Sunday 26 January 2014

Oh, America...

... what hoops you do make me jump through! In order to go to a three-day conference in Chicago - ironically all about encouraging people to visit the States - I have to have a fancy visa. Not the easy-as online ESTA, but a proper, stick-in paper job with photo and all. (Don't think, by the way, that I'm reconciled one little bit to having to have an ESTA simply to spend an hour or two in a transit lounge at LAX on the way to another country. Anal? Talk about it.) [Foreshadowing]

So quite apart from its costing $250 or so, it's taken ages to work through the Department of Homeland Security's application process with its pages of stern - though patently silly - questions: have I recruited child soldiers? coerced an organ transplant? am I a prostitute? or a terrorist? or a torturer? do I have gonorrhoea? have I assisted in genocide? Who would ever answer yes to any of these questions? It would be kind of sweet that they think that you might, if the overwhelming impression wasn't of such power and threat that I felt anxious and browbeaten even though totally innocuous and innocent, sitting on my own sofa in my own living room. In fact, I'm even nervous about writing this, in case I'm pulled aside at Immigration and taken into a side room to be interrogated, accused of using TravelSkite to incite insurgency.

It doesn't help that I had a Situation a few years ago in Vancouver, before boarding the train to Seattle, when my previous DS-160 visa, which was still current, was deemed by the uniformed officer with the gun on his hip not to be appropriate for that particular visit. With my whole 2-week itinerary hanging in the balance, he warned me, "Now, be very careful how you answer this next question..." My nerves were jangled for days afterwards. Still, in fact.

Having to beat my way through rush-hour traffic for my appointment at the Consulate in the city, to queue, have my phone switched off and my handbag x-rayed - and both then taken from me anyway - was all inconvenient and irritating enough, but on top of all that there was the galling memory of the last time I was there.

I'd arrived too early, so I went to the loo at the railway station, where I arranged a toilet paper barrier on the seat as I was *cough* going to be sitting there for a while. Afterwards, I still had some free time, so I wandered along Queen Street window-gazing before walking to Customs St and going up to the Consulate to queue etc as above. I'd been standing there for a while when a lovely Indian lady came up to me and whispered in my ear, "Excuse me, but you've got some toilet paper hanging out of the back of your trousers." As, indeed, I did have, hooked into my waistband, a veritable tail dangling down, waving in the breeze as I'd wandered along the city's busiest street at its busiest time of day.

When it comes to American visas, it's no wonder that I'm traumatised.

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