Sunday, July 02, 2006

The Unfree Country Chronicles III: "The united states of total paranoia"

As we spend this weekend reflecting on our nation's independence (through the time-honored traditions of cheeseburgers and pyrotechnics), consider the view from the outside:

The united states of total paranoia

I know Britain is full of incompetent water board officials and stabbed Glaswegians but even so I fell on my knees this morning and kissed the ground, because I’ve just spent three weeks trying to work in America.

It’s known as the land of the free and I’m sure it is if you get up in the morning, go to work in a petrol station, eat nothing but double-egg burgers — with cheese — and take your children to little league. But if you step outside the loop, if you try to do something a bit zany, you will find that you’re in a police state.

We begin at Los Angeles airport in front of an immigration official who, like all his colleagues, was selected for having no grace, no manners, no humour, no humanity and the sort of IQ normally found in farmyard animals. He scanned my form and noted there was no street number for the hotel at which I was staying.

“I’m going to need a number,” he said. “Ooh, I’m sorry,” I said, “I’m afraid I don’t have one.”

This didn’t seem to have any effect. “I’m going to need a number,” he said again, and then again, and then again. Each time I shrugged and stammered, terrified that I might be sent to the back of the queue or worse, into the little room with the men in Marigolds. But I simply didn’t have an answer.

“I’m going to need a number,” he said again, giving the distinct impression that he was an autobank, and that this was a conversation he was prepared to endure until one of us died. So with a great deal of bravery I decided to give him one. And the number I chose was 2,649,347.

This, it turned out, was fine. He’d been told by his superiors to get a number. I’d given him a number. His job was done and so, just an hour or so later, I was on the streets of Los Angeles doing a piece to camera.

(h/t to Fark)

1 comment:

Pablo said...

I can relate, in a weird third world country kind of way.