The Griswolds Go to the Consulate

Sometime in 2014, the Gort and his youngest brother’s passports expired. As we did not have any border-crossing travel plans in the immediate future, it seemed rather uncritical to go through the rigamarole of a visit to the Consulate. As is my habit with tasks I do not wish to do, I filed it under ‘later’ and pursued a host of critical nonessential tasks, like watching all seasons of Friday Night Lights on Netflix.

But then I looked up and it was May, and we were hoping to travel in July. While asking Percy and the Gort to hide under a pile of blankets for an undefined time at the U.S. Border was certainly an option, I caved and made the necessary appointment.

And thus began the rigamarole.

‘We need passport photos,’ I remembered on Sunday, when we happened to find ourselves parked outside Blacks Photography. It just so happened that the boys were wearing nice shirts and had possibly combed their hair in the previous 24 hours. It was, as they say, a passport miracle. We made our way into the store and I explained what we needed.

The gentleman depressed the shutter twice (once for each child) and said ‘that will be $50.’ Amortized over the life of a child’s passport, that amounts to $5. Per year. ‘If the pictures are rejected for any reason, we will retake them,’ the employee informed me as if this was some sort of perk – going to the Consulate and being sent back to Blacks……but for free.

I suppressed the urge to say something along the lines of ‘if your picture results in my having to go to the Consulate twice…..well, hell hath no fury like a woman subjected to two passport appointments.’

A few days passed and then it was Wednesday. Today.

‘We have our passport appointment,’ I suddenly remembered at 7am, followed by ‘I need to print out application forms.’ Which was the professor’s cue to provide technical support (i.e. turn on the printer.) My tired eyes skimmed the interminably long information sheet with its detailed list of required documentation: expired passports, birth certificates, parents’ identification, paid xpresspost envelope.

‘I need to get a postage-paid envelope,’ I sighed, mentally adding ‘trip to post office’ to my to-do list.

‘I also need our passports,’ I told the professor who’d flown off to New York the week before and had likely not returned it to the ‘safe’. He returned with a stack of passports and a question: ‘Where’s yours?’ It was not a delightful way to start one’s morning: a not entirely-remembered appointment, a missing passport and a deadline-crazed husband who hears a clock ticking madly any time he is not at work.

A tense ten minutes passed and, having looked in all the obvious spots, I finally found it in an unused purse hanging on the coatrack, behind a jacket.

Good thing no one had whisked me off to Hawaii at a moment’s notice.

While Percy was at Kindergarten, I filled out the forms, printed them and found the birth certificates. After picking him up at school, we drove to the post office. ‘I need a postage paid envelope,’ I explained to the cashier, motioning towards the display behind her. ‘Which one, a regional or a national?’ ‘I have no idea?’ I shrugged. ‘Well, is it coming from a region, like Alberta or is it national, like from Ontario?’ ‘I have no idea,’ I despaired, ‘all they told me was [looked down at receipt where I’d recorded the information] self-addressed, postage-paid regional xpresspost envelope.’

At the sight of the ‘r’ word, I looked up: ‘Oh, I guess it says regional. Sorry.’

I forked over $25 for two envelopes, for though it made perfect sense to only purchase one, I did not want to be turned away for not having a separate envelope for each child.

Apparently I will go to great lengths and disjointed logics to avoid a trip to the Consulate.

With the envelope(s) secured, we headed to the University to pick up the professor, forty-five minutes before our scheduled appointment. I was a few minutes early, so I stopped at a nearby coffee shop for a latte. Upon getting back in the car, I began reviewing my mental checklist one more time: envelope(s), 2 expired passports, 2 parents’ passports, 2 birth certificates.

Check. Err, no, something didn’t add up. I had four passports but only three people driving to the appointment. That didn’t seem quite right……..

The Gort!

I was driving to an appointment to get the Gort a new passport and he was not in my vehicle.

It was as close to a Kevin! moment as I’ve ever had.

I pulled into the parking lot and waited for the professor, while I yanked out my phone and dialed the school without thinking about how to communicate my predicament.

‘Hi, yeah so I was driving to a passport appointment for my son and then I realized he wasn’t with me.’

And that is why I prefer the written word to the spoken one.

The person who answered the phone laughed somewhat hysterically. ‘Well, now you’re going to have to tell me his name.’

‘Do you think he could be waiting for me in the office if I get there in 15 minutes?’

‘Sure,’ she laughed.

‘Thank you!’ I ended the call and motioned somewhat furiously for the professor to get in the van already.

‘What,’ he opened the passenger door, ‘I’m not even late.’

‘I know. But I forgot the Gort.’

I raced down Crowchild to the very confused Gort’s school. ‘What,’ he frowned upon entering the car, ‘they said I had a doctor’s appointment?’ ‘No, a passport appointment.’

And I raced downtown in the hopes of arriving within five minutes of our appointed time-slot.

While driving, it occurred to me that I wasn’t exactly looking my best. I had not showered for two (possibly three) days, I was wearing a tunic with a big yogurt stain and flip flops on my feet. I looked at the professor who’d spent the morning doing something with scaffolding and wood in cargo pants and a black t-shirt. ‘I think I’ll wear my raincoat,’ he mused, ‘you know, to look a little more…..’

‘What, to detract from the ISIS look you have going on?’

My musings on wardrobe and hygiene were rudely disturbed by the professor yelling: ‘We’re going to DIE!’

Jarred, I stopped half a football field’s length behind the car in front of me.

‘Well, it didn’t seem like you were stopping,’ he shrugged.

‘So, maybe you say the light’s red or something like that, instead of we’re going to die!’

Having forked over untold sums for the privilege of storing our car in a parking garage for an hour, we speed-walked to the Consulate while I fretted over whether or not we’d be done in time to pick up the Hen from school. I glanced over at the Gort, who had a strange orange stain near the left-hand corner of his mouth. ‘Why is your mouth orange?’ ‘I don’t know.’

With every second ‘of the essence’ we lined up for security protocol: the airport scan. ‘Take off your belts and jackets and put them in here,’ the security guard motioned to a grey bin. The professor took off his ‘fancy’ red raincoat and the guard proceeded to pat all of its pockets to ensure we were not a danger to the operation. ‘Take off your belts,’ she reiterated and I glared at the professor for delaying, once again, our appointment. ‘I’m not wearing a belt,’ he motioned to his pants. ‘Take off your belt,’ she said again, directly to me, and when I looked down I noticed I was wearing a belt.

‘I can’t believe you brought that coat,’ I grumbled under my breath. ‘I know, but I realized my shirt has a hole in the armpit,’ my better half confessed.

Finally another guard led us to the main office where I handed over the documentation.

‘I only need one envelope,’ the woman behind the glass window told me when I tried to push two through the opening. Figures.

We sat in an otherwise empty waiting room; cartoons playing in the background to entertain potentially disgruntled children. I thought back to the first time we’d sat in those same chairs, when Percy was not quite two months old and the Gort was the same age as Percy is now. I stared at the pictures of their expired passports – Percy sporting round cheeks and tufts of hair, the Gort looking slightly familiar albeit with a rounder, younger face.

It seemed an odd place for a stroll down memory lane yet when you live in a place long enough, it’s precisely what happens.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity of staring at mauve-colored bulletin boards, we were summoned to swear we’d been honest, sign the applications and dismissed with ‘these should arrive in 2-3 weeks.’

The professor headed back to work and I raced home to pick up the Hen.




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