Sunday, January 16, 2011

Saying Goodbye to a Good Friend

I have no wind beneath my wings.

Sorry to reference such a sappy Bette Midler song, but it’s true - my wings are clipped. I’ve been grounded. I have a full tank of gas, and no keys to the car. There are 57 channels on the tv, and nothing’s on. Sigh. I’m feeling sad and helpless, and I know it’s all the government’s fault.

Maybe I should explain where this all began…

Let’s back up to the beginning of last week. Being within 2 months of my current passport expiring, and having an upcoming trip to Toronto and then 2 weeks later to Vancouver, I went and officially applied for a new passport, and thus, had to hand over my old one and wait for a replacement to come while my profile, unsmiling picture and my guarantors are being checked out.

It was so sad to hand it over- like saying goodbye to a trusted friend after so many good times together. Times that would include: drinks at night by the Harbour in Sydney, Australia; bicycle rides along the shore and over the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco; refreshing Starbucks iced-mochas on a patio in Midtown, Manhattan; being accosted and interrogated by German guards in Kiel, Germany at 5 am after spending the night at a disco then riding my bike through a red light on my way home when no one else was in sight (maybe this is less of a good time than I thought). And lastly, as an example of a long lasting friendship, sitting together on centuries-old stone walls on the Normandy Coast in France, watching the sun sink slowly into the Atlantic. We were as inseparable as Abbot and Costello, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, or even as inseparable as Sonny and Cher (at least until a divorce and an unfortunately placed tree came between them). 

Me and my passport crossing over the Brooklyn Bride into New York City.

Me and my passport on Bondi Beach, Sydney, Australia after some knarly surfing lessons.

On a cycling trip together through southern France.

Now this may seem kind of weird, being so attached to a collection of paper, ink and government issued stamps, but as a self-assessed traveloholic, my attachment goes deeper than one might think. I handed it in to the federal agent, and of course soon I’ll have a new one for future travels. But it wasn’t until I handed it over along with my signed documents that I realized that for the next two to three weeks, I do not have a passport.  This means for this amount of time, I’m stuck and I can’t travel. I can, at least, travel by car within Canada, but it means that I cannot fly, even within our own country (we mostly have those self-serving terrorists and the strict and ever-growing list of new travel rules that came from their actions to thank for that – do they never think of anyone else?).

So what if during this period of time a once-in-a-lifetime travel opportunity comes my way? For example, what if I win a contest where the first prize is an all expense paid trip to Egypt, but I have to leave this weekend? Or if the producers of The Amazing Race call for me to be a last minute contestant to race around the world, all at their expense? And most likely of all, what if the LA Lakers call and say that they need me, a forty-something six-foot-one white guy to come and join their starting line? That’s right. It’s a slam-dunk – I’m more stuck at home than an arts grad just out of university.

Or course I'd prefer the number 15 from my high school days, but I guess 8 will do. As long as it comes with the same paycheck that the other number 8 on the team gets...

This has made me realize just how much we (travel enthusiasts) rely on our passports to give us the freedom to wander about the world. It also makes me question what kind of control our democratic government has on us. We feel free, but really, how free are we?

Gone are the glory days where we could travel so freely and easily between so many countries. I think these hard-line measures are a trend that’s out of control and unfortunately will likely continue to grow to annoying levels. Look at what privileges have been taken away from us in the past 20 years or so:

  • Crossing vehicular borders with as little as a driver’s license (without a picture yet) and a really good smile.
  • Bringing our own water bottles onto planes, rather than paying $4.00 at an airport kiosk for something we know that they picked up at Costco for less than ten cents.
  • Smoking sections on planes. Hey, I know the smoke stunk like crazy, especially when you were sitting in the non-smoking section in row 15 when the smoking section started in row 16, but it added atmosphere having that layer of haze floating at eye level while trying to watch the ONE movie screen, 10 rows up just in front of likely the tallest people on the plane who always seemed to need to stand and stretch at regular intervals.
  • Travel agencies. I know they’re still around, but they’re getting harder to find. Sure, it’s handy checking out flights on line these days, but who didn’t use to love heading to the travel agency and coming back with 46 pounds of travel brochures to places with names you likely couldn’t pronounce and that you knew you’d never be likely to travel to? And guaranteed, there was always at least one drop-dead gorgeous girl working at one of the desks, the one you’d always hope that would put together your own personal travel itinerary, if you know what I mean...
  • And finally, those awesome bags of dry-roasted peanuts – especially the ones North West Airlines handed out (16 per package on average) – pure nutty bliss in a foil bag. Yum.

I guess it’s safe to say that times change, and if you don’t change with the times, life (and travel) will likely be full of disappointments.

