Saturday, April 18, 2009

Travel 25/3/09 (4) – Minneapolis / St. Paul airport

What I know about the "twin" Minnesota cities of Minneapolis and neighbour St. Paul could be summed up by the twin words "Diddley" and "Squat." Although Minneapolis clearly means "The Tiny Apple" (an ironic reference to New York) and Minnesota means "tiny drunk." Also, the occupants of St. Paul are famous for having pen friends in Corinth, New Jersey, I believe.

I have since learnt that Minnesota is actually known for moose, bears, snow, Native Americans and ice fishing. We saw snow out of the airport window, moose and bears depicted in large effigies outside several stores and Native American artefacts for sale in several of the same. Of ice fishing saw we nothing. But we didn't venture out of the airport, so what did we expect.

One question we found ourselves asking of the same was: Why there are direct flights from Amsterdam to these two places when there wasn't even one to Dallas a year ago? The answer is surprisingly simple and nothing to do with customer needs: It's because NWA have their crib in Minnesota, and so it's really to allow executives to swan over to Amsterdam at a moments notice.

Because this was our place of arrival in the U. Ss of A, we had to queue and show our papers. My line was serviced by a jovial rookie for whom speed was not a pressing concern. Whilst we were queuing, we found an adorable puppy in our midst. A cute beagle pup who scampered around our feet dragging an officious woman behind it. Every now and again, the beagle stopped to sniff a bag. Mostly it would simply move on, but sometimes it would stay sniffing or put a paw up to it. One of the first suspects she singled out was Catherine. It gave her carrier bag a damn good sniffing. The trailing woman asked to look inside. Sniffer dogs let loose on passengers from flights from Amsterdam can only mean one thing, right? Right. Fruit!

We had foresightedly left our two remaining bananas on the plane as they had become an alarming shade of black. But the wee fruit-dog could still smell them on the bag. In fact even us humans could still smell them on the bag. Having got the all-clear, the dog scampered on and investigated other smells. He never found the banana bread we'd made a few days before in my bag, but perhaps he only smells for fresh fruit. One thing we did notice was how gladly people opened their bags for the cute little critter. No one can refuse a beagle pup. The fact he was the fruit dog also helped. I'm not sure what the penalty for inadvertently bringing in a banana to the US, probably confiscation of said banana and a stern tut-tut from the handler. Whatever it is, it's definitely far less severe than the life in prison you get in the US for living next door to a cannabis dealer.

It was also nice to see the dog was the one in charge. He went wherever his nose lead him, and his handler just jogged along behind ordering people lower in the chain than she to put their bags down for the pup. After some 10 minutes of sniffing around and a few suspect but innocent bags rifled, the dog lead the way from No Man's Land to the Front Line Camp. He presumable wanted a cigarette and a sit down.

It was after we'd got through all the checks and things, and picked up our luggage and then had it x-rayed again that we realised there'd been a casualty. Cath's fleece had been lost somewhere en route. We had to go back through the whole departure terminal to see if had been lost at the connecting bit from the international arrivals terminal. It was an epic journey, and at the end we did not find our quest. But the tale of Catherine and The Bluish Fleece is no doubt a tale the simple folk of Minneapolis will tell for centuries to come.

Americans, despite their love of life-simpling gadgets, make their ATMs quite hard to use. And expensive. We got a small bit of cash ($20) out of a machine owned by Wells Fargo. It charged us a $3 transaction fee. This, quite frankly, is highway robbery. Which is highly ironic given Wells Fargo's origins. But then these days bankers are far more likely to be like Jesse James than Messrs Wells and Fargo.

With some of this money, bravely brought through the frontier of the world wide west by on highly expensive Wells Fargo packets, I bought a Caribou coffee. It's a local chain, before you ask. It was pleasant, but somehow let down by my decision to go for a cost-saving "steamed-milk" instead of a full-on "latte." (The irony is, I bet Wells Fargo directors always get their latte. In fact we'd just paid them enough money for them to give one of their executives a free latte.) To answer your other question, I like my coffee how my women like their men: weak and milky.

The airport stores sell a lot of local products, particularly faux and genuine Native American gear. We went to one that seemed more authentic. They even had full pelt ceremonial headdresses which were impressive, but bulky and impractical. However, having not bought one you know that in a week's time someone's going to ask me if I'd like to head up a rain curtailing ceremony but only if I've got the right thing to wear. They also had dream-catchers, tiny totem poles and genuine Native American back-scratchers (often in the shape of eagle claws). Many artefacts were clearly labelled with things such as "Made by Julie Smith, Navajo census #123456" (Name and number made up). As Catherine pointed out, having a census number is somewhat at odds with the ethos of the Navajo. We bought a couple of dream-catchers. These were gifts; however, something needs to be done about the fact that dreams, even if initially remembered, are as solid in the mind as morning mist.

Whilst we were looking at the dream catchers, we got a call that the flight, initially to be delayed and hour or two was boarding only 30 minutes late. We legged it back and climbed on board.

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