We had timed our arrival at the airport to take into account of the time we would spend at customs. Sure enough as I expected all the equipment that I had just packed had to be taken back out to be checked. The young Customs Officer took a little while to find our list from the office. When she came back we went through each item one by one. It took a bit longer than it should because as well as checking my stuff she was talking to colleagues, taking phone calls and handing bits of paper to various people that came to the hatch. We then had to be escorted to the check in desk by two other Customs Officers. They waited until all our bags had disappeared on the belt and they had taken a note of the tags put on them by American Airlines.
All Yiljan and I did then was wait for the flight which started off being delayed by 40 mins, then 1hr 15mins.
The delay in the flight meant that our turn around in Miami was reduced from 3 to 2 hours. I could see it being touch and go as to whether we would make the connection. The crazy thing when you transit through the US is that you have to go through Immigration and Customs. My dread was the hassle when it came the Customs part.
It was as if the doors had just opened for the January sales when we got off the ‘plane. There were lots of people like use trying to make connections. It was a bit of a walk/run following the signs for Immigration. The amount of humanity filling the Immigration hall made Moses and his mates look like a small gathering of gentle folk from the WRVS. Most of the rest of the world appeared to be wanting to get into Miami or again like us just go through it.
As I was filling out my Visa Waiver Form I overheard an airline employee tell someone to go to line 28 as it was the quickest. I pointed Yiljan in that direction. Good move. That line went round a corner and became five or six other shorter lines. We were at least a lot further on than if we had joined the lines straight ahead but it was still really busy with an obvious long wait.
There was an old Italian man behind me talking on his phone. I thought that he had finished his conversation but I could still hear him yabbering away. I was also aware that I was being mildly jostled. I turned around. He was gibbering and pointing in front of me and motioning me to move up. I gave him a look. The only way I could move any further forward was to get very intimate with a large black guy with questionable personal hygiene. My Italian friend continued to quietly mutter and gently push and prod me. I ignored him as best I could.
Yiljan and I moaned to each other about the stupidity of the whole system as we waited for the folk away in front of us to get their finger scans done and photographs taken. Occasionally over the noise of uniformed US officials telling people what to do and where to go the sound of things being stamped was heard. That was the indication that in a few moments we would move forward a few inches. We got to within sight of the desk. One side just said visitors the other said Diplomats. People were being directed to both sides but the line was only at the visitors side. A while later Yiljan and I were at the front Yiljan went off to the guy at the visitors side. I was next to go through the Diplomatic line. Then a whole load of guys appeared and made a queue at that desk. I said that the our line had been splitting up and using that desk. The guy at the front who was an educated sounding Englishman pointed to the sign above the desk and said in a tone that reminded me of teachers at school, “That is a Diplomatic channel.”
In as sarcastic a voice as I could muster I said, “Well if your a Diplomat I am so sorry.”
The words were still coming out of my mouth when I noticed the light blue of a UN passport he had discretely held in his hand. The desk then became free. We both ushered each other forward. I won that one. I let him go before me. The Customs Officer who was dealing with Yiljan then broke off what he was doing and came round to tell us that no one should be in that line. In unison I, and about ten people behind me in a variety of European accents ejected the line, “We were told to come here!”.
Mr Customs man then said to us, “He can’t do that.”
Filled with exasperated frustration our united reply was, “Well he did!”
He turned his attention to his colleague at the desk and gave him a roasting. He went back to dealing with Yiljan and then proceeded to give her a bollocking because she had not done the online application thing. She had been told that because she had an ivisa she did not need to do it. He disagreed. Clutching an information leaflet he thrust in to her hand after venting his emotion on stamping her passport she headed to customs.
By the time I got to the desk manned by the Officer who looked very like one of the singers from Stepps I was coming to boiling point. I think after his rather public dressing down so was he. I handed him my passport along with the forms I’d filled in as politely as I could. He looked at the Waiver form and curtly asked where I was in transit to. I told him and he slapped the forms back on to the counter and told me to write that on them. I picked up the pen and scrawled UK on the parts he’d indicated. Then I did the hand and photo thing.
We collected our bags and boxes from the floor of the baggage hall. Next was the bit I was dreading, Customs and the Carnet. (That sounds like a good name for a media pub) I handed it to the guy I had been directed to, asking whether I needed to do the transit part or the importation part. He pleasantly asked me to wait while he checked. Off he went and I waited. Fairly soon another chap came out of a door with my Carnet in his hand and disappeared through another door. I was getting more edgy because the flight was due to leave in less that half an hour. He reappeared and put the Carnet down all filled in. All I needed to do was sign. After I had done it he said, “Your good to go.”
I took the carnet complimenting him on the speed and efficiency with which he had dealt with it. Then the first guy asked which flight I had come in on. I told him. He asked me to wait a moment. He went behind a computer and started tapping away on the keyboard. It felt like he was typing out the complete works of stupid things that George Bush said when he was president. After coming down from boiling point when the Carnet process was apparently gone so well I was getting het up again. I did get my passport back shortly afterwards. My fuse was still ready to blow.
All I had to do now was get rid of the boxes, bag and get to the gate. There was loads of hustle and bustle at the connection belt. The woman there told me to get the bags over quickly and go to the gate as fast as I could. At the security check the queue was short. I had the laptop out, my bag and camera on the X-ray rollers like lightning. I was just about to go through the scanner when the security guy pointed at my feet and shouted, “shoes!”
I went up to him, thrust my face in to his so we were nose to nose and he could feel my hot breath on his face. I yelled, “Of course they are shoes! What the fuck do you put on your feet? Peanut Butter tubs?”
That was what I did in my head. What I did in reality was take a few steps back and put my shoes through the X-ray machine. When I got them of at the other end I toyed with the idea of slipping them on unlaced and running to the gate because by now it was well into last call. A vision flashed in my head. It was me tripping up over a loose lace, the camera ripping an Armani suite worn by a rich Frenchman as it falls on the floor, where it splits open scattering printed circuit boards all over the place and my nose splitting, pouring blood over the bits of electronics still in the camera. So I quickly tied my laces. I got to the gate to see Yiljan patiently waiting. We were about the last to get on board. I was so so happy that we had not missed the flight.