I ventured off the Post Road again to the very tip of Manhattan for verification. Validation. Clearance. I had an appointment with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection folks to ask that they let me come and go through airport security checkpoints with relative ease.
The train took me as far as Grand Central, and then the (delayed) 5 train to its furthest downtown stop: Bowling Green (the rumored site of that recent unrest; all I saw was the behind of a big bronze bull…). Those who had gone before me had warned me to be fully prepared and prompt. They regaled me with Emerald City-like stories of refusal at the gate: “If you’re even five minutes late, you lose your spot.” The gatekeeper, they cautioned, had the iron fist of Seinfeld’s Soup Man. I feared being summarily dismissed with a firm “No global entry for you today!”
The federal offices share a space with the Smithsonian Institute’s Museum of the American Indian. Even though my GPS assured me that I’d arrived, I had to ask a CitiBike attendant, museum official, and police officer before I found the unmarked side entrance. You’d think I was trying to find one of Stephon-of-SNL-Weekend-Update’s trendy secret clubs.
After passing myself and my belongings through the security checkpoint, I dutifully gave my name to a government issue blue pantsuit-clad matron who eyed a list of the day’s appointments on her clipboard and checked me off with a yellow highlighter. She pointed me, with that same highlighter and a slight tip of her head, toward a vaguely native American pattern upholstered banquette where I joined the other hopefuls.
She called one crisply suited man who was engrossed in a very, very important phone call. He raised his manicured pointer finger when he heard her call his name, in the silent communication of “one minute.” But she was taking no prisoners. “Sir,” she said, coming one step closer, “if you don’t end that call and come with me now, you will forfeit your appointment.” Which, by the way, we had to make six months in advance. The small woman’s big voice struck the appropriate chord. He hung up hastily and did as he was told. Much to my chagrin. If she’d thrown him to the curb, I might have gotten in earlier.
A frazzled Millennial pushed stick straight, ombre-highlighted hair back from her forehead as she tried to push her way to the street through an ‘emergency only’ exit. She, too, was distracted by an urgent call.
“Ma’am! What are you doing?” Matron barked. “You cannot exit there!”
“I have an appointment, but I forgot my passport,” she answered. “I’m trying to reschedule.” She held out her cell phone as proof of the latter.
Oh, no she di-dn’t, I thought. Waited six months for this moment and left the most important thing they ask that you bring at home? Oh, surely I could have her spot! I was so early and so prepared.
She turned tail, heading out the proper door, still on the phone, hoping to arrange to return within the half year.
“Diane,” Matron said. “Come with this group.” So the Millennial’s loss was my gain. One for the Baby Boomers. Prompt and prepared. My mantra.
“Yes, ma’am. Thank you ma’am.” I was sucking up ridiculously and unnecessarily, as if she could fail me if I didn’t react quickly enough. She walked briskly and spoke quickly as our group of three candidates followed her. “When you get inside, sit down and watch the video. Then wait until an officer calls your name.” Sort of like at Disneyworld, where they concoct elaborate multimedia diversions to minimize the impact of eternal waits.
The video showed us, with actual serious actors at actual airports, how we would use our newfound magical powers, should they be granted us, at said airports. The serious actors turned happy when their Global Entry passes worked and they sailed, slightly smugly, through security.
“Diane?” my personal officer beckoned as soon as the actors left for their imaginary destinations. He handed me back the passport I remembered to bring. He asked two questions about my criminal background or lack thereof, photographed and fingerprinted me, and granted me not only Global Entry, but TSA PreCheck status as well, and sent me on his way with a wave of his magic wand. Ok, he had no magic wand, but I swear I felt fairy dust.
I spent more than half the day traveling and waiting for what ended up being a three-minute appointment. But it was worth every moment I invested if I can avoid the serpentine, snail-paced security ordeal as I venture further off the Post Road in the future.
Photo by Diane Meyer Lowman