When the plane lands, the passengers stand. This makes the ground crew snap to attention: Whoa, everyone in the plane is ready to get off! We’d best get this jetway attached as soon as we can. Move it! You file past the crew, who are mouthing syllables that resemble “Thank you” while thinking, “Now I have to extract sodden Kleenex from the seatback pouches,” and then you’re headed into the terminal, free at last — stiff, parched, tired, but free.
Unless it’s an international flight at Terminal 2, aka the Hubert Hub, aka the Little Terminal That Could. Then you join a line of 350 people whose first experience with the United States in general, and Minnesota in particular, is miserable.
You queue to operate an odd video terminal that scans your passport, takes your picture and presumably checks your name against the vast mysterious list of miscreants and evildoers. (If you’re on the list, a hole in the floor opens and you plummet into a tank of piranhas.) When we finally got to the machines after 50 minutes — that’s one-third of the time it took the plane to fly from London to Iceland — it asked all the questions on the piece of paper I’d filled out on the plane.
Do you have fruit and vegetables? Yes, I have a hollow leg and it is filled with elderberries. No, I don’t have any.
Have you visited a farm? Did you touch a cow? Did you lean against goats? No.
Do you have more than $10,000 because you are a suave international criminal who goes by the name the Silk Fox? Yes. You caught me. The money’s in the soiled garment bag.
You stab “No,” “No,” “No,” “No” to all the questions. Even the people who went to a farm and have grapes in their pants press “No” because, obviously, “Yes” is bad. When you’re done, the machine spits out a ticket with a grainy picture of your glum face, and this entitles you to … join another line with hundreds of people.
Of course, going through customs takes time, but there were 12 lanes and only three officials. You suspect that there are 12 lanes in case a private jet from Riyadh lands with 10 passengers; everyone gets right through, and two customs officials stage a foot-kissing contest to see who gets the honor of waving through a rich prince.
The rest of us, we wait. After an hour and 20 minutes, we finally saw a customs officer, who asked what we had brought back.
“Overpriced goods from airport gift shops bought at the last moment,” you want to say. “French soap that’s like trying to get lather out of a brick, tea no one will drink because it’s special and they’ll save it. The usual.”
I lifted the bag of stuff and asked if he wanted to see it.
“No,” he said. “If I have to go through it I’ll only steal it.”
Ha ha ha! I had the feeling that if I’d joked about a bribe I would have spent the next hour in a windowless room.
While it’s nice to be able to complain about such things, they could have had more people on duty. But I got my revenge, after a fashion. When I thought about the trip later, I realized I had been near a farm. And I think I was downwind of a goat, too. Although maybe that was just the smell of the subways.