Thursday, July 17, 2008

Part 1: Complications, flight and landing...

I knew I was in trouble when I was told to go to the Customs desk to answer some questions and for my stuff to be searched...

I don't have a problem with my gear being looked through, actually- nothing private, nothing to hide. I leave my dildoes at home, thank you. But I do have issues with people who ask me the same series of questions over and over, with the wording only slightly changed, as if they either didn't understand my given answers, or they were hoping to trip me up in something indictable. It doesn't help that it makes them look like idiots, even though it's probably part of their job...

No problems answering questions, either, until he told me he thought I was lying to him. Alright, I have an asshole on the plate- how should I deal? I could opt for the coldly polite, sacrcastic-derision-dripping-off-every-word (my first, instinctive urge when faced with stuffed-shirts stuck on protocol) sort of response that might earn me a night in jail, even if the actual text of my phrasing wasn't rude. Or I could try for wide-eyed innocence- nah, that smacks too much of simpering hoping for sympathy. Instead, I stuck to the simplest approach- I just honestly answered his questions as best I could and made every effort to control my urge to cry at the possibility that I might not be able to visit my man. At least, I hoped I managed to keep it off my face. But as my cheeks were burning with that embarrassed fire that tells me they were probably glowing bright red, I have my doubts...

Yay, long-distance relationships!

I've been seeing this fellow for a year, now, and we've been talking about getting married, something I'm definitely all for. But we live three thousand miles apart- he in LA, myself in Winnipeg. Travel has never been something I've been able to do much of- the costs are too high for me. Getting my passport took me almost half of that year- not due to costs, but just getting all the needed info together. I nearly lost it when I found out that some of the info that I'd been angsting over was no longer required- after I'd already applied and paid the fees. A lot of my frustrated annoyance could have been avoided if I'd had more current information.

So that was dealt with. Then it was figuring out how the heck I was gonna afford to pay for plane-tickets, arrange for someone to take care of my cats and plants, get time off from the job... That went easier than I'd expected- my man offered to buy my tickets, both ways. I was almost afraid to accept, feeling that I was maybe letting myself in for disappointing debt with this fellow, but something told me: "Take the risk, kick yourself out of these emotional and creative doldrums. See what there is out there. What if he's the One and you never get to meet him because you were too scared to accept his offer?" So I bit the "I must be self-sufficient" bullet and let him pay for my tickets. The rest fell into place.

My first plane-ride was awesome- I was pretty much glued to the little window, watching clouds go by the whole time. I didn't care that I was in pain afterwards. The view of the world from above was too beautiful. If I ever go to space...

So it's been back and forth all this year, my going down twice, he coming up once, and now, this latest, supposed to be two-month long trip. Had no hassles the first two times, was let through with only cursory searches and questions, though coming back was interesting in the Chinese curse sense: a thorough search on my first return, x-rays of my bags, drug-tests of my belongings... And that was from the Canadian side of the border.

Then, this trip's near-fiasco. Some of the questions from the Customs guys: "how much money do you have with you? Where are you going? What will you be doing while you're there What if something comes up (after I'd told them how much cash I had- not enough)?" Etc, etc, and on like that. The same set of questions, over and over...

Then the search. It amused me when he told me to stand back a few feet from the table; "I don't want to have to deal with you coming for me..."

I have arthritis in most of my major joints, including my lower spine. It can really futz with my mobility on bad days. This was a bad day. "You've got to be kidding," I told him, "You do happen to notice I'm leaning on a cane here?" I thought he was making a feeble, and very dry, joke, so that's how I treated it. He did smile a glacier-fraction- a twitch of his thin lips that didn't quite reach his eyes.

He just kept up his digging through my belongings, keeping the conversation to a minimum. Multi-tasking was definitely not one of this guy's skills. I leaned on my cane, wondering if he'd have a beef with my sitting down in the chairs I noticed behind me along one beige and terra-cotta coloured wall.

In a brilliant flash of possible stupidity, I'd brought some of the papers my fellow and I had been exploring and filling out- applications for visas and that sort of thing. But it was my resume that got the gimlet eye of the guy on the other side of the table. Then he asked for phone-numbers- boss and boyfriend. He now wanted to confirm my story.

Things went even more sour when the boss told them I'd quit. I had given her "notice" in the sense that I thought I was booking off a big span of time to go to LA. She thought I'd resigned, apparently. I called her up after the Customs people told me this, and asked her what the heck (did this in front of the Customs guys, so they couldn't have any doubts as to what I was telling her)? She made it known that she thought it silly in the extreme that I expected her to hold my job for me until I came back. Perhaps it was silly, but I'd thought she and I had agreed that I was returning in September and that I was hoping I could come back to work. She had said that was cool. Or so I 'd thought.

Little fractures of communication were now making themselves known in ways that had me wondering if I was sunk- Customs wasn't going to let me go to be with my boyfriend...

