The line at the airport ticket counter took forever, but at last our boys were giddily weighing themselves on the baggage scale (stop that!) as we handed over our tickets to paradise: One week in Mexico for the whole family.
"Passports please," said the agent.
Beaming, my husband handed these over, too.
"FOUR passports," the agent said.
And that, my husband said later, is when his heart plunged. "Four?" he asked. "The kids need passports, too?"
"Since Jan. 23," the agent replied.
Next thing you know, we were in a taxi barreling back to our apartment, our cheery driver saying, "I keep getting folks like you!"
Idiots, in other words. Idiots who missed the apparently millions of warnings in the media: "NEW PASSPORT RULES GOING INTO EFFECT!" The driver was so used to folks like us, in fact, that he drove us home on a special route. "That's the office you want to go to tomorrow morning," he pointed. "Passport office. They'll set you right up."
And maybe they would have. But when we reached the office by phone, a recorded voice told us the next available appointment was in two weeks. And when we called one of the private companies that specialize in last-minute passport procurement (there are plenty of them on the Web), the agent said there was no way she could get us out fast. Her agency was totally booked up, too, thanks to the new rule decreeing that birth certificates are no longer enough. Now every American, even a newborn, needs a passport to fly to Mexico, Canada or most of the Caribbean isles.
So, next thing you know, we were in the car, barreling down to Washington, D.C.
Our goal was not to picket the State Department. We were just trying to salvage ourselves a nice little family vacation. You know, the kind with gray skies, whipping winds and the small ransom you pay for a last-minute hotel room. (Chilly draft, gratis!)
Did the kids care we weren't headed to Mexico? Please. One boy got a giant penny at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and it was like we gave him a puppy. He rolled that penny down the D.C. sidewalks, showed it off to strangers and placed it next to his plate when he ate. Pure love. His older brother, meanwhile, basked in several thrilling days of candy bars for dessert. "Twix? Really? Hooray!" So, all in all, it was a fantastic trip. (We also saw the Smithsonian.)
Upon our return to reality, however, I wanted to find out if the cabbie was right did a whole lot of idiots spend their vacations the way we did?
"Yesterday we were supposed to get on a plane to Aruba," said a foot surgeon named Vadim Nekritin. He'd gotten to the airport and discovered his toddler needed a passport. "I lost approximately $1,500 and two days of my trip."
"How do you feel?" I probed.
I asked for that.
The regional passport agency our cabbie had recommended looked like something out of "Gone With The Wind." Remember the scene where the soldiers are lying on the train tracks, groaning? Except, for train tracks substitute lines.
The State Department says its processing times have not slowed down since the new law went into effect. It still takes about eight weeks if you file for a passport at your post office, said spokeswoman Janelle Hironimus, and about two weeks (unless you can prove it's an emergency) if you go to your regional office and pay a $60 fast track fee.
If, however, it turns out you've totally blown it and cannot take your dream vacation, consider this: Man plans, G-d laughs. But when man buys a giant penny and some candy and his kids laugh, too, well that's what I call a pretty great vacation.