The Great Adventure is about to start. My flight leaves tomorrow at about 1:40, and I just checked in. Apparently I’m in 61A, although I thought I was going to be in 60A. Doesn’t matter. Getting this far has been a roller-coaster ride in itself.
The main issue was the visa. I was at the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square back last Thursday. It’s a fairly scary place seeing as it looks like they just picked up a US Govt. building that they didn’t want in Washington (or somewhere) and then flew it in bits over here. The gold-plated eagle statue on top finishes off it’s tackiness and faux-intimidation quite well. Anyway, once I got past the men-with-guns, I then found out I had to queue for lots of things. My first queue was to get in the building, this was short, and consisted of me and another person. After that, I had to queue to go through security (outside), then security (inside) and finally joined a small queue to get a ticket. On the ticket was printed a number which I was told would be called. As this was being explained to me, I heard number 231 being called out. My number was 361. By this point I was a little annoyed and went to sit down amongst the 250 other people who had been given ‘appointments’ at this particular time.
Time passed. About an hour and a half later, my number was finally called. I went to the correct window, where I was fingerprinted and my paperwork was taken off me. After about 3 minutes, I was told to sit down again and my number would be called for interview. It was about now that it dawned on me that I had been queueing for and hour and a half to actually get into the queue for interview. Dejected and pissed off, I sat down again. During these long lamenting periods of utter boredom, I tried to amuse myself with theories about how the numbering system worked. It seemed that there were 4 queues: Non-immigrant, Immigrant, Interview and DHS with about 120, 14, 70 and 3 people in them on average, respectively. The first queue was what I was in for the aforementioned hour and a half and I imagine the second queue was the similar queue for immigrant visa applications. These were quite predictable as the numbers were called in order. However, everyone basically ended up in the “Interview” queue, regardless of what you were applying for. Because you can get any one of about 30,000 (or so) different types of visa to the US, this meant that every application went through a varying amount of processing time before the interview was ready, and therefore the numbers for this queue were called completely at random. The downside of this was that I actually had to stay awake for the next hour waiting for my number, with no indication of when it would be. I saw people being called within 10 minutes of giving their paperwork in, and I saw people who looked like they had actually been there since 6am.
Eventually, I was told to go to window number 22, which, in the cluster of interview windows, was the only one with a chair in front of it. Intruiged by this, I sat down and was immediately engaged in conversation which went like this:
I(nterviewer): So, you did Chemistry at Cambridge
I: What do you know about biological warfare?
I: It says on your form that you have experience handling biological warfare agents
Me: No (you moron), it actually asks if I have experience handling either chemical, radioactive or biohazardous materials. I ticked yes because that’s true for 2 out of those 3 things.
I: Nice smile
I could tell from this point that this might be quite interesting.
Sadly, it only got more boring as the interviewer seemed to refuse to conceive of the fact that I work for a company who are sending me to another country in order to become experienced in the way that they do things. The fact that I didn’t have a detailed “Training Schedule” seemed to aid him his this stubbornness. Eventually, after about 10 minutes of me becoming more frustrated, he asked me what I hoped to learn, so I told him. Then he told me he’d decided to issue me a visa (how nice!). Seemed like the whole point of the interview was to see how I reacted when presented with a seemingly stupid US beaurocrat asking me awkward questions about what I did. Seems like getting frustrated and saying the same thing over is what people who aren’t terrorists do. Cunning.
After this entire lengthy, sweaty, exausting and frustrating process, I then had to queue to pay a courier to ship my passport back to me. They told me that I had to receive it myself and present the guy with ID when he delivered it to me. I found out they were wrong when, the following Tuesday, the courier turned up and happily dropped off my passport to someone else at my house who simply waved a photocopy of my passport at him. Oh well.
So there we go. I’ve got the visa. My apartment exists and is booked. The delivery guys came this morning to put all my bulky stuff on a plane. I’ve got my boarding pass. Next thing you know I’ll be wandering the streets of some vaguely familiar US city looking for things to buy. I’ll keep you posted as to what happens.
P.S. Go see Avenue Q! Don’t ask why, just go see it!