"28 or 52 pages?", asks the clerk.
"Sorry? Does it matter?"
On Wednesday I was still jet lagged and addled from traveling through one international date line, two continents, three countries, five time zones, and 30-plus-hours of flights and layovers. But necessity had me standing on the 6th floor of a federal building in downtown Seattle, behind two layers of security, trying to hear the muffled voice of a kindly lady sitting behind inch-thick-and-no-doubt-bullet-proof glass. I leave for Japan in just two weeks.
"Let's see," she says, and starts rifling through the pages of my retiring passport. The cover is worn and faded with age, bent to the shape of my wallet and back pocket. Its been in the ocean at least three times and the washing machine twice that I can remember. My visas from China and Russia have lost their adhesive backing. After a customs officer stapled one to its appropriate page I followed suit with the others. Missing visas cause uncomfortable questions in the DMZ between the gate of a plane or the old country at your back and the gate of the new that you're waiting to go through.
China, Mexico, Russia, New Zealand, Mexico, Australia, Ecuador, Italy, Canada, Switzerland, Chile, France, Japan. The stamps and stickers and visa decals - and the stapled receipt for the $100 US Dollar Chile entry fee - are in a randomness that defeat any attempts at using my passport to figure out the history of my travels or even where I've been most recently.
"I think you should," she says. "It looks like the last few years have been busy for you. And we can't add pages anymore - so if you fill up a standard book early you'll have to pay for a new one altogether."
A 52-page passport has 44 pages for visa entries. 4 stamps per page, for 44 pages, equals 176 possible stamps. That's a lot of travel.
"Let's do it - the 52 pages," I decided. Challenge accepted.