Until my husband reminded me a couple weeks ago, I hadn't thought about the fact that I'd need a passport to go to Toronto.1 My passport expired in January. So on Wednesday, I drove the four and a half hours to Chicago, the nearest city with a regional passport agency, to get an expedited passport renewal.
Actually, Wednesday wasn't the first time I've made that trip for that reason; we also did it last winter when my husband was about to fly to Israel. So, although I was by myself this time, I already knew the drill. It goes like this: after your four-and-a-half-hour drive, you park somewhere around State and Roosevelt. You feed the "PAY TO PARK" machine ($10.50 for three hours). You find a Walgreens and pay to have an unflattering passport photo taken by a sullen clerk. You forgot to eat breakfast and must resist the urge to buy horrible candy at Walgreens.
You walk up State Street and turn left on Jackson to get to the Kluczynski Federal Building, a Mies van der Rohe skyscraper done in black with black as an accent color. Because you're not allowed to show up early, you stop at Intelligentsia Coffee across the street, and you're pleasantly surprised by the little red star at the bottom of your coffee cup that you always forget is going to be there. You fidget nervously while waiting to go through the metal detector, because the line is moving slowly and you're not allowed to show up late, either.
(You also meet up with your sister at the coffee shop, and that's really nice, but you're leaving that part out of the story, because you're going for a bleak vibe here.)
You ride the elevator up to the 18th floor, where you are told that you must turn off your phone before entering the passport office. You do so, and enter. You stand in line, again, while an electronic sign helpfully informs you that there is a "WAIT TIME: 0 MIN", and you mutter to the guy in line next to you, who is wearing a Linux cheat shirt and therefore might appreciate your sense of humor, that if the wait time were really zero minutes then we wouldn't be waiting right now.
You realize that everyone in the line but you is clutching an already-filled-out form, and that the blank forms are over by the wall. You duck out of line and go to fill out a form. You quickly realize that in order to fill out the form, you need information that is only available on your phone. You try to stand in such a way that no one will see you turning on your phone, which takes forever to boot up because it's a goddamn G1 from 2008. You fill out the form as hastily as possible and return to line.
On the other side of the room is the door to the "interview" room. Next to that door, there's an official-looking sign on the wall with a single word on it in all caps. It's something kind of scary-sounding. Like "SILENCE". Or "CONTEMPT". Except not either of those. But you can't take a picture of it, because you're not allowed to use your phone, so you'll forget what it says a few minutes after leaving, even though you exhort yourself not to forget, and nobody's ever going to believe you.
You request a 24-page book, because that's what your 2002-2012 passport had been, and you used only two of those pages. But the agent upsells you to the 52-page book. Maybe you'll travel a lot more in your 30s than you did in your 20s.
You pay the $170 expedited-passport fee. (The woman at the next window over complains about the fee because "a passport should be a human right". A few minutes later, she's flirting with the passport agent.) You're told to return in an hour for your new passport.
You walk back to State and Roosevelt and feed the parking meter. You order a salad at Panera. Green gargoyles leer at you from the top of the public library.
After sixty minutes, plus ten for good measure, you go back to the Kluczynski Building. You wait in another room this time. A little boy is excited to get his passport and go to Mexico.
When your number is called, you receive a blue envelope containing your old and new passports. Your old passport now has two holes punched through the cover. Your new one is twice as thick and has a sturdier cover. You are told to look over it for mistakes. (You wonder how long you'd have to wait to have a mistake fixed if you found one.) You realize that the new photo really isn't so bad, at least not compared to the previous one, which was taken when you were 19 and had a rather rounder face and a rather worse haircut and evidently believed that yellow plastic barrettes and heavily plucked eyebrows looked good on you.
You make the four-and-a-half-hour drive back home with your new passport. The weather is perfect. As you're crossing the state line, a cheesy country song on the radio actually makes you tear up, and you realize that that's what you like about long road trips alone.
- We're leaving in a few hours. On the first day of the trip, Alex oniugnip and I will be hanging around with local friends and, if we're lucky, going to TCAF; on the second day, we'll be running the Toronto Marathon; on the third day, we'll be recovering, sightseeing, and eating a lot. Here, I made a map of relevant places! (Suggestions?)