Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Travel: Would You Like Sighs With That?

Bag Drop. But, Not Really.

I checked in for my flight on West Jet the evening before. When I got to the Norman Manley International Airport (NMIA), I approached one of the designated kiosks, thinking it would allow me to print baggage tags. It didn't. It spat out a duplicate of the boarding pass I already had. No worries. I moved on to the Bag Drop line. (Side note: About a year and a half or so ago, the Bag Drop line didn't work. As in, sis and I had enquired - having checked in prior - and were told that "everybody is in the same line." That did not make sense to me. What, pray tell, was the point of a designated Bag Drop line - with sign indicating that, btw - if those who'd checked in before were made to stand with those who had not? I had asked then and was told that it was on that airline's say so.)

Fast forward to this most recent episode. I joined the Bag Drop line for Kiosk/Web check-in at approximately 11:45 a.m. and stood behind three parties. There were between 2 and 4 people in each party. One agent stood at the counter made for two. The queue to my right was for those who had not checked in prior. I watched as their snaking line moved steadily with new people joining, checking in, getting baggage tagged, and leaving the counter, while I waited for half an hour before being called up. When I approached the counter at 12:15, I knew I had to ask. Hi and hello over, I tilted my head forward to get a closer look at his name tag, "I have a question, Wayne," I said. (That's not his real name, btw. It's close enough.)
 "Yes?" "You're an employee of West Jet, correct?"
"Okay. Could you help me understand why I just waited half an hour in the Bag Drop line, when people were coming and going in the check-in line?"
"Well, as you can see, I'm the only one at this counter. Sorry about the wait."
"Yes, I can see that. I don't think this is what West Jet had in mind, though." I told him I'm gonna have to talk with them. I mean, if they need to hire more people to uphold the quality of service many have come to expect, so be it. Many Jamaicans are in need of jobs. There must be a waiting list. In the meantime, it makes no sense to me to have passengers stand in the Bag Drop line for longer than passengers checking in at the counter. What's the point of encouraging passengers to check-in early? At Toronto Pearson, the kisok had spat out baggage tags, and we had quickly gone over to Bag Drop, joined a short queue, and were done in under five minutes. Please do something about this service at NMIA, West Jet.


Still at NMIA. I went through without a beep. While waiting for my stuff on the belt, I stepped to the side and softly said to the security officer who had just waved me through, "May I ask you sopm?"
"The last time I came through here, I didn't beep, but I was pat down anyway. Why? I thought it was a standard thing, if you don't beep, you don't get pat down."
She smiled. "Well, it depends. If, say, 50 people go through and the machine doesn't go off, we check the next person. It depends on the instructions we get for the day - every tenth person or after 50 and so on."
"Oh, so it's company policy, not what makes my head?"
This time, she chuckled, "Yeah."
I told her thanks and moved on.

No Backtracking 

This term took on another meaning as we waited in line at the gate. Passengers had cleared the distance between the agents who check for boarding passes as you exit the food court, and the gate. I overheard a man ask no one in particular, whether he could go back to get some food. Apparently, it had just dawned on him that he might need more than the pretzels and/or cookies to tide him over to Toronto. In the next breath, he asked someone whose uniform looked like a security guard’s. The security guard told him no, he could not go back to the food court – even though we were all the way toward the back of a very long line.

(And the hits just keep on comin’!)

I had to ask. 

I waited a few minutes.

As the security guard paced his way back down the line, I stepped to the side and got his attention. I made out a part of the crest adorning his dark blue uniform. Special Constable. Oops. My bad.
“Excuse me, I have a question.”
“Could I go back and get something from the food court?”
“Hmm, no. You can’t go back up there.”
“Ummm, why not?”
“It’s the airport’s policy, a security thing.”
“Okay. Thanks.”

I waited a few more minutes.

I saw another man who was attired as an airport worker – I figured. I stopped him as he walked toward my section of the line and asked him. Because, you  know, I  wasn’t going anywhere for a while; I was out of Snickers, and, sometimes, information isn’t consistent. I asked the same thing. He told me he didn’t see why not.

I waited.

This time, I asked the West Jet employee who was checking boarding passes. Yes, we were just about to board now.
“No, not at this point.”
“I understand that. I meant earlier when we were all the way back in the line.”
“Mmm. Technically, you could, but it’s airport policy and a matter of security. So, no. I mean, if you had to, someone would have to escort you back.”
“Oh, so in exigent circumstances, then.”
“I see. Thanks.”

