Thursday, May 12, 2005

And I'm home again!

Fast trip; it only took 36 hours from the hotel back to my front door. The Singapore to Los Angeles leg in particular was shorter than usual - a mere 14.5 hours (it can take as long as 18 hours). From the flight display it seemed we took a much more shallow arc across the North Pacific than usual. Sometimes the flight goes over Alaska but not this one.

The drive down from Baguio was white knuckle all the way. Whether it was that the traffic was unexpectedly lighter I can't say but I do know that at 1:18 AM and again at 1:19 AM and again at 1:20 AM we had frighteningly close head-on collision near misses. The middle near miss involved us driving off the road and sliding across the shoulder. And then, somewhat later and fortunately on the 3 lane motorway, the driver started nodding off . Can't say I blame him; he'd been driving nearly 5 hours by then. I could tell he was nodding off; the van would slow and veer to the right. After the second shaking of the shoulder to awaken him I suggested we pull over so he could sleep for half an hour. We had nearly 2 hours up our sleeve and frankly I'd rather he rested up a tad. A half hour nap seemed to improve matters markedly.

But then he required a visit of a substantial nature to the toilet. Tip to travellers to the Philippines. Take a roll of paper; he does and he lives there so he ought to know. Thus came the search for a petrol station with a restroom at 5 AM. By this time we had traversed the motorway, which has regularly spaced large petrol stations of the kind familiar to anyone who's driven major US or Australian intercity freeways. No such luck once you've passed Balintawak and are in inner city Manila. He stopped at a couple of places and eventually his need got the better of his fastidiousness; he sneaked behind a low brick wall and left his calling card .

Thus to the airport. At check-in the clerk saw I was US bound and yelled the fact out to the entire terminal. Over trots a security guy. 'Bring your bags over here sir' he says. So over I take em. Very thorough search. You know those 2 zone clocks with alarm and timer you can buy? I have one. Not that I need it to tell the time elsewhere in the world; I can do that in my head. But the hotel we use doesn't provide an alarm clock so I carry my own. The security guy pounced on it! 'What's this?' I explained. 'Hmm' he muses, only half convinced. 'Does it have a battery?'. I nod. 'Hmmm' he muses more ominously. 'Where's the battery?' he asks. Unfortunately this clock has two little philips head screws to hold the cover on the battery compartment; I'd almost given the clock up as lost when he changed his mind and put it back.

Then he asks the killer question. Do I have a cigarette lighter? Of course I did. There's a large sign right beside us that announces that lighters are forbidden on aircraft bound for the US. My flight was from Manila to Singapore and thence to the US so I'd hoped to keep the lighter at least as far as Singapore. I did try a feeble protest that my aircraft was Singapore bound and I'd give it up in Singapore. But nope; he was inflexible. I was going to the US so I had to give it up there! One can play the lawyer but sometimes it's not worth the trouble. This was, I felt, such a time.

Of course I ran into problems with immigration at Los Angeles. Citizens queue again; passport, customs form and greencard in hand. Hauled off to secondary inspection again! But the guy who led me away was a whole lot friendlier than the last time I had problems. 'I'm just doing my job' he said. I couldn't really find it in myself to be too annoyed even if that excuse was discredited some 60 years ago. And, to their credit, this time it was a much faster process. It took maybe 15 minutes start to finish with much questioning about my old greencard. Maybe the fact that I could so readily quote the date of the Detroit fiasco[^] helped. Either way, I got to the baggage carousel before my bag did so I lost no time. I did ask if there was anything I could do in the way of personal visits to Phoenix INS to clear it up. The answer was no, I just have to expect further visits to secondary inspection in the near future until the old card is cancelled out of the system. Gawd knows what effect this will have on my naturalisation petition which I'll be able to submit in 3 months and 6 days (not that I'm counting you understand ).

And on a sadder note; they've closed the smoking lounge at Manila Airport. There I was, airport tax already paid and immigration control passed, happy in the prospect of a smoke or two in the 3 hours until my flight. Imagine then the sinking of my heart when I beheld the 'CLOSED' sign on the smokers lounge! Bummer! And, having passed immigration control, it was not an option to emerge into the melee outside the airport.

At least I could still smoke at Singapore.

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