Monthly Archives: August 2011

Milwaukee

At 9:53 am this morning, the Fedex man arrived at the door to my parents’ house and handed me a box, thus ending the nearly 48-hour saga that has completely dominated my life this week. Let’s step back to Saturday, which was the day I flew from London to the east cost of the US. I stayed overnight and caught a morning flight to Milwaukee, where I had a 90 minute layover before flying on to Minneapolis for my annual August pilgrimage to the land of my youth. I had plans, I had a car to rent, people to see, things to do. But I managed to completely cock it up in Milwaukee.

I have never been to Milwaukee, and I had never flown through Milwaukee either. I took the flight because I could not get a reasonably priced direct flight into Minneapolis (always a problem when Northwest was running the hub there, now near impossible in the age of Delta domination). I could not even get a somewhat unreasonably priced direct into MSP, a direct was going to cost me about the same as my flight to the US from Heathrow. So Milwaukee it was. I stepped off the plane in Milwaukee, headed towards my gate for the transfer to MSP, and saw a cute little sandwich and coffee shop. This being Wisconsin, they were offering grilled cheese sandwiches and I could not resist. I took my wallet out of my laptop bag to pay for the sandwich and an iced coffee, and I sat at a little table to eat. I then walked down to my gate and waited for boarding to be called. When it was, I opened my laptop bag to get my boarding pass out and realized to my absolute horror that my wallet was not there.

Somewhere between buying my grilled cheese an hour earlier and that precise moment, my wallet–containing my drivers license, credit and cash cards, and all my cash money–had gone walkabout in the Milwaukee airport. And I had absolutely no recollection of how it had happened.

I approached the gate agent for the lovely Frontier airlines and expressed my panic, and asked hopefully about a lost-and-found. He was adamant that he could not leave the door because the flight was boarding, but that I should talk to someone at the next gate over. That guy just said he hadn’t seen anything and had I tried the sandwich shop. I walked back down there and looked around, but saw nothing, and had the sinking realization that one potential scenario involved me throwing out the wallet with the remains of the sandwich, which turned out to be not that good. (Seriously, why take a perfect thing like a grilled cheese sandwich and put tomato AND chipotle mayo on it? Ruinous!) By this point it was 20 minutes until my flight was due to leave, so numbly I walked back to the gate, handed my boarding pass to the agent, and got on the plane. If I was going to be anywhere without any money, ID, or cards, better to be in Minneapolis than in Milwaukee, where I know not a soul.

The flight was mercifully short, and I made lists about who to call (credit card companies and bank) and what to do (investigate how to get a replacement drivers license when you have no picture ID on you). Wait, you might ask, where was your passport? I had quite smugly left it on the east coast, locked in a drawer for safekeeping. No need to bring it to Minneapolis where I could lose it. And thus it dawned on me, I would have to get my passport Fedexed to me because I would not be able to board the return flight from Minneapolis back east for my beach holiday with no picture ID. This was getting very messy.

We landed at Minneapolis and I turned on my phone, to see that I had a voicemail message. It was someone from the baggage handling department for Frontier airlines at the Milwaukee airport, and they had something of mine. I started shaking. I got off the plane, sat down at the gate and called him back. And here’s where the story becomes completely incredible. He had my wallet, all credit cards, and he had counted the money: “78 dollars, and oh also some pounds, you’ve been in England lately, have you?” Not a penny was missing. Someone had found my wallet and turned it in to the airport people without even taking a finders fee, which at that point I would have gladly relinquished.

The lovely boy in Milwaukee then arranged to Fedex me the wallet, in a conversation that was more than a little amusing: address? Just look at the drivers license (like all expats, I used my parents’ house as my home base). Payment for the Fedex charge? (since it was clearly my fault and not the airline’s) Dude, you’re holding my credit cards in your hand.

Relieved I started off towards the baggage claim, only to realize that at that moment I was still stuck. With no drivers license and no credit cards, I could not rent a car, and with no cash I could not get a taxi. Dang. But as I said, if you are going to be marooned anywhere and with nothing of importance, do it in your hometown. I was supposed to have dinner with a friend that night and he came and gathered me, bought me dinner, even bought the beers so I would not get carded, and then brought my back to my parents’ house that night, where I have spent the last 48 hours anxiously tracking my Fedex parcel.

I have travelled all over the world, and I have always joked that as long as you have your ID, credit card, and mobile phone nothing can go wrong. This is the first time in all my years that I have blown it with that mantra. And I’m still terribly disturbed that I have no idea how I actually lost my wallet in the first place. My sister, who has joined me in Minneapolis as of last night, thinks the whole thing is hilarious and keeps posting “Milwaukee!” as her status update on facebook. Now that I actually have my wallet back, I can finally chuckle a bit at that one.