I proceeded to board.

A matter of security. Right. Now I know. And now you know.

I…I just don’t know. Smh.


Sunday, 19 July 2015

Dear Travel-related People, It's Not You...It's Me

Making my way from Jamaica, as I approached the security checkpoint, I removed all items from my person that'd likely set off the alert. Holding my passport, I made my way through the arc. No beep. I started eyeing the belt that held my laptop and hand bag. Next thing I knew, the security officer was telling me to "step this way" and immediately proceeded to start patting me down. No heads-up. I protested. "The machine didn't go off!" I said. "We can still pat you down," she said. As her hands made their way over my body, it took every thing in me not to slap them away from me. I was incensed! I had done everything I was required to do to prevent such a thing from happening, and it happened anyway. As she continued to pat, involuntarily, I backed away. I have traveled many times by air. I have never been pat down by hand before. The one or two other times were by wand. I could not get away fast enough. If there's no beep, one is allowed to proceed, isn't one? Somehow, I was of the impression that that was a standard rule that applied at all airports. Not so at the Norman Manley International Airport. Apparently.

Making my way from Toronto, as I approached the security checkpoint, I removed all items from my person that'd likely set off the alert. Holding my passport, I made my way through the arc. No beep. I started eyeing the belt that held my laptop and handbag. I approached the belt unhindered.
"Is this your bag?" The security officer on the other side of the belt enquired.
"Yes, it is," I replied, stiffening.
"I'm gonna take a look at what's inside," she said, half to me and half to the other security woman seated at the x-ray machine.
She proceeded, with gloved hands, to shift items and remove items and walk back to the x-ray officer then back to the bag then back to the x-ray woman asking her something or the other about the pack of Clearasil face wipes she'd happily discovered. X-ray woman must've told her they were okay. She came back to the bag, and dug and searched.
"What are you looking for?" I'd had enough.
"...", as she proceeded to dig.
"What are you looking for?" I asked again.
"...", face down ignoring me.
"Are you not obligated to respond?"
"I'm just looking for something." She looked up, while digging.
I shook my head and picked up my purse from the bag.
"Ma'am, please calm down," she said.
"I'm simply removing my purse with my very valuable items, ID and such," I replied.
She proceeded to search for God He knows what. Just because she could. Apparently. A few seconds later, she was done.
"Thank you for your patience," she said.
It was better to remain silent, so I did. I retrieved my bag and left the area.

Making my way to customs in Jamaica, I held my bag of left-over lunch and fruits (cherries). I had indicated on the customs form that I had fruits. The customs officer asked what they were. I told her. She said to "put them in the bin over there." On my way to the bin, I dropped the bag and stepped on it. Then, I put the bag in the bin. In under 5 seconds, she was about 6 inches from my face yelling and asking why I did that. I didn't flinch, nor was I offended by her animated and aggressive approach. I was dealing with Jamaica's customs officers and I expected no less - truth be told. In rapid succession, she asked why I did it. In rapid succession, I started to reply. Finally, as we were both not getting anywhere, I said, "If you will allow me to reply, I will let you know." She took a deep breath, held her hands together below her very pregnant tummy and said, "Okay, go ahead."
"If the fruits aren't good enough to enter the country, then they simply aren't edible," I told her.
By then, about three or four other customs officers had come around. One of them kept asking me the same thing. I told her the same thing. She asked again. I told her the same thing. Again. Not sure whether she was expecting me to tell her something else; something she wanted to hear. She called me rude. That was...telling. They took it as an affront. Apparently. I wonder why. (I don't, actually.)

While paying the JMD$10,000 fine (I had stepped outside to get the funds from my dad. I had CAD funds, but the thought of changing them at the dismal exchange rate at the cambio right there, pained me. Side note: I later handed my dad the funds in repayment. He said to keep it. Bless his heart.) I heard one person in line at the cashier saying how he was charged for his laptop. A friend of his had bought him one on sale a month ago. The customs officers decided it was new. He paid JMD$6,000. As he shook his head in dismay, he ended his story, "Is alright. Next time mi know wha mi a go do." That was...telling.

