Well, well... who would've thought it likely that I'd be here at 38'000 feet in the air writing aboard flight 2777 in the same month that I applied for my VISA. I've felt strangely calm and collected the whole day - even at take-off. I felt sad to say my goodbyes, but it seemed more of a necessity or routine procedure rather than the usual emotional saga. I can honestly say that I feel totally calm and reassured by the way everything has fallen into place. I don't think I ever got anxious, even before the trip itself. I'm very much looking forward to this debut visit and the adventures that lie ahead.
Right now, I feel as though I'm on auto-pilot, in the same way that this plane is navigated for the most part of the journey.
There were no hold-ups at Gatwick which is quite something, I know that this coming week will be absolute chaos. I'm thankful that I got the opportunity to fly at no additional cost. The only slight concearn I had was the fact that they wouldn't let me take my laptop and case on as hand lugguage, so that went in the main hold and given a "fragile" label. Fortunately it was OK.
The main confusion really started at Atlanta airport. I guess there was a fairly conventional queueing system as we arrived, although there was a negro stewardess who insisted we made a neater non-resident queue despite the fact that this consisted of almost everyone who came off the plane so it didn't make a whole lot of difference who stood where. I don't think she was overly impressed when we (well, I say "we", it was some random lady who got impatient I guess) unclipped the belt - which basically redirected us further down past other unused kiosks and then brought us back round to the ones in operation. Little point, obviously. Well this lady certainly thought so. But seriously, there was something aggrovating about this stewardess, her job was to pretty much make you feel UNwelcome! What confused me most was the way the main lugguage was handled. You get your bags from one point and then give it back to guys wearing fingerless leather gloves and wearing bluetooth headsets - looked a lot like organised crime to me.
It was soon my turn to present my VISA and documents for the first time and soon realised that the green form that was issued to me on the plane was the incorrect one, I in fact needed to fill in a white form - which meant I had an actual VISA - to which the common response was: "So, you have a VISA?" I thought this was fairly self-explainatory, so I just said "yes". to avoid falling into any potential loopholes in all this trick-questionry.
Of course the real anxiety crept in when I was told to enter a smallish office just after I presented my documents and VISA for the first time. This was customs. It was a little unnerving when I saw a european girl get denied access into the country on the VISA she had, so she phoned up her family abroad and that was it I think. There were others who didn't seem too convincing, so they were just left seated indefinitely. I was taken into another office (I guess you could call it an office within an office, or sub-office ) and the guy explained to me that I wasn't allowed to make a successful businessman of myself in the time that I'd be here and granted me the time I said I needed. I was pleased with the way this interview went, it was the thing I dreaded the most about the thought of landing in the US.
After going through various detectors and scanners I got my bags off the main arrivals carousel and pulled out a piece of paper with the train times etc.. it seemed fairly straighforward. So, I spent my first dollar or two on a "marta" ticket. I should have really phoned up there and then to confirm where I'd get picked up etc, but I wanted to make the whole train issue as straightforward as possible so I just hopped on and took the correct train.
I was immediately "greeted" by a guy who looked as though he worked in constuction. His hard hat pointed out his nickname: "Mack". Didn't really seem appropriate for his personality type, he seemed to me to be more like a "G-Mack" which almost sounds like a new model of Apple PC. Anyway, he came across as being a bit of an opportunist - and in fact this goes for many of the people I ended up coming to speak to me on the train. One guy even left me his "business card". Some Italian website. So anyway, this Mack guy had A LOT to say.. he started rattling off his life story - explaining to me that he'd been shot in the ankle when he was buying a bag of chips or something. Apparently he was "40 years of age" but I knew he was not a year older than 25. Also, he wasn't too decisive about where he was from, where he was going and what he was doing in Atlanta. He kept talking about the "million dollar question" - which I found out was: "can you spare 10 dollars". I ended up donating my box of maltesers and $3 to his cause. Fortunately his attention got diverted by a girl who took interest in his far-fetched, somewhat obnoxious stories.
In the end, I had myself an interesting time meeting a few people and having conversations - people here seem really friendly. Apparently people are more open down here in the South.
So, having been on the train for around half an hour or more, I then decided I was travelling too far out of the centre of Atlanta and changed platforms to backtrack - not able to find any payphones anywhere, hence why I should have phoned before getting on the train. It was getting late anyway. I got picked up from the airport about half an hour later. It was quite amazing to see my long lost friend Jared and his Dad for the first time in 10 years. I really enjoyed the feel of downtown Atlanta, the illuminated high-rise buildings reminded me a lot of Johannesburg in South Africa. Housing is similar too - the "subdivisions" work really well, basically the houses are uniquely designed in each one and there are community facilities like tennis courts and swimming pools.
The space is refreshing. The food is good. The people are friendly. I'm liking what I'm seeing in the US!