Lady Without a Country

I just recently had my passport renewed which reminds me of a story. (If I was Rodney Dangerfield, at about this time, I’d be tugging at the narrow tie hanging loosely around my neck and giving a side glance to Johnny Carson with a telltale look as if to say, “c’mon whaddaya expect?”)

Several years ago ma and I were going overseas together to visit two of her children- my brother and the youngest sister. We decided to try using a Canadian airline because their planes supposedly had better legroom in the steerage section. The route meant that rather than first going from Chicago to New York or New Jersey, the initial leg would be a stopover in Toronto, Canada.

We showed our passports while checking in the luggage at the International Terminal at Ohare Airport in Chicago. A relatively short two to two and a half hours later we deplaned in Toronto and took a shuttle bus from their domestic gate to the International building. A bus ride was necessary because there was construction going on at the airport complex and what should have been a simple walk between buildings became more involved. The one positive thing was that we did not need to carry our luggage. Even though we were switching to a different plane, the luggage would be moved for us.

We did, however, have to go through their passport or customs control. Due to Ma’s slower walking gait, we were the stragglers, the last ones to go through. Because we were a senior citizen and her on- the-cusps middle age son, the custom control agent treated us with disdain and rubber-stamp friendliness. He didn’t even look at our passports but just endorsed it while flashing an artificial smile.

We finally arrived at the gathering area with all of the other passengers awaiting the midnight flight to begin overseas. After an hour or so wait, the airplane spokesperson got on the loudspeaker and told us to begin queuing up to board. I stood in front of Ma. As I passed inspection of my boarding pass and passport identification, I purposely stopped to wait to escort Ma. However, as soon as the attendant took a look at Ma’s passport, she stopped her in her tracks and told her there was a problem and she could not board the plane. I turned around and asked what the problem was.

The flight attendant said, “her passport has expired!” I said, “that’s crazy. It must be some mistake. How did she get past the authorities in Chicago and here in Customs without a problem?” She replied, “I don’t know but she cannot board.”

At this point I was perplexed as to what to do. I called my brother- it was about 6:30am where he lived. He was upset that I woke him up and not because we had a problem. He told me that if she had to turn around and go back home- if they would even let her in, that I had to stay with her. Now that kind of upset me because I was looking forward to the trip. With that he hung up.

As it turned out, I guess the rule is that once you board a plane that flies another nation’s colors, you are under the protection of that country. The flight crew called to their headquarters and were told that Ma posed no threat to their homeland security. She was permitted to board the plane and we would get her passport renewed at the American embassy or consulate there.

Technically, Ma was a lady without a country for two or three days until I was able to drive her in my rental car to the consulate. At their administration building, there was a long line into which we stood
patiently. I thought that this would take half a day. However, one of the security guards noticed that we stood out like a sore thumb because we looked different than mostly everyone else in line. He asked us why were were there and told him that Ma needed her American passport renewed.

The bodybuilder-like guard said, “come with me. You do not belong here.” He escorted us inside the building where the atmosphere was more like the waiting area at a motor vehicle registration building.
I asked him for what purpose was the line we were originally standing in. He told us, “it is for people trying to get a visa to go to your country.”

As it was, Ma got her new passport in about a half hour and once again felt like a citizen of a nation of the world.