A journey starts with a single misstep


Some people should never be issued a passport.

I fit that category.

Last July when my wife Gosia and I moved to Union City, I packed my passport in a safe place amid all the moving boxes.

Now, in October, it’s still in that safe spot, but I don’t have a clue where that doggone safe spot is.

So I went to the post office to apply for a new passport. The nice lady at the counter filled out my application, taking some information from my driver’s license.

She handed back the form.

“You misspelled my middle name,” I said.

“No, I didn’t,” she said, pointing to my license. “J O S E P.”

I looked at the license. Darn if she wasn’t right.

My license had a typo in my name for the last five years. And I never caught it.

Luckily, she didn’t catch the mistake on my birth certificate made by a hospital worker who had interviewed my mother after I popped out. My dad’s middle name of Robert was altered to my middle name of Joseph.

Which means, technically, I am my own father and married to my mother. Now I have to get a new birth certificate lest I cause confusion for my kin when I pass on.

Oedipus had a similar mother-son issue, I’m told.

Passports have always been the bane of my existence.

I was entering security for departure in Sofia, Bulgaria, on New Year’s Day 2016, when I swatted all pockets and found no passport.

About to panic, I heard a woman behind me call my name. My passport was in her uplifted hand. She had found it on the floor and searched everywhere looking for a man who matched my awful passport photo.

Then there’s the scary incident I experienced in Turkey in 2019. Fresh from the airport around 9 p.m., I decided to take a nice walk in Istanbul past shops selling clothing, rugs and souvenirs. A young man accosted me and tried ripping my passport holder off of my neck. Dozens of people surrounded us, but no one moved to help. I managed to fend him off while screaming words better left out of a family newspaper, and he skulked away empty-handed.

Then there was my trip to Cuba just before President Trump stopped tourist travel to that country. I went through entry customs while my wife waited in line. I answering security questions in my ungrammatical, self-taught Spanish. But my wife knew no Spanish and was detained. Luckily, a bilingual American served as her translator. One stressful hour later she joined me.

But disaster occurred when we left the country a week later. My wife went through departure without a snag, but I had lost some weight and my pants were a size too big. The military officer at Customs insisted I hold my arms over my head as I went through the metal detector.

Bloop! My pants went below my shocking red briefs down to my knees.

I looked up at the aghast officer and then spotted my wife behind him, making the “shame-shame” signal as I pulled the pants back to belly level.

I’d like to forget the time I took 12 Franklin College students on a travel trip to Ireland. Prior to leaving, I lectured them on the importance of holding on to their passports.

But about 100 miles after they and I left Galway with three days to go on the trip, I made a sad discovery on the chartered bus. I inched up to the driver to whisper that I had left my passport in my inn room.

Now he apparently had dealt with ditsy travelers before. “I’ll phone them,” he said. “No worries.”

I went back to my seat. Minutes later the driver’s voice boomed over the intercom. “Professor, the inn is sending your lost passport overnight by Federal Express.”

I hope to never again experience a hazing like those 12 students gave me all the rocky road to Dublin.

Wait, the worse is yet to come. I had a free trip to Lima, Peru, in 2014 courtesy of frequent flyer miles. But at the Delta desk a supervisor told me my passport was too worn to let me proceed and cancelled my trip. I begged for mercy without him budging.

I had to wait at the Indianapolis airport for hours until I could find someone to fetch me and take me home. My hotel was prepaid, along with some planned side trips, and that was all good money down the drain. But Delta restored my free miles.

That time, too, I went to the post office and told the clerk why I needed a replacement passport.

“I’ve seen many passports in worse condition than yours,” she said.

Grrr. I’d like to go back and send that inflexible Delta supervisor on a trip. Preferably, one way to Uranus.

In 2015 I was dating my future wife who then lived in Warsaw. After she checked out of her hotel room and I checked out of mine, I discovered I had apparently lost the passport case that was supposed to hang from my neck. This was bad news because we were headed from Chicago to Europe. An hour later, after the passport service in Chicago promised to help me with an emergency replacement, I discovered that my passport in its case had slipped under my armpit.

It is a good thing Gosia has a sense of humor.

Speaking of humor, on one trip back from Europe a big burly policeman approached me at the luggage pickup.

“Are you carrying $10,000 on you?” the officer asked.

I busted out laughing.

“Never in my whole fricking life,” I said.

In spite of himself, he grinned. “Me neither. Get along with you, now.”


The author and wife Gosia pause for Sicilian ices on a journey to Palermo.
https://www.dailyadvocate.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/web1_IMG_0113.jpgThe author and wife Gosia pause for Sicilian ices on a journey to Palermo. Provided photo

By Hank Nuwer

Near Darke

Hank Nuwer is newly moved to Union City, Indiana — about one block from Darke County. He retired July 1, 2020 from the Franklin College Pulliam School of Journalism after 18 years. He is the author of the historical novel Sons of the Dawn: A Basque Odyssey, which makes use of his experiences as a young reporter trailing a large band of sheep with Basque herders from Spain. A longtime magazine freelance writer, he shares his reflections on the people and places he finds in Darke County. His wife, Gosia, a native of Warsaw, Poland, is a freelance photographer and longtime accountant.

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