Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Leaving on a jet plane...

Well that first title wasn't hard, was it? As with last year’s American adventure I am badly organised and have no real idea where I am going. However, that is part of the charm.

As with last year I will attempt to weave song titles and lyrics into the blog to give it that real "he may have put a slight amount of effort into this" look.

So new trip and new shoes. Cab collected me at 05.15 and off we set for the new terminal 5 at Heathrow. Last year I travelled by American Airlines so it would be interesting to contrast Economy with British Airways Economy although they don't call it that. It is known as "Worldtraveller" or somesuch.

Traffic thick on the M25 at 06.15 so glad to be escaping for a month on the open road. The new terminal is pretty impressive I must admit although as my printer had bust I had just a reference number and not my "Eticket". Was directed to a callow youth on a special desk who typed the number into his computer and said "so you are on a standby ticket?" "Uh oh" thought I! Start the trip with an argument. "No it is a bona fide booking although I wasn't able to do the online check in for some reason.....I hope there is not going to be a problem" I said with what I hoped was a mixture of charm and firmness, and give him the benefit of my "hmm not too sure I am very impressed with you and your organisation thus far" eye flash.

"There is a seat but the aircraft is very nearly full". "Perhaps you could upgrade me then?" "I will get you an aisle seat" he said. Giving me the benefit of his "don't think you are getting anything past me matey, I may only look twelve but I have seen it all before" eye flash.

I got my ticket and as I left the desk I had to point out that his security pass was precisely one month out of date. "I know. I am hoping they are going to send me home when they find out" he chortled.

Onto the plane which left pretty promptly and the thought of nearly 11 hours of stultifying boredom leavened only by "200 hours of inflight entertainment" we were informed rather damply by a member of the cabin crew. There was a slight problem in that the headphones only worked in one ear and only had one foam pad. This meant that I strained my way through "Horton Hears a Who". However as there was no one sitting next to me I raided the seat pocket and found another pair. Yaaay result!!!! These however obviously had experienced a similar trauma in the past so both ears worked but with slight distortion so that for a few hours I thought I was going deaf until I decided to go back to the one ear pair. So not sure what "The Bucket List" was about. And "Creature Comforts USA" also kept its secrets.

The time passed fairly quickly which was a surprise and I managed a little nap and had a couple of pleasant snacks, some juice and when I asked for a glass of water I was told "I will go and get you one".

Rather like the Chuckle Brothers, The Osmonds, The Nolans and possibly even The Corrs - although I have yet to get to the bottom of that act, having seen them a few years back and marvelled at how small they all were - obviously airlines carry a spare. A member who you don't usually see who can probably fill in if they were short. I never saw that particular stewardess again, even when we disembarked. Still waiting for that water.

Then after the smoothest flight I can ever remember we landed at LAX.

Last year I arrived on a Sunday afternoon with many dire warnings of how appalling US immigration was. As I recall I sailed through in under 20 minutes. On this occasion things were ever so slightly different. Monday lunchtime and homeland paranoia has now reached new heights. Walking down the ramp from the aircraft to the immigration area we were all sniffed by a big black dog. Not sure if he was bomb, drugs, or agricultural produce mutt.

Then the queuing began in earnest. An elderly woman in front of me was shrugging and tutting loudly and giving it the full outstretched arms/palms up shtick. I avoided her gaze. I try and remain calm under these sort of delays as there is little point in getting aggravated. She beckoned to a junior member of staff in a rather imperious fashion and demanded to know what was causing the delay. She was told politely "This is LAX it is always like this". The shrugging and tutting continued. In my mind’s eye I was in a happy place in which she was dragged protesting away by member of US Immigration and as a side office door slammed I thought I could hear the snap of a rubber glove.

We queued for an hour before it was my turn to go and hand my passport, Visa Waiver and Customs forms to an unsmiling man working methodically and very very slowly at a computer. It had taken him 15 minutes to process a Japanese family of three before I arrived at his station. Both index fingerprints were taken. I was photographed. Last year I was paranoid about filling in my Visa Waiver form and being sent to the back of the queue or even worse on the next flight home. No problem this time after a couple of questions as to the reason for my visit. (Never sure why they bother with these. If I was up to no good I would scarcely pipe up; "I am here to try and overthrow the Government"). Then he waved me through but not before adding "...and next time fill in your customs form properly". I had omitted the flight number.

As I was filling that part in earlier, the cabin crew had decided like a kindergarten teacher that it was time their charges needed a nap and had switched all the lights out.

There are dozens of staff at the airport most of whom seemed to be standing guard in case the crowd started to get fractious. This may have been part of the reason why they sent in another animal to do some sniffing as we queued. Rather like pets in hospitals or for the elderly it reduces the blood pressure. This one was a little doggy wearing a tiny jacket which said something about agriculture on it. My mind’s eye started to wander again and I pictured myself in an orange jumpsuit sharing a cell with a suspected bomber, a drugs mule and me....the man who forgot he had an orange in his pocket.

I rushed to the baggage carousel, my suitcase was there and I snatched it up. At last I was free!

Hang on.....no I wasn't.

Under a system that the video screens called "one, two, three" although from where I was standing it looked like "one, two, threat" - it is not so simple. There was another long line of people stretching towards the exit. There was another checkpoint. I stood in a queue with a couple of hot Mexican women and flirted outrageously. They smiled benignly at the hot middle-aged Brit. This is the dual definition of Hotness here by the way. I think you can decide for yourself into which category we all fell.

Another security guard asked me the same questions the other bloke had and waved me through to...."three" where yet another man in a uniform took my final form, waved toward the exit and said "LA's thattaway" and then guess what he did?? Go on guess!

He smiled!


Frances said...

I'm smiling too now I know that the Dark Lord is safe and sound and has not forgotten us, his faithful fans.
Have a fantastic time Alex and keep in touch - however hot those Mexican women find you !

Caroline said...

Yay! You made it! Well, let me be the first to say Welcome back! :) Sounds like things went fairly smoothly - LAX can be insane. And those sniffing dogs are just glad to have something to do... I've added a link to your blog from mine. You can thank me later. :)

Anonymous said...

And there was me and all my friends fidgeting...saying " Will the chap with the Long Locks make it in the US of A in that heat etc".... Will they know who he is if he asks for First Class whilst travelling? ...He could name drop...Ooor Terry Wogan etc?

I fink you should just grab this experience with both hands and go for it...SOAK IT UP MATEY!

hope to catch up with you soon!!

Colin said...

Ha! learnt this lesson years ago LAX can be a nightmare. I find a two leg journey through Cincinnati or Dallas much better.
Have a great trip!!

Caroline said...

You will love San Diego.

Cheryl Annette said...

Good to hear from you Alex and to know you landed safely...Bet you were bushed by the time you actually got to your hotel...Now for some excitement, new forgein freinds and more of the beers you like...Have fun.. I look forward to seeing some more piccies...Stay Safe


arw said...

i agree with all the comments about lax immigration i don't think i've ever managed to get through in under an hour however back in 2002 the immigration officer actually filled in the missing section of my visa waiver form!!! i did not have an address in the states however he accepted the hertz car rental depot address and wrote it in for me

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