The INS wrote on June 1st to say my travel documents were ready–I could go down to Detroit any time between 7am and 3.30pm to pick them up. This is effectively a visa which allows me to come and go while they process my Green Card application. It means we can go to Toronto to see the Blue Jays. Yesterday, we got up at six o’clock and drove over to Detroit.
Amazingly, we got a parking space in the INS lot, which is otherwise always full. That’s where the amusement ended. We joined the line, which started at the doors, and went through the usual dull security check, where armed guards made sure we weren’t carrying a cellphone with a camera (photographs can steal your soul, you know).
Twenty minutes of waiting during which they started showing Aladdin on the TV monitors around the room. Twenty minutes, and we got to the reception desk. I presented my letter. The woman behind the desk pulled out a huge stack of alphabetically arranged travel papers. She went through them, one by one. It skipped from Kim to Mackie. There were no papers for Jefferies.
Of course there weren’t. It’s Monty Python’s Cheese Shop sketch every time. This time they even included a video in lieu of a bazooki player. “I’d like a visa, please!” “Certainly, sir!” And then they make you guess until, eventually, they admit they don’t, in fact, have any visa’s at all. But they are remarkably clean.
Desk woman called the people who process the travel documents. She left a voicemail and promised to call them every five minutes until she got an answer. We sat down. More people came. The line never got any shorter with people waiting to get to the reception–the reception being the place where most people got numbers to join other lines. Officers occasionally came out and called names for people to interview. Half of the names didn’t seem to be there.
Forty five minutes later we were still sitting waiting. The queue hadn’t got any shorter. The woman at the desk seemed to keep vanishing off to run errands and chase things up. Aladdin, presumably provided for our entertainment, turned out to be a sadistic form of mental cruelty as the video was unwatchable. It had been played and stretched so many times that it constantly flickered and rolled. Occasionally it settled and you could start to watch a scene. Then the colors would split and it would hurt your eyes.
I jumped to the head of the reception line where another woman was now at the desk. “You need to join the line,” she said, which I interpreted as “I dare you to try punching me in the face when I have armed guards at the door and no one has a camera, not even in their phone.” “Actually,” I said, “I was thinking I should take my letter…” I pointed to it on her desk, “… and come back another day.” “Oh. Is this yours?” “Yes, the other lady told us she’d call in five minutes. That was forty five minutes ago. It’s now eight thirty.”
Desk Woman number two seemed puzzled. “That department doesn’t come in until 8.15 so I don’t know how she was going to call them before that.” She made the call while the line “they don’t come in until 8.15” echoed around my head, driving out all other thoughts. “No one seems to there yet,” new Desk Woman told me. “I can’t get hold of anyone.” No supervisor. No drones. Yip. “I’ll check again in fifteen minutes. You don’t really want to come down from Ann Arbor again.” No. No, I didn’t. I settled down with Laura to be assaulted by the Aladdin video some more.
Five genies appeared. “Ix-nay on the wishing for more wishes,” warned Robin. Ix-nay on the wishing for INS to get its act together too. The picture never improved. I texted my sister in the UK. “We’re at the INS and they’re torturing us with flickering Disney cartoons.” She texted back with news of my niece’s and nephew’s exam results. Three more people managed to get to the front of the reception line to be assigned their numbers for lining up elsewhere. More hopefuls took their place. About twenty had actually been seen by case officers since we’d arrived according to the boards showing other lines and numbers in the office.
Aladdin flickered to an end and the screens showed static. At last I heard Receptionist Two on the phone talking about travel documents. It was a brief conversation. “Keith Jefferies!” I went up to the desk. “Sorry you’ve had to wait. I just found the papers. They were here all along. Do you have some photo ID? Sign here. Thank you for being patient.” I signed, stunned, and took the papers, which, incidentally, cost $165 to acquire.
At 9.30, we left the Detroit offices of America’s immigration services. The line outside now extended all the way from the doors and down to the car park. There must have been about two hundred people waiting out there, spilling over on to the sidewalk outside the gates. We were lucky we hadn’t gone later. As lucky as you can feel if you get up at 6am and feel completely shattered for the rest of the day. As lucky as anyone can be if they’re invited to drive for an hour to have flashing lights shone at them for two hours before getting what they came for.
No, it’s not much of a cheese shop. But unlike Michael Palin’s establishment, they did, in fact, have the products they claimed to have. Some of their staff were friendly and helpful. And that’s saying something, given the nightmare of the line to the desk which never ends. Whatever. It’s done. Now we can go over to Canada and watch baseball at the Sky Dome. And tonight, in unrelated but still pleasing news, we get to see David Byrne, live, at the Power Center in A2.
As for the bazooki player… “Stop that bloody nonsense!”