Basically, it added up that it looked like I had too much stuff with me (mostly clothes, but I'd brought my art-supplies and some fabric, since I was planning to work on some commissions while I was there), too little money, was planning too long a stay, and I was nervous and frankly offended at being called a liar. And now, it seems I no longer have a job to go back to. Dangit, gotta find another one. Good thing my rent is paid up until October.

It was confirmed that I had an asshole for a Customs guard when he said "I don't want to start a fight with you and your boyfriend, but he said he doesn't know anything about any visa forms..." Turns out, the uniform had referred to them by their letter-number designation in the phone conversation. My man didn't know which one he was talking about because who remembers strings of digits and letters as the name for anything except officious little prats in uniform? This fellow could have asked about the "fiancee visa" forms and my fellow would have immediately recognized it. So, this idiot was re-interpreting the response he got and rather freely at that- putting me in the worse light. Mark up another little red flag in his beady little mind for yours truly.

He calls in another guard, who then proceeds to search through my stuff in pretty much the same order the first had, going at it for a minute or two before the first tells him he already did it. They both do a fairly superficial search, actually being pretty nice in how they went about it; didn't toss anything around, and put it all back when they were done, even zipping up the bags afterwards. They were mostly concentrating on the "shady" papers, anyway...

Later, the guy has the gall to tell me he's "cutting me a break" by allowing me into the country, but only for the month, instead of my originally-planned two, and he stamps my passport, stapling a little card in it that I have to turn in when I come back. Grrr. At least I didn't miss my plane. All through that little interview, I was growing more and more nervous- not because of the guards questions, but because I was worried that I'd miss my flight. I know how it must have looked, especially when I grew offended at the whole thing and had to struggle to keep my composure and almost screwing it up completely. My eyes constant drifting to the clock on the wall behind them probably didn't look very good, either.

But, I make my flight, with only minutes to spare, and I sat on the plane, trying to read and calm down with little success. I wanted to hide. I wanted to find a nice, private hole to crawl into and have a shivering cry. My hands wouldn't stop shaking. For hours, my cheeks burned, my hands shook like I had some sort of palsy and my stomach was now letting me know that not eating for more than thirty hours and doing this trip on three hours of sleep was a bad idea.

I watched clouds. Lovely things, gorgeous, even if hard to see through a condensation-obscured aperature the size of a dinner plate. It took a while, but I was finally able to mellow out some- at least, the burning in my cheeks began to fade. When I hit Denver, it all came back, in force, while I waited the three hours for my connecting flight. There was a handy bathroom I could quietly freak out in, though.

Most people have this image of panic-attacks as being these screaming hissy-fits of shivering terror, eyes-wide, sweat dripping off your face as you spin about in circles, unable to be rational and come up with something to "fix" the problem. Nope, I get the accelerated heart-beat, the shivers, sure, but it's a genteel panic, if you can imagine such a thing. I can still think rationally, to some extent.

I'm not gonna barricade myself in a small room for more than the few minutes it takes for me to get it under control. I might check the locks, look for the source of my fears and not finding it, manage to convince myself to come down from my twitchy adrenaline high. The fact that I actually had a legitimate reason for my discomfort actually made it easier to tell myself that it was over, I could breathe now.

Made my LA connecting flight- biiiig plane: a fat 777 with four rows of seats through the wide body, and I had a window to look out of to take my mind off things. No white-knuckler, me- I love flying. I very much enjoy the experience of watching delicate white clouds pass by in stately pavane as the plane seems to drift through them. Piled-on-pile of poofy fluff, wells of deeper layers when you look down through open-spaces in the cover, then the ground, so very far away... Never mind the occasional chop and shudder as the aircraft hits pockets of higher, or lower-pressure air. Or maybe it's differing air-speeds, the head-wind. I don't know the mechanics of how the strange territory up there works on the body of the big brick with wings I was sitting in, I just liked watching the clouds.

Missed seeing the Colorado River and the Canyon- too much cloud-cover, so I contented myself with the amusement provided by the little monitor on the back of the seat ahead of me, the display showing our altitude, the headwind, outside skin temp amd distance travelled. That was kind of neat to watch for a while, seeing the little red line with a tiny plane icon slowly moving across various views of the map of the US, with a diamond-icon on our destination... Read my books, too- brought two. One was a fun bit of space opera by Lois McMaster Bujold, and the other a series of articles on writing SF&F.

That took up a few hours, interspersed with cloud-watching, checking our estimated time of arrival and suffering the after-affects of lack of sleep, food and the stress brought about by the two goons in uniform. Tried to enjoy the ride, even the bouncy bits when we hit "harder" air.

Finally landed in LAX, retrieved my stuff after a hot and humid trek to find baggage-claim. Then it was waiting for my loving man, and still checking on the shakes my hands were still undergoing. I was tired, my knees hurt and I felt I could eat a Bantha... Whole.

But I made it, and I'm now fed and rested, had an enjoyable rant at the expense of the Customs people and got to hug and smooch soundly the fellow I went through all this trouble to see.

Ah, turns of the heart, hmm?

Dammit, I'd better marry this guy, if I'm willing to brave the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune to be with him. :)

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