The Rant (October 8, 2014) 

Adventures in foreign travel and the curse of foot and mouth disease.

click to enlarge REINHARDT1981 | DREAMSTIME.COM
  • Reinhardt1981 | Dreamstime.com

I am revolting. Not any more so than usual, but I am revolting. I just got back from my first overseas trip in a couple of years, and I am revolting because I'd wiped from my memory the grueling things you have to go through to be a broad ... er, abroad. Getting out of the country is not so bad, but getting back in? You are immediately a suspect in a major crime ring or terrorist organization, even though you're a 55-year-old man who has never shot a gun. I had to fly through Chicago on the way back to Memphis and it went something like this:

Plane lands — remarkably, almost on time. Then you go about 100 miles to go through immigration. There is one — count him, one — person to check every single passenger coming through immigration. But even before that, you have to deal with the checked bag vs. non-checked bag issue. There are separate lines for each, and the woman "greeting" everyone at that checkpoint was like a loud, obnoxious robot. One poor guy who couldn't understand her kept saying he had no checked baggage, but he wasn't toting a carry-on of any kind so she kept telling him he had checked baggage. This went on and on and on, until finally the man realized that checked didn't mean "plaid." So they got that worked out.

The entire time, another robotic voice was booming over the intercom system about "foot and mouth disease." The voice was telling us that we needed to report it to authorities if we had been around livestock, visited the countryside, or "stayed at a bed and breakfast."

I didn't know staying at a bed and breakfast was so potentially fatal. Annoying, yes, because you are trapped at breakfast with strangers who are usually very chipper about being on holiday, and to me there is almost nothing worse than being around chipper people early in the morning before I've had a pot of coffee and taken my crazy medicine. The airport voice was talking about hoof and mouth disease, which I wasn't sure about since I don't have cloven feet, so I looked it up. I didn't have time to research it thoroughly, but as best I can figure, you contract it, not from animals, but from other people who have the virus.

Maybe they get it from being around animals or staying in a bed and breakfast? I don't know. But what I do know is that you can also contract the pesky illness from touching "the stools or the fluid from blisters of an infected person." So why did the airport robot not warn travelers about this possibility. I would have given my autographed Bettye LaVette photo to have heard the airport robot voice boom, "IF YOU HAVE TOUCHED THE STOOL OF A PERSON INFECTED WITH FOOT AND MOUTH DISEASE, PLEASE NOTIFY THE AUTHORITIES!" But who the hell would do that and how would he or she explain that?

Which brings me back to the immigration checkpoint. The man at this particular checkpoint — the one person checking everyone who was flying into that terminal in Chicago's O'Hare Airport — was a stereotypical, comically punctilious, pasty little government worker-bee with just enough power to make everyone completely miserable. Each time a person walked up to his little domain, he stared at the person's passport photo, then back at the person, then back at the passport, then back at the person, with his brows furrowed and a very serious look on his face, like he was deciding whether to sentence each person to death. One poor British guy on his way to Memphis for a business conference had to stand there and talk with him for 10 minutes and was finally escorted away by some kind of security guard. So by the time I got up there I was a) about to wet my pants and b) not in the mood for his antics. So he did the staring at the passport and back at me several times and finally asked why I had been to England. It went something like this:

My spoken answer: "I was on business."

Answer going through my mind: "It's really none of your business, you troll."

Next question: "What kind of business?"

My spoken answer: "I work at a music museum and music school for inner-city, high-school students. Some of them performed at a concert in London after the premiere of a movie about Memphis music." (It was the ultra-fabulous new documentary Take Me to the River.)

Answer going through my mind: "You probably wouldn't understand it, so please let me out of here before I urinate on the floor."

Then he actually asked me this with a smirk: "You didn't 'babysit' any of them did you?" He was actually implying that I might have done something inappropriate with them.

My spoken answer: "No, they were graduates of the Stax Music Academy and they are adults now."

Answer going through my mind: "No, I didn't babysit any of them. And have you, sir, by any chance, been fondling the feces of a person infected with foot and mouth disease? Because it wouldn't surprise me one bit if you were into scat, you lowlife, creepy, miserable excuse for a human being."

But I held my tongue to keep from being hauled away by the security guards. It might have made me miss my flight that was five hours late leaving Chicago.

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