Travel oddities

Wednesday’s return trip from Colombia included a lot of weirdness.

Travel papers and my wife’s assertiveness:

Alicia’s US residency hasn’t come through yet, so we had requested an Advance Parole that would allow her to re-enter the US. It arrived the week before she went to Colombia. There were two copies that appeared identical, so she took one along and left one at home, at my suggestion.

At the line in front of the Spirit Airlines desk, they have a desk where they check the passenger list and inspect passports. Alicia gave them her travel documents, and the girl said, “Do you have the other copy of your Parole? You can’t travel with this one.”

“Both copies are the same,” I said. “In any case, it’s not your problem, it’s something we can work out once we get to the US.”

She shook her head. “The other one is the one you need. They won’t let her into the US with this one, and we can’t let her on the plane. Can you please step aside so the line can move?”

“I’m not moving anywhere until you find a way to let us travel,” Alicia said. She demanded to see the girl’s supervisor.

“I’m the one in charge,” the girl said.

Alicia shook her head. “There must be someone higher up we can talk to. Who do you answer to?” she insisted.

After a long argument, the girl said she would call the Embassy, and she left. The passenger line at Spirit petered out. Our luggage porter was still standing by the cart with our bags, so we paid him off and he left. I fumbled through my phone in case I had the Embassy number on it. (I didn’t. Something to think about next time.)

A few minutes later, the girl returned. “The Embassy said it would be okay to travel with this copy. I’m very sorry for the inconvenience,” she said.

Airport security and guys with ponytails:

Airport security in Medellín is very thorough. They have the usual metal detector and carry-on luggage x-ray, but a police officer also looks at the bags and asks questions before you can move on to the immigration booth. Sometimes there’s an additional carry-on check at the gate.

In front of us in line was a Colombian guy with a ponytail, carrying only a laptop in a soft case. The policewoman was clearly suspicious of him. She opened the laptop and ran it through the x-ray twice, turned different directions. She turned the case inside out and felt it thoroughly. Finally she gave him back his belongings and he moved on.

I was carrying a massively heavy bag full of ceramic dishes, and fully expected to have the guard empty it and unwrap each piece, as on my previous four return trips. I had two laptops in my briefcase. And I also have a ponytail.

Alicia went through the metal detector first, and the officer asked her a couple of questions. I came through behind her and was surprised when the officer waved us on to immigration without opening a single thing!

It pays to have a glamorous wife.

Mysterious native woman on airplane:

As Alicia followed me into the airplane, an elderly woman in the second row, apparently from one of Colombia’s northern tribes, grabbed her wrist. “When is your baby due?” she asked.

“I’m not pregnant!” responded Alicia.

“If you want your child to be beautiful and healthy and have no problems, eat carrots. Lots of carrots!” the lady continued.

“Okay, thank you,” said Alicia.

Exit row seating (A):

I had paid extra for exit row seats, but at the Spirit desk they reassigned Alicia’s seat. “She can’t sit in the exit row because she doesn’t speak English,” the guy said. I couldn’t argue with that.

Once on the plane, I was pleased to find that she was in row 10, just in front of me.  “Alicia, I’m going to try to get you back here. When the stewardess asks questions, just say ‘yes’ in English,” I whispered. The seat next to me was empty, but the Spirit desk personnel were on the plane helping the stewardesses.

The stewardess came by to ask the usual emergency exit row questions, and a couple of minutes later, the desk personnel left the plane. I called the stewardess over. “Can my wife sit with me?” I asked.

“Sure. Does she speak English?” she asked.

“She gets by,” I said.

“But is she fluent?” she asked, winking broadly.

“She gets by,” I said.

Alicia came back to sit with me. The stewardess asked the exit row questions, to which Alicia responded “yes,” and then the stewardess said, “Are you looking forward to visiting Florida?”

“Yes,” Alicia said.

She told me afterward that the stewardess winked at her while she asked the question.

