I don’t know how she got hold of it, but Snart has found this photo from my dim and distant past. It’s the first passport photo I ever had taken. When the photographer handed it to me, I was convinced that any border inspection officer who saw it would think I was fried out of my head on peyote. It never occurred to me to get another photo taken. That would have cost ten dollars and taken a full week to get developed.
I was eighteen. My parents — bless their generosity and trust in me — had bought me a backpack and Eurail pass and an airplane ticket to Rome. Once there, I was going to meet up with my BFF Susan (known on this blog as Hiker Chick), who had spent our senior year in high school as an exchange student in Germany. She had our backpacking itinerary all worked out. I packed two pairs of jeans, three T-shirts, a skirt (for the churches), flip-flops (for the youth hostel showers), and a swimsuit.
Ten days after getting this photo taken, my family waved goodbye to me at LAX. I’d never been more than five miles across the US border. I boarded the first 747 I’d ever been on, and as the flight lifted off the runway the flight attendant announced: “Welcome aboard TWA Flight 900, with service to New York, Lisbon, Madrid, and Casablanca.”
I would have freaked out completely and clawed at the windows if the flight hadn’t had that first stop in New York. There, I attempted a cool, worldly look and asked… in a mousy squeak… “So, this flight? Any chance it’s going to Rome?”
It was. And by the next afternoon I was hanging out with Hiker Chick, staying at a convent in central Rome, sharing pizza with two beautiful young Italian college girls who claimed they were — gasp! — communists. It was the start of an amazing trip.
The border guards never looked askance at my photo. However, there was a squad of Italian paratroopers on our train to Venice, and for a while on that journey things threatened to get out of control… but that’s a story for another day.