Thursday, May 14, 2009

The silken sad uncertain rustling of an aussie airport worker's papers.

Imagine a long and slightly mournful night of drinking on the beach. A night you knew would be your last there, and maybe for a long time. Imagine, say, going to bed that night at around 4am. Now throw in, for example, a wake up at 7. Then, just for the hell of it a trip to the pier in the back of a pick up truck followed closely by a two hour wait/queue to get on a packed boat that took two hours to get you to the mainland. Now, just for seasoning, imagine that when you got to the mainland you took, I don't know, an eight and a half hour bus wedged between a tall and tired Irishman that you knew and a tall and tired Spaniard that you didn't. We don't need precise measurements to explain the word wedged here beyond the simple fact that both my outer shoulders and thighs were consistently pressed against those of my flankers - in the hot hot heat. Unpleasant, you'll agree.

Now let's say you arrived in a city that was custom built to tear you a new exit. You found a place to stay, deftly avoid robbery/assault and found that once there you were overtired. Too tired, that is, to sleep. So you think, a quick drink should fix that. Now say that quick drink ran on a little and the next thing you know you're sitting in the back of a taxi the next day and an hour later you're waiting for a flight that takes roughly eight hours and forty five minutes. (Note that it would only take seven hours and fifty minutes but Sydney doesn't allow planes to land in it's beloved airport in it's beloved city before 6am lest it's beloved citizens be awoken from their beloved sleep by some pesky interlopers in from hot climates. - You may already see where I'm going with this - my apologies to all my good Australian friends; I merely wish to accuentate your good eggedness and decency by throwing it into sharp relief against that of your more, shall we agree on... unpleasant, countrymen.)

Now we have a background for a state of mind. Try, if you can, to transpose that mindset so it fits your own. Imagine how you would feel. Well this is how I felt as I alighted yet another plane early yesterday morning. My passport clenched in my hand, I looked at the little sticker, the one that told me my bag would be sent to Wellington on flight QF 47, and looked for the transfer desk to get myself a final boarding card for the last leg of this woeful journey out of heaven.

I clear security before the transfer desk, not before some local makes a snide remark about the gun on my T-shirt. It gains me also a "random" search from some bored officals thereafter, who say they are swabbing my person and handluggage for traces of explosives though I know it's for narcotics. I pass. They seem a little disappointed. They let me go, watching all the way for some imperfection on which to find purchase, a handhold, something they can grab in order to pull me down. They evidently find nothing. And so it was that I presented myself to the Syndey Aiport Transfer Desk.

"Hello," I said, attempting to set the tone, make it chipper and govial. We're all friends here, my voice said, let's just get this over as quickly and politely as possible. "I'm transfering to Wellington on QF47, it's a BA flight that's being operated by Qantas, here's my baggage slip, they said I'd need to get a boarding card from you guys."

"Righto," he says, and I can see his smile is hiding a sneer. I can tell right away that things have all gone too smoothly this morning. I can tell that he's seen me approach the desk and try, under the weight of such a journey, to be positive and creative with my internal misery and exhaustion. He bears his teeth unwittingly. I can tell me wants to destroy something beautiful every chance he gets and that this is his chance for today. "Can Oi say yoor Oitinery?"

"Ah, I don't have one," I say, still confident. "It's all e-tickets linked to my passport. I'm just flying back to New Zealand to meet my travel buddy. We're on to Fiji on the 22nd."

"But yow must hiv an oitinery?" he's secretly delighted.

"Oh sure, I have all the information stored in my email accounts, if you can't find it on your system I can get the onward details from there if you like."

"Aw look yow caan't print inithing here. Yoor s'posta heave that alriddy."

"Oh sorry, I haven't had that stuff for a single flight in all the 36 I've taken in the last twelve months. Are you sure you can't find my details right there. They're all Qantas flights."

His namebadge had a Qantas logo.

"Aw look Qantas don't even fly to Fiji," he says

"Well when I say they're all Qantas I mean they're operated by Qantas, the actualy flight is probably sub contracted to a local airline where the destination isn't one of their own."

"Look Oi caan't lit yow floy t'day, they won't lit yow inta tha cuntry without onward travil plans an' oi'll get moi azz kicked if oi let you go ova."

"Right, I understand that, but I do have onward travel plans, all booked and paid for that take me right back to my own country. All of which are Qantas flights,"

"But yow came here on a British Airways floight," he says. OHMYFUCKINGGODAHHH I'm thinking. Keep it together.

"Yes I know, I went home for Christmas and stayed around Europe a little while, but now I'm back to finish my original trip,"

"Aw look" he says. And here is interuppted by a horrible little voodoo doll of a woman. She's of Asian descent but Australian through and through. Note also that while all this is going on, while my poor and lovable head is in a vice, the other workers at this desk and laughing coarsely on the phone and making loud and vulgar jokes. It's like a downmarket topless bar in HELL. Each of the aging ladies behind the counter has that cracked look, makeup running ever so slightly, like that final scene in Cabaret where the glamour and sophistication of an idea is betrayed in slow motion by it's awful workaday reality.

"We need written confirmation of on ward travel otherwise we can't let you fly," she says.

"I know, I have that, if you'd just let me print it out?"

"You can't print it here, you should have already printed it."

"No one ever asks."

"Get in touch with your travel buddy then and have him fax us your details."

