19:50 LA Time on the 15th of May. 0350 in Dublin. 13:50 in Auckland.
“I will not filed, stamped, indexed, briefed debriefed or numbered!” – The Prisoner
Ten hours on a plane, before it drops into the Los Angeles smog. I leave the comfortable friendliness of Air New Zealand, and tramp down a musty corridor to a gruff disinterested immigration officer. Immigration? I’m not coming to America, I’m TRANSITING, sir.
I don’t say this. I keep my mouth shut – I know all about Guantanamo Bay. Instead, I allow myself to be biometrically fingerprinted, photographed, entered into databases – all in the name of National Security.
I walk around the cubicle, and hand the stub of my Visa Waiver card to an middle-aged American woman in an Air NZ outfit. Goodbye to the trickiest bit of paper known to mankind. The US Visa Waiver form is such a minefield that airline crews suggest that starting from the *end* might make it easier. Or more difficult to fuck it up. Am I Nazi? No. Am I a terrorist? No. Thank you, have a nice day, ya’all.
The waiting room – more of a holding pen, really – is furnished with bland orange/dead-salmon-pink furniture and carpets from some 70s catalogue. There’s sustenance on offer – horrible biscuits, delicately desiccated ‘Red Delicious’ apples and a few other unhealthy looking snack foods.
I refill my water bottle from the cooler, hoping for a taste of freedom. Then I remember a conversation I once had, on an Amsterdam-London flight, with an octogenarian WWII veteran. When he I mentioned that I did ‘environmental work’, he ranted at me for the entire flight for not doing something about the quality of water in Los Angeles, where he lived.
He was right – at least about LAX anyway. It’s like dishwater filtered through an old sock.
Some generic TV show is playing on wall-mounted TVs. It appears to involve romance, women with improbable hair, the paranormal, guns and a fair amount of killing. I think it’s called The last time I had the misfortune to sit in this room, it was earlier in the day, so we were subjected to Oprah, and her own brand of American Family Values.
The PA crackles into something approaching life. A squeaky voice emanates, sounding exactly like Lucy, the Sheriff’s ditzy receptionist in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. She informs us of the heavy fines we can and will incur if ‘the smoking laws are not adhered to’.
I wish I was a smoker, if only to test the law. I’d probably end up Folsom Prison, like Johnny Cash (although I think he shot a man in Reno… just to watch him die). Or Tim Leary, put away for life for possession of an single joint.
Paranoia grips me. I must eat the paper I’ve written this story on, due to the possibly seditious, treacherous nature of my musing.
There’s a clatter of shutters. A shop opens, selling things like ‘I HEART LA’ t-shirts. Good grief. I’ve spent my visit to LA stuffed into a nasty room. And they’re trying to fucking sell me souvenirs. Don’t they see the irony?
The squeaky voice emerges from a haze of static, and explains in a very roundabout fashion (involving confusing details about an Air Canada flight ‘deplaning’) that we may now board our plane. I race back on board, where the friendly Kiwis give me wine to help me recover from my visit to the City of Angels.
Welcome to America. Indeed.