Rupert Goodwins' San Jose Diary

Sunday 14/09/2003Long day at the office, dear? This one started at 6 a.
Written by Rupert Goodwins, Contributor

Sunday 14/09/2003
Long day at the office, dear? This one started at 6 a.m., to get a 7 a.m. tube for a 9 a.m. Heathrow checkin for a 11 a.m. flight that gets into San Francisco at 9:30 p.m. UK time. Only that's 1:30 p.m. local time, which means 2:30 p.m. once you're through immigration, 3 p.m. in the car to San Jose for 4 p.m. checkin at the hotel and 5 p.m. first beer at the bar. Which is 1 a.m. Monday, UK time -- really not a good idea to think in those terms -- but 19 hours travelling ain't bad. Of those 19 hours, a good three were spent in queues for something like six separate security checks. It's at times like this one is tempted by the dark side, and almost longs for a Big Brother surveillance state that scans one's fingerprints, checks your movements through the glass prison for the past six months in its universal database, and lets you through on a whim.

Truly, the romance of journalism in far-flung lands cannot be overstated.

There are good points and bad points along the way. Virgin Atlantic scores heavily in both categories: good for the in-flight entertainment with something like fifty movies on demand, and good for the insanely cheerful cabin crew. Bad for the food -- getting close to British Rail catering standards at its 1970s worst -- and the difficulty of getting more than a half-cupful of water to drink. As for the legroom in the back: it would have been humane to give us all an epidural injection on boarding to knock out everything below the waist.

Fun moments: presenting my brand-new journalist visa to the San Francisco immigration offical, an elderly gentlemen of Oriental extraction. He looked at it as if he'd never seen any such thing before. He looked at me, ditto. He then swiped the visa gingerly through the computer and spent a few moments staring at the screen, with an expression of distressed incredulity such as one might imagine on Bill Gates if refused by a cashpoint due to 'insufficient funds in your account'. At length, he elected to investigate further: "Who you? Why you here?"

I've often wondered this myself, rarely more deeply than at the far end of being crushed, depressurised, dehydrated, overstimulated and underfed for 11 hours at 37,000 feet,  but I know how ill-advised it is to enter into philosophical arguments with a person in uniform -- even one whose every aspect screamed sagacity. "Technical journalist. Intel Developer Forum".

He nodded. "Have you got... card... job... who you are?" I fished out my work ID, which was issued by an organisation no longer in existence and which says nothing about me whatsoever. "How long you here?" he said, passing the card back after a second's scrutiny. "A week." He grimaced, muttered something under his breath, and stamped my passport as if it were some venomous yet slow-moving insect. He scribbled my date of exit, but I dared not look until I was well clear. And then I was through, free to ply my trade until a date of D/S. What D/S means, I have yet to determine.

And then into the San Francisco sunshine and the hour-long journey to San Jose. It has begun.

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