It was a long journey to the airport on the Monday morning. Craig, going beyond best man duties, had come to pick us up at 7:40 am. Despite checking in online, I still have to be at the airport three hours before my flight; this is for no other reason than I need to be at the airport three hours before the flight! The traffic was far more congested than usual, and we finally arrived a little after nine. Being a creature of habit, I started to meltdown just before we came off the motorway.
Pushing the trolley, with my three bags, and Samantha's carry on, we tried to find our area. The machine greeted us first, with a message to put in a confirmation number. I am not sure if there is a machine equivalent of 'Laugh out Loud', but I am sure the computer was shaking with glee. I think it must have seen me coming! A smiling assistant came to our aid, and I let Samantha go first, as she had the more complicated paperwork. She answered 'no' to all the questions. 'Are you a resident?'; 'Did you fill out the online ESTA?'; 'Do you have a visa?'. The machine laughed again and would not print the boarding passes, even when we said, 'please'. The ground staff member tried again, with no joy, and flicked her hair back, giggled, then decided to pass the buck. 'Security will sort it out', she laughed, nervously, 'and the desk can print your tickets'. The person in our 'security' line, had not been doing the job for very long. She was very conscientious, but the unusual form of entry permission had her stumped. Unfortunately, Samantha's tickets and passport were in her maiden name, but her travel pass was in her married name. Her Texas marriage certificate seemed to be the icing on the cake of confusion. Fortunately, our novice's superior was 'old school', and had seen the documentation many times, even it would appear, the alternative nuptials data. We were shuffled forward to the desk. 'Are you a resident?'; 'Did you fill out the online ESTA?'; 'Do you have a visa?', were all answered, again, with a 'No'. Looking at the confirmation, passport, marriage certificate and travel pass, the clerk decided that her day would be long enough without problems at 9.30 am. 'What name did you book the ticket in?, she sighed. Exasperated, she looked at me with pleading eyes. 'I am a resident' was enough to bring the colour back to her cheeks, and loaded my three bags onto the conveyor belt with something that resembled a smile on her lips.
We went through passport control, and through the 'dingers', which fortunately did not 'ding'. However, I was randomly picked to have my bag checked, before stepping into the 'other side'. A bag of chewy sweets, a t-shirt and a couple of snow globes, were the sum total of our Duty Free purchases, and decided that it was probably a good idea to have some breakfast. I was upgraded, so my lunch would be very acceptable. Samantha was less confident about her next meal, and bought two ready made sandwiches for good measure. Samantha was denied access to the lounge, and we were advised to go to the United Service Center to see if they could provide her a pass. Five minutes later we were at the Help Desk, where we were asked, 'Are you a resident?'; 'Did you fill out the online ESTA?'; 'Do you have a visa?' The over enthusiastic clerk was not happy when his colleague pointed out that we had already been through this line of questioning, but he could find no valid reason for concern, so reluctantly handed back our papers. The 'good cop' explained that the airport lounges were run on a courtesy basis, and they did not have any day pass access. Samantha was not disappointed, as she wanted to visit 'Garfunkels' for her Full English Breakfast, something that my posh lounge did not provide! After enjoying my chicken sausages with brown sauce, I noticed my daughter at the desk. When she had asked to have me paged, they told her, 'you can go in and find her'. How simple was that. After using the five star facilities, we said our farewells and left the relatively quiet area, and re-entered into the hubbub of the main airport. Samantha checked her emails with the help of the dongle, while I ran to get a newspaper, and then we made our way to the gate. There were quite a few wheelchairs in front of us, and we noticed all those sitting wore the same jacket. Printed on the back were the words, 'United States of America'. We were in the midst of the competitors, going home from their taking part in the Paralympics. Seated at the end of the tunnel, I asked one such player if he won. He had received a bronze medal. I was excited. He seemed disappointed!
