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Pleased as Punch at the Passport Agency

As much as I try to be an organized and semi-responsible adult, I always manage to leave everything to the last minute, which is why I found myself being patted down the other day by security at the San Francisco passport agency. This was a visit I’d been dreading, delegating it to the ranks of the DMV and cleaning the litterbox. And with this attitude I let myself get “wanded” by a guy with a handlebar mustache and took a number (23, to be exact) to wait with the hurried masses to renew my passport on the fast track.

They were calling number five when I sat down between a family with a gibberish-speaking infant and a mysterious man who chewed on his pencil like it was a delicacy. I settled in for the long-haul, shamelessly people-watched, and realized pretty quickly that it wasn’t so bad. In fact, I was fascinated.

I wondered, where are all these people going? Where have they been? Who are these infant international travelers (when I didn’t go anywhere that required a passport until in my early 20s)?

After a short 20 minutes of such musings my number got called, and I produced my old passport, the requisite mug-shot photos, and a check covering the expedite fee. As I left the agency, one of the security agents told me to “have a nice trip,” and that’s when it hit me. The passport agency was my first step on my upcoming journeys. Maybe it’s just the pre-trip anticipation, but I found it an unexpectedly pleasant glimpse into a world of travelers, of strangers on the move, going through the necessary bureaucracy in order to get the big “world-is-my-playground” pay-out.

How does your passport experience stack up against my own?


My name: Rachel Berg.

Favorite way to get around: By Venetian gondola during starlit high tide, gliding past decaying and slightly spooky palaces, with perhaps a bottle of prosecco placed between the gondola seat cushions.

View that took my breath away: Unable to sleep in the mystical city of Sfat in Israel, I wandered outdoors predawn and was treated to a purple-on-purple sunrise below the mountaintop that seemed to emerge feet-first through ground-level clouds.

Greatest travel lesson learned: Sunny weather isn't everything. Some of my best travel memories involve go-karting through a deluge turned mud-fest in Mexico, drinking tea in the cold Denali tundra, and watching electric thunderstorms roll through national parks out West.

Most challenging travel moment: Getting leveled by altitude sickness in Cuzco and realizing that my body was forcing me to slow down and rest despite the fact that there was so much to do and see.

Travel ambition: To see the northern lights.


Todd Gack

First time I got a passport it was on a last-minute trip, and I didn’t even have two forms of ID.

This was before five year-olds had cell phones and your first credit card came before you hit your teens.

I was 19, and had to take my grandfather to vouch for me at the passport agency in Los Angeles. I’d never been out of the country before, and the hassle of lines, confusion, and questioning didn’t mean a thing. It was part of the adventure.

And I never did get rid of the travel bug. Hope I never do.

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