Welcome back to the U.S., now bend over.
What a long strange trip it’s been. To say the return journey back to the U.S. after 6 months in Asia was brutal would be an understatement, being awake for about 48 hours and taking four separate flights.
After Japan, the 12-hour flight to Houston, Texas began, before the final flight to Ft. Lauderdale Florida, in which I’d get a ride to Orlando.
Before hitting the U.S., everything was smooth. Long flights, but smooth.
Once getting to Houston, the trouble began. After getting off the plane I was greeted by the “Welcome to the United States” sign, no photos allowed while walking over to the Passport scanner. I scanned my passport, and got a printed receipt, which I gave to the first immigration control officer, who let me through. Before heading to baggage claim, all of us were roped off for some reason, not allowed to enter the country yet. With no explanation, a guard finally removed the rope. One of the passengers mumbled out loud asking why we were roped off. Not quite a warm welcome.
After baggage claim, amazed my drum and backpack arrived in one piece, I proceeded to customs. Apparently, the U.S. is one of the few places you need to pickup your bags and re-check on a long International journey. Meaning on my previous flights, bags were automatically transferred from one plane to the next.
Apparently the line for customs was extremely long, as too many International flights landed at the same time. I had about 1 hour and 20 minutes from the time my plane landed to connect with the flight from Texas to Florida.
When my turn finally arrived, the guard grilled me briefly about my profession, and then stamped my passport. I was still hopeful to make my final flight.
I was expecting to just need a boarding pass (wasn’t issued one in Thailand), and be on my way.
Now there is just the final security/body scanner checkpoint. I took off my boots, put my laptop and backpack in separate bins, took my metal belt off, and hoped I was good to go. Something still set the detector off. Mind you, I had already gone through the full body X-ray scanner where you must place your hands above your head.
The guard asked what’s in my pocket; I said my wallet, which I took out. He then proceeded to go through my wallet. He felt my pockets again, and asked, “What’s this?” I took it out; it was a piece of paper, an old boarding pass. He told me again, empty EVERYTHING from your pockets, so I dumped everything else from mints to paper on their table. Then he asked me to completely roll both of my sleeves down. I started letting out a frustrated noise and I had about 15-20 minutes left to make my flight. As he’d check, I’d grab stuff and put it back in my pocket. I was getting aggravated.
In Japan for example, the feminine Japanese security women would smile looking you directly in the eye and say thank you. In the U.S. the overall mood was fear, high security and bullying. The guards here, both male and female were like bulldog prison guards. Not a single smile, barking commands at you like a prisoner. I was starting to question my decision of coming back. I came back specifically for festivals this summer and fall.
Finally, the guard said OK, as I started to walk away. He called me back and asked to swab my hands. Then finally, I could go lace my boots back up, fill my pack, fill my pockets, etc.
I was wearing an unusual hat, have a small beard, bracelets, etc. I’ve had people strangely ask me (a white guy), if I’m Muslim before, which I’m not. Perhaps I was profiled by the TSA.
With maybe 15 minutes before my flight leaves, I started running across the airport. I was going on about 36+ hours awake at this point with no sleep. When arriving at the gate (to get a boarding pass), the plane was still outside, but they said it was TOO LATE! They wouldn’t let me on the plane, and I’d need to get on the next one.
Off to customer service I went, for a new departure time, several hours from now.
Finally, I made it to Florida where I’m staying for a week or so before driving to festivals around the U.S.
Four different plane flights, awake almost 48 hours. Time to crash.
Soon, I’ll be writing about what’s next, and a 6 month recap of what I’ve learned.