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.
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.”
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.
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