Tuesday, March 15, 2016
Escape from O'Hare, OR, the Farmers' Revenge
It's a 12 hour flight from Tokyo to Chicago. Which sounds unendurable. But with in-flight movies, it's really not that bad, particularly for a guy who doesn't see many movies. I never thought about movies, ahead of time. I brought books. But instead I binge-viewed; I saw more on this trip to Japan—six total—than I have in the theater during the previous year ("The Big Short," "The Martian," "Bridges of Spies," "Boyhood," "Spotlight" and an HBO documentary on Banksy's month-long art project in New York City.
So the flight over and back, not a problem.
The hour after we arrived in Chicago, however....a little harder to accept.
There's just something almost cruel about stumbling off the plane, breathing the air of freedom, thinking, "Ah, I'm home!" then turning the corner to see this mass of humanity shuffling through our Sham Security Theater.
I've gone abroad many times, but never remember it being this bad.
There were three lines, one after the other.
The first was the longest, but that at least kept moving. This line was the line shunting citizens to the banks of machines where you scan your passport, declare that you're not bringing in drugs and sides of beef and such,, get your photo taken in the worst, low rez, exhausted picture of your lives.
Say, 20 minutes. At least you don't have to hunch over a form with a pencil anymore, which is more than Japan can say.
Once that line is surmounted, slip in hand, you are then are shunted into the second line. Where you wait to hand the slip with the low rez photo to a customs agent, who eyeballs you, perhaps sniffs for the scent of decaying beef, then waves you on, where you get your luggage.
We were worried ours wouldn't arrive: they had paged us at the ticket counter at Narita just to make sure we really were owners of the luggage connecting from Kumamoto, which seemed an Ominous Sign.
But there it was, not in Malaysia at all, as we expected, but right there on the carousel, by the time we got to it. I grabbed my bag and was ready for the bolt to freedom, like a diver breaking the surface for the first gulp of sweet air, when we realized the only way out was to join yet another line, snaking around the baggage carousels, to get past the agriculture department, still looking for that beef. I watched a cute, twitchy little beagle being led around the luggage, adding an absurd element. You want your police state to have German shepherds, not pugs. It was if there was a calliope wheezing in the corner.
This cruelest line had no ropes to guide it, with people grabbing their bags from the carousel cutting in, as opposed to going to the back, the way suckers like me did. My brother started chatting with a Japanese businessman who was going to miss his connecting flight, and gallantly tried to intercede on his behalf.
"What if you need to get to a connecting flight?" he asked a uniformed—I almost wrote "costumed"—employee.
"It's a universal exit," he replied. "They couldn't care less."
The people who heard that last sentence laughed, despite ourselves.
"God bless America," I said. At least we're free to be honest about what a hash we make of things and how indifferent we are to the people we supposedly serve. We finally shoehorned by the agriculture guy, who took our low rez photo slips and waved us through.
At that point, I phoned American Taxi, as I always do, and maybe five minutes later Cab No. 12 was waiting outside gate 5E to whisk me home, just like they said it would.
I suppose that's the power of commerce as opposed to government. The feds already have my money, so any service they provide is nearly charity. American Taxi, however, wants my $30, now and in the future, and so have worked out a system where they get what I need ASAP.
Not to slam the government, per se. We have Republicans to do that, and they've undermined the government, as if to prove their point. starving it of resources, so it is stretched and repurposed and multi-tasked, well, I suppose it could be worse and probably will be. And not to take anything away from the various Customs and Immigration and Homeland Security agents, who were doing their best, individually. Still, it's a sad commentary on our inability to get things right—I don't think we were ever required to pause more than 30 seconds at Narita when leaving Tokyo.
My brother summed it up best.
"Thank God Chicago didn't get the Olympics," he said. We could barely handle the regular arrivals on a normal Monday afternoon.