“Honest, sir! The dog ate my homework.”
In my youthful years as a grade seven teacher, I bet I heard that timeworn cliché from a student a dozen times. My two daughters, themselves teachers now, tell me they, too, have heard the ridiculous excuse more than once.
Irony of ironies, then, that my youngest daughter recently tried to make that same claim, or one very similar, on her own behalf. The girls were flying to New York City, with two friends, to celebrate the end of another school year. My daughter’s airfare was paid by her older sister, a birthday gift, but they were on separate flights.
The night before, the younger gal was online, printing her boarding pass, when she was called away for a few minutes. When she came back to her computer, she claims, she found her passport on the floor, mangled and torn by the family dog.
When such calamities strike, my daughter usually exhibits a good deal of forbearance (unlike her father), and so it was this time.
“It was my fault,” she told me later. “I’m always telling the kids not to leave stuff lying around. I can’t blame the dog.”
Upset, but undeterred, she set about to repair the damage, carefully piecing the torn pages together with transparent tape. It was a well-used passport, lots of pages stamped from previous trips, and she hoped that fact would override any challenges she might face from border agents. When closed, it looked almost normal; opened, however, not so much.
As a seasoned traveler myself, I’ve had lots of experience with the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol. These men and women have enormous authority to deny entry to their country, with no recourse to appeal for those turned away. So, it’s a testament to my daughter’s charm, megawatt smile, and persuasive powers that she actually managed to convince the CBP agent in the pre-clearance area at the airport to approve her entry and stamp her passport.
Safely admitted to the lounge, she spent the next six hours dealing with repeated flight-delays and changes to boarding gates, wandering to and fro through the airport. Unbelievably, her flight was eventually cancelled, the only alternative being a flight leaving early the following morning. So, there she was, forced to go home overnight, before a pre-dawn taxi-ride back to the airport.
That, of course, meant another encounter with a tough-as-nails CBP agent, proffering the same mangled passport and same shaky story.
“Honest, sir! The dog ate my passport!”
Wonder of wonders, that staunch defender of Trumpian immigration policy believed her, and she was once again granted entry.
The gals finally met up in the Big Apple later that morning, and proceeded to have the time of their lives for the next few days. All the trouble was worth it, my daughter told me later.
“It was like one of those fairy tales from Hans Christian Andersen.”
On the final day, they were scheduled to fly home on the same flight. But, when they arrived to check in, my daughter was denied permission to board the aircraft.
“Why?” she asked, dismayed and disbelieving. “What’s the problem?”
“Your passport,” she was told. “It’s not acceptable. You should never have been let into the country.”
Despite pleading her case, using the fact of her Canadian citizenship as suitable reason to let her go home, she could not get on that plane. My older daughter, in a gesture that brought tears to my eyes (although it was no surprise to me), refused to abandon her sister. Their two friends reluctantly bade them farewell and left on their flight home, while my two girls—ever bright, assertive, and resourceful—plotted their next moves.
After a few face-to-face conversations with airline staff, and some phone calls, they were promised a refund for the cost of their flights (in the form of credits to be used within the next twelve months). They booked a rental car, negotiating a reduced rate, and phoned their husbands to tell them they were driving to Buffalo. My sons-in-law, gentlemen of the first order, immediately drove together to Buffalo to fetch their wives and bring them home.
Of course, the four of them had to clear Canadian border security on the return trip. In my own experience, the agents with the Canada Border Services Agency are among the friendliest, most helpful, and welcoming to be found anywhere. Not so this time, however.
The four travelers were pulled aside so my daughter could attempt to explain the sad state of her passport, and convince the skeptical CBSA people that she truly was a citizen, just trying to re-enter her home and native land. After what must have seemed an interminable wait, she was finally granted permission—with a stern warning to replace the offending passport. The girls (and their gallant guys) finally arrived home in the wee, small hours of the morning after they left the airport in New York City.
“Was it worth it?” I asked my daughters the next time I spoke with them. “All that hassle?”
“For sure, Dad! We had a blast!” the older one replied.
“I agree,” her sister chimed in. “The problems were really my fault, when you think about it.”
Far be it from me to point a finger of blame. But, when I do think about it, I agree with her. That passport couldn’t have been damaged the way she said.
I mean, what kind of dog eats passports? That’s the most ridiculous excuse I’ve heard since…well, since I was a teacher.
Dogs get a bad rap!