My life on the road: A lost passport, no ID, and bullshit paperwork trying to get back to Canada


Seamus Bellamy

16 October, 2018
My wife drops me at the airport in Calgary. I'm traveling to Chicago. A fancy audio hardware company called Shure invited me to the city to check out some of the new tech that they'll be releasing in the coming months.

I pass through security with no issues. As I lace on my boots, I am certain that I have my passport. It is in my hand as I board my flight. I place my passport in a buttoned pocket in my jacket before sitting down on the plane. Standing up at the end of my flight, my passport is still there. Upon landing, I pay it no further mind. I'm on the hunt for a cab ride into Chicago's downtown core.

"They say they don't have any money but Jesus: lookit alla this construction," my cab driver says to me. "It's alla the time." I tell him that we have construction season in Calgary, too. But yeah, the traffic headed into the downtown is weaponized bullshit. My smartphone says that the trip should take 35 minutes. Curb to curb, it is a 90-minute ride.

I pay the driver his due and step out of his hack.

In the hotel's front door to the hotel's front desk. I have my luggage. I have a reservation. I have a credit card for incidentals.

I do not have a passport.

I don't have a driver's license, either. I haven't had one for years: my PTSD makes my being behind the wheel a bad idea. When we move our RV, my wife drives. I write.

I tear ass through my jacket and both of my bags to find the missing document. Bupkis. I talk my way into a room key without the aid of photo identification. I enter my room. It's nicer than I deserve: leather, feathers and curated hooch.

All of the fancy fails to return my passport to me. Calling the Chicago Police, O'Hare's customs agents and Calgary International's lost and found office inspires no joy. I flew into town with United (do not do this). I am directed by their people to fill in a web form. I do. If anything is found, they'll let me know.

I call my wife. I call the folks at Shure to let them know my trip has gone pear-shaped. I head to bed and pretend that I will sleep.

17 October 2018
At six the next morning, I wake. I start making calls: Shure, to let them know that I'll be oh so late. The Chicago Police. United Airlines. The security operations centers at Calgary International and O'Hare. The taxi company. I leave messages. I'm instructed to call back later. I persist for four hours before calling the Canadian consulate to let them know that my passport has fucked off the face of the earth. It's a balancing act: as soon as I report my passport as missing, it will be canceled. Call too soon and I'll have to jump through bureaucratic hoops to get back home. Call too late and the process of finalizing my paperwork to cross back into Canada might take too long for me to make my flight the following day. If I was staying for longer than a few days, there would be no incentive to tell the powers that be that my passport is missing. It is entirely possible that after doing so, it would be found and, having been reported, it would be useless. I am not, however, going to be in town for a long time. My flight is scheduled to leave in a little over 24 hours. So, I call.

I'm told to come to the consulate as soon as I can. It takes me 20 minutes, door-to-door.

My morning on Canadian soil consists of doing Canadian paperwork and making American phone calls to Canadian friends. Will they vouch for my identity? Most are not sure that they want me back in the country. My afternoon is full of drug store photographs and pointed questions from those empowered to ask them.

"So when you get back home, if they let you in, you're gonna need to apply for a new passport," says the consulate officer.

"If?"

He nods a yeah and tells me, "they might decided that they need more information. You're asking them to trust who you are without having a guarantor vouch for you as you're not home to find one. It can go either way."

"So I have to apply for a another passport? After I get home?"

"Yes."

"Didn't I just do that, this morning?" Upon arriving, I had been asked to fill out a passport application, along with ten other forms.

"Yes, but that isn't for that. We need that information to get you emergency travel papers," he explains. "You have to fill out another passport application, submit it with your guarantor's information and pay for a replacement passport to be be issued. Anyway, today's going to cost you $170 for processing fees." I ask him if the price covered the cost of my new passport when I apply for it in Canada.

Nah.

It's three in the afternoon by the time the consulate officer tells me to come back at nine the next morning. I was supposed to have been with the folks from Shure since eight-thirty that morning.

I let Shure know that I'd finished off with all the farmhands at the bullshit ranch and am on my way to meet them.

18 October, 2018
It is nine in the morning. Beyond explanation, my emergency travel document is ready to go when I show at the consulate. It is valid for two days.

I will need this time.

Once I finish with the consulate, I am left with 30 minutes to drive 45 minutes to O'Hare for a flight that leaves in 60 minutes. I am not made of time. Over the course of the past couple of days, Bullshit and I have become fast friends. Walking back to my hotel, I call to make changes to my travel arrangements.

I return to my hotel, lock my travel papers in my room's safe and go to sleep for a few hours. Fuck everything. When I wake, I decide to spend the rest of my new found extra day in Chicago playing tourist. Hello to The Bean and Hemingway House.

Something that I eat in Oak Park gives me food poisoning. If Chicago could not keep me it is happy to kill me.


19 October 2018

I wake up five hours before I need to be at the airport. It is, however, an hour before I want to be at the airport. I dress and check out of the hotel. Life has been a rolling clusterfuck since I arrived in Chicago. In my soul, I know it will be a rolling clusterfuck as I attempt to leave.

I am not wrong.

As I check in for my flight, I discover that United's personnel are not trained to recognize an emergency travel document issued by the Canadian government. It takes four attendants 25 minutes to provide me with a ticket. Their system refuses to accept my papers in lieu of a passport.

The TSA are on the same bullshit. This particular bullshit varies so mildly from their typical bullshit that it is hard to tell the difference between the two.

After they inspect my paperwork, I am "randomly" selected for further screening. I pass through no technology before I am told this. It's been a while since I've been pulled into a private room for a pat-down.

I dress, pack and enter the international terminal in search of breakfast.

I settle on a bacon and sadness omelet at Wolfgang Puck's.

I should have done shots, instead.

I am here to tell you that being in United's system, checked in, holding a ticket that was given to me by a United employee, along with government documentation is not enough to get you onto a United flight. I am told that I needed to be verified.

"Can I see your passport?"

"I don't have a passport. Thus this letter."

"They checked you in without a passport?"

"We live in a world of wonders."

"I've never seen one of these before."

"The story of this day will be told to your children's children."

The attendant looks at me in a way that suggests she will drink the memory of me away at the end of her shift. Neither she, United's employee help desk, her supervisor or two other agents are versed in plugging an emergency travel document into their system. It takes close to 45 minutes before it is decided that it is fine to tell me this. I am told that I may not make my flight, despite my standing directly in front of the jetway that leads to my plane. As other passengers begin shuffling their passports and tickets forward for scanning, the United supervisor calls his supervisor. It is explained that through the dark workings of blood magick, I appeared at their kiosk. What could be done with such an aberration? Should I be purged with fire?

It's fine, says the supervisor's supervisor. Just let him on and they'd take care of it later.

19 October, 2018: Part II
Upon landing in Calgary, I turned on my phone. There was an email from United Airlines. They found my passport and wanted to know if I could pick it up.


Header image via Flickr, courtesy of Randy Auschrat
All other images via Seamus Bellamy