Wednesday, July 1, 2009

My Flight to England or How British Airways Lost my Suit Bag

After a hearty goodbye from Dallas Blumenfield, I headed off to JFK airport to catch my flight to England on British Airways. Upon boarding the plane I found myself seated in the middle between a secular Israeli girl in a tube top on one side and a Yeshiva student in a hat and jacket on the other side. Sounds like a good set up for a comedy sketch. I am not sure how three Jews ended up seated together, maybe someone at the airlines had a sense of humor. The girl was going back to Israel after spending a year in the States, studying theater. The guy was studying the Talmudic tractate of Sukkah. I think it says something to my credit that I was capable of engaging both of them in an intelligent conversation on their field of choice.

The special kosher dinner was quite good. I had chicken and rice with my favorite vegetable, eggplant, and chocolate mousse for desert. There was also humus, but I do not eat that so I left it to the side. The economy seat I was in, I am sure, does not compare to the first class seats I drooled over on my way through the plane, but were comfortable enough for this devotee of self imposed poverty. Most importantly there was a decent collection of movies to watch to distract me from my usual claustrophobia.

The first film I watched was Gran Torino. I must say there is something to Clint Eastwood at almost eighty years old beating the tar out of guys young enough to be his great grandchildren and it being believable. Eastwood seems to have a knack for making films that seem to be simple feel good films until the end where they take a disturbing turn, leaving a film that is truly provocative, with no easy answers. Million Dollar Baby, for example, was Rocky meets My Fair Lady up until the last half hour where it got really dark and interesting. Grano Torino on the surface seems to be about a bigoted old man learning to tolerate his Hmong neighbors. Fortunately it is actually much more interesting than that.

I was not so fortunate with the other two films I watched. Taken was Twenty-Four Season One with Liam Nielson in the starring role. Nielson’s character, like Jack Bauer, has several hours to save his kidnapped daughter and single mindedly pursues this goal without even a break to eat, sleep or use the restroom. Coincidently the film had Xander Berkeley, who played George Mason on Twenty-Four. Unfortunately Taken lacks that addictive quality that made Twenty-Four so much more than fun stupidity, leaving us with simple stupidity.

The final film I watched was Valkyrie, which was about the plot by members of the German army to assassinate Hitler in June 1944. As someone who teaches the events of the film, I had been meaning to see the film. The film crashes on Tom Cruise being very American surrounded by a cast of distinctively British actors or German actors who come across as very British. For a story whose plot centers on the psychological motivations of World War II German army officers, this is a problem. If you want to see a truly brilliant film about Hitler, see the German film Downfall. Coincidently Valkyrie had two actors who appeared in Downfall, Thomas Kretschmann and Christian Berkel.

Upon arriving at Heathrow airport, I was held up at immigration. I would have taken this as a badge of honor if it had been because I was transporting a WMD or if someone had read my blog and decided that I was a national security risk or at least a basic level hate monger like Michael Savage. The problem was that the last time I had used my passport, back when I traveled to Israel in 2000-01, I overstayed my three months without bothering to get my passport stamped again. If my memory serves me correctly, my yeshiva was supposed to send all the passports in to get them stamped, but there was a problem at the time with the government office being on strike (that happens a lot in Israel). So in the end it was never done and when I left the country I got lectured by the lady checking my passport. I never thought that my teenage laziness and unconcern for bureaucracy in one country would come back to trouble me nearly a decade later in another one. The people at immigration eventually asked me to produce evidence that I had a ticket out of England in three weeks time like I said. I was given leave to enter for six months with “no work or recourse to public funds.” This is a good example why we need libertarian governments around the world. A libertarian government would have no need to worry about immigration and border control, beyond checking for WMDs; a libertarian government would have no government services for illegal immigrants to take advantage of. Anyone, therefore, would be allowed to just come and compete for jobs on an open market and after a few years, if they did not break any laws, they could apply for citizenship.

This holdup at immigration for over an hour had further repercussions beyond wasting my time. By the time I reached baggage reclamation, my suit bag had gone missing. I had to wait around several more hours (keep in mind that I had not slept the previous night) while the people at baggage decided that my bag was really missing and sent me on my way. I was debating whether I would want them to find the bag or not. On the balance was my dream of being able to go shopping to replace my two suits and almost all of my good shirts on their pound with my nightmare of going clothes shopping and of making my way through the inevitable paperwork. In the end British Airways found the suit bag a day later and sent it to me. I was hoping that they would give me something for my trouble like an upgrade to those first class suits I was drooling over, but no such luck.

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