Tag Archives: Seattle

Airport Gestapo – The Final Chapter

. . . . previously, I’d caused havoc, embarrassment and humiliation at Heathrow Airport and we were momentary illegal immigrants in Canada after having been awake for nearly 24 hours on our way to Seattle.

View of Calgary downtown from International Ai...
Imprisoned at Calgary Airport!  
View of Calgary downtown from International Airport (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Zombified by tiredness we stepped out of an elevator at Calgary Airport and appeared to be behind the U.S. customs desks, tourists to-ing and fro-ing on the far side of them, shops and departure gates splayed out beyond. Treading very carefully after falling foul of Heathrow Gestapo security, we approached the first human we could find.

“Excuse me,” I said in a little girl’s voice. Not intentionally, mind you. He just looked so very big and I was feeling like Alice.

“Can I help you?” he asked. Oh, yes please. Give me a fireman’s lift to the first aid room, find a cot for me to lie down on and put a cold compress on my forehead.

I lost track of the people we asked for directions, the forms we handed over, the snaking empty mazes we trudged along, eventually passing go, saying goodbye to our suitcases again and, oh goody gosh, going through security.

Thankfully they didn’t seem to be expecting me. Our boarding cards and passports were inspected for the 43rd time and we were directed to a security queue. It was the same drill as at Heathrow except everyone was taking their shoes off so I meekly followed suit.

As our boarding cards were scrutinized for the 44th time the proceedings came to a halt.

A young blond Aryan looked at our boarding cards, looked at us, looked at the boarding cards again and squinted, showed them to her colleague, who looked at us then called two other colleagues over who all peered at us while pointing at our boarding cards.

I wanted to cry.

If it would have made them happy I would have laid down on the conveyor belt and gone through the luggage x-ray machine myself.

“I’m sorry,” blondie said, “you’ll have to go to that other line.”

“What?” I had heard the actual words she said. I just hoped she’d change her mind. Jimmy was putting his shoes back on without further questions.

“That other line,” and she pointed.

“Where?” My poor brain was shutting down and I wanted to be really, really certain she meant what she said.

“Over there by the wall,” she enunciated very carefully. My jacket, handbag, computer and shoes, all neatly laid out, taunted me from their trays. Jimmy wouldn’t look at me and was wheeling away.

With a last punch of stamina, I put myself back together, walked to the other line, unloaded into the trays and watched it all whiz away on the conveyor. Good riddance.

Our boarding cards had taken a little side trip, courtesy of the security staff, who perhaps didn’t have enough to do as they outnumbered the passengers. The boarding cards were walked round the whole area by various staff and admired by all and sundry as though they were showing off a cute puppy.

In my socks I stepped through the security scanner, where I was stopped yet again. “You’ve been chosen for security screening through our airport. It’s on your boarding card.” I’d already forgotten about the boarding cards. They were still being passed around for the staff to marvel at. “It has four S’s on it. Would you like me to search you or do you want to go through there?” She pointed to Jimmy, who in my dazed and weary state I’d also forgotten the existence of, standing in a round glass case in a familiar Hands up! stance. The virtual strip search.

English: Body image scanner cartoon avatar, ge...
English: Body image scanner cartoon avatar, generated by software in lieu of actual body image, proposed for use in U.S. as airport screening method. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I looked at him. I looked at her. “Ma’am?” she asked.

She looked at me.

“I have no idea.” I was so worn down by officialdom I was completely unable to make a simple decision.

“Why don’t you step through there?” she said kindly.

“Okay.” She could have been sending me to a firing squad for all I knew. Or cared.

After asking the way out of security, being misdirected and taking only two more wrong turns, we found our departure gate for Seattle and sat down.

“Can I see our boarding cards?” I asked Jimmy.

I held them up side by side. “Yours has the four S’s on it. Not mine.”

“I know.”

“You were the one security was tracking this time.”

“I know.”

“They picked you out to track through Calgary when we checked in at Heathrow and marked your boarding card, long before my snit in security.”

“I know,” he said, smirking.

“It was nothing to do with me not taking my shoes off.”

“Nope.”

“Let me see the boarding cards for the London/Calgary leg.”

“I threw them away.”

“Why?” I asked on a note of rising mania.

“They’re no good now.”

“I know that but I’d still like to see them.”

“Well you can’t.”

“I’ll bet mine for Heathrow has the four S’s on it.”

“Possibly.”

“Choosing me for a security search and tracking was completely random.”

