Yesterday was an exercise in patience and perseverance.
It all started with an airline ticket that never made it to my house. I got the ticket using points I’d accumulated on my VISA card and the travel agency associated with the card insisted on sending me a paper ticket. I can’t even recall the last time I used a paper ticket. They were supposed to send it to me in the mail, but it never arrived. I tried calling the agency, but got stuck on hold each time.
Not knowing the difference between a paper ticket and an e-ticket, I went to the airport anyway. I’d paid for the ticket, so I assumed it would be on the airline’s computer.
Apparently not. The folks at the ticket counter explained to me that while an e-ticket represented an actual booking of an airline seat, a paper ticket was simply a cash equivalent that could be redeemed for a booked seat. No paper ticket, no seat.
I spent the next hour navigating the voice mail system of my credit card’s travel agency. About eight levels deep, I found an option that might help.
“To contact the emergency travel arrangements desk,” the voice said, “press five.”
I pressed five and twelve rings later, got connected with an agent. He suggested that I buy a ticket to San Jose and fill out a lost ticket indemnity form that would allow me to get the money back once my ticket had been confirmed as lost. The round trip ticket was a little more than I could afford — even with the guaranteed refund — so the people at the airline counter suggested that I buy a one-way ticket to San Jose and have the travel agency courier me a one-way ticket back home.
I followed their advice and proceeded to customs.
I handed customs my passport and boarding passes. They took one look at my ticket and decided I fit the profile:
- A one way ticket,
- bought at the last minute at the counter
- (which they mistakenly thought was bought with cash)
- by a solo-travelling non-caucasian male
- born in a country with active Al-Qaeda-funded groups (the Philippines has to contend with Osama-funded jerkoffs Abu Sayyaf).
I was escorted into a customs interview room, a small place with a desk equipped with a microphone, a chair on either side of the desk and a surveillance camera pointed at the interviewee’s chair. As I waited for my interviewer, I imagined someone in one of the adjoining offices snapping on a pair of latex gloves and slathering them with lube.
After about fifteen minutes, a man in a U.S. customs uniform approached the room, but was interrupted by a coworker. “Hey, Phil just brought in four boxes of Krispy Kremes!”
Both of them made a beeline in some other direction, and I waited another ten minutes for my interviewer to return. By then, I’d missed my flight.
The customs guy was pretty nice, asking me the same questions I’d been asked earlier — where was I headed, how long was I staying, whom I was visiting — as well as some out-of-the-ordinary questions:
- “Have you been to the middle east lately?”
- “Have you been to the Philippines recently?”
- “Are any of your clients from the currently ‘hot’ countries?”
He then asked if he could search my luggage; I said “yes,” partly because I had nothing to hide and partly because I didn’t want to face the consequences of saying “no”.
When he opened my accordion bag, he asked me to play it in order to prove it was a real musical instrument.
It was then that I decided that there is only one song you play when trying to establish your bona fides with a U.S. customs official: The Star Spangled Banner.
About four bars in, he declared me free to go.
He explained that my circumstances looked a little suspicious, hence the interrogation and search. I told him that I understood he was just doing his job and hustled out of there.
I was thankful that the searching was restricted to my luggage. I’m pretty sure that playing the U.S. national anthem played a part in convincing him that I was not a terrorist and that he should recognize my right to anal sovereignty.