On the same theme as not expecting the expected, when you travel, or in fact, are involved with anyone who doesn’t have with the well-drilled, efficient, time-keeping British character :), yet more issues have occurred, for me, concerning that the States, with it’s worse than third world immigration service, and officials trained by the 1960’s KGB….and the incompetence of yet another shipping company.
I posted here a few weeks ago, last weekend in April, that that was the last time I left the States. On that trip away, which was scheduled to be four weeks, I was (I think – much has happened since then!) scheduled to be in Sweden, England, Egypt, and Romania – so, demanding, to be sure. I’d found online a very reasonably priced ticket for the trip, with U.S Airways (sadly no longer, now consumed into the dreadful American Airlines) – in fact, the deal was so good, that I used all my available resources to buy that, and the next four round trip tickets at the same time, some for transiting to Colombia, and Mexico, as well as going to the States.
It meant landing in Philadelphia, (26 May, 2009 – so, 4 years ago tomorrow, 5 pm), which, internationally, I’d never done before (I’d landed domestic there from somewhere else in the USA… and driven through it). Four years ago, my left knee was ok(!) and I could walk fast, and by the time people from my flight (a 777, so quite a large number), arrived at the immigration hall, I was first into the hall. No-one there! Marvellous! I’d be through, and on to my connection to Norfolk, Virginia, in minutes.
WRONG! Maybe I should have walked slower….:( Of course, due to transiting many times to Central and South America, I had a lot of immigration stamps for the USA in my passport. Twelve, in fact, in the previous 12 months: because of their unbelievably cockeyed system of not LETTING you transit, but, even if you’re only there for an hour, you have to immigrate and emigrate, pick up your luggage, clear customs, and re-check your luggage. Totally, utterly absurd, and doesn’t, to my knowledge, happen anywhere else.
I handed my passport over, in a very friendly fashion, delighted to be first to do so. I always try and be nice to immigration officers, it must be a boring job, but this one, in his box (with his big sign on the front saying ‘We are the face of America’, was especially unfriendly (if these people are the face of America, then…well…God help America. I don’t think there are worse immigration officials in any of the countries I’ve been to). He scrutinised my passport for some time as though I was someone on their ‘watch-list’, and then told me to go to another room. At that moment, the sinking feeling is incredible.
In the other room, I was confronted by a giant of a man, shaved head, rippling head muscles down his neck, about 4 feet wide across the shoulders, and of course, the statutory uniform, gun, attitude, chip-on-the-shoulder, and a little degree (over me, at least) of power…. I reckon he’d just gone on duty, perhaps the 5pm to 1am shift…. and had a blazing row with his wife on the way out of his house, and I was the first person he could vent his fury on. Man, was he obnoxious. I could write his name here, it’s burned into my psyche, but I’d better not! In that rather ‘scary’ secondary screening tank (good name for it), that evening, were two Iranians, two Chechens, and a Romanian without a passport or papers, just a scrap of paper with a mobile phone number written on it in pencil, supposedly attending a Hewlett-Packard international training course about printers(!), amongst a few others. They were all allowed through.
Over the next 5 hours, I was abused, interrogated, shouted at, not listened to, ignored, abused and shouted at more, interrogated more: not allowed to use my mobile phone (though I did, to call the person picking me up in Norfolk, by sneaking into the loo, and no doubt risking the electric chair or lethal injection….). The whole process is really quite frightening, even to mid-fifties man, as I was then, used to ‘extreme’ border crossings and immigration policies (thinks, Romania and Hungary, 1990, for example!), one, even now, I can remember vividly.
I was told I was attempting to be an ‘illegal immigrant’ as a result of 12 stamps in a year in my passport: utterly, utterly absurd, illogical, and ridiculous, as I tried, politely, to point out to him. Illegals: if they get in, don’t the STAY in and hide in Montana or Wyoming, somewhere where there’s not many people and millions of square miles, or New York, where there’s millions of people? Do they risk going in and out 11 more times in a few months? It’s amazing how a bad mood, a bit of authority, a uniform, and a gun can make anyone so stupid…. Truth is, according my lovely immigration lawyer (who has restored a little of my faith in Pennsylvanians!), the lawyer could tell that by the end of the hugely long form he had to complete, to ‘return’ me (I wasn’t deported, there’s a very significant difference!), that the officer had changed his mind about me, but it was then too late, he was too proud, and his even more obnoxious superior officer, wouldn’t let him reverse the decision….
Five hours later, I was back on the plane I’d arrived on, never (yet) to return to the land of opportunity and free speech… of course, my other 5 round trip tickets got torn up and shredded, and then the process to get back there began…. and in fact, has become more, and more, and more outrageous, absurd, sad, tragic where some ‘brothers and sisters’ are concerned, and now, the company shipping the few things I wanted back in the UK, have made a complete cock-up…. and for this ‘performance’, they’ve charged me over £3,000….
When I went there initially, I shipped some stuff out – not much, really, as I’d been burgled twice in the few weeks before going! – and the shippers were utterly incompetent, over-charging, losing stuff, and damaging stuff. I sued them in the small claims court, successfully, and got quite a large chunk of the costs back. I’m in that same ‘do I make that same decision’ process this weekend, though to sue them there without being able to go there would be difficult. American court damages awards are a very appealing thought, though! The company here can’t get the storage to release my goods as the company in the States have blundered. A friend here has said, almost constantly over the four years of this unreal saga, that you think it can’t get any worse – and then it does….
I think that the rule is that, if you’ve been returned, not deported, you can go back again after 5 years – so, theoretically(!!??) I could go back this time next year….if I do, one thing’s for sure, I won’t go through Philly again! As for wanting to go more permanently as a resident, not a chance in…er…heaven 😉 – God would have to do a mighty work of grace, and drag me kicking and screaming, to ever want to live there, after this experience. In fact, it might even be a bit like that to even go and visit…. though transiting is appealing (my trip to Cali, in July, would be £800 through the States, and any other way – my choice, that is – is £1300+!!).
If you’re one of those people who prays for me, would you pray, please, that by Monday, this shipping thing is resolved, and/or that God would give me the wisdom to know what to do about the legal side of it, and other issues which have been illegal for which I also need immense wisdom (and probably much more grace than I have sometimes), during these years? I know, it seems to go on and on: truthfully, I just want it to end as soon as possible…. they think it’s all over…. it isn’t yet!
And so, in a few hours, to forget all my problems, I’ll sit, enjoying one of the gifts I received for my 60th birthday….a ticket to go and see comedian Eddie Izzard, live, and have a really good laugh….