Woke feeling rather out of focus at 0600. Out of focus due to rather too much Champagne, beer, red wine and malt whiskey the evening before. Let’s get this right – the afternoon
and evening before...
Stiff upper lip goodbye to my girlfriend, then Paul & Mandy drove me to Heathrow. Near the end of the M11, we get diverted off the motorway and wander about, lost, in Essex for 30 minutes. Eventually re-find the M25 and arrive at Terminal 3 in good time. A brief goodbye and heartfelt thank you to Paul & Mandy for their help & hospitality and I’m checking in at the ‘Upper Class’ desk for Virgin Atlantic.
Within 15 minutes, I’m though security (titanium stuff in my leg didn’t set off the detectors….) and check in and make my way to the Upper Class Lounge. Here I meet up with Mike Belch, my ticket benefactor, who’s travelling to San Francisco this morning. Superb breakfast and a haircut later (all complimentary) and my flight is called. Straight to the head of the very
long queue (BA has cancelled a service to Miami this morning and the Virgin flight is packed) and I’m soon sitting next to Chris, a fund manager from the City, and wondering at his capacity for free champagne.
After we get airborne I discover why Mike always travels by Virgin. Crossing the Atlantic by air is never going to be a fun experience, but being able to sit at the bar and chat to your fellow passengers makes it as comfortable as possible…..
Land at Miami at 1610 local (2110 GMT) and start the interminable queues to enter the USA. The queuing ‘system’, such as it is, ensures that, despite being in the first 10 to disembark from the aircraft, I clear immigration among the last 10 passengers. Ah well…….
Eventually, I’m out of the airport and driving a completely nasty and uncomfortable (but cheap) Colt Lancer
and go and check in to the local Holiday Inn. Knowing I’ll fall asleep immediately if I stay in my room, I take the car out for a tour of Miami, trying, without success, to find a block without a 24hr Walgreen’s Pharmacy on it and a traffic light without someone who will approach the car and explain that he is desperately trying to get $3.25 to get home. I practise my ‘Paddington Bear Hard Stare’, which seems to discourage them. Eventually go to bed at 2200 local (0300 GMT) and go out like a light.
Had a poor night’s sleep – someone rang (no number left) on the mobile at 0330 (0830 GMT). Wake again at 0500 and eventually get out of bed at 0600 – weather is misty and 66 deg F. Forecast is sunny and 80 deg F.
First order of business is to contact my shipping agent, whose office opens at 0830.
Rang Manny and arranged to meet him at his office at 10ish. Went to the hotel restaurant on the 9th floor. Impressive views over Miami, but absolutely appalling service. Loads of staff, few customers – all of whom were pissed off. Took me nearly an hour to get breakfast and then it was time to go…..
Met Manny (GPS proving invaluable as an address finder). Something less than impressed. Despite his charm and car-dealer reassurances, I get the impression that he really doesn’t know his stuff. He’s going to try to get my bike booked in as ‘unaccompanied baggage’ and says there’s an ‘80% chance’ that this will work.
Hmmm. I though that appointing (& paying!) a Miami shipping broker was to ensure that the correct procedure was followed and there being a 100% chance my bike would be released as soon as possible…. I decide to give him the benefit of the doubt and agree to return at 1200 to pick up the forms he’s preparing (I’m going to ‘walk them through’ US Customs personally to speed things up).
Time to get a new plug to charge my laptop, a new SIM card for my mobile ‘phone and some other sundries. As ever, it’s never that simple…. A Pay as you Go (called Pre-Pay here) SIM card will allow you to make & receive calls in the USA (although, bizarrely, you use as many ‘minutes’ receiving a call as you do making one ??) but will not allow you to text to UK. The only exception to this is a T Mobile in the USA can text a T Mobile in the UK. You cannot get a ‘contract’ mobile phone without a (US) Social Security number – and the minimum contract time is 12 months. If I do buy a SIM card & phone the UK, it’ll cost $1.50 per minute. I decide to think on it.
By the time I’ve picked up the paperwork and fought my way through the heavy traffic to Port of Miami, it’s nearly 1400. The security at the gate is high and I have to show my passport before receiving a Police escort to the Customs office. I’m dealt with at a public counter which has the acoustics of a jet engine intake. It’s not helped by the customs officer I’m dealing with conducting a shouted conversation with his colleagues across the room, interspersed with him reading (aloud – but to himself, it seems) every document I’ve brought (including the photo-copies of my licence, registration document, passport, visa etc). He then asks why I’m presenting this paperwork, not my broker. I explained that I was keen to get the bike released and therefore wanted to walk the forms through rather than use the post. He seems intent on taking the piss out of my broker and quickly comes to the conclusion that he’s used the wrong forms and that I need a Temporary Import Bond (TIB). A TIB is a kind of mini-Carnet - very expensive and will take an age to prepare. I go on my way, utterly unimpressed by the day’s work. Returning to Manny’s office via the now M25esque traffic, I find that he’s away at a meeting and that his charming but long-suffering assistant Ali
is concerned and upset at the attitude of US Customs and assures me she’ll get new paperwork prepared that afternoon. Unfortunately Customs close at 1600, so I’ll be in Miami for at least another 24hrs……
Returning to my hotel (expertly chosen at the junction of two freeways - one of which is being dug up 24hrs a day - a railway and under the flight-path to Miami International) I find that a truck has turned over and, after that’s been cleared, a train the length of Nebraska is crossing the road. It takes me 50 minutes to cover the last mile (during which time I can see
the hotel – which really helps)….
I sign up to the ‘$9 per day High Speed Internet Access on your TV’ – to find it’s an almost complete misnomer. OK, it works on your TV (but the resolution is crap), but it’s slow, crashes most of the time and won’t let me read my email. I leave a message on the Horizons Unlimited Bulletin Board (HUBB) asking for advice re the TIB. I ring the desk and complain that the resolution on the TV is bad (it’s a fault) and they promise to send someone up. They never appear, so I decide to challenge the cost of that when I check out. The fire alarm goes off & stops at 2100 – I ring the front desk – it’s a fault & they’re working on it. It goes off again at 2130. And at 2200. 2230. 2300. 2325 – it may have gone off after that, but to be honest I was so tired I’d be happy to burn to death by then….. Not a great day. Watched ‘The Missing’ – a kind of remake of ‘The Searchers’ on pay per view – pretty good.