20 October 2015, Monday
We were up at 5:30 with no time to do anything but shower. No breakfast, because we had to leave before the dininng room opened. But the cab driver was great, right on time, loaded it all up and unloaded it at the airport—and he and Gerry had a great chat on the way.
We both know Gerry’s not leaving Ireland forever—that’s such a dramatic word!—we can come back any time we want, for heaven’s sake. But he won’t be living in Ireland anymore, and that’s pretty momentuous. A lot to process. And I don’t think Gerry would disagree that he was addled, kept forgetting where he’d put things and doublechecking and just generally was a wreck. At one point thought he’d left his phone in the cab but there it was in his breast pocket. 🙂 It wasn’t so much the leaving as it was nerves that somehow something would go wrong and he wouldn’t end up on the plane with me.
The first test was at check-in. There was a long line to check the luggage, and the woman operating the computer check-in for the airlines—the fast-moving line—said, “I can’t seat you together.” I said, “Well, that’s interesting, because we paid extra to sit in the bulkhead together and to board in group 1.” (In my opinion—and I know the airlines don’t care what I think—all this group number stuff is bullsh*t; they should just load the plane from the back forward and be done with it. Yes, that means the first class folks would board last. But I for one hate having to sidle past people trying desperately not to bump them even though they’re hanging their arms out into the aisle like it’s their godgiven right to hang their arms into the aisle. Boarding would go a lot faster if we loaded from back to front, IMHO.)
The clerk’s response was, “You’ll have to get the guy at the counter to fix it for you.” OK, that’s fine, we had time, but Gerry was grumbling. He paid for those tickets, dagnabbit!
And I get that. But usually the airlines can sort these things out if you keep pushing … with a smile. I said, “Put on a happy face, honey, because if there’s any problem, the clerk is more likely to want to fix it for us if we’re nice. In particular, we have heavy bags; we’d like him to see those borderline bags as underweight rather than overweight.”
This makes sense, of course; it’s the whole you-catch-more-flies-with-honey-than-you-do-with-vinegar thing, but in the heat of the moment—we paid good money for special tickets, after all—it’s easy to get distracted from the end goal. So we were at the window for quite a while—we were checking four bags, plus the clerk had to fix the ticket problem—but we used our happy faces and there was never a problem, never a doubt that we’d be sitting together. In fact, we chatted and chuckled. At one point I made some remark and the guy laughed, and I said, “Thank you for laughing” and he said, “No, thank you for laughing.” So this is my theory about the airlines: you can be an asshole and let a moderately stressful situation escalate—and think about it, there are probably all sorts of ways an airline clerk can make things difficult for you and you’d never know—or you can be not-an-asshole and keep your travel experience in the moderately stressful zone. Air travel isn’t fun unless you can afford to fly first class. (And I’m not sure it is even then … but I wouldn’t know.)
It’s also exhausting. Our flying/changing planes/flying time alone was twelve hours, and we were at the airport three-plus hours before flying, and up an hour before that—so sixteen hours. At least we left the line happy, right?
So here’s what it was like to leave Dublin on this day, the culmination of a year’s worth of correspondence with the Department of Homeland Security:
1. Check bags, obtain boarding pass; show passport the first time (but not the last).
1a. Put on a happy face for the clerk who will weigh your bags (let them be underweight, ohplease ohpleaseohplease) and also help you find that expensive bulkhead seat the first clerk couldn’t find (it’s there, just couldn’t be accessed through the automated system); the happy face assures this happy outcome. Clerk even laughs. Mission accomplished.
2. Go through security, show passport again, take off shoes, and etc ad nauseam.
3. Go to US Preclearance; to get there, go through a second, more thorough security (remove shoes, show passport for third time).
4. Wait in line to see the customs agent; Americans to the right, “all others” to the left. Americans may go to the left with their spouses if desired (say yes; it’s a shorter line, though in this case I had no intention of missing the Gerry Hampson Emigration Show).
5. Talk to the customs agent; show passport for fourth time, identify your luggage online.
5a. Americans traveling alone (i.e., me, usually) have passport stamped, identify their bags, and are told, “Welcome to the United States of America” (or, alternately, “Welcome home”).
5b. Irish folk traveling alone (i.e., Gerry, usually) must place four fingers and then the thumb, both left and right, on the electronic fingerprint reader and identify their bags; occasionally they have to answer questions, which, if answered correctly, means their passport is stamped and they are passed through.
At this point in the past you entered the concourse and gates; it is not a retail / culinary paradise (at the Dublin airport you need to do that before you go through security, so allow extra time if you want to shop). However, if you are emigrating …
6. You get out your sealed papers from the US embassy; you might (or might not) have already noticed that they doctored your well-used passport, creating and pasting in a whole new photo page with your new address and new passport photo and new temporary permanent residency visa number to replace your old Irish passport number.
7. The customs agent escorts you to the office—the Admissibility Review Area—where you wait (see photo) for the next available agent (there’s only one). Your passport and sealed papers are put in the waiting area (see also photo) for the next available agent.
8. When your name is called, you and your spouse hustle up to the window; you haven’t had breakfast yet (breakfast room wasn’t due to open for another 30 minutes when you left the hotel fully 3.5 hours before your scheduled flight for the 5-minute cab ride to the airport) and you would really, really like to get something to eat before they start boarding the plane. Flight time is about an hour from now.
8a. The agent reviews the papers, sees that all is in order, has a pleasant chat with you, stamps your passport, and says, “Welcome home, Mr. Hampson.”
At that point we had thirty minutes before they would begin boarding, so we ran and got sandwiches. In the Nashville and Chicago airports, it’s like a fast- and not-so-fast-food heaven on the other side of security, full of restaurants, but once you enter the US preclearance in Dublin, there is precious little food. We wolfed our sandwiches and then went to wait, and lo and behold, Richie showed up to wish us a safe journey.
And then we got on the plane.
Hark, now, hear the sailors cry
Smell the sea and feel the sky
Let your soul and spirit fly into the mystic
We only had an hour in between flights in Chicago, which would have been difficult for me, stressful, but it’s a lot easier traveling with two. And that flight from Chicago is a short one, so you have the anticipation of being almost home.
When we got to Nashville, we had a welcoming committee, with homemade signs and ringing little tinkly bells when they saw us! We are so blessed!
Our friends helped us carry luggage out to the pick-up zone, where more friends, the Byrums, were waiting to take us home.