Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Gatekeeper

I am clearly not the Keymaster.

Strange. I'm starting this blog as an outsider looking in. No, not literally with my face at your window, breathing heavily onto the pane, but rather as a foreigner on American soil.

Three days ago I slid out of an Airbus and found myself in Minneapolis. I figured it was a good place to knock at the gates of the arsenal of democracy, due to the state being famed for its astonishingly pleasant way with strangers - the glorious attitude of 'Minnesota Nice'. Maybe I would find Francis McDormand at the Homeland Security desk, saying things like, "You betcha," and the most reassuring word in the world - 'hon'. (Pronounced 'hun', which is an altogether less reassuring word.)

Instead there sat a young man, clean cut features and sensible hair. He looked a bit like Chief Tyrol, the eminently down-to-earth stand-up-guy from a certain broody philosophical TV show. I figured it was a safe bet; a young man, brimming with cheerful pride in his role as meeter-and-greeter-and-sometime-renderer of foreign visitors.

Fucking nightmare. There was I, stammering like some Hugh Grant as he peeled back the layers of my life seeking falsehoods and ill-intent with a piercing stare and grim jaw. The burden of protecting the land of the free upon his back, he curtly challenged me on the truth of my holiday visiting friends in Oregon. Facts fell limply out of my mouth like some soggy salad bag of lies. His cold voice demanded absolute truth.

"How did you meet her again?"

"$800? That doesn't seem enough."

"Explain your job to me again."

I was sweating. For some reason I felt like a lying scrub of the highest order, despite being clad like a pure knight in the armour of abject honesty. Or something. Eventually the ordeal ended, and it was a relief to be stamped, filed and indexed by the guy - my biometrics now one of many ghosts in the machine. ("What?" - ed.)

From that point on, thank fuck, everyone in Oregon so far has been Minnesota nice. Even the huge truckers at the bar yesterday afternoon. "Good day to you, friend," they said, and I'd pleasantly reply, "Hey there, and to you to," and not try to sound to them too much like a limey fag or whatnot.

Maybe, once your outside the shadow world of the airport terminal, everyone is nice in Oregon and Minnesota precisely because it is so fecking cold. You can't afford to offend a stranger because he may remember, and one day when you're quietly freezing next to your broken down General Motors Goliath on some isolated and barren ice gripped road he'll pass you by with a cruel grin and fail to jump start your car.

And I know something about the cold and empty roads of Oregon. The housemate of my friends, called Todd, gave me a lift from the airport in a wonderfully battered piece-of-shit car. Night had fallen, we had to thread our way through several passes and over hills on a four hour drive to get back to the town where I was staying - Bend. Mountains loomed on either side. He was full of cheerful commentary as the excellent William Shatner read his way through Pulp's Common People on the stereo.

"Yeah, it was white-out conditions earlier. Couldn't see a fucking thing man."

"We've gotta be careful for the next few miles, the high winds blow you off the road sometimes."

"I sort of need snow chains for this sort of work, but they can't find any to fit these small tyres."

"Cat's eyes? You mean reflectors? We did try them, but the snow chains smash 'em to pieces. You've just got to squint you know?"

Fair play to Todd though, I did survive, he's a fine driver and what's more he had done the astonishingly nice thing of having his tyres cut purely for this pick up. He is also the most entertaining swearer I have heard in a long time.

And so I made it to Bend, completely shattered but with a double bed waiting to embrace me. And after a long haul flight cramped Harry Houdini style, the soft mattress I sank into seemed the size of a football field.

Twenty Day Holiday Go.

1 comment:

  1. Pete - haven't got time for explanations, so much has happened since you left. Civil war has broken out. We've had to leave Roath to join the underground and do not know when we will get to a computer again. All laptops are being seized by the authorities. Do not try to return - the borders have been closed. You must live out the rest of your life in a terminal (don't panic - I have a feeling that a glamorous Air Hostess of Welsh origins may ease your troubles).

    Until we may meet again......

    Vive the republic!

    Alastair and Stu*

    *some names have been changed to protect identities and prevent a jolly nasty death at the hands of some rather ruthless chaps.