Sunday, March 11, 2018

#writersresearch and #lessonlearned Where You Find Them by Margo Hoornstra

Have you ever thought about doing something so many times and so intently, you came to believe you’d actually completed the task? Turns out I have. And, boy what a shock when I realized I hadn’t.

Picture this. Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, home port to the luxury liner cruise ship upon which my husband, Ron, and I sailed for a week to the beautiful Caribbean.




But first, some background. Aside from the pleasure, international travel comes with responsibility, and one very stringent rule. Always, always have your passport handy. A rule we adhered to without question. Once we had been cleared to board the ship, we learned it wasn’t necessary to carry our passports with us on sojourns into the Grand Caymans and Cozumel. We did keep both Ron's passport and mine securely zipped in a small attaché case and locked in the safe in our stateroom. Can’t be too careful, you know.




When it was time to leave the ship once and for all, I would transfer the proofs of US citizenship documents to my purse for easy access.

After a wonderful week, a fiftieth wedding anniversary gift we gave ourselves, it was time to disembark. The information sheet we received a few days before was straight and direct. “Upon leaving the ship, have these items in hand. Your stateroom ID card, a government issued picture ID, AND your valid passport.”

Easy enough to do.  When it was time to leave the ship once and for all, I would transfer the proofs of US citizenship documents to my purse for easy access.

In fact, upon reading the sheet, I pointed out the necessary criteria to the others in our party who may not have been as protocol aware as I. Reminding them, the night before disembarkation, I would transfer the proofs of US citizenship documents to my purse for easy access.

Done and done. Right? Well….

Early on disembarkation day.

“Please have your stateroom card, government issued picture ID and passport out for inspection.” A line of Customs and Homeland Security officers verbally repeated the instruction we’d read as I and my fellow passengers filed off the ship. With a seasoned world traveler’s confidence, I reached into the zipper compartment of my purse for the proofs of US citizenship documents I’d transferred there for easy access. From deep inside, I pulled out one solitary passport…not two. How could this happen? I had my husband’s passport in hand, but not mine.

Still walking forward, I frantically searched other areas of the bag, only to come up empty. Thieves. It had to have been thieves who snuck into our stateroom sometime in the middle of the night while we were sleeping and stole one of two passports that I’d transferred to my purse for easy access.

Now what?

I came to a stop beside my husband who had come to a stop—rather had been stopped—by the no-nonsense customs agent. I handed Ron his passport he showed to the official then added, in his never take anything too seriously voice. “Houston. We have a problem.”

“You what?” The dead-panned reply proved the man standing before us was not amused.

Still smiling, the man I married indicated me. "She obviously doesn't have her passport."

Now what? I soon found out.

With very little ceremony, I was ushered into a separate room. Alone. When my husband tried to follow, he was blocked.

“Someone will be with you shortly,” I was told. Then the door was shut and I waited. Alone.

Now what? Unsure of my fate, I sat as instructed. I waited. How long would I be held? For however many days it took to be issued a new passport? If that was even an option.

“Come with me please.”

My thoughts scattered as another uniformed agent came in to escort me to yet another room.

A holding cell maybe?

Not yet. This room contained a single desk with computer on top.

“Do you have a driver’s license on you?”

Thank God. “Yes.” I hurriedly handed it over.

Saying nothing more, he placed it before him at the base of the keyboard and started moving the mouse around.

Still, I waited.

After a while, he spoke. “Don’t worry. This happens.”

“Never to me.” By now I had at least quit shaking.

Still working the mouse and watching the screen, he glanced up and smiled. “We should be able to get you cleared.”

Should be able? “I appreciate that.”

“As I said. This happens.”

Whatever he sought from the computer wasn’t coming through though,

Now what? “By the way, thank you for your service.” In a desperate need to break the never ending silence, I couldn’t think of anything else to say.

“You’re welcome.” With one final perusal of the computer screen, he picked up my license he handed back. “Good thing you have that enhanced. You’re free to go.”

Music to my ears. Replacing the license in my purse, I turned to do as he said.

“Do me a favor though.”

Anything. Just ask. Stopped short, I turned back. “What’s that?”

“Don’t report your passport lost or stolen until you’ve gotten home and gone through all your luggage. You may well find it.”

After such a short time, you know me so well. “Good idea. I will.”

“If you report it gone and try to get through customs in the near future, we’d have to confiscate your passport.”

Then what? “Good point. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

Nodding again, I scurried out the door.

As it turned out, my passport did turn up. In my luggage. Tucked safely away in the attaché case that HAD been locked in the safe in our stateroom...and NEVER transferred to my purse for easy access.

On the up side, I now know first-hand, the procedure for being detained by US Customs and Homeland Security.

Now for the opportunity to use that information in a book sometime.

My days to blog here are the 11th and 23rd. For more about me and the stories I write, please visit my WEBSITE.

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18 comments:

Diane Burton said...

What an adventure! Scary as all heck. Yes, I've gone over something so many times in my head, I thought I'd done it. Never with anything as important as a passport, though. Congrats on your 50th. I'm a bit behind you (5 years), but who's counting? A wonderful gift to yourself. And you were away from Michigan during a part of winter. Just think, you missed all the "fun" of snow and cold. LOL Be sure to use that experience in a story.

Jannine Gallant said...

