My Passport Has Expired

American Driver

Two weeks ago, I flew to England to visit the bright and shiny new Bentley works—housed in the old Rolls-Royce works—at Crewe, not far from the Welsh border. After that, we flew to a wonderful old hotel on the Scottish seacoast, the Ackergill Tower, only thirteen miles from John O’Groats, the northernmost point of land on Great Britain’s mainland. Automobile Magazine’s Joe DeMatio was among my traveling companions, and we were there to drive the new Bentley Continental GT on the ex-tremely narrow and challenging roads of northern Scotland. I fell in love with the Continental GT at the Paris motor show a year ago, and that love affair was rekindled by eight hours of high-spirited driving through the Scottish countryside. The car is an extremely fast, comfortable two-plus-two, and if you were to make a list of all the things in the world that can be bought for $150,000, the Continental GT would be right up in the top rank.

It was fitting and proper that the last trip on my expiring passport would be to England and then to Scotland, because by far the greatest number of stamps on the pages of that passport are from the immigration people at London’s Heathrow airport. It has only been in the past decade or so that our neighborhood airport, Detroit’s Metropolitan, has offered direct flights to European cities other than London. Thus, London was always the place where we changed planes for cities on the Continent. I still fly through London for a lot of European trips, partly because I love flying on British Air-ways and partly because I could steal a day or two in London to visit favorite used-book stores and galleries and share a meal with one old friend or another. This journey was no exception. BA flew me to London, I took the train from Heathrow to Paddington Station and a cab from Padding-ton to the Athenaeum Hotel, and at ten in the morning, I was trying on a suit at Anderson & Sheppard in Savile Row. That was followed by a leisurely breakfast at Brown’s Hotel in Albe-marle Street, which was followed by a nap.

Not a bad trip to finish off a passport.

That night, I had dinner at the Guinea Grill in Bruton Place. The Guinea is known for its steaks and its celebrated steak and kidney pie, and I was halfway through the latter item when Neil Ressler, a senior technical advisor and former vice president at Ford, strode through the door with friends and family in tow. He had shown the new Ford GT at the Goodwood Festival of Speed the previous weekend to great acclaim, and he’d attended a board meeting of the Jaguar Formula 1 team and was brimming with optimism. We vowed to get together back in Ann Arbor, and he was away like the wind. As one who has missed no opportunity to criticize the Jaguar F1 effort, I must say I’m pleased to see things starting to look up on that front.

Strolling back to my hotel in the warm summer night, I thought about the expiring passport in the breast pocket of my jacket. It’s been overseas about thirty times in the past ten years, and I now carry it on domestic flights as well, be-cause of security requirements since September 11, 2001, so it’s pretty badly beaten up. The official seal of the United States of America is missing from its cover because I left it in the pocket of a suit that went to the dry cleaner seven years ago. There are stamps from Argentina, Austria, France, Germany, Great Britain, Holland, Hun-gary, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Sweden, Switzerland, and Uruguay. Unfortunately, with the open borders that prevail in Europe today, it bears no stamps from European Union countries that I entered by car, where bored officers glanced at the offered passport and waved me through. I even asked a couple of them to give me a stamp anyway, just because I’m still awe-struck at all the places my travels have taken me, but they were reluctant to comply.

My new passport will expire in ten years, when I’ll be either eighty-two years of age or on the other side of the grass. However it works out, my travels undoubtedly will have become less frequent. In the meantime, I’ll never tire of England, Scotland, or Ireland, and I very badly want to get back to Argentina and Uruguay. The words “night plane to Buenos Aires” resonate through my imagination. I’ve been to Chile only once, very briefly, on my birthday in 1998, when one leg of the Argentine Mil Millas took us over the mountains from Patagonia to an oddball Chilean resort hotel for lunch. Martin Swig and I drove his 1951 Kiekhaefer Chrysler stock car that day, and we had the time of our lives. I feel as though I ought to know cities like Vienna, Graz, and Prague better. I went to Botswana with a band of friends for a hunting and game-viewing trip on the passport before this one, and I want to go back. I know that the AIDS epidemic has wreaked havoc on that African paradise, but I want to sleep in a tent, see all those birds and animals from the bed of a Toyota Pickup, and have a cheeseburger and a Tusker beer at the Duck Inn in Maun again. My new passport is going to need a few good stamps.

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