I arrive at Pearson International Airport in Toronto two hours before my flight. I have never flown from Canada to the United States. Apparently, to save time, passengers no longer get their tickets from a real live person. All of this is done using a kiosk, and like everything else at Pearson, they’re lined up all the way to hell. Once I find an open kiosk, I have to scan my passport and enter my personal information (information that’s on my passport).
I finish wrestling with the ticket kiosk, and the machine spits out a printed boarding pass and tags for my bags ($60, thank you very much – not even one free checked bag!). It’s only the beginning, however. Time to stand in another line. While in this line, I’m told by an airline employee that I need to go stand in a different line. Okay. Good thing I stayed at the airport hotel and got here early.
The new line is long (of course) and moves slowly. While waiting, another airline employee comes and asks if I’ve filled out an American customs declaration form? “No,” I say. I’m given a form and told to fill it out before I go through customs. “Where are the pens?” I ask. I’m told there’s a table down that way with pens. Okay. I finally make it to the front of the line. I lug my bags to check them. The lady working the counter tells me to put my bags on the scale. I do this. I’m told I need to take my bags, make a left and go to Gate F, I will check them there. I can’t miss it, she says.
Off I go, looking for Gate F.
‘You can’t miss it’ usually means ‘you’re going to walk right by it, fool’. That’s exactly what happens. While looking for the table filled with pens, I walk right by Gate F. I walk until I realize I’ve gone too far. I turn around and head back to my original location. I find the table for filling out the American customs declaration forms. Cool. Relief. Of course there’s not one pen to be found anywhere. I turn around. There’s my gate. But I need to fill out the form, and I don’t have a pen.
I head back to the ticket kiosk and a kind lady from Air Canada lends me her pen so I can fill out my form. I head back to Gate F and wait in line. Once I get to the front, an airline employee tells me I’m at the wrong gate. “No,” I tell her. “I was told to come to Gate F.” She frowns and says, “It’s busy now, you must go in through American customs. I scratch my head. “I thought this was American customs.”
Off I go again. I follow the American flags to the end of the terminal like I was told. There’s no sign telling me where to go. I see a bunch of people milling about in a large area. Some of them are going through a small corridor. “That must be it,” I tell myself and head that way. A young girl looks at my boarding pass, circles it with a yellow highlighter and tells me to go to Gate F. Yep, Gate F. The same gate I was at twenty minutes earlier. Okay. I head all the way back to F. I stand in line. A snarky lady asks me where I’m headed. “Nashville,” I croak – desperate for a drink of water. She points to a tiny corridor and say, “you need to go through there.”
I’m starting to sweat because I’ve burned up more than an hour shuttling from one end of the airport to the other. I finally get to the right place and I’m ushered through a doorway and told to get in line. There are at least 200 people in front of me waiting to go through customs. I look at the clock on the wall; my plane begins boarding in five minutes! The line moves painfully slow. I start to panic a little. I tell a Pearson employee that my plane is boarding. She looks at me and says, “I can’t pull you out of line.” “But I’m going to miss my flight,” I say. She ignores me and walks away. Glad I stayed at the airport hotel and got here early.
I finally get to the front of the line and have to give my passport and I.D. to a customs officer. She asks me my business in the U.S. (hey, didn’t I already explain all of this at the first kiosk on the customs declaration form?). I smile and tell her. She waves me through. I’m happy, until I have to get in yet another line and hand over my customs declaration form. Thankfully, it moves quickly. This make me happy. I’m told to take my bags and put them on the conveyor belt. Sadly, I find out, it’s not over.
After dumping my bags, I have to get in – you guessed it – another line. This one is to x-ray personal belongings and people. “Okay, almost there,” I tell myself. I take my laptop out of its bag and put it in one of the little plastic trays. “Take your shoes off,” a customs worker who can hardly speak English barks. Where am I? I wonder. Is this even Canada? Okay – shoes off, bag and laptop on the scanning line. I pop through the screening machine with no trouble. Here comes my laptop and shoes. Where’s my bag? There it is. I go to snatch it off the line and a man in a turban grabs it and walks off with it.
I put my shoes on, grab my laptop and follow the man to see what he’s doing. He tells me to open my bag. I open it. He starts rooting around inside, going through everything. “I’m going to miss my plane,” I tell him. He doesn’t respond but keeps on rooting around in my bag. By this time I’ve almost had it. Of course, you must remain calm in these situations. In an airport, you are not permitted to get angry, you’re an emotional punching bag with no rights.
Finally, the man in the turban says, “I’m looking for something.” I say, there’s another compartment. He hands the bag back to me and I open the other pocket. He roots around in there. “I’m going to miss my plane,” I say again. He doesn’t respond. Now he grabs a plastic tray and dumps all my stuff in it and heads back to the x-ray machine. He runs the whole lot through again, brings the tray back and hands it to me. “You can go.”
I throw my stuff back in the bag and head for my plane. I look on my ticket – Gate 34. I look up, I’m at gate 1000 or something like that (okay, I might be exaggerating a little). Dammit. Where is my gate? Where else? All the way on the other side of the terminal. I figure I’m likely going to miss my plane, but I remember I purchased insurance incase something happened and I missed my flight. At the time of purchase I wondered, “what could happen that I would need insurance?” Now I know.
Off I go. I feel like I’m moving backwards. I decide to jump on the moving sidewalk and jog. This actually helps. I avoid looking at clocks. I know I’m cutting it close. I see my gate in the distance. Finally. A lone airline employee stands waiting. All the doors are closed leading to the plane. I hand the guy my boarding pass. He doesn’t even look at it. He picks up the phone, dials a number and says dryly, “passenger Sterling has arrived. Can I send him down or should I take him to …” (this part is a little foggy as I’m out of breath and lightheaded). I wait.
Lone airline employee must have been transferred because he says again, “Yes. Hello. Passenger Sterling has arrived. Can I send him down?” A long pause. I resign myself to the fact that I’ll be taking a later flight – and dealing with a whole lot of headaches to make that happen. Airline employee hangs up the phone and says, “you better buy a lottery ticket today. They’re going to open the plane and let you on.” He points me down the corridor. I thank him.
I rush down the ramp and I’m greeted by two stewardesses. “Mr. Sterling,” they say. “Glad you could make it.” They smile and tell me to take my seat. Once I’m buckled in, I exhale and breathe a sigh of relief. My head is damp with sweat, as is my t-shirt and sweater, but I’m on my way to Nashville to record my debut album.