by Patricia Parkinson
In April my family and I are going to Disneyland. We’ve been saving for two years. Our, “Disney Account” is sacred, a balance on our Internet banking site that we notice the slightest fluctuation in.
Due to the new requirements that all visitors traveling to the United States by air must have a passport, we have no other choice but to bite the bullet and comply. I hate complying. However, I’ve been hugely procrastinating and now fear, after reading reports on the Passport Canada web site about the massive delays, that I am cutting it too close.
I ventured out on a beautiful Tuesday winter morning. A sunny day after a snowfall at high altitudes, the mountains were dusted, white, blue against a birds egg sky. I wore my tweed, faux fur collar long coat that I love, and curled my hair in what I think is a very Charlie’s Angels do, and saved my treat, my venti toffee nut latte, to stand in line with my fellow Canadians on a beautiful B.C., verging on spring, winter afternoon.
I’d never been to the passport agency before and vaguely knew the address. Thinking there must be a sign, maybe a green one with a “H” for hospital except “P” for Passport. I drove through an area in Surrey called as Whalley, a community known for the highest rate of car thefts per capita in the country (My feeling is if they changed the name of the community, it would evolve, however, I am not on council) and drove past the Scotia Tower. I was shocked by a line up of what I thought, were anxious customers getting in on their last chance to make an RRSP contribution.
Driving up a few blocks, I realized I’d gone too far. I pulled a Uee and turned around, started to make it back and stopped to let a man cross the street. As he approached I rolled down my window and asked the fateful question. It came out in slow motion.
“Doooo yoooou knowww whhhhere Paaaasssspooooort Caaaanaaada is?”
The man slowly raised his arm, turned his body, and pointed to the tower.
People were lined up out the door, around the trail that leads to the street, around the corner and down the sidewalk. After circling the block a few times, I miraculously parallel parked, applied lipstick, and joined the crowd.
A woman in front of me said the line continued on inside, “up an escalator.” I was the last in line for too long a time, feeling like the last person in on the joke, until an Asian couple, very cute, appeared behind me.
We all started chatting about the weather, the horror story everyone had about a friend who had been to the Passport office before. We talked about “the system,” and caffeine withdrawal and the rumors of people paying the homeless to wait in line. We clutched briefcases and file folders, bags of documents painstakingly filled out to ensure accuracy, not letting them out of our sight.
A man walking past overheard our conversation and joined in.
“I’ve been here since six this morning,” he said.
The line up fell silent. Even the shy and non-English speaking of us leaned in to hear his story, as it was now eleven-thirty, meaning, well, he’d been there for over five hours.
After waiting for three hours, standing outside in the freezing, semi darkness with other people hoping to beat the rush, early bird man made it to the wicket only to be told he needed proof of departure, something neither he, nor the rest of us were aware of. Something I didn’t bring.
Another man walked to our group, and in broken English, asked the same question I did. “I am Nirmal,” he said, slightly bowing. We nodded and smiled. “Where is Passport Canada, please?” he asked.
He had no forms that we could see, no files, nothing.
I inquired about his documentation, I’m a nosy woman, shoot me, and Nirmal produced his two required pictures. Some of us exchanged looks that said, “Poor man has no clue.” And we gathered together around him, huddled in for warmth, a bunch of Canadians offering our advice. We explained that Nirmal had to get an application.
He showed us his pictures. Two pictures of an unsmiling Nirmal, chin held high, with bright eyes and straight back shoulders. Nirmal stood at attention for his passport photos.
I took the pictures and turned them over. No one had endorsed the back.
“You have to get these signed,” I told him.
He shrugged his shoulders and shook his head.
All of us spoke at once. “A lawyer, or a notary. A judge maybe?” offering options. “It has to be someone that’s known you for two years,” we said.
Nirmal shook his head. “I know no one.”
“Your Doctor?” Early Bird Man suggested.
Nirmal shook his head. Options continued. Nirmal shook his head, not understanding.
“Your Pastor,” I said, touching him.
“Yes,” Nirmal said, and smiled. “I have this. At my temple.”
Nirmal and Mike – aka Early Bird Man - we exchanged names, some, even phone numbers, Mike took Nirmal inside and got an application. We helped Nirmal fill in the forms and talked about where we were from and where we were going. Nirmal left to see his Pastor, bowing as he walked backwards from our circle. I had to leave and come back another day with our airline tickets and meet more new friends.
We are from Pakistan and the Philippines, from England and Fiji or Korea and Maple Creek, Saskatchewan. We are Asian students going backpacking through The Grand Canyon or seniors going to Vegas. We are mothers and fathers and families going to Disneyland. We are Canadians.
P.S. Went back two days later at about nine in the morning, wearing full ski gear regalia, face mask included. I waited for six hours. We'll get our passports in time.