US airport security and my wife’s assertiveness:

My wife was already on an antibiotic but woke up with a fever our travel day, so while I packed, she went to see a doctora bioenergética, something like a homeopathic doctor. Our friends picked me up and we swung by the doctor’s office to pick her up. Alicia had several little bottles of injectable vitamin C and four large bottles of agua de plata (colloidal silver water). I told her to put the little bottles in a zip-lock bag with her pills, and I found safe places in the suitcases for the bigger bottles.

We had no trouble with Colombian airport security, as I already mentioned.

Ft. Lauderdale Airport was a nightmare. It’s way too small to handle the traffic it has. It took over an hour to get through immigration (they were quite understanding about the missing copy of the Advance Parole, as I expected), and then another half hour to get through the massive Customs line. Alicia was sick and exhausted and hungry. I wanted to get through security before finding something to eat, so we joined yet another long line.

After we ran our bags through the belt, I put my belt and shoes back on, and was surprised to see a female TSA officer take Alicia and her backpack to one of the little inspection tables. Alicia reached out helpfully to unzip the backpack. “¡No lo toque!” the lady said. She opened the pack and pulled out Alicia’s bottle of Mr. Tea and the vitamin C bottles, grimacing at Alicia and brandishing each bottle in her face, acting as if Alicia had been trying to get away with something. There was a large bottle I hadn’t seen before, a dietary supplement the doctora had also prescribed.

“Those are my medicines,” Alicia said, but the lady paid no attention.  She whisked the bottles and the pack off to run through the x-ray again. She returned with a Hispanic agent, a younger girl, to serve as translator. They threw out the Mr. Tea, which was fine with Alicia. There followed a long discussion about the medications, in which Alicia explained that she had been to see the bioenergética that morning and had the prescription. They asked to see it, so she dug it out of her pack.

Finally the mean lady left, and the Hispanic girl opened the bottle of dietary supplement to do a chemical test. Alicia thanked her for her politeness and gave her quite an earful about the older lady’s attitude. “She ought to be working as a prison guard. She had no right to treat me as if I were a criminal. It’s one thing to be trying to do something illegal, and another to break rules that I didn’t even know existed. She’s seriously lacking in people skills for this job,” she said.

“That’s not the first time I’ve heard that,” the girl said. She put the cap back on the big bottle and tucked the vitamin C bottles into the zip-lock bag. “Blessings. Have a nice trip,” she said as she handed back the medications.

Exit row seating (B) and masculine fragrance:

I was distressed to find that Alicia’s seat to Tampa had also been changed. She sat in 13B, a couple of rows back. Someone already had the seat next to me, and a couple of minutes after we sat down, Alicia got up to let a young man take the window seat. She gave me a look and held her finger under her nose as he slid past her.

I called back and asked him if he wanted to trade seats. “Sure!” he said.

I dug out my briefcase and scrambled into the aisle. As the young man squeezed past me, my nostrils were assailed by a horrible sweet fragrance with musky granular undertones that seemed to fill my sinuses with silt. It lingered for the whole flight.

The closest aromatic equivalent I could think of was 15 years ago when I forgot to open the flu before lighting the chimney and smoked up the living room. To try to mitigate the residual smoke odor, I sprinkled the carpet with a “deodorizing” vanilla-scented powder, and then vacuumed it back up. The smell of the powder turned out to be as unpleasant as the smoke itself.


27 thoughts on “Travel oddities

  1. Ashtshen says:

    Flying is always a nightmare, no matter what. And airport personnel are like required by HR to be assholes or something. The blind guy I edit for has a seeing-eye dog in a harness, so he can’t go through the NSA detector. The security people are ridiculous about it. Like, this is standard procedure, he is not asking to be frisked, the dog is freaking the fuck out about strangers keeping him away from his master, no need to raise your voice. Ugh. People.

