16:17 Tuesday 24th October
Los Angeles Airport, California
“PUT YOUR PHONE AWAY”
“YES I AM TALKING TO YOU SIR. YOU IN THE RED SHIRT!”
The man in the red shirt looks around bewildered, only to find that he is indeed the only man in a red shirt.
“I.. ..it’s..It’s not my phone it’s my passport”, red shirt man mumbles. Red shirt man feebly lifts the item in his right hand for all to see. The silence in the room allows his puny mumble to carry like a roar and the hundreds of us who have been queuing alongside him for hours can clearly testify that the item in his hand is indeed a passport. Border staff man can see this too, but border staff man doesn’t apologise, he simply shouts:
“PHONES WILL NOT BE TOLERATED. NEXT.”
What. a. d*ckhead.
I sometimes feel like life is uniquely hard for me. A constant struggle to determine when to let someone know what a knobhead they really are. This is the problem with having been raised as the youngest daughter of 5 children – I’ve always been relatively protected. Sure there are times I’ve been spat on, called a n*gger, bullied and swung at – but mostly there has always been someone there who is bigger than me to protect me. My dad, mum, brother heck even my skinny older sister who threatened to fight someone for me in primary school. So I tend to ere on the outspoken side. With three lawyers in the family and parents who place education second only to God Himself, I know my rights and I like to keep them. Further more, being a Brit whose secondary school maths teacher always taught me that good manners cost nothing (quite literally made us chant it at him “what do good manners cost?” he’d ask, ‘NOTHING!’, we’d shout back), you can see that this was one of those situations where I was having to choose again.
In an ideal world I’d gracefully stroll over to the border control man with the overly plucked eyebrows at the counter and politely inform him that we’ve all had a long flight. I’d tell him that I’m sure he’s had a long day too, but that good manners quite literally cost nothing and being abusive, threatening and unwelcoming to guests entering his home country would neither speed up the process nor catch more criminals. Unless of course, his sole intention is to intimidate little children, like the adorable latina girl currently clinging to her dad in fear.
Everyone would then cheer at my exquisitely delivered polite information, border control man would apologise and tell me that I was right, that he had simply had a long day but shouldn’t throw his weight around like this. He’d then ask me who did my eyebrows, I’d smile and slide him a piece of paper with a number of a local stylist I’d pre-googled while watching his eyebrows dance for the last 2 hours. He’d be so grateful that he’d tell all the other 15 staff who have been stood around commanding us, to take initiative and get behind the other spare 15 counters. The bottle neck effect would be solved and we’d all carry on like sensible, pleasant adults.
“I SAID NEXT!”
The raging voice of border control man snaps me out of my happy daydream and back to reality. I am a solo black female entering the United States for the first time. I think I’ll hold my tongue.
About two years of ‘no phones allowed later’, my turn finally comes. I’m stood in a queue for a less-angry-but-omg-how-slow-can-you-be border control man. Unfortunately, angry border control man has noticed my queue is slow, so every now and then he angrily confuses the Mary out of passengers by shouting “NEXT”, then “NOT YOU”, as he calls someone from the slow queue and brings them to his counter.
“NEXT” he shouts, pointing directly at me, glaring down those marker pen brows.
He’s a tall black man, all geared up in his uniform, a slight lisp to his shout and a sassy manner of chewing his gum.
I hand him my passport.
“WHERE ARE YOU GOING?!”
“I SAID WHAT FOR?”
“Travel.” I repeat at the exact decible level as the last time, my very British, passive aggressive way of informing him that there really is no reason to shout.
“WHAT DO YOU DO FOR WORK?”
“I’m a doctor.”
“OH REALLY?” He says, as he lifts one eyebrow higher than the statue of liberty and pushes the other lower than his sense of good will. He looks me up and down. I’m wearing ripped jeans, clear heeled silver boots a dark lippy that was absolutely popping the last time I checked.
“WHERE DO YOU WORK?”
And on and on with question after question until he’s satisfied that I’m not here to plant a wild banana tree as part of a British ploy to destroy the American ecosystem. He lets me pass. As I walk the windy corridor to freedom I over hear him speak to his next victim, a 60-ish year old tanned lady who doesn’t speak much English.
“DO YOU HAVE ANYTHING TO DECLARE?” he shouts.
Lady: “ no, no, no, no, no!” she repeats the word several times, for lack of English ability.
“WHEN YOU DENY IT SO MANY TIMEES IT MEANS YOU USUALLY HAVE SOMETHING TO DECLARE. WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO DECLARE?!” He laughs.
“Welcome to America”, I tell myself out loud because no one else has yet.
Now to figure out where on earth I am going.