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Lindsey Kuper

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Expedition [May. 5th, 2012|12:44 am]
Lindsey Kuper

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.

  1. 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?)

[User Picture]From: perligata
2012-05-05 09:41 am (UTC)
Have fun in Toronto! If you have the time or inclination to go to a women's-only spa, I HIGHLY, HIGHLY recommend Body Blitz. It is essentially a bath circuit (good for post-race?), but they also have standard spa treatments. If you budget 2-3 hours for the bath circuit alone you will not regret it. I have only been to Toronto once and I spent basically every day at this place.

Passport offices are hilariously awful. I don't have to renew my passport until 2014, but since I have been non-stop traveling for about two years, I recently had to get new pages added to it. I was in London and had to go to the US embassy which, if you've never been to a US embassy in a foreign country before, they are a little crazy about the security. So there were tons of armed guards outside, the whole thing was blocked off by a gate, and you had to go through metal detectors and get questioned before they allowed you to go in (plus the long lines, dreary waiting room and theoretical obsession with timed appointments that never seems to be accurate). Even as a US citizen I was nervous; I can't imagine how non-US citizens must feel.

Anyway, I hope you two have a great race and a wonderful time in Toronto!
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[User Picture]From: lindseykuper
2012-05-08 06:10 pm (UTC)
Our local friend Janice and I tried the waters circuit at Body Blitz the day after the race. I'm not sure if it actually sped up my recovery -- I'm still moving slowly, and the race was two days ago -- but it certainly felt great. Thanks for the recommendation! I never would have thought of trying it if you hadn't mentioned it.
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[User Picture]From: mindstalk
2012-05-05 02:35 pm (UTC)
Huh, didn't know there were different book sizes. I've always kept my passport up to date (unlike my driver's license) so only dealt by post office/mail.

I wonder what security paranoia is behind "no phones". Shows up at Customs, too. Which, I noted, is less efficiently arranged than Chilean customs.

Pinker on novels and empathy had me thinking about narrative voice again, mostly 1st/3rd but also the rare 2nd person. Charlie Stross blogged very recently about why he used it in a book: the speaker was an AI (I don't remember that) with little sense of self and a strong external orientation to humans, as an AI made to serve us might. If you had, like, a learning computer interface, it might not have a sense of 'I' but it'd have a sense of you, its user.

It seems surprisingly expensive to *fly* to Canada. Even more surprising since it's sometimes cheaper to fly through it, like SF-Toronto-Chile...

Have fun!
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[User Picture]From: lindseykuper
2012-05-09 02:15 pm (UTC)
Writing in the second person seemed like the right choice because I was trying to generalize over Alex's and my two experiences of making the same trip at different times, although big chunks of the story ended up being just about my experience.
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[User Picture]From: _tove
2012-05-05 04:21 pm (UTC)
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.
Wait no they have one of those in the border-crossing room that the bus stops at on the way to Canada from Buffalo, too. Except I can't remember what it says, either. Which means it almost certainly says "Silence."

Here is a map of relevant places. (Oh apparently it no longer works because Google is a jerk?) But you should definitely go in to Honest Ed's (it is right near your hosts' place) if you haven't before. It is an Experience. I would also say to visit the Toronto Reference Library, but that is built-in if you are going to TCAF.
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[User Picture]From: lindseykuper
2012-05-08 05:40 pm (UTC)
In fact, we were walking down the street to our hosts' place when I realized that we were next to Honest Ed's. We stopped in on the last day of the trip, but it was maybe more exciting on the outside than the inside.

Sadly, we never went to TCAF! I know everyone is going to be very disappointed that we were in Toronto during the weekend of TCAF and didn't go, but running the marathon and then recovering from the marathon took precedence. We at least made it to The Beguiling for a little while, and they kindly stayed open late for us. What a great store.
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[User Picture]From: lindseykuper
2012-05-09 02:21 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the reminder! We thought about it, but our time was so limited and there's so much great food in Toronto proper that we decided to save Affinity for another trip.
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[User Picture]From: jonatthebar
2012-05-16 01:17 am (UTC)



Nice piece, Lindsey.
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[User Picture]From: lindseykuper
2012-05-16 04:26 am (UTC)

Re: "contempt"

Thanks! I used the "write something, then throw away the first paragraph" trick for this one. That shit works, man.
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