There are still two 2017 vacations that I've yet to write about in this space - Vermont in late August, and Ithaca in late October. But as we stand now in early 2018, I'm just a few weeks removed from a trip much farther afield, to New Zealand. I'll get there eventually; now, I want to recount an unexpectedly satisfying interaction with the government immediately following my return.
The process of planning the New Zealand trip triggered a a few questions relating to pertinent documentation. I first secured a passport in preparation for the Post-Navy Roadtrip; while I did make one overnight excursion across the border, I had originally planned a much longer run through British Columbia and Yukon.* That planning brought me into contact with the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which was scheduled to reach full implementation... on June 1, 2009, while the PNR was in progress. "Full implementation of the WHTI," as a practical matter, means "you need a passport, or some other equivalent document, to cross the borders by land - an ordinary driver's license isn't good enough anymore." After obtaining the passport, I altered the course of the PNR to an all-continental United States route - but it still proved useful, as I elected to cross the border to Windsor instead of staying a night in Detroit, a decision which I still consider the right one, despite there being a public sector strike in progress on the Canadian side. As I geared up to head to the land of the Kiwis around Thanksgiving, I started to wonder how far ahead of its expiration date I should renew the passport. The expiration date would have fallen this coming November, and some of the search hits I looked at said nine months would provide an appropriate margin.
That coincided nicely with my return, so I made it a point to be ready to send everything in as soon as I got back. I even completed my DS-82 form, and downloaded it to my laptop, during a layover at the Auckland Airport! Once I got back, it was time to tackle the most challenging portion of the renewal process - the photo. The State Department has very specific requirements for passport photos, and I was having a bit of trouble finding the right background. None of the walls in my house have walls that are painted white... but wait a minute, all the doors are! I set up lighting in front of one, snapped the picture (using the "square" feature of my iPhone's camera for the first time), and headed off to CVS to process the photo. The CVS was chosen not only because they could develop the photo at the right size, but it's right next to the post office here in Royersford. Thus, despite the late start (jet lag still having its effect on me), I managed to get everything into an envelope and sent off before the USPS branch closed at 5:00.
Why did I send the application in person vice simply dropping it into my mailbox, you may ask? Because State highly recommends that a trackable mail option be used. Thus I was able to confirm that my renewal materials had made the short journey to Philadelphia in the promised two days. The real surprise was the speed of the turnaround. Since I didn't need my new passport quickly, particularly having just gotten back from an international vacation far afield, I didn't opt for "expedited service." State estimates that routine service will deliver a new or renewed passport in four to six weeks, an estimate that includes mailing times. I received my new passport on February 17 - just ten days after I sent the old one in. And as for the processing itself, just three business days - the old one was received on the 9th, with the issue date on the new one being the 14th. I wondered on Facebook, "Who came up with that estimate... Montgomery Scott?" I was rather stunned, especially given my overarching world view of governmental operations. And no, the estimate isn't intended to include the time for Passport Services to return my previous documents to me - my old passport, two holes punched through it, arrived in the mail yesterday afternoon.
Kudos to Consular Services for their efficiency! Of course, now that I've got my new secure identity document, I've got no plans to use it in the near future - be that for travel across a national border or an internal one, should Homeland Security ever make good on their ever-present threat to implement REAL ID at our airports.
* Preliminary planning for the PNR had it reaching as far as Fairbanks, Alaska, as a tip of the cap to my family's 1999 road trip to The Last Frontier.