travels with greg – day 2.2
Welcome to Travels With Greg, my slowly unfolding story of a six-week documentary shoot through Europe in 2004. In my last entry, Greg and I had landed at Heathrow. Now, sleep-deprived and unwilling, I need to find Customs in Terminal 4. God help me. If this site is new territory for you, visit the Table of Contents to get caught up.
Whenever you hear people talk about fatigue, they often say that it sneaks, steals or creeps up on you. In my case, fatigue stepped out of the crowd of morning travellers and whammied me with a cartoon mallet. One moment I was strolling down the corridor, keeping an eye on the signs; the next moment, everything started to slide upward. My inner ear screamed its warnings at my brain that I was tipping, tilting and slipping over, but my brain ignored them, focusing instead on keeping my feet galumphing forward. Help, I thought, there’s a war on between my internal parts, but nothing would come out of my mouth. Brain, don’t let the carnet slip out of my hand. You do this and we’ll sleep for forty-eight hours straight.
By the time I found Customs I was nearly delirious and barely able to force out a sentence, which did not endear me to the freckle-spattered young woman with a blond pageboy and a prominent nose who stood behind the partition. I kept focusing on the nose, which seemed just a hair too big for her face. It was one of those details that, once noticed, command all your attention.
— I have a carnet, I told the officer’s nose. But my luggage is still in transit to Amsterdam.
The officer’s nose flared in sympathy. There are few hard and fast rules in the world of carnets, chiefly because most customs agents aren’t clear on the rules. But here’s the numero uno rule: You must at the very least have the goods listed on the carnet in your possession. Most often Customs won’t bother to look at them, but if you show up with a form that says I have $30,000 of film and video gear but you have only a passport and a lint-covered wine gum in your pocket, you will not be taken at your word.
— Maybe you should wait until you land in Amsterdam and have Customs deal with it there, the officer suggested.
When your brain is plagued by swarms of sleep toxins, decision-making becomes torturous and fearful. Small matters turn into huge priorities, obvious actions become weighted down with trivia, and you might as well tie your brain in a bag and swing it into the Thames. It was not important, really, that I had to wait to get the carnet stamped in Amsterdam; without the equipment handy, it was the only available course of action. No big deal. I decided to call my producer back home, where it was at least two in the morning, and tell her all about it.
She picked up after five rings.
— Heather? It’s Aidan.
Over the thousands of miles of undersea cable, I could almost hear her brain creaking into action.
— Hello there. Is everything going well?
— I couldn’t get it to work, Heather.
— We’re in Heathrow. No luggage. Need to get. Carnet stamped. In Amsterdam.
— I guess I didn’t need to phone you up and tell you this right now.
— No, it’s fine. You can call whenever you think you need to.
— The customs officer had this big nose.
— You call when it’s important, Aidan.
She hung up, leaving me with the distinct impression that I had used up my one free nincompoop call exactly one day into a 41 day trip. As the post-punk kids on the corner say: Go me.
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