Nordic Notes with Noah Hoffman: A real-life version of ‘The Italian Job’
December 20, 2017
TOBLACH/DOBBIACO, Italy — In March 2012, I was staying in a room one floor up and four rooms over from the one I am currently occupying here at the Hotel Dolomiten. I was 22 years old, had just earned a silver medal at the Under-23 Nordic World Championships and was "hanging out" with one of the German skiers who was staying across the street.
Because of this last fact, I decided to stay in Italy that Sunday night after the races instead of heading to Munich, Germany, with my team. It was the final race weekend of the year and we were flying out of Munich back to the States at 3:45 p.m. on Monday. I figured I could hop a train Monday morning and make it to the airport in Munich with time to spare.
For obvious reasons, I didn't start packing until nearly 11 p.m. Sunday night, and so it wasn't until then that I noticed my passport was missing. I ripped the room apart looking for it. I called my teammates in Munich; they searched their bags to see if they'd accidentally grabbed it. No luck. I had used it to check-in to the hotel a week earlier but hadn't seen it since.
The first train Monday morning left at 5 a.m. I had to transfer in Bressanone, Italy, and again in Innsbruck Austria. Appropriately, that trip is the first and only time I've been asked to show my passport while crossing borders within the EU. I had to explain to the inspectors that I was on my way to get a new document. I arrived at München Hbf, the central train station, at 11:45 a.m. With my duffle bag in tow, I ran the mile and a quarter to the U.S. Consulate, arriving at noon on the dot.
The security guard politely informed me that the consulate closed from 12-1 every day for lunch. He said I could come back in an hour. Not wanting to lose my spot in line, I stood at the entrance for 60 minutes; the security guard watched me. To my dismay, he waited until 1 o'clock to inform me that I could not bring the duffle bag into the consulate. I would need to leave it at the museum across the street. By the time I got back to the consulate, the guard was processing two other customers.
At 1:30 I was explaining my situation to an embassy employee. She informed me that she doubted I would make my 3:45 flight.
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While impatiently waiting for a new temporary passport, I chatted with a woman in the waiting area. Her business at the consulate was not urgent.
At 2:45, exactly one hour before my flight departed, I was called up to the counter and handed a 3-month temporary passport. I ran to the museum across the street, grabbed my duffle and headed for the train station.
As I was leaving the museum, the woman that I'd befriended in the waiting area was exiting the consulate, having finished her business. She stopped me and offered a ride to the airport. Without hesitation, I accepted.
Though it seems too fitting to be true, she was driving a brand new MINI Cooper and we rallied to the airport; it was a real-life version of "The Italian Job". She dropped me at the departures curb 30 minutes before the flight departed. When I landed in Boston, the customs agent said it was the first time he'd ever been handed a passport that was issued on the same day.
For four years, that was the end of the story. Then, in March 2016, I was racing a World Cup event called Ski Tour Canada. I had just finished a race in Canmore, Alberta, when I got a call from my father. He informed me that an FBI agent had been by our old house on Smuggler Mountain, looking for me. My parents no longer lived there, so after being contacted by the renters, my dad swung by the Aspen Police Department. They informed him that a person on the no-fly list had been travelling with my old passport, and they asked me to call an FBI agent in Glenwood Springs. I left him a voicemail and didn't hear back.
Three days later I attempted to re-enter the country using my Global Entry card. The computer succinctly informed me: "Your Global Entry is no longer valid. See Agent." In the back room, the agent didn't share much information with me but asked some enlightening questions, the most memorable being, "Do you have any idea how a picture of your passport ended up on the social media page of a terrorist organization?"
After three hours and a long-since missed flight, I was permitted to enter the country. Each successive trip into the U.S. has gotten a little easier, but I doubt I'll ever get Global Entry or TSA-Pre access again.
Editor's note: Nordic Notes is a weekly column written by Aspen-raised cross-country skiers Simi Hamilton and Noah Hoffman as they compete on the World Cup circuit ahead of the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea.
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