Keep calm – and carry on
5,500 miles is a long way to go to deliver a message– but, mission achieved.
“Anything you want me to tell them?” Boatwif had asked the Cheshire One. She, mind on her imminent birthday and her responsibility to deliver the meaning of precarious to her classmates (Vocabulary Enrichment Day), had kept it brief.
Preceding departure to Southern California there had been the familiar scramble of assembling summer weight clothes and preferred import items. Several of the above are from the Cadbury brand, there’s a US brand issue which apparently means that American Cadbury’s chocolate tastes very different from UK Cadbury’s products…
While seeking out a replacement pack of playing cards (at Cal Gal’s request) in a nearby retail park on Monday this card pack presented itself as a suitable item as a suitcase filler. In Top Trumps players bid against each other for the highest value: surely oversized buildings would produce some big numbers for Cal Guy Jnr to wrestle with…? The irony of importing Top Trump Skyscrapers on the day after Presidential Election Day had not yet occurred.
Wednesday’s NZ001 flight to Auckland via Los Angeles was mainly smooth and trouble free. Terminal 2 was far from busy and a prowl around the John Lewis shop revealed some very typical British expressions.
It’s not the flying that makes you weary – it’s the regulation. First hint of that came at Heathrow. The home printed boarding passes were accepted, first at check in, secondly at bag drop, thirdly at passport control – but at the boarding gate they were dismissed. It was not quite a Monopoly style Go Straight to Jail card but a Go To The Boarding Desk and Get Yourself a Boarding Card. “Problem with your passport,” the NZ desk officer tried to explain, a surprise since the officious security agent at the gate had not even glanced at them. He moved away to fiddle with another computer – then went to speak to the agent at the gate. Meanwhile, a party of three people alongside were being told they could not travel that day as they did not have ESTAs. Readers who have travelled in recent years to the US will know what that means (an online permission, renewable every two years, for a traveller to enter the US). Given that the Cleddau crew have both current ESTAs and 10 year visas their situation seemed bizarre, but for the would-be NZ bound travellers it was far, far worse…
Words were exchanged between the desk officer and the agent at the boarding gate: no boarding card was issued, the paper passes were allowed and the desk officer declared “Follow me.” All well and good. Just a hiccup then during the escape procedure from the UK.
Up north west beyond Scotland, south of Iceland and over Greenland.
Time passed. For hours a fine orange line was drawn across the sky to the west. Below lay a smoke grey quilt; the aircraft it seemed was skimming above chasms and cliffs of thick cloud. Then, further west, the sky became a horizontal colour swatch – dark blue at the top, then mid-blue, light blue, pale leaf green, a broad orange stripe, finally matte grey cloud…
A dinner; teas and coffees; iced water; moving maps; ice floes; Hudson Bay…
The plane headed south and west from Canada crossing North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, north west Arizona, south east Nevada, finally entering Californian airspace.
Bereft of news one could but wonder as the plane crossed each state boundary: had it declared red (Trump) or blue (Clinton)…?
Ahead of due time there was a smooth landing at LAX at 1808 local time (0208 GMT). An on-board announcement warned of the installation of new machines to assist with the assessment of ESTAs and visas. Absolutely everyone, whether transiting through the airport at Los Angeles to fly on to further destinations or making it their point of entry into the United States must go through immigration procedures.
American officials are masters of queue management – and when three A380 aircraft and one New Zealand Airways Boeing 777 landed at roughly the same time the officials were out in force. Over two thousand passengers needed to be processed. They were ushered into lines, ESTA and visa waiver passengers were told to register as a family unit at one of the passport machines and to take a receipt. The lines led to the machines (about 50 of them). Here the luckier travellers managed the process of passport check, reason for travel, finger-printing and head shot photography without problem; others (the Cleddaus included) suffered delay, disruption or breakdown.
Successful completion ended with a printed out receipt… but that, it transpired, had to be presented in interview to an immigration officer. “Join the line, join the line,” the marshalling stewards urged. Faces blanched as yet another queue session began. If the previous queue session was a starter this one was a heavy main course. Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle… fifty yards in one direction, turn a corner, fifty yards in another, fifty yards… on and on, weaving a slow pathway around a vast hall. Two Swedes just in front got specific: “Why is it like this?” one asked. The more outspoken one did not hold back: “You need more staff,” he loudly announced. Shuffle, shuffle.
Two distraught ladies pleaded their case: “We might miss our connection. Can’t we go ahead?”
“There is one line. EVERYONE must go in it, NO EXCEPTIONS,” was the uncompromising reply.
Another aircraft arrived, a big one, from China. The line behind grew longer… Round a pillar, only another four fifty yard lengths to do. Yawning ahead now (Crikey! Blimey!) could be seen a bank of immigration interview desks, 44 of them, just 6 of them manned.
The incorrigible Swedes struck up conversation with a line manager (that is, a manager of folk in the lines). The truth emerged – no overtime for the Homeland Protection Agency. Fall (Autumn in UK speak) brings an annual problem: The Federal Budget…
A new US federal budget should be in place on 1 November each year, but it rarely is! Thus federal agencies have to survive on what funds remain and money gets tight. As the federal budget stalls, staffing costs are slashed – so there are fewer staff to cope with the passenger numbers. There is then no alternative but to – Keep Calm and Carry On…
Two hours after arrival in the immigration hall the moment came. Short sharp questions from the immigration officer, much passport stamping – and a change of scene at last to the bag collection carousel before the final queue, another shuffle, shuffle, shuffle to the Customs Officer to surrender the receipt from the passport machine. Two hours and twenty minutes after landing exit to the street was permitted.
Even if you are expecting it the world outside the LAX terminals is a great shock: billowing hot air, a cacophony of vehicle noise, constant dodgem games between hotel courtesy buses and taxis as they weave their ways to the sidewalk with speed and precision, just centimetres separating them. Another hour later (and another queue at hotel reception while a robot cleaned the lobby floor) there was a huge and inviting bed.
A mobile phone buzzed. Welcome to trumpland said a text from Cal Son. At the start of that very long day the crew had woken in Beds to the sound of Donald Trump’s victory speech. Deprived of any news media for the sixteen hours of transit through and from Heathrow to Los Angeles the TV at the LAX hotel was switched on. Placard waving, protest crowds and Trump effigy burning was being reported from cities across this vast land between New York on the east coast and LA on the west.
On a different channel local news was giving live coverage of a bulky white-coated motorbike rider trying to escape police capture. It was dramatic – filmed from a helicopter, the biker cruised through red lights, wobbled around corners, then clipped another vehicle, slew off the bike, picked himself up and ran fast to escape, vaulting over a high wall, continuing the run until downed, without shooting, by police officers.
Another news item described the summer heat showing signs of fading (although temperatures that day had been in the 90°sF / 32ish°C). The humidity was less than 10% and, as the weather reporter declared, due to offshore winds “the surf is up.. .”
Only in California…
Oh, and the message from the Cheshire One has been delivered to her Cal cousins: “Hi. We have had sleet here and there may be snow soon on the hills.”
Thursday saw another exercise at keeping calm – but that’s another tale…
Posted from San Marcos: 33N 117W