This is another post I wrote after a trip. It is the first of a 2-part story. It took place last June. What I didn’t know then, but know now, is it marked the Beginning of the End for the family. Explaining that is beyond the scope of this posting.
This time I remembered to change the family names before posting. For yesterday’s post, the version that e-mail subscribers received has my real surname and the names of one or two family members instead of the Blog names I have been using. If you could please delete that e-mail, all of your data backups, and throw away your computer, I’d appreciate it. Thanks very much. 🙂
For this post, my wife and a cousin needed Blog names and I stuck with my French theme in choosing them. My simple mind at work again…
Since I probably won’t post part 2, yes, we did get the Green cards and I no longer have to worry about renewing a Work visa every 2 years. It probably helped having the support of a U.S. Senator (Indiana) and a U.S. Representative (Virginia). My stupid excuse for a lawyer will one day be sued by me for the costly errors he made that caused me to go through the process three times before it was done correctly. Because of the past errors, until I actually set foot for the first time in the Washington Dulles airport greeting area as a Green Card holder, I couldn’t be sure that we wouldn’t be stopped and thrown back out. The U.S. Government spends a lot time and money making that very clear all along the way. So, a big thanks to the Feds for all the stress they added to the whole process.
As another side note, finalizing the process almost bankrupted me. It cost about $20,000 in direct costs and lost income as a result of the unnecessarily complex process, last-minute delays, and the cruel misinformation from the immigration folks. I had been planning to immigrate to Canada if this process didn’t work this third time. I was so bitter about the Green Card process afterwards, I almost grabbed the family and left for Canada anyway. I couldn’t decide between mild but rainy Vancouver or colder but small-town Ottawa. Just a day or two ago, I got a letter from the Canadian authorities inviting me to send the last few bits of information so they can let me in. They’re persistent, I’ll give them that…
This trip to England is a big trip for the family in two ways.
The US Embassy has called us to London to interview us and hand over ‘Green Cards’ (Permanent Resident Cards) at long last. It has been managed in the usual way: lack of support from a lackluster lawyer, inaccurate Government advice about the arrangements that has cost us thousands of dollars in flight changes and additional accommodation and lost income, and behind-the-scenes support from the generously powerful. The bureaucratic nightmare is hard on this family in terms of stress and finances; so there is much humor to be made of the situation, if for no other reason than constant crying on my part wouldn’t change the path of events, but would embarrass the girls when we’re in public.
My wife’s father is terminally ill, with not long to go, and formal goodbyes are at hand. What is most heart-breaking is that we hear regularly that my father-in-law has imaginary conversations with Danielle, or has spent the day in the nursing home feeling annoyed because he has believed he has heard Danielle playing outside his hospital room door with her friends and didn’t come in to say hello. In this case, there is no humor at all in the situation, and Danielle is doing the crying for all of us.
We took a daytime rather than overnight trip to London so we wouldn’t lose a night’s sleep. (The day-time flight to London helped because I don’t sleep on planes and arriving early in the morning after an overnight flight has me staggering around London in an alarming sleep-deprived fashion.) I arranged the family seating so that the five of us had two sitting together, with two more together in the row directly behind, and one more in the row behind them. My oldest daughter waited until the flight was airborne and the seat-belt light was off, then ‘volunteered’ me to replace her in the last of the three rows of seats. I will be selling her on eBay when we return for reasons that will be both obvious and morally justified shortly. No sooner had I sat down in the seat when a sweet little old lady in the middle seat started to regale me with information about her, her husband, her friends, the children of her friends, her health, her travels, the geography of Michigan where she lived (using her hand and pointing with a shaking finger that covered most of the state), the employment and education of everyone she had ever met, the snow depths this past winter compared to the last 425 winters, and everything else she could think of. It was a stream-of-consciousness review of her life and, alas, she had lived for a very long time. I wondered at one point if she might be immortal. I tried to get my headphones on and my laptop fired up so I could watch loud movies and tragically be unable to hear her. Doomed passengers on other flights must have tried this before because she had a clever little ‘elbow grab’ move to emphasize a point that bumped me enough I couldn’t get to the devices I needed. I noticed an equally wizened old man sitting next to her, with a look on his face that glowed with utter peace. This must be the husband I had been hearing about for 40 days and 40 nights. Clearly, he was pleased that someone else was taking the burden off his shoulders for a while.
Cousin François kindly offered to pick us up from Heathrow but was nowhere to be seen. In keeping with the comical nature of the Green Card planning, an ash cloud from a volcano in Iceland conveniently drifted into the Atlantic and our plane had to re-route to the north, indeterminately delaying our arrival.
The online status updates for flight arrivals are, in my years of experience, useful if a plane is no more than ten minutes early or late. That is, only if the window is small enough that it makes no difference whatsoever to greeters heading to the airport. Larger changes to the schedule merely cause the web page to throw its hands in the air and offer completely inaccurate times with disturbing confidence. Hence, perhaps Cousin François was unaware that our plane was nowhere near as late as he had expected it to be and was still en route to the airport. Or perhaps Cousin François was curled up in bed fast asleep, having been told by the Wholly Inaccurate Status Page that we wouldn’t be arriving for hours yet. Knowing which required a phone call.
While waiting for his presumed/possible arrival, I took on the task of activating a new SIM card for the quad-band, hi-fi, high-tech GSM cell phone kindly provided by a colleague before I left. T-Mobile provided the SIM card at the airport. Bear in mind that the airport is a place where people arrive from overseas and purchase a SIM card to activate a phone solely because their overseas phone would not otherwise work. T-Mobile offered me the opportunity to call its cheerful automated system and add a balance to the SIM card. It happily accepted, using extensive and time-consuming prompts and double-checks, my UK credit card. After that, it just as happily informed me that I could not use the payment method because my SIM card had not yet been registered. It even managed to throw a little disbelief into the message that I should try something so manifestly silly. It cheerfully finished up by letting me know that they were now closed for the day and I should abandon my previous plans and pop into a T-Mobile shop in the morning. As I recall it, my thinking at the time was, “Fuck me, are you kidding?”
Cousin François’s arrival was as welcome as his departure from the airport was entertaining. Ignoring my gentle suggestion that we follow the signs the airport had marked with helpful words like “Exit to all routes”, he bravely followed his erring instincts. He must be a cyclist on weekends because we ended up on a narrow cycling path that was firmly separated by a concrete barrier from the cars and trucks. When confronted by a disbelieving official after doing something dumb like this, it helps to have someone like me in the car who can put on a foreign accent and take the blame.