New U.S. passport: efficient, high-tech, purty

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Remember all the hullabaloo about a year ago on the mess that was the U.S. passport application process?

I applied a week ago last Saturday, April 19, for a renewal. I downloaded the application online at the surprisingly easy-to-use website of the U.S. State Department; then I popped it in the mail along with a $60 check. Easy, peasy.

A few days later, I panicked. My very ill mother in Japan wasn’t looking too hot; I thought I’d have to plan another trip sooner rather than later. On the web site, it says standard processing time is four to six weeks. But even with the expedited service, which costs about double, it says it takes three weeks. I didn’t know if I had that long.

When I called the toll-free number, I got a person. Honest. A person. Who walked me through my situation, and calmly told me that processing times were now only one week. One week! “You should get your passport next week,” she said. Meantime, she told me to check its progress online. I did, with an I.D. code; the State Department then updated me every day with an e-mail.

A few days later, still anxious and disbelieving, I called again. I got—get this—another person. A person! “I see here it went out today,” she said, cheerfully. The next day, there it was: my little navy ticket to international travel. It took exactly seven days.

It looks different from my old passport. For one thing, its cover isn’t bendy. Says inside: “This document contains sensitive electronics.” Electronics! For real? Plus it’s got moving quotes by famous Americans on every page. Like this one from Martin Luther King, Jr.: “We have a great dream. It started way back in 1776, and God grants that America will be true to her dream.”

I get all misty looking at it. It’s so purty. Plus my photo isn’t horror-movie bad…for a preggers mommy with no makeup or sleep.