Monday, November 14, 2011

Cruise Control - Part 9: The Passport Man Cometh

Click Here to read the previous entry in this series…

  I just look at the security guard, slightly stunned. She wants me to take everything out of my laptop bag, and there’s a ton of crap in there. It’s crammed with things I thought I might possibly need while on a cruise. What did I do to trigger this kind of search?

  As I flip open one of the zippered sections and start to haul out the 74 different power cords contained within, Nosey Nancy’s neighbor leans in. “Just the laptop, sir.” Then she glares at her co-worker, a look that questions why Nancy is being so difficult.

  Nancy glares back. (Why do you continue to breathe? You know this is what I live for.) But Nancy relents and confirms. “Just the laptop.”

  I pull out the larger of my two laptops and cooperatively place it in the bin, lovingly patting it because we’ve shared so many experiences together. Then I haul out the smaller netbook. “Both of them?”

  Nancy’s eyes spark again, awash with renewed suspicion. (Who takes two laptops on a cruise? I knew you were a terrorist!) But she refrains from tackling me to the ground. “Yes, both of them.”

  I place the netbook on top of the laptop. Nancy immediately separates the two so that they are not touching, tidying up after my apparent glaring breach of protocol. Just to make sure that I don’t break anymore rules, I clarify my next action. “Anything else?”

  This intrigues Nancy’s neighbor, and she leans in again. “Do you have another laptop?” (Perhaps I am about to break some type of record, and Neighbor will have something exciting to share with her co-workers on the next coffee break.)

  “Um, no. But I have a Nook and a Kindle and a-”

  This is no longer interesting to either of them. Neighbor leans back to her own station and Nancy waves at me to head on through the body scanner thing. I step forward, heart slightly accelerated, as the rest of my belongings are trundled into the evil world that lives under the flaps of the luggage scanner.

  I do NOT like going through security, makes me feel like a criminal even though I’m clearly not or I would live in a nicer house. I’m always half-convinced that they are going to find the exact ingredients that can accidentally make a weapon of mass destruction, and I will end up in a Turkish prison, where Internet access is sure to be unreliable.

  But alarms did not sound and men wearing matching storm trooper gear did not surround me, so we’ll assume that nothing tawdry was found in my luggage or my person. I was quickly doing the mad scramble one does at the tail-end of the security process, where you frantically try to retrieve your phone, get your shoes and belt back on, and cram your laptop back into a bag that suddenly seems three sizes too small, all while impatient people behind you are clearing their throats in irritation because they only had one thing to scan and you had 27.

  So now I’m in a little holding area where you wait for the rest of your loved ones to get through the lines, assuming that you are still on speaking terms with these people after the drive to Galveston. Most of the gang was already through, and I did a headcount to determine who might be missing this time. Okay, Mom and Roni. Hmm.

  This was very interesting. At the start of all this security mess, when the rest of us were slowly inching forward in the lines, any enjoyment of life sucked out of us, I had spied Mom and Roni racing down the “special access” lane for people with wheelchairs and such. There was hardly anybody in that line, so the two of them were whizzing through, with Roni high-fiving the air and Mom, little legs pumping as she pushed the chair, grinning happily that they didn’t have to sloth their way along like everybody else.

  So they should have been through security by now. But they weren’t. Oh boy.

  I wandered over to that special lane, and there was Roni at the walk-thru (roll-thru) detector, with personnel intensely studying every aspect of her wheelchair like they expected a cruise missile to drop out her ass. This always irks me greatly. She can’t move the left half of her body. Exactly what kind of mischief do they expect her to get up to? Meanwhile, unwashed, wild-eyed jerks wearing Anti-American t-shirts waltz right through without anybody batting an eye. Idiots.

  Speaking of unwashed, though, we had another example of that at a table near where our huddled family was standing. It seems one of the guards had gotten a little suspicious about a certain man who was trying to carry a case of bottled water onto the boat. Lo and behold, as the guard checked the bottles with great detail, he began confiscating some of them. Turns out they were full of vodka, and carrying your own alcohol onto the ship was extremely verboten.

  Now, I am by no means condoning such behavior, but I would suggest that if you want to try something like this, you probably shouldn’t draw attention to yourself by not bathing, sporting one of the most unattractive head-banger hairdos ever known, wearing enough gaudy gold jewelry that you could melt it down into a tank, and having that really-short-man attitude of the world owing him something more than platform shoes.

