Tuesday, December 28, 2010


     It’s fair to say that my trip didn’t start as smoothly as I’d anticipated. After a rather exciting upgrade to Premium Economy, followed by a really heartfelt goodbye to my family, I stood in line for security and passport control for almost an hour, only to have the immigration officer turn me around because I’d lost my boarding pass (my fault). So I had to turn around and do it all again. Back to check in, back through security, then on to passport control where I was finally allowed through. Yet for some reason it didn’t really seem to matter. Why? Call it pre-trip excitement, but for some reason everyone seemed so nice. Both the attendants at both my trips to check-in: only too happy to help. Even when I had to front up for a second time, head hanging in shame, the attendant just smiled, checked my passport, and wished me an enjoyable flight. The passport control officer was completely unsuspicious and incredibly friendly. Even the security guard who was checking me for bombs and concealed weapons was on for a chat about my trip and what he was doing for Christmas when he finally got off work.
     After my somewhat unorthodox airport experience, the flight to the Los Angeles had a lot to live up to if it was going to be something I remembered in my post-travel jetlag. Amazingly it did, although it must be said it went both for better and for worse. The badly-behaved man and woman across my aisle (who met on the flight, I might add), simultaneously joined the mile-high club AND got caught smoking in the toilets, ensuring all of us stayed alert as flight attendants ran up and down with UV lights searching for ash mid-flight. The better was the company I had next to me, a family from Brisbane off to Aspen for a skiing holiday. Friendly from the word go, the mother asked me what I would be doing in the US, and when she heard, immediately proclaimed herself my ‘plane mum’, because she didn’t want me missing my family too much before I’d even arrived. By the time the West Coast was in sight, I was practically singing the praises of humanity in all its forms.
     So as you could imagine, disembarking in LA I was in pretty high spirits, with a social barometer reading almost of the charts. Despite an hour time lapse between getting off my plane and getting to an immigration officer, my spirits still hadn’t been doused, and so I bounded up to the officer with a smile like a Cheshire cat’s.
            “Good morning!”
I took this to mean “can I please have your passport and immigration papers?’, and so I dutifully handed them over. Two minutes and a lot of stamping, photographing and fingerprinting later, I was off to collect my baggage. Another hour and a half passed before customs, and the same experience again. A grunt, my passport checked, my passport back, and on I go. My confidence in humans was beginning to wane, which worsened when, as I was checking in to my domestic flight, an airport staffer brashly scolded me for holding up the line because “Counter 15 is free” (which it wasn’t), and even when it did become free, my check-in was completed with only the words “Dump your bags over their, sir”. At least she was polite. Security made matters worse, with one person shouting which line you should take, one suspiciously checking your ID and boarding pass, one shouting at you to take your laptop out, another shouting at you to take your shoes off, another shouting at you to empty your pockets, and one final officer to rudely tell you to remove all your clothes bar one layer. And that didn’t even count the screeners and pat down-ers. Still I wasn’t beaten. Maybe only airport staff behave that way, I thought. I’m sure I’ll sit next to a lovely person on my next flight who will completely change my mind. Wrong.
My next two flights were unreserved seating, so I had to go and ask someone if I could sit next to them, which I again took as an opportunity to strike up a thriving conversation with a fellow passenger. I got another grunt and a nod that most people give their dentist when he tells them he’s pulling their teeth out. That was about it for me. I made up my mind that Americans were all blunt and antisocial, at least to people they didn’t know. I put it down to the fact that because there are so many of them, they think it’s a waste of time being friendly to people they don’t know, compared to Australians, who are nice to everyone because they feel a connection to everyone, and will usually find one within five minutes. Therefore not necessarily their fault, but still making me feel overwhelmed and isolated in a country whose never-ending suburbia and hundreds of millions of people had already made me feel pretty small. Less than 24 hours after leaving home, I was already yearning to hear an Australian accent. I probably would’ve kissed Crocodile Dundee if I’d seen him.
     My final flight landed in Detroit a little before 10pm. By this time, already down on American hospitality, I was a little nervous about meeting the people would be hosting me for the next six months. Until I saw the Australian flag in the arms of a smiling ranga. Then received a hug from said smiling ranga. This heartened me a little, but my previous few hours of experience in matters of American friendliness had turned me cynical. The man was paid to recruit international singers. Of course he was going to be friendly to me. Still, it was better than an unfriendly welcome. Smiling Ranga then took me to Big Boy Burgers to get something to eat, where, when I asked for help in selecting the ‘most American’ meal on the menu, I was bombarded with assistance by the young girl working there, who smilingly made a suggestion for me, and explained how they prepared their meals, where they originated, and how exactly how best to eat it to really experience it properly, before thanking me for my custom, and inviting me to ‘please come again soon’. Sitting in the car to my hotel, it struck me that for all the criticism the American fast food industry receives for poor standards and treatment of staff, a Big Boy waitress in the suburbs of rough old Detroit, Michigan, was the first person to make me feel welcome in America. Finally I was convinced that American hospitality did exist – just.