Last year, I gave my wife, Karen, a cruise for her birthday. She’s always wanted to go on her cruise, and it was a landmark birthday, so I finally pulled the trigger. Which means I also gave myself one. We’re going later this year, which means we had some time to get stuff together. Like luggage. And cruise clothes. And pick up a passport. That’s right, I don’t have a passport, even though I’ve always kind of wanted one.
I’ll explain. I was a child of the 1960s, growing up in the heyday of James Bond movies. The real James Bond movies, the ones starring Sean Connery. I loved when one would come on television, and Thunderball was one of the first movies I saw in the theater in downtown South Boston, Va. It had one of those drink dispensers where the cup drops down, the ice is added and then the syrup and water are shot in. When all goes well, that is. Which was almost never. The theater also had a balcony. I never knew what it was like though; whites weren’t allowed in it. (Which is my way of saying blacks couldn’t sit downstairs.)
Anyway, I talked a lot about the movie, and that Christmas, I got the best present that I would ever get getting growing up — a James Bond attaché case. It had a combination lock that you could booby trap to shoot plastic bullets at anyone who didn’t know the combination. It had a hidden rubber knife. It had a pistol inside that converted to a rifle. And, it had a passport, filed with phony money, business cards, etc. I loved that attaché case and played spy with it forever.
So I’ve long wanted a passport, to take me back to those days. But I’ve never even come close to leaving the country, so there’s never been an reason.
A couple of weeks ago, though, I started the process. There was an online form to fill out, I’d need my driver’s license, Social Security card and my birth certificate. Birth certificate? I’ve never even seen my birth certificate. I figured my sister might have mine, but I couldn’t reach her immediately and went ahead and ordered one from the Commonwealth of Virginia; wonder of wonders, it was an easy and fast process. I had it a few days later. (By the way, it turns out that my sister did have it.)
That meant all that was left to do was to go get the thing. We’d heard horror stories about waiting in line for passports, something akin to waiting at the DMV, so Karen called the Matthews post office to make an appointment. No one ever answered. She left a message. No one ever called back. Finally, she called the Mint Hill post office, which also allows you to make an appointment. I arranged for time off for work, filled out and printed the online form and was ready to go. Or so I thought.
Karen had investigated and figured out how much it cost: A total of $150, $40 for the photo and application fee, $110 for the actual passport. We knew we were dealing with the government here, so we figured I’d take cash. What could go wrong? Except we were dealing with the government.
I got to the Mint Hill post office in plenty of time, waited in line behind the old people who still use snail mail, and finally got to the counter. They pointed me to seats outside an office. Finally, the clerk came out and got me, informing me that she was just filling in, she didn’t really work at Mint Hill. Like I cared.
Still the process went pretty quickly, until it came time to pay.
Turns out, the clerk at the Mint Hill Post Office says, I could use a credit card, check or money order to pay for the passport – but not cash. I made her repeat it, twice. I didn’t want to use a credit card and Karen had the check book. Which meant I had to spend money to pay the government money.
“I don’t think that’s fair,” I told her, “to make me spend money to pay you.” Just for good measure, I told her again.
“It’s not my rule sir, it’s the government’s.”
“I still don’t think that’s fair.”
It didn’t matter and it wouldn’t, no matter how many times I said it. It was only $2.30 for the two money orders, but I really felt cheated.
To her credit, the clerk arranged one small bit of mercy for me. I got to bust in line at the post office to buy the money orders. I gladly did it, but I had to think: Would James Bond do it this way?