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October 26, 2021 By Bill Rawlinson

Get Me to the Ship on Time

While stationed in England I managed to catch a free ride back to the States on an Air Force cargo airplane landing on Christmas Day, 1956. Betty and I married on January 2 and then planned to sail to England on the 9th aboard the SS United States. We arrived in New York City on the 8th, had dinner and strolled Times Square. Then a massive light came on in my brain! I had left my passport in England and there was no way I could get on that ship, which was scheduled to sail at 11 a.m. We talked options! Betty could sail alone, and I would catch a flight back to England and meet her in London. How and where? How about going to Trafalgar Square every day at noon until we both rendezvous and other crazy schemes of desperation. I said that we would wander Times Square until some guy steps out of an alley and asks if we “need anything.

Within 15 minutes, a man steps out of an alley and says, “Psst! Hey buddy, anything ya need?” I coolly replied, “I need two passport photos. Tonight.” If I could pull this off, I would show up at the Passport Office at 9 a.m. and request an emergency passport. “Mr. Dealer” frowned, thought a bit and said, “Twenty bucks and come back in 20 minutes!” Twenty dollars was like a hundred in today’s money. I handed him a twenty and he showed up twenty minutes later with a camera man. He took a few shots and said, “Come back in 30 minutes!” Thirty minutes later, I had my photos.

The next morning, Betty went to the ship, and I was at the Manhattan passport office pleading for an emergency passport. The clerk was sympathetic and gave me the forms. I gave her the photos. By 10 a.m., all was done except for a signature from the office chief. She was an officious, stiff-necked woman who pushed my passport to the side of her desk. The minutes ticked by and at 10:30 there was no signature. The ship was to sail at 11:00! I told the clerk that if that woman did not sign in five minutes I was leaping over the counter and taking the passport. I do not know how the clerk translated my message, but the office chief did not budge. Just before I leaped, she signed it. I ran out the door and flew down the stairs two at a time and out into the street as a taxi was passing. I jumped in and said, “I will double what’s on your meter if you get me to Pier 94 in 15 minutes.” It was my first ride across Manhattan running red lights and going up on the sidewalk. As we arrived at the ship, the last blast for boarding sounded. I raced up the ramp and down to our cabin. I found my bride in a near state of hysteria.

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