leaving vancouver: in which we discover the scary truth about canadian passports

This was an eventful day! We started at the Acme Cafe, for another BOGO breakfast. The food is great even without the discount. But a free goat cheese-portobello-sun dried tomato fritata, with potatoes and toast? Yes, please!

The Acme Cafe is a few buildings down from the old Woodward's Building, which figures prominently in the rise and fall of this historic neighbourhood. We took a few photos, then packed up, and took the Skytrain back to the airport, getting to the airport quickly and easily for $8, total for two. This makes Toronto's $30 UP Express ripoff seem even more egregious.

And then it happened. We tried to check in at the flight counter, only to learn that our passports had expired. Last summer! We were utterly shocked. And yes, we are idiots. Obviously I must have seen the expiry date on our passports, but it never clicked: they were good for only five years.

Unbelievable. And completely our own fault.

The counter agent was very nice but there was absolutely nothing she could do to help. You must have a valid passport to fly internationally. And we did not.

This trip has been planned for at least nine months. Family is expecting us - and some folks are driving up from the Bay Area to Oregon, and they only have this weekend. What are we going to do?! We took our luggage and sat down, stunned, trying to assess our options.

The counter agent suggested going back to downtown Vancouver to apply for new passports, but on a Friday afternoon, we'd be very lucky to have new passports early next week. Too late.

After a few minutes we realized there was only one possible solution. We had to rent a car and drive to Oregon, taking a chance that we'd be admitted to the US. A passport would still be necessary, but land crossings are at the discretion of the border guard. We are still US citizens, and supposedly cannot be denied entry. However, US citizens are supposed to carry US passports, and we don't.

But there was no choice. We had to take that chance.

The first car rental counter had no cars available, and told us another place was also sold out. A little scary, but Avis made it happen - a good price and unlimited mileage. In a few minutes we were heading south. And very worried! We'd have our expired passports, all the information from the flights we were supposed to take, plus all the ID to back up the passport. Would that be enough? We were sure we'd need the "secondary interview" - another interrogation inside the border-services building.

At the border crossing, we pulled up to the booth.

Border guard, taking our passports: Where are you going?

Us: Ashland, Oregon.

Guard: How long are you staying?

Us: Til Friday, March 4th.

Guard: Are you bringing anything in to the US?

Us: Just our personal things, and a few small gifts.

Guard, handing our passports back to us: Have a safe trip.

We managed to control ourselves until we were safely away from the booth, before letting out one huge WHOO-HOOO.

Then all we had was 10 hours of driving ahead of us. Which would have been fine, except for the three hours of bumper-to-bumper traffic in the Sea-Tac area, from north of Seattle to south of Tacoma. The rain didn't help either. But at 1:00 a.m. we were driving up the gravel road to my brother and sister-in-law's new home.

So we had to eat the price of the flight from Vancouver to Oregon, and pay a huge penalty and increased fare to fly home from Vancouver, as well as rent a vehicle for a week. An expensive holiday, indeed.

The morale of the story is check those expiration dates.

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