It is apparently totally cricket for Adam to print the very same thing, and fax it to them. Then it's official. He could type it out in notepad and print it, then fax it and that renders it a legal document. My eyes bulge as my brain struggles with the logical hall of mirrors this conundrum presents.

And here, your hero begins to get worried. He turns to go upstairs and find communication - internet, phone, smoke signals. Note that his phone has died and only hours earlier he learned Adam's New Zealand number off by heart, just for something to do. He holds no currency and is wondering about making a phone call, procuring local cash and hears from behind him, with a rueful grin advertised in the tone "Betta hurry, mate, floight closes soon,"

Currency exchange. I ask them to change baht into dollas. No luck, he says it's too small, I can't convince him that all I want is change for a phone, he doesn't want to help. Is there an ATM here? A what he says. Shit. I find one. 20 dollas. Back to the exchange desk. Can I have change for the phone. He takes a deep breath. Changes the note for me but holds my change on his desk for a FULL MINUTE while he clicks around on his computer unneccessarily holding me hostage to his T crossing and I dotting. Inside I scream. I scream so loud inside that outside I make a little ooh noise. I boil over with rage. Payphone. Dollas entered. I dial 00, drop the local 0 and the rest of his number, no joy. I have to ask three people, all locals, one of them an airport policeman, before a girl from Malaysia tells me the international dialling code in Australia is 0011. I Dial again.

"Hi Adam, emergency, need you to fax all onward travel plans to this number within the next half hour or I can't get the plane over, theses swine are turning the crank on me."

"Got it. Done, I'll text when it goes through," he says. A real professional.

"Oh god. Thanks, had to get that out before the phone died. How's tricks anyway?"

"Good good, hopefully we'll have a pint later."

"Yeah man, clock's ticking, thanks for that."


Free internet kiosk. I check emails, find flight numbers and airline, borrow a pen, scribble them down. Head back to those BASTARDS.

Downstairs it's the same soul destroying grind of helping 50% of the people, antagonizing the other half and speaking loudly, making crude jokes, talking and talking and talking absolute shit. Right in front of me is a very tired French lady. Though exhausted her inate class is so obvious as to be embarassing here. It is 7.32 am. She hands her documents over.

"Look, Oi told you already THREE hours ago it was seven forty!" the woman at the counter ACTUALLY SHOUTS at her. The lady from France looks at the clock behind this lady which now reads 7.34. "I am very tired," she says. The transfer desk woman ignores this and shouts further. Something irrelvant and pointlessly rude and sends the lady on her way, crushed. Sure that they don't speak french I call after her, nod at the desk and say "Je suis aussi tres fatigue... avec cette mierde." She smiles and I'm happy for a brief moment. It's my turn at the counter.

"Right, my details are being faxed through so..."

"There's nothing here yet."

"I know, when they're here.."

"I said we haven't received them yet. There's no fax for you."

"I know," I say, forced to raise my voice a little, "when they do come through I'll be notifed I just wanted you to double check your system for my details on these flights." I hand her the notes I made from my emails. She flounders for a while, shakes her, says no, sorry, no record. Then clicks again, presses more buttons and as soon as she's found them I know because she starts making that confused face and hits many more buttons unnecessarily as if some anomaly greater than her own perpetual uselessness and cruelty has occurred to her.

"Hang on," she says. For another ten minutes she flutters about attempting to make a call. Once her plan is in her mind she says: "Alright we're going to contact your travel airline and have them fax over the things you need." I tell her there's no need. It's on the way already, I just wanted her to know what she was waiting for, that I had everything in order long ago. She starts to lecture me.

"You can't just dispose of these tickets, you need them, they're offical documents, they'd never let you into America with just your passport if you said you had your details online."

They will. And they have. I went to New York on business last year and that is in fact exactly what happened. But I bite my tongue. She is interuppted by the sound of a fax. Everything is in order. With much grinding of their teeth I am given a boarding card. Then I walk around bitter and tired but triumphant at least and listen to the television and some crumpled old bag from Adelaide who tells the country how outraged she is about something with her unfeasibly whiney voice and down sloped eyebrows, how it's a terrible thing for Australia. How it offended her. How unfair and randomly cruel it was.

Later in Wellington I purposely keep the dreaded onward travel documents in my bag as I clear immigration, just to see. My passport is stamped with a smile by a young lady. I am told to enjoy New Zealand. I don't tell her that her instruction is superfluous.

A postscript concerned with the first thing that happened once I'd cleared immigration:

On the flight to wellington I declare that I am bringing food to the country - a box of chocolates I bought on the previous flight to watch a movie with. Normally I wouldn't but Sydney put me on edge. When I get to customs a red marker is put on my card. Then a strong man takes me to a steel desk marked 5. He asks what I do, where I come from, who I'm meeting. He then looks in my bag and at my chocolates. He says into his radio that he's got a RED ON FIVE. He asks for my mobile phone and tells me that he's swabbing it for traces of narcotics. He then puts on a rubber glove. A person my age at the desk opposite looks at me like I was his friend and smiles. He says he's heard I've been smoking that shit. I look as puzzled as you should reading it. The test comes back in less than a minute. Negative. Lovely he says. You can go. We're all good? I say. All good he confirms. I offer him a chocolate. No Thanks he says. Your funeral I think.


aidan said...

Jesus. What a cuntinent.

Paul Jones said...

Ah, I know too many great people from there to say that but Christ did I need to vent after the whole debacle. Made me forget to mention other fairly noteworthy events even, but those to follow...