Recently, while watching a movie that took place in the 1970’s which involved numerous interactions at the airport; it was about a terrorist organization, I felt a little envious at the ease in which they were able to travel in those days. Characters weren’t harassed in customs, walked freely even after displaying suspicious behavior, holding copies of fake passports was considered not enough cause to be held, and they were able to puff a continuous stream of smoke from their mouths throughout.
Every time I’m ushered through US Customs I feel as if I’m interrogated. It doesn’t help that I get nervous when faced with authority. Anyone who has the power to make things very unpleasant for me if they so wish and I feel the pressure of undergoing a test I’m bound to fail. The unsmiling, doubting faces make me question if I am indeed who I proclaim to be. ‘I’m sure I was born in Victoria, at least that’s what my parents told me, and…and, I’ve seen the birth certificate, it certainly didn’t look as if it’d been tampered with.’ Filling out my declaration form, I’m calm, I’m a world traveller, I know the routine, I’m cool and savvy when it comes to airports. The line is moving quickly, look how easily those citizens of the world are cakewalking through, all ages, races, modes of dress. Then it’s my turn, my heart starts to race as I make my way to the counter. What if they don’t believe me; is my story drill-proof. I don’t have a job right now, but I can’t tell them that, they’ll think I’m going to jump ship instead of catching my connecting flight and find work at the next farm I pass. I’m an English Teacher, I can hold that story up, I was an English Teacher not too long ago and can remember most of the facts about my job. They’ll ask me how much money I have on me, which, including the $20 stored in my wallet for a snack and a magazine, amounts to a little over $100. Am I even allowed to land on US soil with so little money to my name? I’m sure I’ll pop up on their computer as suspicious. Maybe after that time a friend and I were searched. We didn’t completely fit the hippie vagabond look worn by so many heading to California on a Greyhound, but were backpack toting and guitar strapped nonetheless. After recounting a story that didn’t quite hold, ‘So, you don’t know the name and addresses of who you’re going to stay with in California?’ Stuttering my reply, ‘I was going to figure it out when I got there.’ I was given a mild talking to about working illegally in the states. Come on, I was thinking, out of work, youngsters, who’s bag are filled with beat classics don’t come to kick it in Cali with an itinerary, plus I really did have family in Sacramento. My slight annoyance at being disbelieved and stereotyped was overshadowed by the fact that I was indeed coming down to work illegally, on a weed farm nonetheless, and I should be happy that I made it through at all. Or maybe they made a slight note when I was ‘randomly’ selected to have my dirty laundry sifted through on a return flight from Cuba. If anything, my Arab sounding last name would be a sure sign of compatriotism with a terrorist organization.
I manage to stumble my way through questioning, slightly flushed and gulping a few to many times, I vow not to make any detours on my way to my next flight, that no mysterious man in sunglasses handed me an unmarked package, and, a personal promise to myself, that I will avoid any more stopovers in the land of the free if at all possible. Now if only I were able to have that cigarette.