We arrived in the US jet-lagged and dazed, after a long trip from Melbourne via Brisbane. There we were at Los Angeles airport, being lined up for checks and controls. Luckily it wasn’t too busy at 7am on a Saturday. Keen to get out of flying metal tins and airports and into some sunshine and fresh air, we had to get through Immigration first.
It started out quite relaxed. ‘Where are you going in the US?’. ‘Pittsburgh’. Well. That was it. The officer’s eyebrows shot up immediately and she leaned forward, her hands firmly on our passports. Apparently, poor Pittsburgh is either a no-go zone for tourists, a hotbed of terrorists or perhaps both. What followed was a lengthy interrogation of exactly who we were staying with on each of our stops (what, Washington? Virginia? Colorado? San Francisco? NO HOTELS? Airbnb – what IS that?). “How long have you known these people? Where did you meet them?? How regularly are you in contact? What is your connection to them? What do you mean, you haven’t actually met this person, you only know them from an online writing group??? Your sister is marrying an American??”. The questions were coming at machine-gun speed, while we were in zombie-zone, hardly able to answer one before the next one came flying at us. Luckily, we were far too zonked to get nervous or flustered.
Eventually, she gave up on us. We were allowed to move on, but very grudgingly. I came away with the distinct impression that the officer was not happy with us, but there just wasn’t anything definite she could pin on us, in order to have us hauled away and chucked out of the country, apart from being the entirely WRONG sort of tourist. We should have been going to Disneyland or Vegas, sticking strictly to the tourist lane by staying only in hotels and spending our money at tacky t-shirt shops and casinos. If she’s reading this, I’d like to reassure her. We loved hiking in Virginia and looking at museums here and there; we did buy some books, beer and other stuff, catch a couple of taxis, eat out and even look at the White House. We’ll probably do some more touristy stuff in San Francisco. We haven’t done anything illicit or remotely naughty. Pittsburgh was fascinating (more of that later). And, just for the record, every other American we’ve met has been extremely friendly and helpful!