“Probably.”

“You let me think it was my fault that we were screened.”

“Yes.”

I was too tired to give him a piece of my mind. I’m not sure there was a piece of it left to give him.

The flight to Seattle must have been uneventful as I didn’t feel inspired to write about it. That or we took a taxi from Calgary. I don’t remember now.

English: Security checkpoint at Seattle Tacoma...
Do you see what that sign says? Tiny print, right side of picture – Wrong Way. You betcha! I’m never going through security again. Ever. Until the next time. English: Security checkpoint at Seattle Tacoma (SeaTac) International Airport (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
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Airport Gestapo #5

. . . . previously, I’d behaved rather badly, I’m told, at Heathrow Airport security and been x-rayed, questioned and generally humiliated at many points throughout the airport. I maintain I was just tired and a wee bit grumpy from a 5 a.m. start.

English: The Calgary Stampede midway, with dow...
English: The Calgary Stampede midway, with downtown and the Calgary Tower in the background. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ten hours after escaping the claws of the airport security reich and having been awake for 20 hours we were welcomed to Calgary – the home of the Calgary Stampede – by Cowboy Bob standing at the top of an escalator in his ten gallon hat, a pleasing change from Stalag Heathrow.

The immigration officer, rather worryingly dressed in a bullet proof vest, was abrupt but business-like wording his short questions for the sleep-deprived and only detaining us for a few seconds.

The Canadian customs officer actually had a sense of humor and commiserated with us for being tired and many time zones from our departure point at Heathrow. It was all going smoothly for two weary travelers and we were still in good spirits at that stage.

Walking tentatively, gazing around and pushing a wayward cart loaded with two weight limit suitcases and two well overweight carry-ons, we must have looked suitably befuddled for an obliging uniformed aide to come to our rescue. “What is your destination?”

Helpfully, it was the only question our addled brains could answer, “Seattle.”

“You need U.S. Customs. It’s upstairs,” and she gave a stewardess-type sweep of the hand to direct us. With new found determination, we strode through the indicated automatic doors, through a lobby, past some shops and found ourselves out on the street at the taxi rank.

“This isn’t right.”

“No, it isn’t.” Stating the obvious is often a delaying tactic while we pull ourselves together. We headed back for the automatic doors and stopped short as they closed in our face, with a big red NO ENTRY symbol staring back at us. With little mental stamina left to guide us, we doggedly retraced our steps out onto the street again.

“This isn’t right.” Tiredness was limiting our vocabulary.

So there we stood, two dunderheads, two experienced trans-Atlantic travelers, who have hopped from London to Baltimore, Seattle and Phoenix, changing planes in New York, Reykjavik, Denver, Paris, Detroit, Toronto, Washington D.C., Montreal, Chicago, Copenhagen, Boston and Vancouver – some of the busiest airports in the world – and yet we stood outside at the curb at Calgary Airport at a complete loss at how to proceed.

“Let’s go back to the doors. We’ll wait for someone to come out,then shoot back in before they close.”

“But they’re no entry.”

“What do you suggest? Take a taxi to Seattle from here?”

Like a couple of illegal immigrants (technically we were as we stood on the street not having cleared immigration in Canada) we waited for someone on the right side of the doors to come out so we could bound through them. That someone was a flight attendant we recognized from our flight. “Can I help you?” he asked in a blessedly non-menacing way as we trespassed.

He took us through some unmarked doors, along a secret passage, pointed out an elevator, indicated a point on the ceiling where U.S. Customs should be “I think,” and disappeared into his phalanx of fellow Canadians.

With U.S. Customs within range, you’d think we’d be home and dry. I hope you’d be wishing us well at this point, or at least for an end to a seemingly endless tale, but there were more calamites to come.

. . . . to be continued.

[seattle]
Not there yet. Only several more annoying hoops to jump through![seattle] (Photo credit: lempel_ziv)
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They Have Monsoons in Washington?

No one told us they have monsoons in Washington before we naively moved there from Europe. November had been a record breaking month for precipitation and December looked set to be worse. What could be more terrible than wading through three inches of water to get to our car? We were about to find out.


As forecast, gusts became more fierce and whistled through the towering pines throughout our development.
We watched the 11:00 news before going to bed and gusts were then predicted at 90 – 110 mph; 5.7 inches of rain had fallen in Seattle that afternoon; there were mudslides, trees down, roads blocked, bridges closed, flood warnings, blizzard warnings, thousands of homes without power, drivers killed by falling trees and a woman rescued from her flooded basement by divers. People trapped in their cars by flood water had to be rescued; the Amtrak train just quit; Qwest Field where the Seahawks were trying to play football was shown with waterfalls cascading down the steps; the reporter on the coast said it was raining so hard it hurt just to stand in it and there were 30 foot seas. A house was cut in half by a 140 foot tree. It had been the largest black poplar in the northern hemisphere and now it was blocking Lake Washington Boulevard.

Not the very one but you get the idea.

We went to bed on the gloomy note the worst is yet to come. As we had not yet been affected by the calamitous weather and were cocooned in our apartment, we still felt there was a degree of media hype in the reporting.

The next morning the apartment was ominously cool. I turned the thermostat and nothing happened. I tried a light switch and nothing happened. When the stove failed to heat up we both had the same reaction – no tea! What a couple of bubbleheads. Everything ran off electricity in the apartment and we hadn’t even begun to think through the consequences.

After a cold breakfast we set off for IKEA but found to our amazement that it was closed due to the power outages. Having driven for an hour on the tedious interstate Jimmy didn’t know whether to be put out or pleased at not having to traipse around IKEA’s intentionally baffling layout.

On our way home we decided to hunt for firewood and some dinner. There was a modicum of warmth left in the apartment so we ate our tepid teriyaki chicken by candlelight and proceeded to light a fire in the fireplace. This went well for Jimmy despite constant interference from me until he decided to shut the damper down to try to preserve our one bundle of firewood. The apartment filled with smoke.“You need to open the damper.”

“I have.”

“It’s still smoking.”

“No it’s not. You just smell the smoke that already came out.”

“Yes it is. I can see it. You can’t see it sitting so close to it.”

“It’s fine. I know what I’m doing.”

BLEEP!! BLEEP!! BLEEP!! BLEEP!!


We had set off all the smoke alarms in the apartment. “What do we do now?”

“I don’t know!”

“Can you turn them off?”

“NO!!”

BLEEP!! BLEEP!! BLEEP!! BLEEP!!

I thrashed the fireguard aside and opened the damper fully as Jimmy dashed to the front door and opened it wide to let the smoke, and our precious warmth, out. Cringing under the onslaught of the alarms, the bleeping became intermittent, then stopped.

Just as we exhaled in relief, fire sirens started up in the distance. “Are the alarms connected up to the fire station?”

“I don’t know.”

“Do you think they are coming here?”

“I don’t know!”

“What do we do now?”

“I DON’T KNOW!” We stood fixed at fireplace and door, gawping at each other as the sirens became louder and louder and louder . . . then quieter and quieter as they raced off to their real emergency. The fire in the fireplace was short-lived, we saved a few logs and went to bed early under all the blankets we could find.

Saturday dawned late – foggy, cold and bleak. We’d been without power for nearly 48 hours and were forced to contend with other unprepared residents over the dwindling supplies of firewood.

Later we had a pleasant evening in front of the fire drinking wine, playing Rummikub, a board game like rummy, and cheating wildly as the different numbers and colors on the tiles were indistinguishable by flickering candlelight.

The mathematical thought processes necessary for the game became increasingly difficult with each glass of wine so we gave up and were gazing into the fire.

“Would you want to know when the power is going to come on again?” Jimmy asked.

“That depends on whether it’s tomorrow or next Friday. If it’s next Friday I’d rather not know.” We continued fire-gazing.

“Do you hear that?” Jimmy asked me.

“What?”

“The fridge.”

“Yeah.”

“You don’t know do you?”

“No. What?”

“The fridge.”

“So?”

“Think about it.”

“The fridge. THE FRIDGE!!!” and I jumped up and bounded round the apartment like a jackrabbit on steroids. I flicked a light switch, “YES!” then cranked up all the thermostats, plugged in the Christmas lights, put the light on over the stove for a homey kitchen glow, turned the spotlight on the wreath over the fireplace for seasonal cheer, then touched every warm heater vent in the whole apartment in a very proprietorial and self-satisfied way.

Ahhhhh.

The Local News and “??!!” Oh My!

When first in the U.S. we mistakenly scoured the local news channels and local papers for world news. We saw items on food safety inspectors finding armadillo meat and live frogs for sale in a market, a “Bodies” exhibition in Seattle with “real human bodies” the real news being that someone stole a kidney from the biology demo. “Sewer project interrupts residents’ lives” was a headliner and a page of national and international news had a lead item of “Long overdue book is back at library.”

Seattle's Commercial Real Estate
Seattle’s Commercial Real Estate (Photo credit: Canadian Pacific)

Seattle is unconventional and cosmopolitan, Tacoma is more blue collar and Olympia is, to be kind, liberal, but really just a little bit “out there” so forgetting our quest for world news, we turned to the wealth of alternative free newspapers in the area – the names of which will give you an idea – “The Stranger”, “Sitting Duck”, “Conscious Choice”, “The Voice of Reality” and “Wisdom of the Heavens, Earth, Mind, Body & Soul” amongst many others. Jimmy and I have come to the conclusion that we are just a teensy weensy bit naïve after reading them.

The Supersonic Soul Pimps performing at Vivian...
The Supersonic Soul Pimps performing at Vivian McPeak’s 50th Birthday Party, King Cat Theater, Seattle, Washington, U.S. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had picked up a copy of the “The Stranger” (where a typical advertisement is the Laughing Buddha tattoo parlour where you can “give the gift of transformation . . . get a gift certificate. Hurting Seattle since 1996.”) but didn’t read it in time to enjoy all sorts of treats on New Year’s Eve. The Little Red Studio’s New Year’s Eve Gala offered “beauty, art and the erotic for couples and singles of all persuasions.” The Supersonic Soul Pimps were playing at High Dive. We could have gone to Cowgirls, Inc. for a “fun ass time” with “rowdy sexy entertainment” and a mechanical bull. The rest were too tacky.

The categories were the usual women seeking men, men seeking women, men seeking men, women seeking women and then there was a column for Swingers. Most interestingly the last category was called “??!!”, no words, just “??!!”, which was my excuse for glancing at the page in the first place. After reading them all out loud to Jimmy and alternating between laughter and bewilderment, I’m afraid to say that I felt completely unable to commit any of them to print. It was all too much. I had to go bake a cake, arrange some flowers and try to resume my innocence.VerdeCanyon 011

How Not to Buy a Car – Part 2

The rest of the story is so excruciating I can hardly bear to relate it to you. After waiting a week, Teddy, the grinning salesman, was anxious to conclude the deal and phoned us to check on the progress of our funds. Jimmy advised him that we were approximately $3,000 short of the total not feeling the need to explain why (sales tax booboo).

Teddy was asked if a post dated check for the balance would be acceptable and he agreed. We borrowed truck and drove a wearisome hour and a half in the snow up the busy Interstate 5 through Seattle to pay for and collect our car.

On our arrival at the dealership Teddy showed us the car, anxious to get rid of it and us no doubt, handed us the keys and our temporary license plates. We moved on to the reception desk to make payment with two checks, the second of which would be post-dated as agreed. Only at this point did dear Teddy decide it would be prudent to check with his manager if that would be acceptable.

We were left standing drumming our fingers on the reception desk for ten minutes, dangling the new keys and expecting at any moment to drive away in our new car. You can guess the rest. I’m a little too ashamed of my behaviour to relate it in full but I let the sales manager and finance manager know that I was displeased that they had all wasted our time.

Jimmy was angry as well but anxious to salvage the deal that had already been struck for the one car in the whole of the State of Washington that was exactly what he wanted.

Before embarking on a fourth trip up the tiresome Interstate, Jimmy took the precaution of phoning the finance manager to be told he wasn’t in on the day and at the time when he had promised us he would be.

The duty manager phoned back and told us that our now proposed plan of paying partially by check and the small outstanding amount on my brother’s credit card (our own credit cards were still an unresolved issue, No Credit !*#@!), as had been suggested previously by the finance manager, would be subject to a 3% charge on the credit card portion. Apoplectic, we got increasingly terse with this new member of the saga until he said he would take care of it.

Jimmy went in to conclude the deal while I was told in no uncertain terms to stay in the car until the transaction was completed. I pondered possible scenarios of outcomes at great length to amuse myself; the dealer would knock the outstanding $3,000 off the purchase price as compensation for our wasted trips and distress or throw in a motorcycle that stood oddly out of place in the showroom or give us free coffees. It was only the previously offered car keys and temporary plates with which Jimmy returned.

When we went back to collect our permanent license plates I asked to be dropped at IKEA on the way. Foolishly, I thought I’d seen the last of that dealership. There is, I’m sorry to say, a Part 3.

