When last I typed, I was sitting on an airplane which I had been placed on by British immigration agents. I wondered if the cabin crew was aware of my situation. They didn’t act like it. They offered me wine when they offered everybody else wine and did not treat me differently than other passengers. When I asked if they had any extra vegetarian meals, the woman handing them out found me one and then started to give me a form to request one for my next flight. So perhaps she didn’t know.
When we landed, I hit the call button. The airplane aisle was was jammed with people. One of the cabin crew caught my eye and made hand symbols to ask if I was asking about my passport. He told me to go to the front of the plane. So I guess they did know.
I got off and there was a man there holding the envelope that I knew to contain my passport. I asked for it back, but instead he brusquely told me to follow him. The people working in detention in Britain had all been fairly friendly and scrupulously polite. They explained what was going on and what was about to happen. Nobody got cagey until I asked who was paying for my ticket home. This man, however, did not explain anything, but walked ahead with his lips slightly pursed. He wore an airline uniform, but seemed to consider himself some sort of diplomatic, immigration agent. He took me to American immigration, and gave the border agent my passport. He spoke about me to the agent as if I was not present. I began to detest him. Some people are just doing their jobs and some people see themselves as above you. He was the latter. Since he treated me as invisible burden, I will do the same to him for the rest of this story as a sort of a petty revenge for having to spend time following his wordless, brisk-walking arrogance.
I had to go to a secondary interview to get back in the US. I had hoped that I would just get back my passport and be on my way, but alas. I was told to sit in a big room with many chairs and two or three american immigration agents, seated behind tall desks. There were only a few people in the room. I looked at them and guessed they were foreign. I wondered what would happen if the US wouldn’t take me either. Didn’t they have to? After a short wait, I was called forward. A sympathetic agent said, “so what happened?” I explained about how the NYC British consulate’s web page gives incorrect information as to how they accept visa applications and my mistaken belief that I could get in with a tourist visa. She was entirely empathetic, but then pointed out that America would have done the same thing. “I know!” I said, “you have to stop doing that! Well, I guess it’s what you have to do by law, but still.” She blamed George Bush. For being required to hassle foreigners and for my having experienced the same. Damn him.
She stamped my passport and returned it to me. Huzzah. It has a refusal stamp in it, something that will probably cause me problems in the future. Or not. I think Britain has a reputation. From immigration and customs, I went to ticketing. To pay for a last-minute transatlantic fare. Well, that answered that question. The fare was a bit over $1000. My credit card was denied. I called them and they asked, as a security question, for the cell number I had when I was in Connecticut. I failed security. Finally, the officious jerk who had been leading me everywhere, and seemed to think my fare to be far too low, grew impatient and left. The ticket agents didn’t like him either. The guy I was talking to, who was clearly family, said it happened to everybody. The woman next to him said her niece had been sent back when she went to study at the London School of Economics. And she had a visa! The friendly ticket agent said even some cabin crew had been caught up in British immigration. He blamed George Bush. The other agents concurred. Damn that guy!
My credit card company relented and I paid my ticket. The guy I was paying told me to fly west with Jetblue, since they would have the cheapest tickets and the most flights. Then he took me down to the baggage office. He was so nice. “It happens to everybody!” he kept saying. Then he said that he used to live in San Francisco and if I did fly an affiliate airline, he would tell everybody to be nice to me. I gave him a bag of reeces pieces.
The baggage office, also friendly and polite had more bad news. My bike hadn’t made the flight. I explained that I was continuing onward via an out-of-network airline and they took my address. My bike will be arriving via fedex delivery, probably tomorrow.
I went over to the Jetblue terminal at JFK airport and walked up to a customer service agent and purchased a ticket for the next flight to Oakland. “Do you have any bags to check?” “No.” I said ruefully. The last minute ticket was $120 or $130, I forget which. I was amazed at my good fortune. I spend two or three hours waiting in the airport. I called Nicole who empathized and Ellen, who offered me a ride from the Oakland airport and finally my dad my said, “You know what you should do?!” in the tone of voice he gets when he’s got an outside-the-box idea. “You should go see if there’s an Irish consulate in San Francisco.” He left a pause, waiting for my reply.
“But I’m trying to go to England.”
“You should find out how Irish you have to be to get an Irish passport.” He was giggling now, very taken with his suggestion.
“I’ve got just as many British ancestors, but that didn’t seem to help much.” Indeed, I had mentioned them to the immigration agent who interviewed me.
“But Ireland needs labor! You might have to promise to work in Ireland!” he giggled more.
Suddenly, the exhaustion of having gotten so little sleep and then being up for so many hours hit me. I told my dad that I regretted not having his phone number memorized, since I therefore couldn’t have called him from detention. As I type this, I wonder what suggestions he would have had for while I was detained. Mostly, I think I wanted somebody to know where I was. We hung up.
I got on the next airplane. It was a much nicer plane than the last two. I had a row to myself and lay down across it and slept for the entire 5 hour flight. Ellen met me at the airport and took me home, where I now sit. Still tired. I need to contact a consulate, either the one in New York or the one in Los Angeles or both and ask what to do. I need a copy of my Mills College transcript, to send it with my visa application. I need to make copies of my house keys, since, of course, I didn’t bring them, since I wasn’t going to be in Berkeley at all. I need to take a nap.