It wasn't like I was leaving my passport renewal to the last minute.
It was a week ago Friday, and I didn't need it until the following Tuesday.
Five whole days!
Walk in the park.
Not that the passport had expired or anything - it was valid until June.
But France (among other countries, it must be said) insists that you have six months 'headroom' on your passport before you enter the country, possibly based on their belief that once you're in France you'll never want to leave.
More likely some conspiracy among passport offices around the world to defraud the public out of three months worth of passport fees.
(So cynical for one so young...)
I had all the forms filled out, so all I needed was new photos.
Superstore, ten bucks, Bob's Your Uncle.
Oops - test car was low on fuel.
ESSO stations give Aeroplan points. I already had my wallet out (for my credit card) but also took out my passport (in whose carrying case I also keep my Aeroplan card, because when do you usually need your Aeroplan card? Exactly - when you have your passport out, so I keep them together. I also keep my NEXUS - preferred border crossing system - card there for the same reason).
I put everything on the roof of the car as I was filling it up, so I'd be sure not to lose it.
Now, there had been a small but messy Diesel fuel spill at the gas station island I was at.
Oops again - better hit the Intercom button to alert the attendant.
Attention Deficit Disorder? Who, me?
Into the car then, and off to the Superstore.
Got the photos.
Went to pay for them.
Oops yet again - where's my wallet?
Must be in my brief case, still in the car, yes?
Must have fallen out inside the car, perhaps?
I'm whistling past the graveyard, because it's beginning to dawn on me that I KNOW where my wallet is - on the ground, somewhere between the ESSO and the Superstore, having fallen off the car as I pulled out of the gas station.
Along with my passport, its carrying case and its contents.
So, there I was.
No credit cards.
No driver's licence.
No NEXUS card.
No birth certificate.
I was a non-person.
I was identity-free.
I was Tom Hanks stuck in the airport in that movie.
I did not exist.
Full of hope, I drove back to the ESSO station.
The gas station attendant had not had anything turned in.
I figured if it had all fallen off the car, it surely would have happened pretty soon after I drove away. So I walked a couple of blocks of the route I had followed, looking for some documentation that I did in fact still exist.
No joy in this on-foot search, although I did find a small case with some business cards in it - maybe if I took these back to their rightful owner I'd be paying my karma forward, and someone would return my stuff.
Hope springs eternal, eh?
My last remaining hope was the Halton Regional Police Force.
'Lynn', the receptionist on duty, was very helpful and sympathetic, and introduced me to Constable Mark Brewster.
I was able to recite from memory my passport and driver's licence numbers, at least partially to prove I was not just another doddering old idiot who forgot everything...
I also told him exactly what pump I had been at, and the time of day almost to the minute.
Constable Brewster then went all CSI on the case, saying he was going to check the gas station's surveillance video.
I figured I'd leave the pro to the task - besides, I had no driver's licence. How ironic would it be if he pulled me over for that?
So I took the business cards back to my new friend/neighbour in town - turns out his wife had been at the nearby McDonald's earlier in the day, locked her keys in her car, fished around in her purse looking for the spare key, and the card case must have fallen out.
I snuck on back home, via back roads (no licence...).
First thing - printed out a copy of my licence which I had previously scanned.
Ten minutes later, the phone rang.
"We have good news," he said, "Sort of. We don't have the wallet and passport yet, but the video did show them falling off the car right there at the station."
The attendant was going to shut the video machine off at this point, but Constable Brewster said to keep it running.
Sure enough, a few minutes later, a truck pulls in, the driver gets out, he spots the wallet and passport, picks them up, and drives off.
The video didn't catch the licence plate number, but it did show the name of the company. "Mammoet", a heavy transport company.
A quick phone call to them identified the driver, and soon Constable Brewster was talking with him.
He told the police officer he was in a hurry to finish his delivery but was going to bring everything to the police station that evening after work.
I shouldn't - I won't - speak for Constable Brewster, but I was thinking, “Would he have said that if he didn't know the police had him in possession of the goods on video? Or would have been off to Buenos Aries on my VISA card?”
So at 6:30 that evening, I went back at the station. A bright red Ford F-Series pick-up pulled up. A young man got out with something in his hand. I followed him inside.
I said, “I think you might be looking for me?”
Everything was there.
Cash - to the penny.
Tyler Armstrong is my new hero.
A young father of two, he had lost his wallet a couple of years ago while on vacation in Arizona, so he knew exactly how it felt.
He did find his too, but he said, “Their police are nowhere near as nice as ours!”
Amen to that, brother.
I offered him a $100 cash reward.
I offered him $20 for gas money for driving over there.
He refused again.
“I can't accept anything for doing the right thing,” he said.
And there I had been, wondering if he ever was going to bring my stuff back as he had said he would.
Shame on me.
Restores your faith in humanity, it does.
If Mammoet has an Employee of the Week/Month/Year/Decade/Century program, Tyler Armstrong is my nominee.
I do meet quite a few young men who read Wheels and/or watch Motoring on TSN, but Tyler apparently isn't one of those - he didn't have any idea who I was.
But he did seem very pleased with the Kenzie Car Photography Calendar in support of SMARTRISK and the Motoring 2012 key chain I gave him - those he would accept!
It is hard to imagine my relief at how this all turned out. I had made a huge mistake, yet had not suffered for it - other than several tense hours...
By this time of course the passport office was closed, and I had to leave Sunday afternoon to get to St. Louis to deliver a speech on Monday morning.
I could have got into the US with my newly-recovered NEXUS card, but I needed my passport to get on the airplane, so I couldn't even have my wife drop the passport renewal application off at the passport office Monday morning to jump-start the process - they needed me in person, and my old passport.
So that all had to wait until I returned Monday afternoon.
But again, the public service employees did their thing, and were able to prepare the passport by 1 p.m. Tuesday.
Then it was straight from there to the airport, and off to France for the Mercedes-Benz AMG 63 SL preview test.
First, don't leave stuff on the roof of your car when filling it up!
Second, any time anyone - including me - bad-mouths the police, they'll get an argument from me.
(Arguing with myself? I do it all the time...).
Yes, I still think their over-emphasis on speed limit enforcement for traffic safety is futile and pointless.
But that's a case of “Hate the sin, love the sinner.”
Third, if anyone bad-mouths the federal public service, they'll also get an argument from me. This is the second time in five years the passport office has turned an application around for me in less than 24 hours (another long story...) and they did it both times with professionalism and courtesy.
Lesson four? When you finish reading this, go get all your important documents - passport, licence, health card, credit cards, etc. - and scan them into your computer. They may or may not be accepted as 'legal' in case of emergency, but at least you'll have all the data necessary to expedite their replacement.
Again, a million thanks to Constable Mark Brewster of the Halton Regional Police Force (who politely turned down my request to photograph him for this piece), to Tyler Armstrong (who smilingly did not!), and to the staff at the Passport Office at Central Parkway and Burnhamthorpe in Mississauga.