Monday, June 13, 2011

Coming to America

Being a parental member of the Johnson Zoo carries with it certain responsibilities and obligations. The first being - procrastinate like hell and push lateness past the limit. Easy, simple guidelines that I have lived by for years, but apparently Angie wanted to draw lines in the sand before we had even made it to the beach of Virginia. My version, as if there might be any other, is that Angie had a full-on freak-out attack the night before our trip.

'We haven't packed yet - aaaaagggggghhhhhh!!!!!!!'

'Here's an idea - how about you pack then?'

'Yeah, but we don't even have a checklist! We need a checklist!

'Um...okay. Does this help?'


As cute and cuddly as this may seem, it went on for hours. I got close to bored until Angie posed what turned out to be a very valid question.

'Are you sure we have all the approval paperwork for Homeland Security?'

'Oh, ye of little faith. Here you go, check it out - approved, printed and ready to present to the Homeland hotties that will surely be hitting on me tomorrow morning when we...'

'You got my birthday wrong.'

'What? Let me see that. Hmm, yeah... okay, that's a notch or two above embarrassing. I got October right, though, so what's the big...'


In my defense, the whole 'birthdate' thing was an error that I blame on the crappiness of their website. When you are in the birthday field and use the middle mouse button to scroll down to see the fields below that need to be completed, it does not scroll. Instead, it changes the date that you had just selected in the birthday field, which can, if you don't notice this, result in a very agitated life partner. Yes, that's my story and I will so testify in any court of law.

The court of Angie did not give a fraction of an ever-loving shit. Her primary aneurysm was triggered by the fact that I had inadvertently used her maiden name. Comments like 'You do realize we're married, right?' and 'Oh my God, you're a moron!' did little to allow me to explain, but I tend to ignore Angie when she starts hyperventilating, just as a standard operating procedure.

'The website stated that the name has to match the passport identically; otherwise, you will not be allowed to travel.'


'So, I looked at your passport and there it was - your maiden name in BOLD CAPITAL LETTERS.'

'Yeah, but that was under the field that asked for 'maiden name'. JOHNSON is also capitalized in bold, but it's listed in that funny field that asks for my CURRENT NAME. You know, the one that I would expect my husband to know.'

'Oh, come on; stop being such a worry wart. Do you really think Homeland Security will care if the name that we gave on the security application actually matches your passport?'


Needless to say it was a long night.

In the morning, the first task that logically popped into Angie's mind was to iron all of the garments that we were about to cram into tiny suitcases. Whatever keeps her happy.  

My mind was preoccupied with how the hell I was going to convince Homeland Security to let morons into their country. The only master plan I could come up with was to have Angie act surprised and call me a moron when airport security asked why the name on the her passport did not match the name on the ESTA application. Shouldn't be too much of a stretch for her. 

Before leaving, I grabbed our marriage certificate and told Angie to stop calling me names. Then we got the show on the road, which ended up more like a road show when we hit the airport.

I pushed our carry-on luggage up to the check-in counter and waited for the inevitable.

'I'm sorry, Mr. Johnson, but there seems to be a problem.'

'He's a moron!!'

'Not yet, Angie.'

The confused check-in lady went on to explain that Angie Johnson was not approved for travel. 

'It's because he's a moron!!'

I explained that my wife has Tourette's syndrome and that the best approach would be to just ignore her. Afterwards, I had to come clean and acknowledge that yes; I had used her maiden name for the ESTA approval. She looked at me like I was a moron and called her supervisor over. 

'Sir, I'm sorry, but we are not going to be able to let you fly unless you can provide an official document confirming your marriage. You don't happen to have a copy of your marriage certificate?'

'Of course I do. What moron would travel without one? Here you go.'

'Thank you, Mr. Johnson. You can proceed with check-in and, I'm sorry, but I've got to ask - how do you avoid ripping the sleeves of your shirt with such huge biceps?'

'Practice, my friend. Practice.'

