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Passport Agency was a real lifesaver

The newly opened U.S. Passport Agency in Buffalo is a blessing to Western New York. It isn't advisable to wait until you can go there, for you must provide proof of travel within the coming two weeks, but if something happens -- a fabulous flight deal, the urgent need to elope in Paris or heaven forbid an emergency with a family member traveling out of the country -- it's good to know you can get the help you need right in your own back yard.

My love for travel is one of my defining personality traits. I've traveled more than 40,000 miles by car to 39 states. Ask me if I collect anything and I'll always answer, "Stamps in my passport." I've been fortunate to visit 13 countries, and that's just the tip of what I hope will be a very large iceberg.

After several years of talking about it, I finally became certified to teach English as a foreign language. I was soon hired to teach in Turkey. It was a nightmare scenario when I realized that my passport, my prized possession, was nowhere to be found less than 24 hours before takeoff.

I had recently moved. I lost track of it somewhere in the shuffle of packing/unpacking, the rush of the holidays. My overly ambitious schedule of socializing and last-minute exit tasks at work didn't help either. My normally sharp memory failed me. Did I stow it away somewhere a little too safe? Had I foolishly taken it to work? To say that I was in misery is a gross understatement. Would I have to cancel my flight? What first impression would this make with my new employers? I wavered between tears and stoicism as I packed my bags.

Losing my passport seemed somewhat destined to happen. I once suffered from a mysterious condition that caused me to lose my wallet several times in six months. Hearing about this, a friend's mother insisted on holding my passport in protective custody during a trip in January 2006. At the time I felt it was unnecessary, but happily obliged. Five years later, I desperately wished that I had a passport chaperone.

I once overheard someone in an airport mention that she received an emergency passport in 48 hours in Philadelphia. I began to mentally prepare myself for a seven-hour drive. I went online praying that somewhere a little bit closer, like Pittsburgh, might have an office where I could have a passport expedited.

There was more hope than I realized! I had missed the headlines from this past October noting that Buffalo is now home to one of the newest passport agencies in the United States. As one of only 22 offices, this was a blessing I hadn't even realized I'd received.

I called the help line, triple-checked the list of required materials with the operator and scheduled an appointment. I was stunned and ecstatic when the clerk informed me that my new passport would be ready before 3 p.m. that same day. No stress. No lectures. Plus, I was in and out of the office in less than 10 minutes.

All's well that ends well -- except for the fact that I wasted more than $200. (The lost passport turned up a few days later. I don't even want to tell you where.) Humiliating? Absolutely.

Why must I insist on doing things the hard way? I can't say, but here is my penance -- spreading the word about all of the kind and helpful folks at Buffalo's Passport Agency, because responsible people must lose their passports too, right?

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C. Frances Fallon, of West Seneca, is now teaching English in Eskisehir, Turkey, and hopes to teach in Poland this fall.

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