I was supposed to be on a flight to Toronto right now, the last stop on the three-week book tour for Bonk. Instead I am sitting in a hotel room in Denver, saying shit shit shit shit shit. I got up this morning and called Air Canada to get a seat assignment for the flight. I realized, as I was speaking to the kindly Air Canada man, that I did not have my passport. I had originally been scheduled to fly home before heading to Toronto, but the schedule had changed and we'd skipped the flight home. Where I would have picked up my passport.
"Hey," I said."I don't need a passport to go from the States to Canada, right?"
The kindly man grew less kindly. He said that of course I need a passport.
"But I'm an American citizen!" They love this in Canada.
The Air Canada man replied with evident glee that the rules had changed years ago. Then he said: "Have you been living outside the country?" It seemed an odd question. Perhaps it was a loophole that I could exploit. "Well I have been in...Florida," I tried. "Does that count? Why are you asking?"
"Because I don't see how you could have missed this. it's been all over the news." "Have you been living outside the country" is Canadian for "have you been living in a cave?"
"Oh, sure, now I remember," I said. "That front page New York Times headline in 96-point type: CANADA REVISES PASSPORT REGULATION. How could I have missed it?"
"So the consulate tells me I can fly to Canada with a U.S. drivers license and a fax of my passport. Just double-checking." This was a lie. I had looked up the local Canadian Consulate. The little Google entry listed the hours: Closed Saturday and Sunday. (It was Saturday.) Above this was a place to click to Read Reviews. Desperate for distraction, I clicked on it. "Be the first to write a review!" I gave the consulate two stars. "You guys SO were not there for me."
Air Canada man #2 was incredulous."You thought you could get into Canada with a fax of a passport?!"
I had nothing to lose now. "But isn't Canada part of the United States?"
I was due at an event in 22 hours. Fed Ex would not deliver my passport to me by 8 a.m. on a Sunday, as they did not deliver anything on Sundays. Even if they did, there wouldn't be time to fly to Toronto before the 11 a.m. event. This was an important event, an author's brunch with 200 attendees, sponsored by the greatest bookstore in all of Canada, Ben McNally's. I pictured the staff neatly stacking copies of Bonk on the remainder table. I tried to call the cell phone of my Canadian publicist, but it was a wrong number. I called the Canadian travel agency that had booked the flight, but it was closed for the weekend.
Shit shit shit shit. Unsure of what else to do, I canceled the Toronto flight. I called my husband and told him I'd be home in four hours. As bad as I felt for Ben McNally, I felt giddy for Mary Roach. Book tour over! I packed my bag and floated to the lobby. My cell phone rang.
It was the Canadian publicist. Someone had managed to reach him. He was calling to say that even though you can't fly into Canada without a passport, you can drive across the border. I had heard otherwise, but he wanted me to chance it: cancel my freshly booked flight home, book a flight into Buffalo later that night, and then go by car from Buffalo to Toronto. Get to sleep at maybe 3 a.m. In the unreasonable world of the book tour, it was a fairly reasonable plan.
Yet I couldn't do it. Something inside had broken loose from its moorings. It was the big wad of homesickness and weariness that I'd been shoving aside these past couple weeks. You can't let the wad get to you. You can't fall apart, because at any given moment you're about to be on the radio or on TV or in front of an audience. You have to keep it together. But once I realized I was going home, the big wad came crashing through the corral. I couldn't talk to the publicist without choking up. I managed to say that I didn't want to risk getting turned back at the border, though that was unlikely and not really the issue. Sensing female meltdown, the Canadian publicist let me go. "You sound like you need a rest."
I need a rest.
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Mary Roach is the author of Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers and Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife. Her writing has appeared in such publications as Salon, GQ, Vogue, and The New York Times Magazine. She lives in Oakland, California.
Books mentioned in this post
Mary Roach is the author of Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex