Crossing Borders: USA to Mexico

Her round beach ball sized face suddenly became pale. Looking up from her computer
screen she had found something disagreeable as her widening eyes were now two giant
pools of fear.

She mumbled something about a printing problem and made a hasty exit with Alicia’s
passport.

4am, La Guardia airport, New York.

This was not the first time issues had arose when Alicia or her family had tried to enter
or exit their home nation of the U.S.A. Having Haddad as a surname comes with certain
unwanted baggage. Haddad, a Middle Eastern name, meaning and as common as
[Black] Smith, had been flagged by the United States government as a threat to their
nation’s security. So, to save a nation from all Haddads, the surname had been added to
the terrorist watch list.

The time it took the airline representative to ‘fix the printer’ was probably long enough
to notify the President and have the jets scrambled. When she had returned, some 30
minutes later, the colour had again filled the beach ball’s cheeks.

Luckily the ‘printer’ was now working and a clean family record with no terrorist friends
or affiliates was enough to keep this Haddad out of Guantanamo Bay. A quick and vague
apology was given for time-wasting, before boarding passes were issued.

With passports and boarding passes securely in our hands, the easiest part was now
behind us. We just had to survive the security checks.

Going through security in the U.S. is more nerve-wracking than other countries. With
seemingly more eyes, guns, thermal-scanners, x-ray machines and metal detectors.
All of them are primed and ready to find the most minute detail. It makes an innocent
man feel guilty.

As you put your belongings onto the tray for the x-ray, words like; bomb,
terrorist, 9/11 and Bin Laden all go through your mind as things not to say. You remind
yourself repeatedly ‘don’t say bomb’, ‘don’t say bomb’ ‘don’t say bomb’.

Either side of you is a man who is trained to kill, with a gun barrel the size of your head. Beads of sweat begin to form under your armpits and on your forehead. Your palms become clammy. You feel nauseous and your mouth dries up. You step up to the detector, close your eyes and take a breath. And. Nothing. No red flashing light, no noise, no beep. You collect your belongings and remind yourself you ‘don’t have a bomb’.

After passing the several rigorous tests we waited and then boarded a plane. Three
hours later we exited, waited some more and boarded another plane. Two and a bit
hours later we landed in Cancun, Mexico.

The Mexican immigration were friendly enough, not requiring a visa or money to enter
their country meant it was a smooth welcome. However, the curious customs officials were ungracious in their greetings as they opened, closed, poked, prodded, shook and smelt the contents of our bags. The search was futile as we had left our contraband with our explosives at home. Dissatisfied they left us to re-pack our bags and enjoy their tacos.

© John Brownlie 2012

New York, the tourist’s trap.

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All the van doors locked shut as the chunky-looking woman approached wanting dollars in exchange for favours. Sitting in the back seat of a dark blue van with Super Shuttle painted in bright yellow on the sides, we were a magnet to everything that was left out of the New York guide book. The driver rejected her advances by aggressively pulling away and continuing to the airport. We had just left behind another side of New York that we were unable to cram into our visit.

As a first-timer in New York City, what would you do?

That question plagued my mind as our bus pulled into 42nd Street, Manhattan
and continued for the rest of the day as we ran across the city in an attempt to sort
out a ‘same-day 10 year Indian Visa’, which although we didn’t know it, would take 48
hours.

After the first day’s visa collection period had elapsed we went for a calzone on 8th. The
pizza joint was filled with photos of a reoccurring man with a host of celebrities. Sadly,
neither celebrities nor said man were there.
We ate well and headed for Central Park some fifteen blocks away. Even at dusk the
park was still busy – a group of people playing softball, couples exchanging loving
glances and a lonely man sucking on a pipe stuffed full of weed.

We headed back to our hotel, located just two blocks from Times Square. The hotel was
a gracious gift from Alicia’s family who’d used the last of their reward points to put us up
for three nights. We showered and then made an extremely packed itinerary for the next
two days.
Staying in the city that never sleeps, it looked like we weren’t going to get much
ourselves. We’d purchased a New York Pass, at $145 for two days it gave us a free
admission to a long list of attractions and full free access to the tour buses.

The following two days we saw a selection of the 2,000 year old Terracotta Warriors,
visited the weird and wonderful at Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, viewed Central Park
from the 70th Floor of Rockefeller Plaza, visited the site of the fallen at the 9/11 Memorial, walked the High-Line, rubbed shoulders with the wax-works at Madame Tussauds, learnt things at the American Natural History Museum and climbed the Empire State Building at night after an electric storm. I was in tourist heaven.
With so much to see and do we had only managed a fraction of what was planned.

On the same beaten path, that millions walk every year, we came across a sinister and slightly deformed Mickey Mouse whose raspy booming voice demanded payment in Times Square for a picture which he had generously brokered.
Walking nearby Union Square was a topless woman promoting awareness of a law that was passed in 1992 making it legal in NY state for any woman to be topless in the same place that a man can be. Fellow pedestrians un-flickering eyes watched as she strolled freely down the street.
Around Central Park were junior entertainers honing their craft, whilst the more
experienced were making the money. We witnessed two semi-naked men shout at each other repeatedly. Amidst the cock-fighting, an equally naked black man was pirouetting on roller-skates.

At night, while waiting for dinner with friends outside a fantastically popular Japanese restaurant, across the road from us, a woman in dressing gown appeared to be making a transaction with a man in a car.

As we drove away from the allure of New York, two homeless people were passed out
outside some church doors.

New York in two and a half days. Impossible.

© John Brownlie 2012