I travel for work. It’s such a throwaway phrase. Lots of people travel for work. At 8am on a Monday, the Blue Line train at 7th Street Metro in downtown Los Angeles is dense with the Proletariat. At 5.40pm on a Friday afternoon, the London Underground at Paddington is a swarm of human migration as workers and tourists disregard each other in close proximity.
I travel INTERNATIONALLY for work. Oh.
One imagines airport lounges, continental breakfasts, and casual browsing of duty free shops. A passport serenely produced from a well organised carry-on satchel and labelled luggage not weighing more than 23kg. One does not, one cannot imagine the god-forsaken bureaucracy of moving one’s person from one nation to another for the purpose of work.
In this episode of The-Home-Office-and-its-Regulatory-Actions-Against-Private-Individuals, I had at this point, been working for several months to register another life event with the government. I had gotten married but in doing so had not become a highwayman, a criminal of international interest, or a lizard person from outer space (though my husband might contend with that last point). Rules are rules and forms needed filling in, supporting documents obtained; identity verified by someone qualified; and all posted by recorded delivery to the Home Office, for a small fee.
I travel for work and I work largely because that human activity is required for keeping oneself fed and sheltered. The Home Office, in politely quick response assured me that they aren’t ogres and if I simply ask nicely, I could have my travel documents returned to me whilst my case was being considered. For a small fee.
Work was calling. Flights had been booked, accommodation arranged, and remuneration agreed. I sent the Home Office a polite email, requesting my travel documents. Of course, was the reply. No problem. Weeks went by and with no promise through my letter box, I followed up with a phone call to a premium contact number, set up to deal with such enquiries, for a small fee. Ah yes, your file. It’s definitely somewhere. Passport not come to you? Curious. No, no it will definitely be with you.
Weeks continued to pass and I began to worry now about losing work. My emails were now greeted with autoresponses and my phone calls, now accruing a small fortune to be paid to my telecoms provider, only followed cold or dead trails. We were now days away from my planned travel and no passport. With less than a week to go, I finally received that longed for communication:
Your document has been dispatched.
Well, naturally as I had prepaid for and provided first class premium return delivery, I expected it the very next day or perhaps the day following. Three days passed and the day before my planned travel I had all of the desperation and quiet desperation of a caged tiger. Reluctantly, I began to make phone calls to my employers to inform them, admittedly unfairly late, of my probable absence. Nonetheless, I paced at my front door like a frantic errant soldier.
My husband arrived home from work, feeling desperately sorry for my situation and through his experience with delivery driving, was confident that my passport would be at our local Post Office Depot the following day. The day of my flight.
Through communication channels not open to the public, I organised with a sympathetic soul at the Post Office that I would arrive at 5.30 am to collect my passport before taking a taxi to London Gatwick airport. The day arrived and I packed my bags with unreasonable optimism and with my long-suffering husband, set off for the Post Office. The document had indeed arrived but locating it took some doing and with nothing more to be done, my husband wished me luck before setting off for work.
Passport in hand and hope not lost, I waited for a taxi that was only 10 minutes away they assured me. Twenty-five minutes passed. Twenty-seven minutes. Twenty-nine. Thirty-two. The taxi pulled uncertainly into the unlikely pick up point. I ran to the car, hefted myself into the backseat and barely and barely suppressing a scream breathed,
‘Gatwick airport please.’
Of course there was traffic. The driver made polite conversation and, noting my distress, joyfully told me that everything happens for a reason and it’ll all turn out alright. I pretended to believe him as the taxi pulled into the airport with minutes to spare before boarding. I was going to have to run. Again with the running. I hate running.
Some twenty minutes later, having cleared airport check-in, border control, and airport security, with burning lungs and an all but broken spirit, I met my travel companions as they were boarding the plane. Our gig was either that night or the following but that is a detail that I can’t remember.