As I think I mentioned, you need a keeper. LOL Other than the disembarking mishap, I hope you had a wonderful time. I'm a mere baby in the marriage game at 22 years. Congrats on making it to the big five-oh!

Brenda Whiteside said...

That would have scared the beejeebies out of me. Having been arrested once in my life, I now fear the law, any kind of law, and don't do well with my imagination on what can happen. Glad it turned out well but thanks for the tale.

Rolynn Anderson said...

Margo, our brains are mysterious entities...sometimes what it wishes is imprinted as true. The passport incident underlines the brain's marvelous traits...been there (in my case, tickets to a ferry from Seattle to Victoria). I was sure I had the tickets in my purse...for four of us. I remember stooping in the parking lot, with the contents of my whole purse laid out. Nope. Left the tickets at home. SO EMBARRASSING!

Happy 50th, Margo! HUGE accomplishment!

Leah St. James said...

Oh...that has to rank up there with worst travel nightmares!! I'm so neurotic, I probably would have checked and double checked that safe, and still have forgotten to put the case in my purse! I'm so glad you had the "enhanced" drivers license...whatever that means! Happy 50th to you and your hubby! Wishing you many more years of joy together.

Alison Henderson said...

OMG, Margo, I would have had a heart attack. That's like my nightmare of losing my purse times 100! I'm so glad they have provisions for something like that.

Vonnie Davis said...

My grandson went to Canada for the weekend with his fraternity last year. When they went to come back in the States, Ryan had no passport. He called his dad. "Dad, don't get mad." "What happened?" "Somewhere I lost my passport. I can't get back in the States. Before you have a cow, there is a rule if you're still 18 years of age, a faxed birth certificate will suffice. So...ah...could you fax the border control my birth certificate?" "Ryan, you're at MIT. You're going to have to step up your responsibility level a few notches." He never did find it. His step-mom got him a new one. Honestly, I don't know what those 2 men would do without her.

Margo Hoornstra said...

Thanks, Diane. Nothing as important as a passport, huh? I figured go big or go home! LOL It was quite the experience. Didn't miss missing the snow and such for a few days. I could get used to those 80 plus temps. However, we got a few inches the white stuff on the ground as a welcome back, shortly after we got home.

Margo Hoornstra said...

So noted on the need of a keeper, Jannine. As I've mentioned, my kids will have their hands full in a few years. We did have a great time despite a few other minor mishaps. Wow 22 years. You're soon to hit the quarter century marriage mark!

Margo Hoornstra said...

Brenda, I can imagine your fear. Luckily I've had good experiences with law enforcement over the years. ;-) Marrying one being one of them. I do have to say the customs agent I ended up with couldn't have been nicer. One more thing to tell my grandchildren I suppose.

Margo Hoornstra said...

Nice story, Rolynn. I would have given anything to simply have been embarrassed by the whole thing. My husband later said he was torn between elation I actually had his passport in my purse, to dispair as to where I was going to end up.

Margo Hoornstra said...

Thanks, Leah. It has been quite the trip these past fifty years. (Yes, I was married as a teenager. An older teenager, but a teenager none the less.) Whatever were we thinking? Since you mentioned it, Ron did suggest that we do some double checking the night before. A suggestion I never should have pooh poohed! LOL I'm not sure what 'enhanced' means exactly either. Only that I can travel to Mexico and Canada without an actual passport. Which, coming in from Cozumel, is what I really had done.

Margo Hoornstra said...

I'd have come close to the heart attack, Alison, if I'd thought about it. Provisions for something like that is, I think, a nice way of saying 'assisting addle brained senior citizens'. As I've said, 'my' customs agent couldn't have been nicer. I imagine he's seen worse. LOL

Margo Hoornstra said...

Vonnie. My initial comments were going to be 'kids' and 'men' with the appropriate tongue clicking and head shakes. Then I realized, I'm right in there with them. One tongue click and head shake due to me too. (Glad Ryan had the presence of mind to figure his malfunction out.)

Andrea Downing said...

Oh, Margo, you were lucky in the guy who handled this because most of them are totally humorless dictators. When I was living in London, my daughter, who was then at Penn, was coming to visit me. She was applying on her US passport for a student visa to Argentina, so sent it off, deciding to come into the UK of course! on her UK passport. Thing is, you're not allowed to enter the US as an American citizen on anything but an American passport.--which was then sitting in the Argentine Embassy. So off to the US Embassy for a day trying to explain, waiting, sitting, facing a total B who was supposedly dealing with this, sent Cristal off for a new photo at local pharmacy, back through all the security (guns everywhere there), back in line, application filled out, then wait for the passport. Luckily the man who then took over was very nice and passed the application and Cristal got a short term passport. I can't imagine what happens to people who actually lose the blasted things!

Margo Hoornstra said...

It’s unfortunate that your daughter encountered those types of individuals. I did count myself very fortunate in the way I was treated and in the way my situation was resolved. It could have easily gone much differently. On the one hand, no one likes to be treated unfairly. However, I am extremely grateful for those who devote their careers to serving and protecting the rest of us.

Sharon Bell Buchbinder said...

Great material for your next book! Bonus, all the feels. You've been there! (Sorry, I know it wasn't fun!)

Maureen said...

A scary adventure! I do know someone whose passport was stolen a few years ago, but it was before she left the U.S. so she had to cancel her trip.