After what might have been a few too many minutes of gloating, Angie was actually pissed at me that I had managed to deliver on my promise that 'everything will work out fine.' I honestly think part of her was hoping that our vacation would be cancelled, just so she could get all up in my face. Part of me was hoping that our vacation would be cancelled too, but for completely different reasons.

At one of the stores, we surprised the boys by telling them they could each pick a toy for the plane. They did not really surprise us with their first choice.

After refining the offer to picking a toy that could not make noise, squirt water or set things on fire, the boys sighed and reluctantly settled for coloring books and stickers. Great. Lovely. Let's move!

At security, Angie and I learned a valuable lesson that we would like to pass on to any kid-ridden travelers. Do not ever, ever let your kids go through the metal detector first. Ever.

Tom ran through giggling, quickly followed by David. I grabbed Peter as soon as I realized what was going down. Angie noticed as well and started racing after them.


'Ma'am, please step back and...'

'But my...'

'No, buts. Step back now!'

David turned back long enough to smirk and wave as he disappeared into the crowded airport with Tommy. For a brief second, I heard giggling over the beeping of the metal detector. Then nothing.

Angie and I scrambled to strip off belts, watches, shoes and anything that looked remotely beepable. We finally made it through, but Angie's purse was tagged for an additional security check, so I left Peter and ran off in search of bad boys.

I found them trying to convince the ice-cream guy to give them a free sample. Instead of frozen dessert, I gave them two scoops of freak-out with a few sprinkles of spaz.

I came back just in time to see the contents of Angie's purse being dumped on a metal counter by a guy wearing rubber gloves. Ten minutes later, we were ready to go. And wait.

What you might miss in this lovely shot is that Peter is holding a satanic device, more commonly referred to as The Rubik's Cube. The thing is evil. Pure evil. A few weeks ago, Peter apparently got interested in what toys Satan likes to play with, and me being the awesome dad that I am decided to 'learn' the cube. How hard can it be?

I must admit, not that hard, but it's all proportional to how many hours of your life you want to donate to Rubik and his cube from hell. For me, it was all day Saturday and a good portion of Sunday. In the end, though, I was able to solve the damn thing in less than five minutes. I know that I should have taken this new-found knowledge and shared it with my kids, but it was a long flight so I chose the 'let'em figure it out on their own' approach that killed almost half the waiting time.

When we finally boarded, it was like someone had chucked a grenade near our seat. Literally minutes after getting our three boys seated, we noticed several single people evacuating the area. The flight wasn't packed, so they just grabbed their blanket and pillow and faded away. Sure, jealousy was my first reaction, but my second was that I hate them. With a passion. 

Tommy found other things to amuse himself, such as annoying the crap out of one of the few passengers who had actually stayed with us. He was in the row in front of us and had made the stupid mistake of laughing the first time that Tom shoved his hand through the seats and poked him.

After the 34th elbow poke, the guy grabbed his pillow and blanket and assured Tommy that he would 'be right back'.

Shortly after clearing air space around our family, the movie service started. Things have changed quite a bit from my first flight, when friendly stewardesses handed out headsets and asked us to 'enjoy the show'. Nowadays, a disgruntled flight attendant storms through and demands five bucks a pop for ear-plugs made of sandpaper that are apparently famous for producing the worst quality of sound since Roseanne Barr sang the national anthem.

We quickly discovered that the monitors were not working for one section of the plane, namely the two seats in front of the boys and the two seats behind them. Oh, yeah - and theirs as well. At this point, I showed the boys the call button, which they then used every two minutes to remind the steward that their monitors were still not working. On the 8th or 9th trip over, he just stood there glaring at me.

'What are you looking at me for? It's going to be a long flight. If you can't reboot the monitors, could you at least find two open seats with monitors that do work?'


The flight was long, but luckily the selection of kid shows was even longer. They vegged out for most of the flight, but only Tommy slept. When we landed, I got a little worried. It was midnight Germany time and we still had to fight our way through customs and make it to our connecting flight. By we, I of course mean Angie, Peter and Tom, since David and I had no problems zipping through the line for U.S. passport holders. 