The flight was somewhat uneventful. I politely declined swapping seats with my neighbour's husband, who was settled in the middle of the plane. The view was non-existent over the Atlantic, due to the cloud coverage. At least I saw the northern lights on the way over to England. Seeing the glorious fjords of Greenland (if they are called fjords in Greenland) was not going to happen. Dinner was, indeed, scrumptious. I told Samantha that it was lamb, so smuggling some to her would have been a waste, as she doesn't like lamb. She does like Champagne and Cranberry, however, but unfortunately, the seat belt signs were lit when I enjoyed the beverage, so I was unable to bring her a glass. She didn't think the excuse was valid! We landed in Houston and made our way through to Immigration. The guard took our passports and asked how long we intended staying in the USA. Once we explained that we lived here, and had just visited England, he checked my 'green card', and took Samantha's papers, put them in a bag and said, 'You know she will have to go with the Security Guard'. I asked if I could go with her, as we were travelling together. Sensing my anxiety, he looked straight at me and said, 'She's a big girl now, she can go on her own'. We walked out of the area and were met by a female guard. I tried to play on her feminine compassion. 'I'm her mum. Can I go with her?'. My request was denied on the basis that not only was Samantha 25, but she was approved for re-entry because she was married to a citizen. Married! 'But she needs me', fell on deaf ears, and the sympathy went to Samantha (and no doubt her husband) as the overprotective, overpowering mother was led to the waiting area, where I waited for the longest 25 minutes of my life. Samantha emerged from the 'sweat box' with a big smile on her face, and the assurance that she could travel for another year. Hopefully she will have her residency by then!
Our bags were sitting waiting for us. Four lonely cases sat conspicuously between two conveyor belts. We stuffed our Duty Free bags into the one with the most room, and wheeled the trolley through to customs. The official beckoned us forward, and asked what foodstuff we had in our bags. 'Cadbury's Chocolate, instant coffee and PG Tips .... that's tea', I said with a smile. I froze for an instant when he asked, 'What is so special about Cadbury's. Everyone brings that in'. 'You need to confiscate some to find out', I said, cheerfully. He then laughed, and uttered the phrase with the suffix that lets me know I am back. 'Have a nice day, Ma'am!'
Samantha was denied access to the lounge. However, this time a day pass was readily available for purchase. We both decided that $50 was on the high side just to use the bathroom, and as the phones were back on line, Samantha said she would sit by the gate if I needed to 'be a bit more comfortable', and mentioned something about me being an old lady! I enjoyed the thirty minutes that age had afforded, and had a cup of tea, a banana and, of course, took advantage of the obvious. Solitude was delightful, but time and tide waits for no man, or old lady, and I left, with an apple in hand, and went to the gate, arriving in time to board for Austin. Samantha made her way to the middle of the plane, and I sat myself down in seat 1a, with my bailey's on ice! What a civilised way to end the trip!
We were met in Austin by our spouses, both of whom appeared to be pleased to see us. However, it was the dog that was the most enthusiastic. His world was returned to normality. I unpacked my bags, divided the spoil, and sent Samantha and Edward to their home, with their dog, by which time I was exhausted and ready for bed! I was not ready for my alarm to ring at 5.50 the following morning! Coffee at Third Coast was well received, but disappointment followed, as I found out that Joe would be out for the rest of the week. Early mornings, having to make my own coffee, and jet lag were not good combinations. By Saturday I was back on track and my usual routine ensued. Austin was warm and sunny, but slightly milder than when I left. Swimming was much more refreshing due to the cooler temperature, but I decided to make the most of the final few weeks of summer, despite it already being officially, 'fall'.
Back in my adopted land, things returned to normal. Ricky and Steph Skyped a few times during their idyllic honeymoon, and returned back to the motherland. I finally caught up with the work that had piled up on my desk, and fell back into the laid back city. The shops are now full of Halloween items, Thanksgiving articles and Christmas goodies are filling the shelves as I type. It is that time of year, again, which means also means I am going to have to ask for some more time off, so that I can go and enjoy the Technology and Games Expos at the Convention Center. That is going to have to be.....another story.