  2. Travel, especially by air, is always an adventure. Sounds like you two had more that your fair share. I makes a great story though.
    TSA agents have always given me a hard time. They love to make a big deal over all the camera and computer gear. I think they have gotten too big for there pants and someone needs to knock them down a notch or 5.

  3. Relieved as you are that in the end you got home. The real problem is the constant expectation of impending doom. Takes the fun out of seeing the world from 35,000 feet.
    I’m usually waved through both in Israel and the States. but last time departing Tel Aviv they asked me odd-ball questions for half an hour. Like why was I sweating? A: Wearing a down jacket too bulky for the bag,ibut needed in USA December upon arrival.’
    I saw the offending peon later in the duty free, and was so tempted to ask what the hell was his suspicion, but of course he wouldn’t have been allowed to answer.
    Then flying back with ten pounds of veggie seeds in the luggage, I of course didn’t sleep much, but it was Friday eve and all the inspectors were already leaving. still, you never know what horrors await.

    BTW, I do so much love that your font size, etc, is readable without a microscope, like mine oughta be. Is it an attribute of your particular Theme, or something you found in the Editor. (which sucks, compared to Xanga’s. Also at least 80% of the supposed features here don’t work for me at all… they just load a blank page saying ‘Done’.
    I’ll await your reply, and good to see you here- we may soon not have a choice/JS.

    • This is my third attempt at replying. It’s risky doing it from my comment pull-down because if you click anywhere else on the screen before clicking on the blue box, everything you wrote disappears.

      An old guy sweating in a down jacket… yeah, I might wonder as well. But in Costa Rica I knew a Canadian lady who wore the same colorful down jacket every day for the year that I knew her, and she was harmless.

      Glad to see you over here in the Land of Goshen or whatever this place of Xanga exile is called. I was happy to find this theme, since there is no way to modify font without paying for premium here. On Xanga I always Select All, choose Book Antiqua, and set the font at 18 so it is legible.

      • I do feel your pain at crafting a reply thrice and seeing it washed away like a cheaply-made sand castle.
        I believe that we’ll call this the Babylonian exile period. Oh Xanga, if I forget Thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my Editor, or some such.
        Tim, I may just change my Theme to Yours here
        So far, half of what I try to do fails. I don’t recall a similar slow learning slope at ‘X’ but memory is selective. thanks for the reply

  4. Ugh! I never look forward to flying even when I love where we’re going! I get nervous at the security gate (for no reason!) so I’m afraid they’ll be suspicious of me. I’ve never had a problem with getting through, though. Once, they looked through my backpack, but I had bought some large pieces of jewelry that probably looked strange on the x-ray.
    Alicia’s assertiveness sounds like it comes in handy!

    • I’m grateful for Alicia’s assertiveness. I never worry about security unless I’m on a tight schedule. In this case the issue was that Alicia doesn’t know the US rules, and I hadn’t been thorough enough in checking what she had gotten from the doctor.

  5. I’ve never heard of not allowing non-English speakers to sit near the exits of a plane. I think all flight attendants should be bilingual. I’ve never had problems travelling but I didn’t like being treated like a criminal when I went to England last year. I am hoping next time I go there it’ll go smoother. I hope your wife is feeling better now. Glad you got back safely. Have a good weekend! 🙂

    • You would think international flight attendants would be bilingual, but usually there’s only one. Alicia is still feeling sick. We have an appointment Tuesday, but if she’s still feeling this bad tomorrow, I’ll try another doctor.

      • Oh no! 😦 I hope she gets the right help soon. Tell her I said, “Espero que se sienta mejor muy pronto y estare orando por su salud.” Hang in there! Have a goodnight. 🙂

  6. I think the worst-smelling thing on earth has got to be industrial-strength orange-scented deodorizer. My dad loved the stuff. He would bring it home from work and set it out around the house. I think at one point we told him it was the deodorizer or us. Something had to go.
    The return flight sounds like a trial. My nerves would have been frazzled. You both handled it remarkably well.

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