I’m bound to cross the line*

Haydeb Butte, Phoenix.

Haydeb Butte, Phoenix.

I made landfall in America, as many before me have done, at Los Angeles International Airport aka LAX, where I was photographed, fingerprinted and treated to a full body scan sans shoes. While I get the need for security, I found it disturbing that everyone wishing to enter the US is expected to surrender such bio-data without question. I want to know what the implications are, how long my data will be stored… There was one moment of levity, however, when a male border security officer asked, ‘Are you travelling with any Tim Tams today, m’am?’

From LAX, I flew to Phoenix, Arizona, to be collected by the hotel’s complimentary shuttle bus…only it’s not quite complimentary as you’re expected to tip the driver (I checked). The whole tipping culture does my head in. I’m appalled that American workers have to rely on discretionary funds like tips to make a living wage. At the same time, the monetisation of (almost) every interaction leaves me wondering if people are genuinely friendly and helpful, or just faking it for the sake of a good tip.

fullsizerenderI promised myself I wouldn’t make generalisations, but I was struck today by how literal some Americans can be. Many people I met today explained what they were going to do before they did it, talked it through while it was happening, then reported back on what happened — even when the content was the same at all three stages. It might be politeness; or maybe it’s about risk management and an aversion to surprises, something they have in common with Thai people in that regard. I’m thinking of signs at the airport, ‘warning’ commuters that an electronic walkway will come to an end in 30 feet; or that plane exhaust, which is carcinogenic, can sometimes enter the gangway of the plane. Do I/we really need to know these things? Then again, I’m the sort of person who likes surprises.

img_9477And I got a surprise today, while waiting to check into my hotel room, when I witnessed an argument between one of the male hotel staff and a woman returning a hire car, which basically boiled down to a dispute about manners. The man (wrongly) accused the woman of profanity, adding, ‘We don’t tolerate profanity in this hotel’ (‘Fuck,’ I thought privately, ‘I’m in trouble!’); the woman took great offence, insisting she didn’t use profanity ever. And all the while I’m thinking the equivalent exchange in Australia would consist of little other than a string of profanities!

Anyway, despite having slept badly (if at all) on the plane, I took the advice of receptionist Patrick, and delayed checking in for an hour so I could get a room with a view of Hayden Butte (pronounced ‘beaut’). I killed the hour walking around Tempe, getting money changed (I live in fear of running out of small notes for tips), and accidentally choosing a img_9458vegan place to eat lunch at the Desert Roots Kitchen. There I met Des, a Navajo, and the cafe managers/staff Travers and Christian. They fed me a steady stream of tips for my time in Phoenix, while serving up a magnificent hummus plate, including a sample of peanut butter and jelly hummus they insisted I try and that, I have to admit, turned out to be delicious, as unlikely as it seems.

Travers recommended a walk up Hayden Butte, my enthusiasm for which was cemented when I looked out of my hotel room and saw the cacti on the slopes. The climb was a good work out and worth the climb to the summit, both for the cacti, and for the the stunning views of red mountains that encircles Phoenix, AZ. Gasp out loud greatness.

Now to sleep and renew my energy for more exploring tomorrow.

* I’ve taken a leaf out of Margot Kinberg’s book and used a line from one of my favourite Bob Dylan songs, ‘Shelter from the Storm’, for this blog post title. The complete line, ‘Well, I’m living in a foreign country / but I’m bound to cross the line.’

About Angela Savage

Angela Savage is a Melbourne writer, who has lived and travelled extensively in Asia. She won the 2004 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript, and the 2011 Scarlet Stiletto Award short story award. Angela holds a PhD in Creative Writing and currently works as Director of Writers Victoria.
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18 Responses to I’m bound to cross the line*

  1. Margot Kinberg says:

    First, thank you for the kind mention, Angela. I’m sorry you had such a bad experience at LAX. If it’s any comfort, I’ve had similarly bad ones – and I’m a citizen. I’m glad to hear you’ve gotten safely to Phoenix, and I do hope you’ll enjoy the rest of your trip.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh Margot, you don’t need to apologise. Last time I left Melbourne’s International Airport, I was struck by how Australia’s ‘Border Protection’ branding had made the whole airport look like a crime scene! Necessary evils in this day and age — though I’m still concerned about who gets my biodata and for how long.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Grand adventures and safe travels, my friend. I’m following your every step remotely. (That probably sounds a bit creepy – sorry) Have a wonderful time. x

    Liked by 1 person

  3. tummymummy11 says:

    Peanut butter and jelly hummus?!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Olgamary says:

    Imagine the reception if your skin was brown !! Great to hear from you. Stay safe Mutti

    Liked by 1 person

    • Precisely, Mum, although I have to say they were pretty equal opportunity about the scrutinisation: a young blond fellow I was sitting next to on the plane nearly got knocked back because he didn’t resemble his passport photo.


  5. FictionFan says:

    Yep, I fear they’re not quite as keen on receiving the “huddled masses” as they used to be – not that I’m suggesting you’re a huddled mass! *stops digging* 😉 Have a great time! (Please send me a $5 tip for saying that…)

    Liked by 1 person

    • The first impressions aren’t great, that’s true FF, although I’ve been treated with hospitality and friendliness since arriving in Phoenix – and by no means only by people in line for tips 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Jo says:

    Great post. I had a similar “welcome” to the US- without the levity. I’ve only been to the States the once & yep, the tipping did my head in too!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Haydn Savage says:

    typically yo uhave thrown yourself into the foreign/fascinating environment.kove the photos xxdadxx

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Just catching up. Love the photos of the cactus – beavertail, barrel and cholla I think. (I love naming things!)

    Our last trip into the US was in 2014, and as we went through immigration (fingerprinting but no obligatory body scans then) the officer noted, as he sent us off to customs, that we’d marked food on the card. Tim Tams? he said! Yes, of course, we replied! After all, we know what our American friends like!!

    Before our first trip/posting to the US, a friend gave me a book called “Coping with America”. I read it on the plane and astonished my husband by being able to seamlessly answer servers’ questions about how I wanted my eggs, type of bread etc at breakfast, and salad dressings, type of potato etc at lunch. BUT the main value of the book was tipping. Unbelievable, and it can be so anxiety producing if you don’t know what to do. Can’t we just pay a fair amount for the service in the first place and be done with it?

    Liked by 1 person

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