Richie, Sam and I wandered to our gate at Gatwick in plenty of time for our flight to New York. We had stumbled acrossed Alki, an old friend who would unexpectedly be our travel buddy until Brooklyn. The ground staff checked our passports and boarding cards as usual. Today however the gate attendant said something different,
“No” Richie answered shiftily. We obviously had none as we intended driving out of the country. We had anticipated this problem and were aware that the US visa waiver required presentation of proof of onward travel but had hoped to make some explanations about our intentions and muddle through. The alternative, applying for a traditional tourist visa involved a 6 week wait, was not an option.
An officer of US homeland security was sent for and we stood waiting. we frantically imagined solutions to the problem, online bus ticket purchase to San Diego to Tijuana in the next 5 minutes? None of us mentioning what we all knew. If we were turned away from the plane our trip would be delayed more than 6 weeks. 6 weeks with the landy sitting in a box in New Jersey. 6 weeks closer to winter and Alaska becoming frozen shut. Essentially, the whole trip was in the balance.
A stout american arrived with a proud moustache and the belly that rested neatly on the shiny buckle of his belt.
Richie calmly explained the nature of the trip and our planned mode of departure from the US. I sweated. Mr Moustache frowned, “so you guys are all doctors, do you have any proof of that”
So, you, whats your speciality? he said, jabbing a finger at Sam, who answered quickly.
“And you!”, the barrel of his finger now pointing in my direction.
His tone made it clear that this was an interrogation and we ought to answer quickly and clearly. We answered the questions whilst doing our best impressions of not being terrorists.
“Well i am gonna let you get on the plane but you may have trouble with immigration at the other side” said Mr Moustache gruffly.
We hadn’t expected a grilling before we even boarded the plane but that hurdle passed we were comfortably back at square one with the immigration officials at JFK airport still to come. We celebrated with a beer.
Eight hours later our nerves were jangling again. We disembarked the aeroplane and walked along conveyor belt corridors to enter a huge room labelled “Immigration” . The room was packed, it looked like the ticket queue at Wimbledon. Some people queueing for visas had tents, cooking gear and food rations, they had clearly been waiting a long time. Those closest to the front stood next the dusty skeleton of a deceased parent from whom they had clearly inherited their admirable position in the queue. Our hearts sank.
We queued and queued and queued, for fully three hours we shuffled like cattle, certainly as nervous. Unpleasant as those three hours were they may have saved our whole trip. When we finally arrived at the desk of an emotionally drained and exhausted imigration official she mumbled a few questions while staring into a point somewhere in the middle distance. Then waved is all through without a hitch. Success! Got away with it. Over the second hurdle we had leapt and giddily we skipped off into the USA.
80DW HQ x