OK, I couldn’t resist the pull of the most obvious pun for a title. I guess I’m still excited to actually be here. I’m cutting straight to the chase: I made it into the US on my visa waiver!
It’s pretty obvious really, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this, but let me tell you the story of my journey…
It’s not just a physical journey from Nottingham to New York, it’s also a mental one that took me on one hell of a psychological rollercoaster ride. The phrase “going away to find myself” is probably over used, but I learnt a lot about myself before I even took my first steps in NYC. I can’t laugh about it yet, it still gives me butterflies to be honest, but I’m sure I’ll be able to one day.
My last meal in Nottingham with Lisa, my landlady/housemate/good friend was followed by a ceremonial release of a “we’ll miss you” helium balloon with my blog card attached and a note asking whoever finds it to let me know where and when they found it. I expect to get a message from next door in the next couple of days.
I woke early enough on Thursday morning to see Lisa off to work. I’ve watched Lisa leave for work many times and even given her a lift on occasion, but it was strange saying goodbye. The realisation of me leaving still had yet to sink in. So, it seemed like a normal day, but I had a nagging feeling at the back of my mind. Rather like when you have a lot to do and you don’t want to forget anything – and, of course, I did.
I pottered about the house checking and re-checking my bags, made myself a packed lunch and watched a couple of episodes of King of Queens – I thought this may get me into the fat guy in New York mood.
My journey to London was uneventful other than the GQ magazine I bought had a whole section on eating out in New York and a late arrival at St. Pancras due to signal errors.
My journey across London was grim. Aside from struggling to find the right tube, ny rucksack turned out to be way too heavy. I decide to offload my books when I get to Dean’s. I manage to lug my rucksack across London and onto my train to Westcliff. Dean and Sarah (and their dog Missy) met me at the station fresh from their honeymoon in the USA (Missy had a different holiday to give the honeymooners some space). My arrival, carrying my rucksack, was the source of much amusement due to me resembling a ladybird of tortoise, i.e. if I fell on my back, I would lay there, legs kicking, until I die.
Back at their flat, their stories of their honeymoon renew my excitement and also my anxiety. After all, were I not to get in, I would be back to square minus one. After a meal we watch Cloverfield – the film where a monster rampages through New York. Man, was I glad we watched that when, at about 3am on my first night in a strange hotel room in New York, a thunderstorm rampaged all around me. Note to self: buy a torch – lightning makes for a particularly scary lighting system.
Friday, April 11th and my journey really begins in earnest. Dean, Sarah and Missy drop me off at Heathrow, Terminal 4. Unfortunately, my plane leaves from Terminal 3. I started to wonder if I believe in omens. My journeys to apply for a visa were stricken with similar set backs and we know how that turned out. It was simple enough to switch terminals and I got checked in and through to the departure lounge ok. I took the time to get some quarantine tablets (immodium) to keep my bum quiet throughout the journey – rather like BA Baracus in the A team. I may have got an upgrade, thanks to a good friend using her connections, but that did not happen. Not to worry, leg room is never an issue for me – I’d be ok on a miniature railway, never mind economy class on a plane.
I was sat next to two elderly women on the plane. One of which regaled me with the story of her interrogation by US customs officials due to a mix up from a previous trip to Canada. That makes me feel a lot better – not! I’m glad those quarantine tablets are holding up! I try to take my mind of it by using the in flight entertainment system…it’s broken. Loads of people’s are. I watch the first 20 mins of American Gangster, then it freezes and switches off. The beginning of films come on at random. I en up watching the first 20mins of Superbad, but avoid Alvin and the Chipmunks. The kind air crew compensate all of us with problems with a free gift worth £25 from the duty free. I opt for Courvoisier. Nice. I feel like having a swig for dutch courage.
Having heard and read of tales of interrogation by immigration officials, I’m expecting the worst. The full good cop/ bad cop routine and cross examination of my story. I go over the story in my head. Although it’s not a lie, my story changes subtly every time I go over it. I’m cross examining myself and I’m picking holes in all aspects of my explanations – I’m fucked!
We land in thick fog. It’ a rough landing and induces a few screams from other passengers. This is doing nothing for my nerves.
Immigration: A huge queue means I have plenty of time to contemplate my fate. Interrogation and deportation or perhaps interrogation and allowed through, but I have to sign in at a police station every week. Even one thought of being taken to the basement and beaten and raped before being thrown in prison. Justice prevails and I’m released after several years, albeit a gibbering wreck. It’d make a decent tv movie, but it’s no Midnight Express. At least I knew that whatever happened it wouldn’t be as bad as that…Johnathan Rhys Meyers playing me in an HBO production.
I reach the end of the queue after a long and sweaty wait. I’ve already tried to work out which officials I’d want and which ones I wouldn’t. I’m assigned number 8 and I join that queue. I study this man intensely looking for some sort of clue. It looks like he’s sharing a joke with the family in front – is that a good sign? At the same time I see another guy get led away. Oh no! Could it be me next?
It’s me next. At the counter that is. He views my visa waiver form and my passport for what seems like an eternity. He asks me to provide fingerprints. Does this mean I’m through? Don’t think it! Don’t jinx it!
“Why are you here?”
“How long are you staying?”
“I leave on 6th July”
“You travelling around?”
“Yes, New York, Miami and California”
He blows out his cheeks and moves his head to one side. I read that as a concession of respect or amiable envy.
He stamps my passport.
“Enjoy your stay”
I’m through! Fuck, shut up. Don’t think it until you’re out the airport.
I get my rucksack and make it through customs. I’m now officially on American soil. I still half expect to be rugby tackled and hauled back, but it doesn’t happen. In my rush to get out of rugby tackle range, I get into the first cab I see. It ends up costing me $100 to get to my hotel. Thanks to all who contributed to the whip round at work – you paid for my taxi!
My hotel has a good location, West 38th Street, but it looks pretty basic. To be honest it’s ok. It’s a shared bathroom, but I don’t think anyone else is using it. They have plenty of bathrooms. Times square is a few blocks away, so I ventured out. I had a huge burger at the Brooklyn Diner just off Times Square and a couple of beers and I was soon back at the hotel and asleep…until the monster from Cloverfield woke me up…better that than BA Baracus…