Canada, in Comparison

Yesterday morning, I went to the Toronto passport office just to make sure all my papers for my Canadian passport were in order before I mailed them. I waited about ten minutes for my number to come up and went to speak with a very pleasant woman behind the counter.  She said they could process it there, without my having to mail it, but I would have to be able to pick it up in person.   I told her that wouldn’t be possible because I was leaving Monday morning for Montreal. She  asked, “can you prove your travel plans ?”  I showed her my flight reservation on my phone calendar, and she said, “Well, I think that qualifies you for urgent processing of your passport. Can you come in tomorrow?”

Well, yes! I was in and out in about 40 minutes that day, with more than I had come for.  With a little bit of scrambling around, and the help of the people who served as my references, 24 hours later, after no wait and another round of pleasant people, one of whom took the photo here,  I have my Canadian passport.

Here’s another story.  When I was pickpocketed in Barcelona this spring,  my driver’s license was in my wallet.  I carry it for ID abroad, so I can leave my passport in the safe.  I tried to submit an application for a duplicate online, assuming that because the license wasn’t near expiring and I had no violations on my record, it would be simple. It wasn’t.  The online site told me I had to go into the DMV in person.  When I got home in July, there were no appointments for the next  two months anywhere in San Diego County.  The first available slot was after I left on another assignment, and the calendar had not yet opened up for any appointments in October, after I returned.

The solution, according to the DMV, was to go in without an appointment and wait in line  Here’s how well that works: Dan tried renewing his license that way last month, only to wait in line more than three hours until he had to leave for another appointment, without ever getting the license. The next time he got there at 6:30 in the morning, two hours before they opened, and there were still three dozen people in line. He waited for two hours then waited another hour inside, but managed to get the license.   That’s what you go through for routine renewal or replacement in the comparatively high-functioning State of California.

The moral here is that bureaucracies can work well.  The passport office in Toronto does.  Everyone smiles, the office is clean and well lit, and the service is quick.  The attitude seemed to be to do all they can for the client.  I got so much more than I came in expecting.

Contrast with the grimy and dilapidated DMV office in San Diego.  So many more services need to be done in person, yet it is in the same cramped space it has been for decades, with people spilling out the doors just to get to the point where they can get a number to begin their wait.  If you are lucky you will get a clerk in a good mood.  If not, be prepared to be treated like just another aggravation in his or her day.  With luck, you will get what you came for, but you will probably not go away feeling the clerk cared much either way.

Okay, maybe it’s a first world problem, compared to what most people have to deal with.  I’ll grant that.  But really, in this and other ways, I feel as if my country is barely clinging to status as a first world country.  We are a threatened democracy, we have crumbling infrastructure, dysfunctional government services,  no universal health care, young adults crippled with debt for schooling, environmental deregulations that are making some places uninhabitable, with many more to come.  Enough yet?  I could go on.

It doesn’t have to be this way.  My experience in Canada is evidence of this.  Yet little by little, Americans have come to expect less and less from their government.  I remember when I first came to work at San Diego City College, I quickly learned not to expect that the drinking fountains would work.  That’s how it starts.  You stop expecting even a basic level of function, then you start assuming things will go badly, then you realize, stunned, what many poor Americans, white or of color, have known forever—that to the powers that be, it is perfectly okay if people (certain kinds of people in particular) don’t get their needs met.  The solution is to adjust one’s expectations.  In other words, the motto for this coming American age may be”Welcome to the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.  Please bring your own toilet paper.”



Done—For Now

It’s flattering to be asked with what( I think) is envy more than astonishment how in the world little old me managed to get the retirement gig of the century, traveling the world lecturing on luxury ships.  I always respond by saying how utterly lucky I have been, but I do sense in the asking, at least sometimes, a feeling that behind the question is the perception that it isn’t that hard to do.  “I’ll have to figure out something I can lecture on,” some people say, while others give varying renditions of “not a bad return for a couple of lectures.”

These people (really only a small percentage of an overall appreciative clientele) have no idea what I look like right now, bleary eyed, unwashed, tongue tied, and staggering as I wrap up my work before leaving tomorrow for Montreal.  I am packed, but I don’t really know what my distracted and semi-functioning mind thought I would need.  I have checked the to-do’s off my list, but I have no idea how many things never got  on it that should have.

Since February I have been working with every minute of my time at home, and every chunk of private time on ships, to be ready for the Big One, which here means a five-month stint in Asia.   In the middle I had to take time out to prepare  new talks and revisions for the late-add Baltic assignment I did for Silversea.  Add to that, the prep I did from scratch last fall  for Alaska and several new and revised talks for Montreal, and the destination talks I did in the Med this summer and I am up to about 40 talks, maybe more,  I have developed either from scratch or significantly revised in the last year. That is one every nine days or so but that’s not how it works. It really means none for weeks on end, then a flurry when I have the time and means to work.

This morning I crossed a major hurdle. I finished Asia! For the last few months I had been wondering whether I would be able to get it done before I left for the first foliage cruise to Montreal, especially since my original goal of being done before Alaska had been unfulfilled.

Now I can breathe a sigh of relief because although I will keep revising and improving the talks before I give them, there is no hole in my preparation.  I still need to do a lot of work for the last piece of My Year of Living Travelly, crossing the Indian Ocean from Mumbai to Dubai then on to Athens through the Suez Canal, but that really, truly can wait a while.

Quiet the mind, relax the kinks…trying…..

….maybe ice cream will help.



Home Is Where the Anchor Drops


The day after tomorrow I leave for Toronto to visit friends I met on a cruise a few years back, then it’s on to Montreal to meet up with a college friend and head out on the first of three fall foliage cruises on the St. Lawrence River to Newfoundland,  the Maritimes and New England.

Time to check in with myself  again.

This stay in San Diego was puzzling. I was in the city I have called home for more than half a century, staying with Dan  around the corner from my condo in the  same building, in a neighborhood I know intimately, doing things that are part of my routine, but there’s a disconnect.  It’s like I am visiting here, more than returning home.   Dan and I have had a lot of fun doing different things and just being together, so disconnect doesn’t mean discontent.  I have been happy in the present here, and that is what I most want to feel.

Maybe it’s my concept  of home that is changing.  Home, it appears, is wherever I am.  “Home,” as a t-shirt I bought somewhere says,” is where the anchor drops.” In San Diego during My Year of Living Travelly, nothing I own is in a drawer.  Clothes I don’t need stay in my suitcases, and what I might use is in a box in the bedroom.  The rest is in my storage locker in the basement. There is really almost no difference between the way I live in San Diego these days, and the way I live on ships, or between cruises in places I visit. It’s all suitcases and storage. I am totally  comfortable with that, and miss only fleetingly anything that is part of my more settled life.

But here is what is most different this time: I didn’t play tennis or golf even once.  I didn’t go to minyan at the synagogue. When Dan and I walked in the park, I didn’t pick up trash on the path, as I always have.  Those things are all part of my San Diego identity. It’s not as if I made a conscious choice not to do familiar things, it simply did not occur to me  until maybe two days ago, that I wasn’t doing them.

Am I just a visitor here now, in the place  I have called home since I was fourteen? Time will tell.  I will be back for two more short stays before I leave for five months in Asia.  I am not making even the slightest effort to project how my outlook will alter over time. Maybe I will come back  gladder than ever to have this wonderful city to live in. Maybe I will come back a hopeless vagabond. Maybe ( and the November elections will play a role in this) I may decide I don’t want to live here anymore.  I guess I will just have to wait and see.