The Gate Keepers Part Two: The Gates of Hell

La Porte de l’Enfer (The Gates of Hell) by Aug...

La Porte de l’Enfer (The Gates of Hell) by Auguste Rodin situated at the Kunsthaus in Zürich (Switzerland) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What are the Gates of Hell, and where are they exactly?

The Gates of Hell I’m referring to in this week’s blog, are not, unfortunately, those sculpted by French artist Auguste Rodin.  That monumental work of art depicts a scene from Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, in which Dante describes his journey through hell and purgatory to eventual paradise.

Much like Dante, in our journey to reach our final destination, we must pass through a number of gateways to reach our final paradise, whether paradise is a trip to a tropical island or a return home to our comfy bed.   Along the way, we’ll meet a number of gate keepers who will slow our forward momentum, turning it into a slow crawl.  Most gate keepers are just doing their jobs.  Some, however (that special breed of troll I spoke about last week), use their positions of power to intimidate, and to make sure that any good vacation memories are promptly erased and replaced with an indelible impression of their rudeness.

Last week, I mentioned the Original Fly Girl.  She’s a professional traveler whose been in this business for over 30 years.  She’s dealt with numerous airport security trolls in her time, and she doesn’t ruffle easily.  However, one recent incident she told me about seems like it came straight from an episode of the Twilight Zone.  Here’s what happened in her personal voyage through the travel Gates of Hell.

Original Fly Girl was in Toronto recently, clearing U.S. Customs on her way to Orlando.  She carried a Caesar salad in her grocery bag, which she had hoped to eat on the plane.  As such, she declared the salad on her form.  As she passed through Customs, she was pulled into secondary and told to meet with a Customs agent.   The agent asked for her passport and Nexus card and then left her waiting for 45 minutes while he walked past her several times.

Finally, the Customs agent asked Fly Girl if she had ever met him before. She said no. He asked her again and again she said no.  He told her he’d get back to her later about that and walked away again.

On his return, he asked Fly Girl if she had anything other than a Caesar salad in her bag.  She said no.

The agent then told Fly Girl he would charge her $500 for every item he found in her bag that was not on her list.  He pulled the salad out of her bag, and in his best mock-shock voice said, “Whoa! What do we have here? It’s yellow.  It’s citrus and it’s an undeclared fruit.  That’s $500.”  But he didn’t stop there.  “What’s this? A packet of salad dressing? Oh, there’s 2 of them.  That’s $500 each.  Now your tab’s at $1,500.”

Fly Girl realized she had few options.  Her cell phone had been confiscated so she couldn’t call her husband or a lawyer even if she wanted to. There was nothing she could do except sit and listen to this idiot and see what he did next.  The agent then told Fly Girl she had an important choice to make: she could either throw out the salad or remove the lemon – which would it be?  Fly Girl decided to throw out the lemon, at which point the agent started to yell, “No! No! You can’t do that! Your salad’s not dressed! You need to dress your salad.  The dressing will kill all of the bugs.  Trash it or dress it.”  Can you say strange?

In this odyssey of stupidity, Fly Girl did as she was told and dressed the salad.  The agent then started yelling, “You need to SHAKE IT!  Shake it HARDER!  You need to distribute all the dressing!”  As she relayed this story to me, a number of thoughts ran through my mind.  Was this agent mentally sound or did he just have some serious issues with power and control?  Maybe a bit of both.

The good news is that Original Fly Girl was allowed to finally leave Customs without paying the $1,500. It seems she had answered all of the agent’s questions to his narcissistic satisfaction – in particular, the question at the beginning of whether they had met before.  He said if they had met before, he would have charged her “every single cent.”  Let’s hope they don’t meet again!

Seems Original Fly Girl was a lot luckier than a friend of hers who was charged $800 for having an apple in her purse. Fly Girl was also recently detained at Customs in China and reported receiving better treatment in China than when crossing through Canada to the U.S.  All because of a salad.  How sad! Don’t Customs agents have better things to do with their (and our) time?  And I’ve yet to see bugs in any store bought salad I’ve ever purchased, and I personally doubt the effectiveness of salad dressing to kill any bugs anywhere!  Sounds like a lot of unnecessary drama and power-hungry games to me.

Original Fly Girl’s story makes me think that hell is a lot like Customs:  you’re trapped there, you have no rights, you can’t make a phone call, and you’re usually with people you don’t want to be with. Or as Jean  Paul Sarte said so eloquently in No Exit (his wonderful play about the afterlife), “hell is other people.”

For all of us, travelling this summer and in the months and years to come, let’s hope that we all pass through the Gates of Hell quickly and that no trolls stand in your way.

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