Forty-five minutes later, a rather frazzled Angie emerged from the foreigner's line. This left approximately fifteen minutes to recheck our bags and tackle security again. Luckily, we were able to recheck our bags directly after customs and we still had ten minutes to get to the gate.

Drawing on our newly acquired knowledge on the sensible order for metal detector passage, we were able to avoid losing any of our children while going through security this time. What we didn't count on was Tommy's stuffed elk, which he absolutely had to have on the flight. When you turn it upside down and then back again, it makes a sound that I presume is supposed to be an elk mating call. Tommy insists it is the elk farting, which also explains his strange attachment to the stuffed animal.

Whatever the noise is does not really matter. What did matter, at least to the friendly TSA folks, is that there is a metal tube inside the thing that makes the sound. Germany apparently does not care about stuffed animals with metal inner pieces, but in America, this earned us a special visit to a curtained-off section.

Angie kept looking at her watch and finally tossed the elk at the guy with rubber gloves.

'You know what? Just keep it!'

With this, two things happened. This first was that Angie whipped around and tried walking away. The second, and probably more worrying thing was that the guy waived to his colleague and suddenly we were surrounded with TSA agents.

Fifteen minutes later, Angie finally understood that if you're being questioned about a suspicious object, you should not throw the thing at a security guy and try fleeing the scene. The good news was that, with the help of special bomb detecting equipment that was brought out just for us, we were able to confirm that the stuffed elk was, in fact, a stuffed elk. They even let Tommy keep it. Hey, thanks guys!

The not so good news was, our names are now most certainly on a list somewhere that will make our next trip to the U.S. rather interesting. The bad news was, we missed our flight. The worst news was, the next three flights were full and our only chance was to wait five hours for the last flight of the day and hope to hell we got on that one.

Considering that it was going on 4:00 AM Germany time, the boys were holding up great. 

[Note: the stuffed elk in the middle of this picture is not a bomb]

They lounged about while I made calls to rearrange everything. My next vein-popping discovery was that we would be landing too late to pick up the rental car we had reserved. I then called my parents and asked them to drive out to the airport and try to get the rental car keys. When I was done, I thought for sure that the boys would be conked out, but they were still flight-worthy.

When we finally boarded, David banked a hard left and raced into the cockpit. When I caught up to him, he was explaining to the surprised pilot that 'my Opa is a pilot, can I sit there, what does this button do, do you have a parachute'. At least the pilot had more patience than the TSA agents. 

When I pulled David back out, he accidentally dragged his foot across a panel full of switches and buttons. I explained this to the pilot who had not seen this, but he just shrugged. Buckle up!

It was only a forty-five minute flight, which meant that the only time the stewardess came by was to check that we had seatbelts on. She paused while checking David. 

'My, you look tired.'

'No, you look tired.'

I spent the next five minutes lecturing David on the concept of respecting elders. I felt like I was really getting through to him until I heard the snoring.
When we got off of the plane, we had to wait for the stroller. Peter and David decided to play a new game called 'homeless underteens'.

The game must have been pretty fun, for they played it again while I worked out the rental car.

Luckily my parents were able to have the keys moved to another rental agency that was open after midnight. We were originally supposed to land at 7:00 PM, but as I mentioned, Angie and I have the responsibility and obligation to push lateness past the limit.
Ladder Talk:
1) What was the best part of your day?
Peter: zzzzzzzzzzzzzz
David: zzzzzzzzzzzzzz
Tom: zzzzzzzzzzzzzz

2) What was the worst part of your day?
Peter: zzzzzzzzzzzzzz
David: zzzzzzzzzzzzzz
Tom: zzzzzzzzzzzzzz

3) What would you like to do tomorrow?
Peter: zzzzzzzzzzzzzz
David: zzzzzzzzzzzzzz
Tom: zzzzzzzzzzzzzz