The dumb fact of it all is that I’d never been so excited to travel to an airport in my life. For what seems like the last fifty times I’ve gotten on a plane, it’s always been to travel to some westward ho! location that takes some four to six hours to get to and is accompanied by rental car stress, vast climate changes, and an incalculable number of in-air screenings of Matchstick Men. So it was kind of fun that I was all primed and prepped to travel to an airport — IN NEW JERSEY! — and take a flight almost as long as the trip to the airport itself, all in the service of ending up in Toronto. Foreign nations! Foreign states! Unconquered airport food courts awaiting my Big Mac’ed colonization! Why, what’s your idea of fun? Because this is totally mine.
I left Soho at 3:45 PM, got to Penn Station at 4:02, was on a movin g train at 4:20, arrived at the airport at 4:45, and was happily ensconced in the aforementioned food court by 5:03. Just a quick word about the eighteen minutes that elapsed between the Newark train station and the large fries. There’s an intra-airport mode of transport in New York called Air Train. It’s a fancy new thing at all three of the New York area airports, and, actually, it may or may not be new. I feel like there’s some weird story about how they were going to open it a few years ago but then someone was mysteriously killed and then everyone had to walk to the airport for a while. Or something. But that story might be entirely made up. Anyway, all I’m saying about Air Train is that it is my favorite thing ever, even if it once ate prospective air passengers for breakfast, according to popular urban myth. It runs every three minutes — THREE MINUTES — and it connects all of the airport’s terminals and parking lots to the Newark train station and I LOVE it. I want to make out with Air Train, take it to see Havana Nights, go on a hometown date and meet Mr. and Mrs. Air Train to ask for Air Train’s hand in marriage, and maybe even build a few baby Air Trains to bring joy into my life every single minute. Well, every three minutes.
All of which is to say that by the time I arrived at Newark (“EWR,” for fans of airport codes that don’t correlate at all) I was in a positively delightful mood. I made a few phones calls, ate at a particularly leisurely pace, and stood in a Tower Records (in the airport!) for the duration of an entire playing of “Stacy’s Mom,” just because I didn’t really have anywhere to be. In one of those calls, I was roundly mocked for admitting I was about to board an airline called “JetsGo,” and I defended my choice of carrier with such specious defenses as “It’s the Canadian JetBlue!” (Thank you, Tara.) And you better believe that, silly name though it may be, it’s better than the airline that appears alphabetically right above it at the terminal. By which I mean “Hooters Air.” I know. “You’re in an airport in The Simpsons, I was told. I rolled my eyes, which you can’t see over the phone. But it was all in good fun. And underscored with “Stacy’s Mom.” I love that song. I love New Jersey.
This is probably where I should introduce the back story that my passport expired last month. Because I’m traveling internationally in March, I had to mail it in to The Department Of Passports (I think that’s really what it’s called, but no one can seem to explain to me why it’s in Pittsburgh) to have it back in time for that trip. The only proof you need to get a new passport is your old passport, and, anyway, I’d just about had it with people gazing at it curiously like I was some Saudi national, wrinkling their noses, and asking, “Why is your passport green?” Because it was. I don’t know why. But I was glad to get rid of it.
But wait, you say. Canada is also an international locale, isn’t it? Well, yes, it is. But I’ve driven to Toronto lots of times, and, in my experience, all you need to cross the border is a toothy American smile. So I called the airline just in case, and was told that I could clear customs with two forms of American proof of residency, including a driver’s license and a social security card. I will show you the phone bill that has that call on it.
Appraoching the check-in counter STILL a full two hours before my plane took off and karmically answering my skeptical friends’ constant incredulous accusations of “Why do you get everywhere so early?” I proudly presented my “I HEART AMERICA” fun pack of my license and social security card, and was met with some rustling on the part of the agent. She took the card over “to a supervisor,” who told her to tell me that, in no uncertain terms, I could not get on the plane or get into Canada without my birth certificate or a valid passport. Now, I live alone, so we should all quietly celebrate the fact that I’m such a mama’s boy at heart, because my original birth certificate is in a folder in a file cabinet in an office in the house I grew up in. Fate? Thanks. I owe you a rope.
My mom — St. Nancy, The Patron Saint of Birth Certificates — and my stepdad — St. Herb, The Patron Saint of Fax Machines — sprung into action, and only the vast bureaucratic conspiracy of a well-worn international airport could stymie their attempts to get their slacker offspring (and step-offspring) the hell on that plane and make him some other country’s problem. They faxed the birth certificate through in less than a minute, and thirty-five minutes later it was in my hand. Then, this:
Dan: Okay. Here it is.
Ticket Agent: You have to go to the Delta terminal.
Dan: I’m sorry. You’ll have to tell me what that means.
Ticket Agent: It’s at the end.
Dan: What? At the end of what? Of your life?
Ticket Agent: Sir, at the end of the terminal.
Dan: And what happens there?
Ticket Agent: You have to get it notarized.
Dan: I have to WHAT?
Ticket Agent: Notarized.
Dan: Like, with the stamp?
Ticket Agent: Down at the end. Sir.
I walked “down to the end” and discovered that the notary had gone home for the day. I endeavored to find out how to become a notary, take the course, and run around notarizing any damn thing I could get my hands on. But then I thought that there was probably some “Notary Code” incantation that you had to raise your right hand and say at the end of the notary certification course, and that I probably wouldn’t be able to abuse the system and, like, notarize a Bible or a cat or my niece or something. So that was out. And so was the notary who so famously worked “at the end.”
Marching back to the JetsGo window now literally blinded with rage, I recounted to them my failure “at the end.” Just then, one of the attendants, clearly eager to just get rid of me before this became a reality show and I was escorted out of the airport by nine armed guards while she did a confessional that was all, “We do not have to take that kind of thing here,” took all of my forms, asked me for twenty dollars that I gladly surrendered, disappeared for another twenty minutes, and came back with a notarization form and a photocopy of my birth certificate. I have no idea if I’m going to be allowed out of the country. I’m pretty much writing off ever getting back in.
So really, what felt like the utter destruction of all of my plans and a continuing conspiracy to keep me the hell out of Canada (the last time I tried to go was the day of the blackout, which is a whole other story) turned out to be just another one of those petty, stupid inconveniences that make living on this planet just literally suck.
Tomorrow: what is UP with airline peanuts?!? Am I right?