So in retrospect, I guess I can live, if even for a short while, without a trusty passport. Rest assured, like a child 30 years ago searching excitedly in a box of cereal for the coveted prize, even if it meant being up to your elbow in Count Chocula, I’ll be anxiously checking the mail box daily, seeing if my new passport has arrived, ready to free me from my temporary grounding and possibly expedite my long overdue professional basketball career along side Kobe Bryant.


For the record, I did get my old passport back moments after handing it over to the agent, but they did unceremoniously clip off the top right corner, forever rendering it useless - like a bike with a flat tire, or like American Idol without Paula Abdul. Ha! Kidding on that one. But it will still always have a place in my life – or more accurately, a place in my sock drawer, right next to the resting place of passport 1996-2001 and passport 2001-2006.

Goodbye my old friend. You were too young to go, but you’ll never be forgotten - or recycled.

Rest in peace.

2006 - 2011

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Christmas - The Ukrainian Sequel

There are two great things about being Ukrainian. First thing is the food. Yum. Second would be the noses we all ‘inherit’ from our elders. Kidding! No, the second greatest thing about being Ukrainian is…Ukrainian Christmas! 
Time to put away the North Face and get out the Ukrainian garb! Nothing in the world feels better than a pair of red leather knee-high boots. Our family pictures for Ukrainian Christmas pretty much look exactly like this.

What could be better than taking the best holiday of the year – and then doing it all over again? Bring on the food. Bring on the family. Let’s do it all over again, just at the time when you’ve maybe finally lost most of the weight you gained 2 weeks ago. 

And presents! It’s great to have a second round of gift giving. Not all Ukrainians make the gift giving a part of their second celebration, but when my brother, sister and I were growing up, we often would wake up to happily find another wrapped present under the tree for each of us (along with a million dried out needles from the tree which had stopped sucking up water weeks before). I also seem to remember that each year we’d make some sort of argument of how it was so totally disrespectful to be going to school on such a special occasion, but not only did we have to go to school as usual, we’d even have to do homework that night if we had any. So much for holiday spirit...
Usually we'd only find one gift each under the tree, nicely wrapped. The gifts were always really good too since we knew Santa could get post-Christmas Boxing Day deals.

Anyway, tonight is Ukrainian Christmas eve. It’s mid-winter, it’s cold, and I’m feeling a little bit bound by the elements of winter and would love to be traveling somewhere in the world. Honestly, I could have my bags packed and be gone by evening – but sadly that’s unlikely to happen.
I received some great presents from our previous Christmas gift giving, but when your passion in life is travel, sometimes there are things you’d love to put on your Christmas list, but they wouldn’t be easy (or affordable) for my friends or family to purchase. My wife finds it impossibly difficult to buy for me when I tend to have everything I need already. Meanwhile, if I could add items like a trip to Europe or an eco-tour in Costa Rica, I could easily provide a list in mere minutes that wouldn’t kill anyone’s brain cells in the process. But with the price limit we set on each other’s gifts, I don’t think I’m going to make it much further than maybe Morris, Manitoba.
So I have a brilliant idea – this year, I’m going to write a letter to Santa with my wish list for Ukrainian Christmas. Since only Ukrainians are sending in their lists for this special night, it should be easy to get what I’m requesting with so little competition for his time and special gifts. And to make it even more fun and festive, I’ve put my wish list into a song format that follows the tune of “My Favourite Things” from the Sound of Music.

Here we go:
Dear Santa,
I’ve been a good boy all year long. I go to bed early, get up early, wash the dishes, mow the lawn, wash the cars (well, I take them to an automatic car wash, but heck, I still have to drive there), talk to the neighbours, and I even sometimes answer the phone when I know it’s a telemarketer (they get lonely too, I’m sure). It’s Ukrainian Christmas, and I’ve tried to live a good Ukrainian lifestyle. I’ve started pinching my nephew’s cheeks and calling Safeway ‘Safeways’ and the Bay ‘the Bays’ just like my dear old Grandma used to (not sure where the habit of adding in an extra s comes from, but I’m going to assume it’s a Ukrainian thing).
And just to confirm, was it cookies or perogies you wanted left by the fireplace mantel? Maybe I’ll leave both!
And so, here’s my list for Christmas tonight, again, in the form of a song:
Sunscreen on noses and tickets to Britain
Airplanes of metal and postcards you’ve written
Luggage all packed and gondoliers who sing
These are a few of my favourite things

Traveling with homeys and crisp Asian noodles
Jet ways and cafes and artists that doodle
Bike trips and boat rides and countries with Kings
These are a few of my favorite things
Booking flights on-line and drinks on a terrace
Bright sunny beaches and cafés in Paris
Gulls by the ocean with sun on their wings
These are a few of my favorite things
When the frost bites
And my mood swings
When I need travel bad
I simply remember my favourite things
And then I don’t feel so bad
[Repeat all verses - then go book a trip!]
Merry Ukrainian Christmas to all!