Sunday, September 17, 2006

Where in the world am I? (2)

I am in a country where it can take 2 hrs to clear the Immigration Hall.

Now, that is not perhaps such an unusual thing, not a unique identifying feature of my adopted home. I suffered a 50-minute queue the last time I came through JFK. However, on that occasion, perhaps faced with an unusual and unexpected simultaneous deplaning of passengers from several 747s (or are they all 757s now? I betray my age....), certain steps were taken to ameliorate the problem: the US Citizen gates were changed over to deal with the international passengers once the relatively small number of Americans had passed through, and - eventually - they even managed to find some extra staff to take on a few of the numerous vexingly unmanned processing stations.

And the 'snake' queueing barriers did keep the several hundred-strong horde in reasonable order. I never thought I'd find myself praising the 'snake'. I hate the goddamned 'snake'! I hate the way it forces you to constantly double back on yourself. I hate the way it makes you repeatedly shuffle past the same miserable faces in the parallel sections of the queueing line. Above all, I hate that there is no way of getting directly to the front when there is nobody else in line. (There used to be a particularly oppressive one corralling the visitors waiting for the elevators to the observation deck of the Sears Tower in Chicago - ceiling-high barriers of polished metal sheeting, so that you and your immediate neighbours were endlessly mirrored into a seemingly infinite throng, while the ends of the queue were invisible: extremely claustrophobic! A really, really, really bad idea. I wonder if it's still there.)

But 'snakes' have their uses - they do impose discipline, they do give you a sense of how long you may have to wait, they do promote equality of queueing opportunity (none of this desperate gambling on which of the individual lines may move faster). When I returned from Europe 12 days ago, there was just a huge formless scrum at Immigration. There were probably well over a thousand people waiting to pass through, with more arriving all the time. And the booths were so far away, we couldn't even see them clearly when we started our long wait; there were no signs or markers to indicate clearly where the lines should form; the only lane barriers were in the last few yards before the booths, and even here they were four people wide, so didn't provide much help in deciding who should take priority - they merely created ugly choke-points at which hopeful but increasingly impatient and ill-tempered mobs 8 or 10 abreast would try to compress themselves into this suddenly narrower space.

On this particular occasion, it didn't help that I had picked the SLOWEST-MOVING line: an especially bumbling immigration functionary was taking a minimum of two minutes to deal even with an utterly straightforward case like me, and 5-10 minutes with many of those who were unfortunate enough to have omitted something from their landing cards or carried passports from countries he didn't recognise. It didn't help the mood of the crowd in general that not all of the booths were manned, yet there was a central cubicle of supervisors - 6 or 7 of them - who were conspicuously laughing and joking and lounging around on their fat backsides doing nothing at all while this seething mass of chaos around them threatened to approach the threshold for riot.

This, then, is the country in which I live. Shit like this happens all over the world. But it tends to happen more often and worse here, and with no indication that anything is ever going to be done to make it better. I mean, this is a very big and modern airport we're talking about here, for gawd's sake! I don't think I'll be using it again in a hurry.

1 comment:

Tulsa said...

I remember the Sear's Tower snake from a family visit - I'm sure part of one our yearly station wagon drives to Chicago - treks to Devon to stock up on Spices, visits with cousins and distant relatives, mulberry trees, and the very claustrophopic Sear's Tower line.

Though you don't mention when you went, so hard to confirm if my visit proves the mirror-snakes continuing existence or previous existence.