  To make him even more special, the man was getting somewhat belligerent about being challenged for doing something wrong. Dude, you got busted. Suck it up. And go see a stylist. I’ll even pay for the visit, if it means you’ll never walk by me again looking like that.

  The fun didn’t stop there. Suddenly, we had a security guard on the other side of us politely asking another man to stop taking pictures of the alcohol raid with his phone. (“No pictures allowed in the security area.” Just like the 15 signs posted everywhere said.) Picture man gets all smart-ass, waving his phone around. “Too late! Already got the picture. Hah!” Proud of himself for being an arrogant jerk.

  Geez. Just what kind of people were they allowing on this boat?

  Mom and Roni rolled up just then, with Mom looking like sometimes she’s just not real happy about having to do certain things, and Roni looking like she was determined to learn how to walk again just so she could come back here and kick someone’s ass. Our little clan is reunited and we can move to the next stage of what is starting to be a lengthy ordeal. (One that is not even hinted at on the happily chirping Carnival website, I might add.)

  We head down this one hallway thing, and find signs directing us to escalators and elevators. Apparently the next bit of the check-in experience requires its own floor, so this should be real fun. We arrive on the this new floor, and find a room triple the size of the one below, and crammed with a population bigger than most counties in Oklahoma. And we have more lines, snaking about and doubling back and forth on themselves.

  Sigh Number Forty-One.

  So we get in one of the lines, and even though things are moving more quickly than expected, it’s still a very patience-testing process, what with that doubling-back thing where you keep encountering the same people, running out of ways to politely nod at these reappearing people until you just get tired of it and keep your eyes downcast on the ugly carpet pattern below you. Way at the other end of the lines is a bank of Carnival folks doing the final check-in business. We may never get there in our lifetime, but we’re going to try.

  Suddenly, Mom (who had disappeared with Roni as they once again headed to a “special access” lane), is back with us, hollering something about she’s already at the check-in counter, but we have to check in together because we booked together. They said to get you out of the line. Come on!

  We look at each other for half a second  (Is she telling the truth or is she drunk?), then we are all leaping over the line dividers and thundering down the length of the room like somebody was after us with cattle prods and a can of Crisco, darting around slow-ass strangers and whacking things with our carry-ons.

  We arrive breathlessly at the check-in counter where Mom is standing. Her face is aglow because she knows she just pulled a golden ticket out of her Willy Wonka chocolate bar by getting us all leap-frogged up here. We love her. Until she loses something else.

  So Check-In Lady starts doing her thing, processing each person singly, and it takes a bit, because you have to set up expense accounts and whatnot. (The boat is mostly cashless, you just run around with a little credit card thing, happily and ignorantly running up a tab that might scare the hell out of you at the end of the cruise.) It’s a little boring, waiting your turn, but the very nice lady punching on the computer is very pleasant and efficient.

  Turns out that not everyone at Carnival is so helpful, though. And we got to meet Wretched Gretchen a few minutes later.

  She comes stomping up right behind me. “You’re gonna have to move.”

  Me: “But we’re checking in.”

  Wretched: “You’re blocking the walkway. People can’t get through.” She then stabs her finger at one single person who has to adjust slightly to the right as they pass.

  Me: “But we’re checking in. Right now.” With this lovely person who obviously went to a different school than you.

  Wretched: “All of you? On the same booking?”

  Me: “Uh, yeah. Same booking.” Otherwise we wouldn’t all be standing here, you twit.

  She rolls her eyes dramatically (Tiffany scribbles a note to herself to practice this technique, because it really did look very impressive), then stomps away. Twelve seconds later she’s back. “You are blocking the walkway.” She stabs her finger at another victim of our heinous crime, this time an old man dragging along an oxygen tank as he skirts around us, a much more traumatizing sight than our first victim, but still.

  Me: “What do you want us to do?” Ride on each other’s shoulders?

  Wretched: “You need to hurry!” Then she glares at our check-in lady before stomping away again.

  Check-In Lady glares back at Wretched Gretchen, and her look makes it very clear that she could happily bludgeon Gretchen to death with a stapler and not think twice about it. But she does type a wee bit faster, even though she had been doing just fine before.

  Our group begins to dwindle, as fully-authorized family members go racing off to the next area, waving their fancy little room-key credit card things and babbling excitedly. As fate would have it, I’m the very last one to be checked in, meaning I have to stand there and sweat the longest, because I’m still not sure if there is going to be an issue with me not having a passport. I have been worried about this for two days now, and judging by how our adventure has gone so far, my hopes are a little battered.

  “Brian? Could you please step forward?”

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