Saturday, 21 November 2009:
There goes another perfectly good leather belt. It began with three belt loops. After two years of going through airport security at various cities, all three have been dropped on the floor around the world. I don’t know why I never remember NOT to wear a belt when flying; a belt is a habit I don’t seem to break.
Three times it has happened in almost identical ways: At the X-ray point, some airports, not Singapore’s, require you to remove belts. I believe the reason is that the metal buckle may set off the alarm. At US airports, they also demand that you remove your shoes – yet another craziness that most other airports around the world do not require. With or without having to remove your shoes, things tend to be a little chaotic just before the X-ray machine. The line snakes this way and that, people cross paths looking for extra trays, while security officers bark out instructions to uncomprehending passengers. You put your carry-on bag on the belt, and as you unzip it to take out your computer, a security officer says, “Put your bag in a tray, not on the belt.” You hold your boarding pass in your mouth like a dog, the bag is unzipped and gaping, and you stretch forward, crossing someone else’s path to grab a second tray, the first being intended for the smaller items. You remove your jacket, keys, computer, shoes, mobile phone… and while trying to keep on eye on your possessions as your two or three trays move relentelessly forward when you yourself can’t because you’re stuck in line, you remove your belt in a hurry to deposit it in your tray before it gets too far ahead. And a belt loop is dropped. There are too many things to think about; you don’t know you’ve dropped it until, on the other side of the X-ray machine, you put it back on, and say, “Oh shit, where is the belt loop?” It’s probably on the floor somewhere on the other side of the X-ray machine, and there is no way you can get back there to look for it, which anyway is likely to have been trampled underfoot by now.
I lost my third and last belt loop today.
* * * * *
The plane having landed and taxied to the terminal, all the passengers are standing stomach to stomach in the 737’s aisle waiting to disembark. The aerobridge takes foreever to be connected. Meanwhile theatre is performed to pass the time.
A slim young woman is still seated, crying softly. The passenger, a middle-aged woman with middle-age spread, who had the seat next to her, but is now standing up, tells everybody on the plane how stupid the girl is. Partly addressing the girl, who is a total stranger to her, partly performing for the entire planeload of captive audience, complete with exaggerated swoons and sweeping arms, and with hardly a pause for breath:
Your agent should have booked you on a morning flight how can you arrive in Trinidad at this late hour it’s all very well you have your hotel arranged with an email but how are you going to get to the hotel why didn’t you arrange for a hotel car to wait for you what are you going to do take a taxi? If you can even find a taxi but are you even going to get to your hotel in one piece will you know where he’s going oh heaven have mercy this poor girl she’s flying two days from africa and never been to Trinidad before she’s tired and have no sleep and don’t know how to get to her hotel why did the agent book her a single young girl on a late flight? My sister lives but fifteen minutes from the airport so she drives over to pick me up but what are you going to do as a single girl she’s coming here for the summit but the arrangements are too loose and she knows nothing about Trinidad and thinks you can just get a taxi like that well maybe you can but nothing guarantees he will deliver you to your hotel I’m not trying to scare you my dear girl but facts are facts and I don’t know why you didn’t ask your agent to book a morning flight oh good lord what are you going to do….
* * * * *
For conference participants, a shuttle bus is waiting for us. We get to it. Four men are in charge. We introduce ourselves but they have no clipboard or any name list. They cannot verify that we are conference participants but take our word for it.
Board the bus, the say.
Where shall we put our luggage? we ask.
The minibus has no luggage compartment. The man are surprised that we have luggage. “The bags are a problem,” mutters the lead guy in charge of shuttle buses, like we have unexepctedly and impolitely brought Noah’s Ark with us. They have to quickly figure how to load the heavy bags into the vehicle. What other way is there? So the bags are balanced precariously on the seats, and six of us sit among them as we drive off. Four other conference participants were left behind on the kerbside. We had no more seats on the bus for them. The organisers had calculated the size of bus and number of seats correctly, based on the flight schedules we had provided in advance, but forget to reckon with our luggage, which took up seat space.
It is already 11:12 pm. In the 20 minutes it takes to drive through the city centre to the National Sports Stadium, I see not a single pedestrian on the streets. Everything is closed and shuttered. There are some cars on the roads but nobody walks. I think it says a lot.
I’m not here for sports, but for some reason I cannot fathom – maybe because it is safer as a gated compound – the conference organisers have set up a small office in the National Stadium as an accreditation centre. Our little bus arrives, all six of us get off, get greeted by 10 – 15 staff and mild chaos erupts. Some of us have our names on a list the staff have, others find their internet-registrations lost. The staff try their hand at the computer but only reveal that they have no idea how to navigate the system. My name is OK, it’s on the printed list; I get a name tag. I ask where I should pay the registration fee. Nobody there has heard of registration fees. What about a conference package, you know, the usual bag of documents and goodies? No, we don’t have those, they say. No idea where I was going to get it. So what else do we do next? Nothing. Get onto the bus again and it will take you to your hotel. Oh, by the way, which hotel are you staying at?
Trinidad and Tobago aims to be a tourist paradise. Looks like they need to sort out a few problems first, starting with having reliable taxi drivers who won’t mug or rape you between the airport and the hotel.