It was back in 2010 that my first real trip took place, sure I had been on family trips to France and Spain during the school holidays – but this was different…I was heading off to the USA, for a whole year…by myself. Now, I wouldn’t blink at this kind of thing, but back then I was absolutely shitting my pants (literally – well almost literally – but that’s err…another…err, listen forget I said anything!), anyway yes, I was nervous. So while I was on my way to the airport I felt like I had made the wrong decision; safe to say I was running a lot of “what ifs?” through my mind…
What if I bought the wrong tickets? What if there are problems with the visa? What if the plane crashes? What if I was unwittingly used as a drugs mule? What if there are only recent Adam Sandler films to choose from while in flight?!
But despite all of this, I said my tearful goodbyes, began to check all my luggage in, and awaited the sexual harassment by hired strangers with rubber gloves. So far so good. But it was when I got through the first round of customs and passport checks, that I realized something…something big…
I had left all of the visa documents at home.
All of the big stupid important papers that had proved such a nightmare to get in the first place, I’d just left behind – not because I am forgetful, but more because I am a massive fucking moron. Ahem, sorry, hindsight is always such a huge bastard! You see, I had my passport and a page saying VISA in there, with some American looking patterns (I believe there were eagles, flags, and possibly Stone Cold Steve Austin…can’t be certain), so I guessed that would be it, that this would be enough. But naturally, it wasn’t.
I was suddenly panicking. I mean, I had got through this far! I would be getting on this plane to Amsterdam in ten minutes! So err…maybe I could make it through the other ones too? Maybe the whole visa thing is just like a take it or leave it, like “mehhh you don’t have it? It’s fine – just write us an IOU or something, no biggie!” Of course things were different now – as before I hadn’t realized it, so I was just wandering around, a totally ignorant buffoon without a care in the world, but now I had recognized my error…well, safe to say I would be a red, sweaty, nervous wreck at every turn. So yeah, not ideal.
When I got into Amsterdam I headed straight to Burger King to calm my nerves. I’ve found that there always seems to be a Burger King at the airport, I wonder why that is? I’m not complaining or anything, I mean I kinda like it – I feel like the fries are actually better than McDonalds, but ironically the burgers aren’t anything to write home about…hmm…like I do know kings aren’t elected…so perhaps that’s how they get around calling themselves the Burger King, and I suppose it’s not breaking any laws in that case, I just feel it’s a little dishonest, you know what I mean? …anyway, I digress.
It was time. I stood up heavily, and made my way to the gate. Every step more unwilling than the last. I kept my passport close to me and gripped it tightly – it was now slippery due to a mixture of double cheeseburger residue, and my nervous sweating. “OH GOD…OH GOD, OH GOD, OH GOD!” I was freaking out…maybe, maybe if I fainted and fell over they would just kind of cart me on there, and wouldn’t make such a big deal of my lack of paperwork?! Is that…is that a thing? No, don’t be silly. ”Argh, the guy looked right at me! He looked right at me…oh my God…he’s waving me over…argh!”
That was the passport check guy, right at the gate entrance – so fair enough that’s his job and it’s nothing out of the ordinary. But still. I was terrified.
As I walked up shaking, I handed him my passport – and tried not to look so uncomfortable (I’m pretty sure it came off as a constipated smirk)…but that’s when he uttered those fateful words…
”Where are your visa papers?”
“I…I…I, I don’t have them.”
He stared at me blankly.
“You don’t have them?
“No, I…I have them. I just don’t have them.”
(I have no idea what that meant at all, but that’s what I said.)
What took place next was very, very odd. To this day I am not entirely sure of what happened…it was…I don’t even know. As he looked at me in disbelief over my lack of visa papers, and probably wondering how I had gotten so far already, he let out a “hmmm…” and simply, turned around. He literally looked the other way. I stared at him (the back of his head) for a few seconds, not sure what was going on at all…and then, just…kinda…walked around him…
Of course the next few moments were TENSE! I kept expecting someone to run down that little tunnel bit, and tackle me to the floor…start spraying me with mace or something…so I kept looking over my shoulder, quickening my pace…I’m now doing this weird frenetic power walk thing, one more look behind – but nothing, NOTHING!
Only one more airport to go.
As I got into Atlanta it all felt different. There wasn’t going to be any cheeky winks or slip throughs here. Everything seemed 100% professional, like over the top serious. Gulp. This was the end. I could feel it. But that’s when I started thinking…the worst they could do to me is to send me home, right? And then, I’d be back home, with my best friends and my closest family members, right? So…like…nothing lost?
(This weak attempt at comforting myself didn’t work at all by the way.)
Final passport check, the big one. As I was called up, I wandered to the counter sheepishly, and placed my passport on the shelf in front…I tried a smile – it wasn’t returned by the lady behind the glass:
I handed her my flight information print outs, knowing fine well that wasn’t what she was asking for:
”Sir. Where are your visa papers?”
“I don’t…I don’t have them. I mean I have them.”
“DO YOU HAV’UM?”
“How’d you get this – whatever – goin’ that room.”
She pointed to a small room in a far corner – I dragged myself there with a heavy heart, trying to avoid the silent yet judgmental eyes of others, unsure of what I should expect…as I opened the door a sweaty smell automatically struck me in the face, and a general vibe of “ohhhh shitttt, I’m in trouble” pulsed through my veins.
I was seated next to a Mexican family (lovely people, trust me their story was crazier than mine, maybe another time) – anyway, an hour passed…two hours…more…eventually I was called up…
Of course they asked over and over again how I simply just didn’t have the papers, they couldn’t comprehend that I was simply stupid…they thought there must be more to it…they made calls, typed stuff, and stared at me for uncomfortably long periods of time…we were getting nowhere; for every question that asked if I was a drug smuggler or insane terrorist, I answered the same way: “I just forgot my papers…I didn’t think I needed them…so…I…yeah.”
That’s when they decided to put me through on some kind of “temporary alien status” or something like that…not sure exactly…so as I fill out form after form, they then tell me I’ll need to give them my fingerprints – no problem! I press them down on the machine as requested:
“Sir, try again please.”
“Okay, no problem.”
“Nope. Sir, is there any reason you don’t have fingerprints?”
She then called one of her colleagues over and explained the situation…and they just stared at me, asking questions about my past, and continuously asking for possible reasons my fingerprints may not show up…I then looked back at the Mexican family in desperation…they returned a sympathetic look, but there wasn’t really anything else they could do; I get it, they had their own problems.
After some time they decided it was probably something to do with the machine, I mean I didn’t look the type…whatever that means…I suppose a skinny English kid doesn’t really fit the bill. Anyway, eventually they found that I wasn’t some kind of criminal who files down their fingerprints to avoid detection (they’d watched something similar on CSI apparently), and let me go, three hours later, possibly more, no idea. But I was free.
And that was that…I had tricked the authorities, and I went on to set up my new life in America where I became uncontrollably wealthy and powerful, I also picked up a penchant for machine guns and snappy suits…oh wait…that’s Scarface…never mind.
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