13 May 2009

Returning to the craziness called the U.S.

Posted by walterheck

I spent two nights at Davina’s place, mostly working and relaxing. We went to a CS games night on monday night which was a lot of fun. It was great catching up with Davina; it is so hard staying in touch with everyone you get along with in CS that it is always good to surf at someone’s place so you have a decent chance to catch up :)
On tuesday morning I made my way to Heathrow airport, almost all the way on the other side of London. I thought I had enough time to just take it easy, so I walked from Davina’s house to the tube-station (quite a ways away, but it would save me bus fare), stopping off at a supermarket for some cheap breakfast.
When I got to Heathrow I was already quite late. Security is super-tight there. As an example, every few minutes you hear a voice saying: “luggage left unattended will be removed and destroyed for security purposes”. I mean: WOW!
When I wanted to check in, I was initially denied entrance since my return ticket out of the U.S. was exactly 3 months after my arrival in the U.S., which turned out to be 91 days. That is one day more then teh maximum of 90 days. Luckily the airline did not give me a hard time and just changed the flight for me, even though I had an unchangeable ticket.
I got on the flight and wrote a shitload of blog-entries and watched 2 movies in the next 9 or so hours.
When I got to Minneapolis for my layover, I also had to go through customs. Apparently you now have to go through customs at the first airport in the U.S. you touch down in. I knew I was gonna have a hard time since I didn’t know exacty where I was staying. Indeed, the homeland security guy wrote a big ‘P’ on my form and told me to go to the security office. It is really strange how even though you know you have nothing to hide and you are doing something perfectly legal, you still get really nervous. Luckily I had learned from entering the states last time that it is a good idea to book your seat as far to the front of the plane as possible, so you end up at the front of the line for homeland security. As a result, I was one of the first people to enter the office.
The lady there started asking me lots and lots of questions: why I was staying for 3 months, what kind of work i did, who i was stayinf with, how i knew this guy, if i was married, etc. etc.
Then, she went through all my bags, all the while not telling me if i was in trouble or not. I couldn’t imagine being in trouble, but the way you are handled like a criminal really makes you feel like you are doing something wrong. In the end all turned out okay though, and I was let into the country.
Next, I had a few hours to spend before my connecting flight to Las Vegas would depart. I had heard from a lady on the plane that the “Mall of America” was very close to the airport. The MoA is the largest shopping center in the U.S. I figured I would spend my time visiting that instead of sitting in the airport. I was not really expecting teh craziness I was about to see: A full theme park forms the central hall, with at least 3 roller coasters, a log ride, a ferris wheel and loads of other things. Surrounding that is a giant ring of 4 levels, filled with any kind of shops you can imagine. Of course, any fast food chain you can think of also had a restaurant there. On the 4 corners, there are four 4-story department stores. It really is amazingly big!
After walking around there and buying a powerplug adapter which I forgot in Europe, I made my way back to the airport. I got on my flight and slept most of the way to Las vegas. The 4 hour flight went fast and smooth.

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