragrant applications with tips hanging out of them.
We had an important dinner to go to Friday night for work. As we said good night to my colleagues after dinner, I told my boss I might be in on Monday. He was shocked. Mostly because I seemed nonchalant about it.
And I realized that it had become like a spectator sport for me after a week of waiting. Like watching a whole season of some cop show, and this was the cliff hanger they set up just before the end of the season. I was munching my popcorn and watching with interest.
Saturday morning I said goodbye to the kids and the animals, and John and I loaded up the car and headed to the post office parking lot, where we intended to hold vigil at 7:30 AM.
When we arrived, John greeted the Postal Workers on the loading dock and let them know we were waiting nearby, making sure they had our cell phone numbers. While he was there, I numbly entered the 35-digit tracking number just for kicks….
Surprise! It was valid.
And it told me my precious package had left its final stop in Sacramento. It’s on its way.
Waving my iPad over my head and dancing to the loading dock, I met John to give him the exciting news. “I can’t believe it. MY PASSPORT IS ON THAT TRUCK.”
And it was. We waited in the car only 15 minutes more before a Postal Worker came running from the loading dock, waving the package over her head. “We found it! We found it!”
Like some romantic movie, I ran to meet her and swung her around in a big bear hug. “Thank you SO much! I’m going to MAKE it! I am GOING! Thank you SO much!”
I have to say, she seemed as thrilled as I was. John started up the car and off we went.
All the way to the airport: “Can you believe it? I can’t believe it was on that truck.”
I decided I would wait to tell my travel companions after we’d all arrived in Mexico and were sipping our first cocktail. I looked forward to telling them how utterly calm and mature I had been all week. How – at the age of 52 – I am starting to act like a real grown up. Letting go of things I cannot control. Acting brave and selfless by not bothering others with the issue, lest they worry when there was truly nothing they could do. So calm. So mature. I practiced my delivery of the story in the car….
John was mildly amused.
I joined my sister-in-law in the very front of a long line of passengers checking in. I handed the airline representative my passport, and she cracked it open.
“Ma’am, you need to sign this to make is valid.”
I couldn’t resist.
“Oh. Sorry. I just received it two hours ago.”
My sister-in-law’s jaw dropped. “What?”
I grinned. And out it spilled. The whole story. Like a teenager I babbled.
I’d used up all my grown-up behaviors. It was time to relax.