Philadelphia, an airport in a city, a city in an airport. I feel overwhelmed and fearful and flustered. Jet lag and huge sensory overload. Customs and border staff are asking unecessary intimate questions. I reunite with another fellow passenger who tells me she’s been to freshen up. An interesting American woman who has been to Ireland, to grieve. I feel so un- American, my clothes, my behaviour, my US airport incompetence, all of it screams European, or worse, British. As I remove yet another piece of suspicious junk jewellery, I tell her across the sonic x-ray super terrorist detector conveyor belts, that I am way past the freshen up point and if she wants to European, as her Irish adventure indicates, then Philadelphia airport is where she should start sweating.
I am learning, albeit slowly, that American women don’t sweat, don’t piss, shit or bleed, these tales I shall uncover in future blogs. The staff and passengers in Philli airport are learning that European women do all of these things, sometimes even simultaneously, but not here,Thank God, not here.
I apologise to several smartly dressed business men as the line, (queue), through the super sonic x-ray machine gets longer. Remove your boots maam. Do you have a lap top in this bag? It has to go through in another tray. Sweating and jet lagged, or more simply dazed and confused, I run through the super sonic body scanner and despite all my efforts at removing every bit of metal, the machine starts bellowing and I stop in my tracks shouting, “It’s my belt, it’s my belt!” I remove the belt and as unobtrusively as possible swagger through x-ray and avoid a body search from the stereo typical butch woman guard.
Every body in the line seems as relieved as I am that I passed the body scanner test, I skulk into the rest of the overspill adjusting belts and boots and hand luggage. It would really help at this stage if I could find my prescription glasses to orientate myself in this immense building. Is this New England? I wonder and sit on a white rocking chair opposite the Body Shop, one of those unmistakeable British brand shops. It could be England, but then the confident, posturing, African American shop assistants, teach me this can only be America.
The lull of the rocking chair calms me, it seems I am accepted now as a visitor. My watch is on Colorado time and this airport is on Philadelphia time, my body is on Greenwich Mean Time and I better work it out before my connecting flight starts boarding.
I feel foreign here, more foreign than in any of our open bordered European lands. I may speak like they speak. I may look like they look, but I am an alien here and there’s a song in my head reminding me that at least this path has been walked before by my kind and beyond these home security formalities there is an ancient and new land waiting for me to discover.