Tales of a wandering lesbian

Home again

The flight back to the states was alright.  The first leg from Florence to Amsterdam took us over the Alps on a clear day.

Alps view

And we got cookies for breakfast.  I like cookies.

Airline cookies

It was a quiet flight; not even close to full, so almost everyone got their own bank of seats.  I grabbed an exit row and frightened the nice flight attendant when he tried to debrief me in Italian.  Two hours later we were in the Amsterdam airport.  I think it’s an interesting place.  It’s got a museum on its upper floor, and has entertaining art sprinkled throughout.

Airport art

What wasn’t so interesting was getting a note at the self-service transfer machine telling me I had to go see an agent.  It also told me that my flight was boarding – an hour and a half before the flight was leaving.  I’d chosen to take the non-direct flight back to Portland in order to have a little more time in Amsterdam, just in case.   The just in case, it turned out was a good idea, due to the combined factors of a Japanese tour group that was waiting in line at the agent desk, and the fact that I’d been flagged for security checks.

When I finally talked to the agent, she looked me up and down, told me I’d just been flagged, handed me my boarding pass and sent me on my way.  I arrived at the gate an hour before my flight, to find the reader board flashing “boarding.”  I thought this was a little extreme, but hopped into line.  The boarding process, it seems, was so long, because each person was being escorted from the line, by an agent, to one of about 6 tall, small desks for interrogation.  “Did you pack your bags?  When?  Where?  Are you carrying anything given to you by anyone?  Anything that you did not make with your own hands?  Anything you did not personally witness being produced in the factory?”

Now, I knew the easiest answer would be “no,” but I have this annoying compulsion to try to tell the truth.  I was carrying gifts from friends.  And while I could see the concern if it had been electronics or chemicals, I didn’t think that a jacket or poster was likely to compromise the international security of the flight.  Still, I’m not a professional, so I said, “well, yes, I have gifts from friends.”  She stopped cold and looked up from the ticket she had been examining.  “You do?”  Based on her reaction I’m guessing not a lot of people give that answer.  “What kind of gifts?”  “Well, like posters, but I packed them and I know what they are.”  “One moment please.”

I found this experience curious.  It was an international flight into the US at Christmas time.  I actually sat next to a woman who was visiting her daughter in Seattle.  Were people not bringing presents home?  Or did the airline really want people lying to them?  What?  One woman standing next to me had gift-wrapped presents in her carryon luggage.  What did she say?  If I couldn’t bring a poster given to me by a friend into the US without creating an international incident, it might be time to reconsider the rationality of our security systems.

The  security woman  stepped over to a man in a blazer with a walkie-talkie.  I understood enough to catch “poster” and “gift,” and was able to smile at him at the right time in the explanation to get a returned grin and nod.  From the extent of the conversation that ensued, I’m fairly certain that the woman who was interrogating me was somewhat new to the position, and being a little over-diligent.  I don’t really speak German, but I’d say the gist of the conversation was, “these aren’t the droids you’re looking for.  Move along.”  She returned my ticket, said “Thank you ma’am, have a nice flight,” and I was on my way.  The guy next to me wasn’t so lucky.

He’d been there when I walked up to my little desk.  The poor soul only had carry-on luggage – and brown skin.  “You are visiting your parents?  And do they work?  Only your dad?  What does he do?  And your mother, what does she do?”  He was still being questioned by an agent with a Pakistani accent when I walked onto the plane.  I simultaneously chuckled and shook my head.

The flight from Amsterdam to Seattle was 10 and a half hours.  That’s too long.  ‘Nuf said.  We did have a lovely pasta dish and individual pizzas, as well as personal entertainment devices that allowed me to watch Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince over and over.  It almost made up for the ridiculously tight spaces between seats.  Almost…

There is one thing that makes the re-entry to the US less than glorious – the customs process.  I’ll say that it was better than my last experience in New York, but I was astounded by the baggage claim area and the insane pile-up of bags.

Baggage claim

Apparently it’s common to have luggage stacked 3 or 4 deep, because there was an airport employee stationed just in front of the ramp where the baggage enters the carousel, waiting to position each bag in the mêlée.

After filling out several forms designed to make you lie, and reviewing the forms with at least 3 different people, I had my cheese-laden luggage in hand and was on my way to Portland.  My first ground view of the US made me smile.  I was back in the northwest for sure.

Rainy airport

One short plane ride and I’d be back in Portland.  And that was a nice feeling.

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5 comments

1 Kenda Harris { 12.23.09 at 11:00 am }

Welcome home darlin….Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!! Thanks for the wonderful blog….i have enjoyed reading and keeping up with your adventures!

2 Molly { 12.23.09 at 4:34 pm }

I hope this is not the end! Enjoy reading your blog everyday.

3 KFlick { 12.23.09 at 7:10 pm }

No worries. No end in sight. Maybe every other day during the holidays. Keep reading! Thanks ladies!

4 elizabeth { 12.25.09 at 3:25 pm }

ahhh, I love the Amsterdam airport. and that flight to portland is heavenly – at least compared to the flights I have to take now. Not sure how long you are in town and where your next adventure is… but I was going to pop in at MoD maybe before heading back to the UK. Maybe it would be fun if we tried to arrange a lunch with everyone?? Hope you are enjoying be back at home. x

p.s. they speak dutch in NL… but it is very similar to german 🙂

5 Heather Johnston { 12.27.09 at 3:51 pm }

I totally choked on my sandwich when I read the “these aren’t the droids you’re looking for, move along” part. HILARIOUS!

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