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  I had planned to board a luxury liner. Instead, I was riding the Greyhound to Miami.   By Charlie Huisking   For a guy who left the Sarasota Herald-Tribune in September in part to become a travel writer, I found myself in an embarrassing position earlier this month.   In a spur-of-the-moment decision, a […]

December 11, 2006


 
I had planned to board a luxury liner. Instead, I was riding the Greyhound to Miami.
 
By Charlie Huisking
 
For a guy who left the Sarasota Herald-Tribune in September in part to become a travel writer, I found myself in an embarrassing position earlier this month.
 
In a spur-of-the-moment decision, a friend and I booked a 10-day cruise on the luxurious Crystal Serenity (www.crystalserenity.com). The round-trip Caribbean voyage from Miami was to leave on Dec. 5.
 
But about a week before departure, my travel agent noted that my passport was to expire in January 2007. I hadn’t given that fact a second thought, since our ship would return to Miami on Dec. 15.
But it turns out Crystal Cruises requires that passports be valid for at
least six months after a voyage ends. I’ve heard various explanations for that policy, from security requirements to flexibility in case of an
emergency.
 
At any rate, I knew I had only days to get a new passport. After
considering several options, including passport expediting services, I
decided the best course was to travel to Miami, the site of the nearest U.S. Passport Office.
 
But because of recent back problems, I didn’t want to drive. So I hopped the Greyhound bus from the dingy Washington Boulevard station in Sarasota. My friends thought I was nuts, but I figured I’d get some reading done.
 
 I settled on the Barack Obama memoir, Dreams about My Father.
People-watching and eavesdropping proved to be far more diverting
activities, however. The obsessive-compulsive woman across the aisle read every billboard and restaurant name aloud, mile after mile.
“Bob Evans,” she’d shout. “Shell Factory.” “Early bird special.”
 
The sweet-faced young girl behind me was constantly on her cell phone. Her conversations were banal at first, but then she described a fight with her boyfriend, who had tossed her belongings on the front lawn. She was now on the way to Punta Gorda to seek refuge with friends.
 
My passport problem didn’t seem like such a crisis, compared to that.
But I was still nervous as we arrived in Miami after a seven-hour trip. The Miami downtown terminal turned out to be a shack in a vacant lot, surrounded by a fence and guarded by an armed security guard.
 
“Where can I get a taxi?” I asked him.
 
“Taxis don’t usually come here,” he said sternly. But he agreed
to call one.
 
“To the Four Seasons,” I told the driver. “The Four Seasons HOTEL?” he said, grinning at the incongruity of it. But hey, I figured I deserved to treat myself after my ordeal.
 
At 8 a.m. the next morning, I showed up for my pre-scheduled appointment at the passport office in the Claude Pepper Federal Building. I began telling my sob story to the impassive-looking clerk, but he interrupted me. “Come back at 11 a.m. and it should be ready,” he said.
 
And sure enough, at noon, I clutched my new passport firmly in hand as I boarded the bus for the return trip to Sarasota. This time I was the obsessive-compulsive one, checking my carry-on bag at least 10 times during the trip, to make sure it was still there.
 

My friend Jeff and I returned to Miami a week later, this time by car, to board the Crystal Serenity. I’ll share some of the highlights of that trip in upcoming blogs.