Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Way, LAX and two lifts

This is an old Way moment from 1991.
Oh man, I got stuck in two separate lifts on the same day, alone, at LAX, without a visa or ticket to my ultimate destination, during the first gulf war. The loud speakers were making security announcements, all day, about unattended luggage and vehicles etc. Things I'd never heard back home.
I didn't need a visa because I was in-transit through LA on my way to Detroit thence into Windsor (Canada). It meant I couldn't leave the airport.
I didn't have a ticket for the domestic leg as I was told I could by standby tickets for a fraction of the cost of booking one at home. Then when I went to buy one, Northwest said they didn't do stand-by anymore and I'd have to buy a full fare. I gave him my credit card to book a rather expensive one way ticket... but by the time the exchange rate took effect the card was rejected and then LOCKED. So I had no money, no ticket, no visa and trapped in the first lift of the day.
It stopped at a restricted level and would go no further. It just arrived, stopped, the doors opened, then nothing. Except a big sign on the opposite wall saying something like

This to me, accompanied by the PA going on about being aware of suspicious things had me in the terrors... I didn't want to attract attention to myself until at least I had cleared the ticket problem....
To be found without a visa, without money, in fact trying to tender a credit card with insufficient funds & no ticket was just asking for trouble from the famous US Customs.
So I stood there.
Alone in the lift.
Facing the open doors for what seemed like ten minutes.
That was my first option. If facing something dreadful, like car headlights, just stand still and let it go away by itself. Of course, that failed. People who were obviously “authorized” passed the lift from time to time. I dreaded any of them doing it more than once and noticing something amiss. When that dawned on me I acted. I pushed that alarm bell on the panel with decisive action. Some may call it panic.
Cruel people.
The alarm button did just that. The alarm went off.Loudly.
I remember jumping out of my skin. Now people stopped at the lift and asked if I was okay.
Before I could answer; the “help” person’s voice came out of the little speaker, so I just waved the Authorized people on.
About half an hour later a big guy with utlility belt comes tramping up the hall way, enters the lift, introduces himself with “Where you from, pal?” and inserts a key into the hole and takes us home.
I spend the rest of the day, and my few US dollars on phone calls arranging a ticket from home to cover my flight and get me the heck out of here. But, being on the wrong side of the planet I am making calls very early in the morning. SWMBO, newly married I might add, to me, I further add, managed to get a travel agent out of bed and into his office at 7am to book me a ticket from Australia so I could get on a flight from LA to Detroit. He arranged it so I could collect the ticket from the Northwest desk.
As it turns out it’s the same guy at the Northwest desk.
Like 6 hours later.
When the entire area is deserted.
He sees me coming and he must see the dread on my face as I recognise him.
I walk up to him and ask if he has a ticket for me. He, naturally, knows exactly who I am and exactly knows my “alien” presence. So far, the only person in the US who knows I am still there, and that I shouldn’t be, and he knows for a fact I have no money to buy a ticket with. I tell you, he had this smart arse look on his face. Like I am half trouble and two parts idiot. And he’s very sure he has the power to imprison me shortly before my deportation back to Sydney.
Now remember this is before the internet. I couldn’t simply find an Internet kiosk and book my own ticket, even if my credit card had worked.
And if you buy a ticket in Australia for domestic travel you are actually supposed to be in Australia when you do it.
I am clearly not in Australia. And he’s clearly dubious as he’s looking up the flight and seeing if I am on it. That moment was one I cherished in the whole-trip-to-Canada thing. The look on his face when suddenly my name was there with a ticket bought moments ago in a foreign country was worth the day's anxiety.
He argued the problem of being here when I should be there, and in the end came to the conclusion it was best if he just turned a blind eye and give me the ticket.
So, ticket in hand, seat allocated, boarding pass issued and enough money to get my luggage out from the cloak room, plus a little extra for some coffee and pizza hut slice I relaxed. (Note, the kiosk-style Pizza Hut was a novelty as we only had full restaurants in Aus at that time)
I remember sitting eating my slice of pizza (the first I’d eaten all day because I was worried I would need the cash) and puking at the boiled coffee while watching William Shatner doing 911 on the overhead TV.
Thirteen hours I was in that airport.
At the twelfth hour I decided it was time to collect my luggage and head over to the domestic terminal and wait in the departure lounge. That was until I was caught in another lift 40 minutes out from the red-eye flight… thinking, panicking, that at 11pm at night there’s going to be a slow reaction for help.
The lift, this time, left ground floor and then stopped. Nothing. No grinding noises, no jarring, no little electronic “pings” to say it had achieved something and was pleased with itself. Just a Stephen King sort of silence and dedicate inaction on it's part.
I decided in one nano second that the previous method of waiting ten minutes was not a wholly great idea. It lacked a certain urgency that was coursing through my veins.
Instead I hit that mother of a button like there was no tomorrow. The thoughts of missing the flight, of facing that same Northwest guy again, the thought of no money, no food, horrible coffee and a long night in LAX on a metal seat were fighting for priority in my tired mind.
Lord have mercy upon me!
And he did, in the static voice of the man in the speaker… the very same man who’d come to my aid earlier.
I just banged my head against the cold stainless steel elevator as he asked:
“Hey, are you that same guy I let out today?”
“Yes, it’s me”
“You got something in your bag that’s breaking our lifts?”
"Only a Philishaver, could that do it?”
“Nope. Don’t think so...”
“My flight boards in minutes, how long?”
“Oh, I’ll be right there.”
And he was.
I made the red eye, and funny enough the Northwest guy was there in the lounge, acting like he wasn’t watching me.
On board I sat between a young girl about 12 years old and a grunt on his way back from Guam. She asked where I was from etc whilst her mother kept an eagle eye on me and the grunt from few seats up. Finally after she stopped asking questions I asked her to show me the outline of Michigan; holding up an in-flight route map. It came out quite awkward, I was very tired
“Where is Michigan”
Everyone within earshot turned to look at me. Except the grunt who was so pissed it would take a nuke to wake him up.
I realised what I’d asked… after all I was on a non-stop flight from LA to Detroit… the capital of Michigan.
Ahh the moments.
Then we landed, I met my Canadian hosts who then gave me the fright of my life by driving on the wrong side of the road on the wrong side of the road.