I paid the fine for breaching S.198(4) of the Customs Act. I had destroyed the item to prevent seizure by a customs officer or stte. The officer had originally written $5,000, but her supervisor said to change it to $10,000. I possess no qualms about facing the consequences of my actions. It's a personal philosophy. I realized...figured, rather, that if I proceeded to ask them to define seizure and prevent and destroy, I would likely have another $5,000 or $10,000 slapped on as a "mouthing off" charge. Because they could. Also, depending on the nature of the breach (I s'pose) one could be fined up to $100,000. (And  the whole thing had already taken about 45 minutes. Because they could.) I let it be.

Just before handing my passport back to me, the customs officer decided to explain the procedure for acquiring a permit to bring fruits into the country. I asked whether that would mean I would not be charged a fee if the inspecting officer decided the fruits were okay. She assured me that's what it meant. I quickly imagined that my definition of okay might very well differ. Plus, I'd only bother to go that route simply to test that theory. I said none of this. I did tell her that the rationale for the "breach" was something we disagreed on. I shrugged, closing the door to further conversation. My people had long been waiting outside. We said our goodbyes and I took my passport and left.

It took several days but I finally put my finger on what really bothered me about that customs episode. Comments from friends and family with whom I cared to share it, telling me good on me because seizure usually resulted in them taking the items for themselves, didn't make me feel better. The certainty that others who hear it at some point will say I was mean, won't make me feel worse. The thing? It becomes a major challenge for me to accept going along with what is required, when what is required makes absolutely no sense to me. That was the button that pushed me. I eventually assured myself that everyone has their button. After all, I'm only human.

"Human. It's been a while since anyone's called me that." - Monk

Between the impositions and intrusions and a host of things up with which I don't want to put during cross-border travel, I'm seriously considering staying put for a while. Canada is a big country. I should get out more and see more of it.

(Oh, btw, this post was due on the 18th. Sorry. I...I was way too tired to write yesterday. Thanks for reading!)


Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Cover Story

On a visit to Jamaica earlier this year, my parents and I went on a road trip, or, as we call them sometimes, a drive out. My dad loves to take us on those trips. They were a staple of our childhood, and are pretty much expected now when we visit Jamaica.

This road trip took us to Manchester. I had made a special request for roast yam and saltfish. I knew exactly where we were headed - Melrose Hill. Or, as it is often called, Yam Hill. Actually, I think Melrose Hill is the name of the original road (the old road) where the vendors used to sell. It has been a long time since, but the vendors relocated to their current location on that section of the Winston Jones Highway after the highway was cut.

And, you know, this post isn't even about Yam Hill. Lol! See, before we stopped there on our way from Clarendon, we went all the way up the road to Mandeville. We conducted our business and quickly headed back toward Clarendon.

It was just after we  passed the mud lake on Winston Jones Highway, that I saw a really beautiful sight. I thought it would make a really lovely picture. I immediately shoved my phone to the front of my dad's car - a gesture he's grown quite accustomed to - and snapped away from the back. He didn't question the gesture, he simply obliged. My mom, as usual, leaned a little to the left in her front passenger seat so I could get proper photos. (Just so you know, drive on the left in Jamaica, and the majority of vehicles are right hand drive.)

About five photos later, I figured I'd got what I wanted. At least two or three of them could be used. They didn't do the natural scenery justice - unphotographable beauty is a thing - but they would bring me pleasure on reviewing.

Fast forward a few weeks later. My publisher asked me to provide write-ups - along with book cover artwork - for the upcoming poetry book, Fourteen To Fortyish. I did. I submitted my best rendition of one of the images, complete with overlaying text and all. I knew we would have a bit of back n forth, but I still wanted to have a very good springboard.

Well, during those exchanges, I reached out to family to hear how the cover spoke to them. I even learned the term "dichromatic" from one of my sis, Lat, an artist. The final rendition shows a dramatic and fitting transition that captures the essence of the journey. I'm very pleased with the cover now.

I've shared a section of the cover on other SM platforms - Twitter and Instagam. Here, though, in my little space in cyberspace, I'm sharing the full cover. It's a good time to tell you, dear reader, that I am also working on making my website,, into a real website. :-) These blog posts will be moving over to my "home in cyberspace" - if you will. Or, even if you don't, actually. :-) Those baby steps? Yeeahh. #LeapAndAnnetteWillAppear. :-) I've learned so much in the past several days about what is required to make this happen. I bought a WordPress theme template, and switched hosting services. Gonna be bonding with the new site over the next little while. Please bear with me. It is a work in progress - a work in progress that has to be finished before my book gets published in September 2015. No pressure!

(((Drum Roll)))