But what an ending to the story: in a week that started with riots in London, complete with lots of looting and opportunistic theft, some good Samaritan in the Milwaukee airport was completely and utterly honest and returned my wallet completely intact. I’m utterly Gobsmacked, completely relieved, and more than just a little bit sheepish. Of course, my carefully crafted plans for the week have gone completely awry, as my trip home is already 40% over, I have no car, and did not do any of the things I planned to do yesterday. But oh well. I consider that a small thing in light of what could have been a very messy week. God bless the Midwestern USA!!!

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Homesick…

I’m just under a week from my annual return to my home town, Minneapolis, MN, for a visit. And I’m absolutely gutted that I don’t make these visits last as long as I should. I always visit MSP in August or September in conjunction with my annual proper beach holiday, in which I laze on the North Carolinian Outer Banks and hope that hurricanes will not come. Perhaps nearly five years abroad has made me miss home that much more.

One of the things I love about going “home” is the food. The foodie culture in Minneapolis is amazing, and it’s been changing so much since I lived there. So my trip will be filled with awesome eating and I have a brief trip filled with restaurant reservations. I’m still saddened by the loss of my favorite local restaurant, the no longer in existance Bayport Cookery, but I have plans to try and see and taste as much as I can in my short not-quite-a-week in town. I spent tonight, yes, a Saturday evening, reading restaurant reviews in City Pages dreaming of my days to be spent in the Mill City and near my old haunts.

I was, as readers of this blog would know, in the US last week for work, at a conference in Maine during which I worked like crazy and basically exhausted myself. I returned to an England that seems to be in the midst of an immigration crisis that I have a difficult time explaining or understanding. America has an immigration crisis, but it’s one to do with illegal immigration. Legal immigration is not something you see much about in the US press, except in the context of the success stories: immigrants who have settled in the states and started companies and succeeded. Britain, on the other hand, seems to be in a legal migration crisis where the idea that anyone from anywhere outside the EU might want to live here on a relatively permanent basis is toxic. This goes back to the unfortunate refrain of “British jobs for British workers” that has tainted the spirit here for the last few years.

Being American, and being only a third generation American (both of my grandmothers were first generation Americans and spoke European languages, Norwegian and Dutch) I find this rhetoric confusing and, well, hostile. UK immigration rules are tightening all of the time, and it’s been a constant worry in my years living here. Although I am subject to the rules that were in place when I arrived in this country nearly 5 years ago, it’s hard not to notice that people in my position would be discouraged from even entering the country for work purposes in the new rules being drafted. If they were allowed to come here, it would be temporary as the guidance is meant to refuse rights of permanent residency to new immigrants in jobs.

I spent the better part of this afternoon today on the phone with my favorite expat friend, the only person I know from the US who is, like me, a single, working, expat with a less-than-clear plan for the future based on the difficulties of living abroad and the lack of clarity surrounding long-term plans when you are in this situation. And here is where I become rather jaded. Had I married a Brit, the path would be clear. But as a single woman who happens to have a job working outside the US, it’s a bit muddled. The immigration people seem to be far more at ease about spouses than about people who have a job and thus contribute to the tax base and the economy in general (and without being a burden on the welfare system by definition). This mystifies me, and makes me slightly crazy at times.

I’m excited to be going “home” to Minneapolis and then to the beach, as I will spend three happy weeks in the US being less worried about my future as if I was in the UK. Several people have joked that I should apply for jobs equivalent to mine in Canada, as they do not seem to have the skilled immigrant situation sorted as a “problem” the way the UK does. But I have a great job here in England, that is on paper a contract for many years (until “the retirement age” which could mean forever) but that is only if the UKBA allows me to stay here by ratifying my immigration paperwork. I head “home” with a big question mark over my head and a lot of confusion in my heart. It’s hard to plan for forever in a country that is spending so much time making it clear that I am not wanted. But I love my job here and I have no desire to make a change when it really comes down to it. I’m homesick because I miss the days when I spent zero time worrying about these sorts of things. Of all the expat surprises I was not expecting when I moved abroad, the amount of time spent both worrying about and doing extra paperwork that locals don’t have to do is certainly the biggest. I still maintain that more people should do this and should get the experience of living abroad, but I increasingly understand why a temporary stint is more appealing than my sort of long-term situation. Here’s hoping that the time in the US will give me strength to continue with this battle when I return, and have to face the immigration paperwork with my full attention.