Thursday, July 12, 2007

West of Istanbul, East of Bangkok...

... lies a land conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. My first day in the US was at Colonial Williamsburg, where it was amply clear that this was a sentiment more honored in the breach than the observance, as far as the founding fathers were concerned.

But this is far ahead. My first taste of the USA was within the US Airways enclosure in Schipol. A lot of questions from security before I got my boarding pass: why am I going to the US, did I pack my bags myself, how am I getting from Chicago to LA, considering there's no air ticket for that... oh you're taking a train? That's interesting, not many people do that - would you happen to have the train ticket on you? That sort of thing went on for a while. It was scary as hell. But afterwards, I got the window seat I asked for, and a window on my connecting flight from Philly - without asking.

So, I'm now on the plane trying not to look too excited. You know you're on US territory when every available bit of air and surface is considered advertising space. Where other airlines fill the time in between boarding and take-off with inane music and self-promotional videos, US Airways have sold this time to hundreds of advertisers, probably for large sums of money that they have then not used to improve their food.

I'm feeling a bit bad because I didn't give up my seat to someone. It was a mother and teenaged daughter who wanted to sit next to each other rather than one behind the other. I thought they were just being spoilt, so I pretended that I was claustrophobic and so needed the window for medical reasons. (I love America - you can get away with anything if you can think of a fashionable mental disease fast enough.) But it turned out it was because the daughter was scared of flying and needed the mother. The man in the seat in front of me gave up his window. He's a better man than I.

The usual pre-take-off guff was even more ridiculous than usual. You also know you're on US territory when they say "federal regulations" with every third breath they draw. While I made derisive noises under my breath, we were airborne and I saw the prettiest sight I've ever seen. Wispy clouds hung below us, a gentle morningness floated over everything, and far beneath, flowering unexpectedly in the blue Atlantic, were white windmills! A fairytale field of them turning lazily in the water.

After many, many hours and the worst food I've ever eaten on an airline (this includes Air India Express), I opened my eyes from a deep sleep to see land. Like Columbus, I was startled to realise that I'd reached America.

I recommend Philly Airport to all people entering the US on a visa. Judging by the horror stories I've heard about JFK et al, I had a very easy time of it. No screaming drill seargents, nobody in fact, to say anything at all to you as you waited quietly in line, while holidaying children tore around the place unchecked. Not even a nasty signboard. I was subjected to a few gentle questions about my visit and then a brief discussion on the Dubai Desert Classic and that's it. It might have been Seeb Airport.

And here I am, unfrazzled, welcomed, on a tiny little plane bound for Richmond.

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