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Archive for Sunday, January 7, 2007

Globe-trotter won’t let chic new passport go to her head

January 7, 2007

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I am standing in line at the post office, eagerly waiting to apply for my first U.S. passport.

Since I was a young girl, I have longed for my very own international I.D. In my Hollywood-inspired imagination, passport holders were beautiful, rich and worldly, like Ingrid Bergman and Grace Kelly. Glamorous globe-trotters with heads wrapped in scarves, they were forever jetting to Cannes, London or Morocco. They had access to the world and a wardrobe to match.

In college, I envied my passport-toting peers, the ones brave, adventurous or financially endowed enough to study abroad or hitchhike across Europe.

One girl, in particular, used to flash her passport, in lieu of her driver's license, to get into bars. (The '70s are still a big purple haze, so her name escapes me, but I remember the look: tall, leggy and blond. Think Peggy Lipton of "The Mod Squad.") Blinded by her beauty and impressed by her credentials, bouncers would wave her through without even glancing at her date of birth. I'd have killed for that kind of cachet.

Decades later, I traveled beyond U.S. borders, but only to places where a driver's license and birth certificate got me over the line.

Starting Jan. 23, everyone will need a passport to venture beyond the U.S., even to Tijuana for an afternoon of tequila shopping. So, for my springtime vacation to Mexico, I am purchasing the proper papers.

Finally, I'll be chic! Just like Ingrid.

I ventured out the morning before to get my picture taken. (Note: 8 a.m. is too early for any self-respecting 51-year-old woman to even CONSIDER sitting for a photo, but I was on a tight schedule.) After applying a bag of frozen peas to my eyes for 10 minutes, followed by an extra spackle of concealer, I headed to Kinko's for my mug shot.

A man wielding a Polaroid camera ushered me to a backdrop on the wall. I showed him my best "let me into your country" smile.

Little did I know, smiling in passport photos is frowned upon. It's acceptable to look pleasant, but not to bare teeth. Apparently, border officials cannot always discern similarities in a face grinning ear-to-ear in a photo and the scowling countenance of the same exhausted traveler after a 12-hour flight. Who knew?

Do you have any idea how difficult it is for a woman, trained to smile for the camera since before she even had teeth, NOT to bare them? It's like trying not to blink when you sneeze.

I manage an appropriate smirk and, minutes later, walk out with two matching photos in hand. ("That's funny. I look nothing LIKE Ingrid Bergman :")

Back at the post office, photos, certificates and completed forms in hand, it's my turn to enter the passport office. I'm psyched.

A congenial postal worker, Linda, efficiently processes my application, checks my documentation and explains the fees.

"Everything seems to be in order," she says.

Then, just as I start writing the check, she adds, "Uh-oh, bad news. Your head is too big for the passport."

"WHAT?!?" I gasp.

"It's not your fault," Linda answers. "Whoever took the picture just messed up."

She shows me the oval-shaped space where my head is supposed to go. My melon is several millimeters too large!

"The photographer stood too close, that's all," Linda reassures me.

"No! I really do have a big head," I reply. "It's the Cumbersome Cranium gene; I get it from my dad. They had to special-order my graduation cap. Remember those plastic headbands back in the '60s? All too small. They used to spring off my head like armadillos on a Texas highway. The Kinko's guy stood on the mark like he was supposed to. He'd have to back up clear across the room to get me to fit."

"No worries," Linda said. "I can retake your picture now."

With that, she pulls out a camera, takes two giant steps backward (which I pretend not to notice) and says, "Smile!"

So teeth-baring is allowed, after all? Well, I can't smile NOW! Not after facing the reality of my freakishly large skull!

I grimace into the lens, and she snaps away.

"It's a perfect fit. You'll receive your passport by February 12th."

My ego massaged, I leave her office, thinking about Ingrid and the semi-exclusive club I've just joined. Suddenly, I cheer up. I feel cosmopolitan and special.

But I promise not to get a big head.

- Cathy Hamilton is host of "Home & Away" on Sunflower Broadband Channel 6 and a 51-year-old empty-nester. Events recounted here may be embellished, exaggerated or completely made up because she can't remember squat anymore.

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