Wednesday, July 25, 2012

USA so far.


It’s now July 25th, I’ve been away from Austria for 2 weeks and in the States for 5 days. No need to sum up the whole two weeks, because I’ve already blabbed about it far too much, but I will talk about my first five days here in Florida. Because they were pretty interesting.

First, getting into the country. This has never been a problem before, not even when I came in from Colombia or on the way there. And of course the way I’m writing this already gives away that there was a problem. And there was, apparently, only I don’t know what it was. Funny, right? So after standing in line and slowly queuing through FLL Hollywood Int’l Airport with what felt like 3 million other people from my flight and a few others (including one from Medellín), I finally made it to the immigration desk and happily – as always – gave my passport to the attending officer. Only he didn’t smile back – not as always – but actually looked at me really weirdly after swiping my passport through the passport-swipey-machine. He proceeded to inform me that “the system” told him that I had Spanish citizenship and a US passport – definitely not as always. And then, though I don’t know how that’s supposed to work if he says I have a US passport, he said I was a NO for entering the United States – most certainly not as always at all!! I explained to him that I didn’t know anything about this being Spanish and having a US passport, because I wasn’t and I didn’t, to which he just replied that that was what “the system” told him and that maybe the Dominicans had changed something. Can they even do that? So, because I hadn’t done anything wrong and there must have been a simple misunderstanding, I asked if I was going to be fine. And the officer, very kindly, looked me straight in the face and said: “No.”

And because that wasn’t enough, he went on: “I’m going to send you to the Dungeon.” Literally, I’m not making this up, that’s what he said. The freaking Dungeon!

He took my passport and my immigration and customs forms and led me to a room full of other stuck travellers where I was told to sit down and wait. Which I did. What else was I supposed to do? Luckily, a guy from Barranquilla, who had been on the same flight as me because he was going from a Colombian music festival in Santo Domingo to another one in Miami, was in that room as well and smiled at me reassuringly, from time to time. He seemed to be used to it, but then again, he was Colombian.

After about half an hour – with me growing more and more nervous, because my CS host Ken had said he was going to pick me up from the airport around 9PM and that hour was approaching – somebody called me up and gave me my passport and the customs form. Then they just sent me out. Without ever even telling me what had been the problem and if there had even been one, or if it had really been a bug in the system or something like that. So, basically, I still don’t know if I’ll be able to come into the States without any trouble the next time, which is in September.

Yippee… not.

On the positive side, after that everything went smoothly: my backpack was already waiting for me by the baggage claim conveyor belt, I could connect to FLL’s free wifi in the arrivals hall and call Ken from Skype and the timing was actually perfect, because he was just on his way over when I called and arrived about 10min later. In a dark blue convertible!! Way cool. Can I please always be picked up from airports like that? The convertible doesn’t have to be dark blue and it doesn’t have to be a Camaro, you may choose the type and colour yourselves. But it has to be a convertible, kthxbai.

And on the extra-positive side, standing in line I was right behind a Canadian lady and her little kid, 5 years old. So I had someone to talk to – we each got to vent our anger about having to wait for so long – and it was also amazing to watch that little boy. He had so much energy! He was continuously playing with some toys he’d brought in his backpack or talking to his mom and other people in the line and he was also really smart. At one point he came back from having a drink of water at a small fountain they have in the airport for that purpose, looked at all the people that were still in front of us, turned to his mom and asked: “How do we complete this level?” Loved that kid so much at that moment, it was unbelievably epic.

Now back to my trip.

The next morning (OK, noon, I’m honest.) I went to explore the area, because Ken had said there was a mall close by his apartment where I’d find a T-Mobile shop and be able to get an American SIM card so as to be connected, not like in Puerto Rico where I had to continuously ask people if they’d lend me their phones. I didn’t find any T-Mobile shop, but I did find a Target and somebody else had said that you could get SIM cards and entire phones at Walmart, so I figured I’d give it a try. I was, in fact, referred to the electronics department by the nice lady in the customer service office, so to everyone who needs a cheap and easy to operate phone in the States: if you can’t figure out anything else, just go to Target. Or Walmart, obviously.

For some weird reason, that I still haven’t managed to understand, it’s really complicated to get a SIM card, but it’s very easy to get a cheap phone with a SIM card. Doesn’t make any sense to me as the result is pretty much the same, but whatever, let them have their way. I got an AT&T phone with a surprisingly good plan for a to-go phone: on days where I use the phone I pay 2 USD for unlimited calls and texts, nationwide. On days where I don’t use the phone, I don’t pay anything. And I’ve got 50 USD to spend, from the prepaid card. How did I get all this? I have no clue, I did not do that myself. I asked about the possibilities I had right at Target and they said that I had to get a prepaid card, call customer service and set up the specifics of the plan with them. Talking on the phone to strangers is horrible for me, because of my bad hearing, so I freaked and asked if they couldn’t do it for me. And the guy said yes! I had not expected that, back in Vienna they’d have said no and wished me good luck. But that young guy at Target took my phone, took my prepaid card and called the line for me. Then he called again, when the connection got cut. Then he called again when they told him he had to do something different because I didn’t have an American credit card. Then he did this thing where you kind of call, but all you really do is punch numbers and # and * into the phone. And then, after about half an hour of this craziness, he handed me my perfectly set up and working phone! I found out afterwards that that wasn’t even part of his job description, because he was actually the Sales Manager and not some random employee, who you’d rather expect that from. So, well, thank you very much, nice guy at Target. You were very helpful.

Now I can call and text all my pre-existing and new friends here, from CS and otherwise, without having to worry about recharging my credit on the phone. And I can be flexible when meeting people. It’s great.

So, where are we..? Yes, I’m in Plantation, Florida, and I have a brand-new cell phone number. What happened next? Nothing.

Really, nothing. Spent some time job-hunting but gave up when my three applications from the first day got declined (I hate you, translators who work for next to nothing!). It’s not that I gave up just because I didn’t get anything the first day, that’s nothing special. I decided to give up, because I’m not yet dependent on working as I still have saved money and waiting until September with the workload is fine. I’d rather enjoy being in Florida. Only, I couldn’t enjoy Florida yet, because I was stuck in Plantation and there are no beaches here – and beaches are what South Florida is all about. To me, anyways, because I’ve already been to the Everglades twice. So I filled the past 3,5 days with hours of relaxing in bed after waking up late, watching Smash (thanks, Béa) and Game of Thrones (thanks, Paola and Michi), walking around the area and lying by the pool reading.

Until today, that is. Today, everything changed. But that story is in the next blog entry. Go read it now!!!

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