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Hartley: The lengths I’ll go to for authentic poutine

Todd Hartley
I’m With Stupid

Before I launch into my thrilling account of personal crises and derring-do, let me set the backstory for you. When my wife was a child, her family had a house on a lake in Quebec, near the resort area of Mont Tremblant. Her trips to Canada in those childhood summers make up some of her fondest memories, and as a result, she’s wanted to rent a vacation house on a lake for years.

This summer, my wife finally pulled the trigger and rented us a lake house for a week, and for the past couple of months, she, my son and I have all been abuzz with anticipation. We booked flights back to New York (my family lives in that area) and reserved a rental car, and we made plans to drive north across the border into Canada. Everything was all set.

This past week was the last leg of the countdown. We’d be flying today and then driving to Quebec on Sunday. Monday came and went without incident, but on Tuesday, I arrived home at 11:15 p.m. to find my wife in a state of semi-shock, with a horrified expression on her face.

“I have some terrible news,” she said. “Your passport is expired.”

I felt like I had heard somewhere that you didn’t need a passport to get into Canada — that if you had an expired passport and some other I.D. you were OK — so I immediately went online and looked it up. Apparently, that used to be the case, but things changed in 2009, and now, while you might be able to get into Canada with an expired passport, you probably wouldn’t be able to get back into the U.S.

The bottom line is that you basically need a passport to go to and from Canada, and the usual processing time is about six weeks. I needed one in three days, so clearly that wouldn’t work. Expedited service, though faster, usually takes about three weeks. That wasn’t an option either.

I soon realized that my only chance was to appear in person at a passport agency, of which there are only 28 in the country. Thankfully, there is one in Aurora, just over three hours away. For folks living in Montana, for example, the nearest agency might be 18 hours away by car. Still, the agency claimed it could take as many as eight days to process an application. There was a good chance I was screwed regardless.

I needed to make an appointment, so I called the number and told the automated system I wanted the next available one. The robotic voice then rattled off my confirmation information so fast that all I was able to write down was that it was on Thursday, the day before we were scheduled to leave. That seemed like it might be cutting things too close.

I needed every minute I could get, so I made a new plan, filled out the forms and had my wife snap a headshot for a passport picture, but when I went to print out the things I needed, my printer was out of black ink. Thus I had to recalculate my plan to include a visit to a 24-hour FedEx shop in the Denver Tech Center.

At 1:45 in the morning, I went to bed. At 4:45 in the morning, I got up, got dressed and hit the road for Aurora. I reached the Fed Ex place at about 8:30 and printed the forms, but when I tried to print my headshot, it wouldn’t come out right. I asked a girl who worked there for help, but she couldn’t figure it out until finally, after about 10 minutes, she goes, “Oh, we can just take a passport picture for you.”

It was a time-consuming error, but I made it to the agency a little after 9 a.m., expecting the passport to have to be mailed to my parents’ house, frantic that I might miss some time in Canada.

By 11 a.m., after just enough time to hand over my forms and go get a late breakfast, I walked out of the agency with my renewed passport in my hand. It really couldn’t have been easier. The people were pleasant and kept the lines moving. It was like the anti-DMV.

Say what you want about government inefficiency, but less than 14 hours after finding out I had an expired passport, I was back home with a renewed one. I wouldn’t have thought it was possible.

Todd “Roman Moronie” Hartley was deported to Sweden but claims he’s not from there. To read more or leave a comment, visit http://zerobudget.net.


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