Bad Seat Karma

Back at Heathrow in the departure lounge after two weeks on my own in England and smelling like a tart’s boudoir after a visit to the perfume shop I settled down to watch the overhead screens for my flight.

Like the flibbertigibbet I am when tense, my eyes flitted from screen to book to screen to magazine to screen to newspaper to screen and took in nothing other than the fact that the departure gate hadn’t been announced for my 10 hour flight with only 20 minutes left until departure time. Had I missed something? Had the aircraft come and gone without me? Wishing my absent minder to share in my panic though there was nothing he could do to help me I decided to text him. Good journey to H’row. Watching screens for gate. Paying attn. Wont miss flight. XX.  He’ll know that’s not true and wonder what is wrong.

By perusing best sellers, window shopping, drinking cappuccinos, reading sensational headlines on tabloids before returning them to the shelf dog-eared, trips to the loo and trying on bracelets I’d ambled right down to gate 25. When my gate number popped up on the overhead screen for boarding – gate 1a – it was completely at the other end of the terminal building.

My minder would be cross with me if he knew. He would remind me of the time I missed my flight from New York to Baltimore because I was playing video games or the time all the cars on the Seattle ferry were honking at him because he had to wait behind the wheel of our car, engine running, while I stood at the rail of the ferry watching the approach of the fetching Seattle skyline oblivious to his ire (until I got back in the car that is). He would have made me stay put near my gate. Oh well.

I huffed and puffed the length of the terminal building carrying in my heavy backpack a large bottle of water, five magazines, three books and a newspaper for the flight knowing I would probably watch two films, drink the airline’s wine and fall asleep instead. Flustered, I sprinted straight through the now nearly empty gate to board . . . . a bus.

What? Where am I? The bus station? Mustn’t procrastinate when I’m on my own and pay better attention. Ah yes, the aircraft had been abandoned halfway across the tarmac and we were to be bussed out to it. Looking around for familiar faces on the bus to reassure myself I was in the right place, a few unfamiliar weary faces glanced back at me. I realised that as I’d checked in online, not queued at check-in, I wouldn’t recognise my fellow passengers. I could be about to jet off anywhere in the world if I’d bounded through the wrong gate and the ground staff happened to glaze over just at the point when I handed over the scrap of paper that I’d printed off as my boarding card. I made a mental note to check our destination as I boarded the plane, like some addled old dear.

Taking my pick of seats at the back of the bus, I chose an empty side-facing bench that would seat three(ish). A plump florid blond collapsed beside me and scooted across as far as she possibly could to leave a narrow gap between us. As the bus filled to capacity with standing room only I could see no further than the belly in front of my face. A voice speaking Arabic or Farsi made me look up to see a dark-eyed beauty homing in on the tiny space beside me. She began to rotate and I hoped she was looking for another seat but like a dog in his bed, she circled twice then began to reverse her ample bottom towards the gap between me and the blond.

Blondie and I exchanged looks of wide-eyed dismay. Either I hadn’t appreciated the size of Sultry Beauty’s aft section or how small the proposed seating area was but as Sultry Beauty’s left bum cheek made contact with my right shoulder I lost sight of Blondie. The large cheek slid down my arm, slithered over my hip, and on impacting the seat squeezed me into a bolt upright position, forcing the air from my lungs and crushing my ribs against the metal armrest.

Afraid to move a muscle for fear of disrupting numerous pressure points and squirting myself out of my seat and across the bus, I prayed that this was my bad seat karma for the journey knowing I could be this unlucky for the next ten hours on the plane. I was breathing shallowly, with eyes bulging when the bus driver eventually braked and eek, eek, eeked to a halt. As I was thrown from side to side my left ribcage was bruised on the arm rest while alternately my whole right side was cushioned in billowing flesh.

The dilemma then was whether to attempt to get up first and extricate myself like a toilet plunger stuck to the floor or stay put. I was wedged under the armrest on one side and a longitudinal section of my thigh on the other side was trapped under Sultry’s voluminous thigh with a pinching sensation as though a row of bulldog clips had been attached. My leg was going numb but rather than leave a strip of flesh behind, I awaited developments. I didn’t need to wait for long. My wide beamed travelling companion bounded to her feet with surprising ease. I gawped at her agility as I fell over across the seat upon release from the body trap and exchanged looks of bemused relief with Blondie, the remaining seat hostage, as Sultry Beauty was swallowed up by the crowd.

The outsome? Seattle flight. Aisle seat. Three seats to myself. Hooray!