Traveling always presents itself with uncertainties these days, but especially at Christmas time. So I wasn’t sure what to expect as my mobile phone went off at 5 am.
I was already up when the little soft music began to play. I grabbed my backpack and laptop, my only luggage, and walked to my office in the dark to check the Internet before catching the bus to the train station.
I wanted to make sure I had a flight to catch for one. I had put in for a new return date last August when it appeared immigration problems in Finland, where I work, might prevent me from actually staying.
I cancelled that request when the immigration problem cleared up, but I was still a little nervous about it. This online travel agency has some funny rules that make it sound as if they will consider you a no show if you even inquire about a change and don’t contact them and cancel in enough time.
I had cancelled my August return 5 minutes before take off with an Email.
My mind was eased when I could at least get my boarding pass from London to Washington online. I couldn’t get one from Helsinki, but I wasn’t too worried.
Even so, I wasn’t looking forward to standing in what I believed would be long lines of holiday travelers. I needn’t have worried about that either. I danced right though check in.
It was a outbound passport control where I encountered my biggest, and also unexpected, challenge. I met a young Finnish Nazi border control officer.
Or maybe he was just in a bad mood. Or maybe he didn’t like the fact that I looked somewhat unkempt since I hadn’t had a haircut since I left my country for his last July.
First, he told me to move back as he was helping a young British chick. I didn’t notice that there was a little painted line where I was supposed to wait.
“Farther. Farther”, he said. I looked down and saw the line.
Young Adolph said in a condescending fashion,”There you go.”
I had obviously disrupted his flirtation. Sorry, buddy, but the girl was with her boyfriend anyway. I guess he didn’t care since he had passed him through and he was gone.
When I got to meet him face to face, he pored over my passport. “Where’s the stamp?”, he asked.
I assumed Der Fuhrer meant my entry stamp. “It’s a new passport”, I told him, the inference being that it might be a little difficult to find my entry stamp because of that.
“Also, I am a resident, but the police told me that I needed to change my status from one based on kinship to work.” I gave him my old passport with the residence permit in it and told him that the change was in process.
The Hitler clone was nonplussed by this and my lack of a residence permit in my new passport. I told him that, yes, I too was wondering why they didn’t collect my passport to insert the new permit and only asked for 120 euros.
As I have found in Finland of late, when those in authority make a mistake, it is my fault, not there’s. “When you come back you need to go straight to the police station and get this taken care of,”said Adolph.
I was not happy at my treatment by this young Finnish fascist, but as I am working on my rage these days I thanked him (so much) and went on my way. It took me about 30 minutes to calm down at the gate, which I was able to do by eating peanuts and being thankful I was going home to be with my family at Christmas.
I still am amazed, however, as I was when in Hitler’s presence, that I had so much difficulty LEAVING his country. It was easier for me to leave the Middle East, and I had to have an exit visa there.
My flight to London made up for the experience I just had. It wasn’t full. I had plenty of leg room, so that leg of the trip was easy.
I have gotten to like Heathrow because they seemed to have figured out how to keep lines moving during security checks. They didn’t disappoint me. I’ve learned a lot too in my travels, like packing my belt away.
The only hassle I had in London was catching the train to my gate. There were two train lines opposite to each other and lighted signs which told you which train to board.
It was hot and crowded down there and things didn’t get any more comfortable when those danged lights kept switching. The crowd moved back and forth across the platform like little ants.
Finally I boarded a train and I got to the gate. There I had another experience I have written off to a sign of the times.
As I went through the gate with my boarding pass, I wanted to wish the people taking my card a Merry Christmas. However, I hesitated.
Behind the counters representing the airline were an Indian woman, an older south Asian man, and a young Arab fellow. As this was London, the land of Charles Dickens, I didn’t suppose wishing someone a Merry Christmas would be an issue.
I finally blurted it out in passing despite not knowing if was talking to a Hindu or Muslim. I guess my struggle came from the American issue about whether I should wish someone a Happy Holidays or a Merry Christmas. As a Christian, I prefer the latter.
The flight to Washington was pretty uneventful. My remembrances will be of the noisy baby of the young Middle Eastern couple behind me, his father’s knee in my back, and the chatty middle aged French fellow next to me who talked for a whole hour to the woman next to him before saying,”Well” and turning to his reading material.
I will also remember that probably for the first time ever I didn’t even open my headset. In addition, I will happily recall the chat I had with our nice British pilot on the shuttle from the gate about what it was like to fly into 90 mile per hour headwinds.
Back in the States, I got to experience our dear security measures at the airport. Passport control again was my bugaboo.
There were six flights coming through at the same time. It took me an hour to get through that.
I longed to be with the internationals, whose line seemed shorter. The only saving grace was that the 49ers and Steelers were on the tube overhead.
I kept wondering why the video the authorities kept recycling made a statement such as “we know you are tired but…”. My thought was: “if you know we are tired, you might avoid putting us through this after a bumpy 9 hour flight.”
I was picked up by my faithful friend Ed, who put me up for the night. I had a warm greeting from his wife and dog.
We also had a nice chat, and as is common with Ed, he gave me some nice gifts indicative of our mutual shared interests. These presents included a hoodie from the university we attended, a Sergeant Fury and His Howling Commandos comic book, and a 2012 civil war calendar.
Ed made me French Toast and bacon the next morning after my dutiful mobile phone alarm went off, treated me to Dunkin Donuts Coffee and a blueberry cake donut on the way out and dropped me off at Union Station. Ed and Pam are wonderful people!
I went to Union Station to take something called the Megabus. My wife arranged this because it was only 25 dollars and it would have been prohibitively expensive in gas and time for someone in southwest Virginia to come and get me.
I had pictures of the old Greyhound or Trailways in my mind beforehand. I imagined sitting next to a smelly hobo or something.
I have now become the Megabus’ greatest fan. The bus was a comfortable double decker loaded with students and “normal” people like me.
I was a little concerned about my ticketing as all I had was an online registration number, but I didn’t even need it. If there was a hobo on the bus it was me because this longhair boarded from the back, put no luggage underneath and no one checked my credentials. Weird, but nice.
We went by the Capitol, the White House, and the Washington Monument on the way out of town. There was an African American security man on Constitution Avenue standing there and shadow boxing.
I loved it. I would never see such demonstrations from official personnel in Finland, unless there was alcohol involved.
As we headed out toward Interstate 66, we hit a traffic jam. Very typical of DC. I wrote it off to an accident or construction.
It was an interesting cultural footnote to watch a heavyset construction worker RUNNING toward some task as we passed his site next to the highway. I love America.
The bus wandered down the Shenandoah Valley on a sunny, mellow day. It was quiet and peaceful and relaxing. The only stop we made was my own in Christiansburg.
Meeting me were my lovely daughters, our neigbor who was driving to pick me up, and my friend who was nice enough just to show up at the bus drop point to greet my arrival.
My wife insisted I get a haircut first thing when she saw me. I bet I get better treatment on the way back to Finland in January.
But for now, I am happy and dancing like Snoopy as I am home with my family for Christmas. As John Candy said to MaCauley Caulkin’s Mom in the Christmas move “Home Alone”, Polka Polka Polka!