The Beast of the East

At 05:25 on May 9th 2017 flight WN1257 pushed back from the stand at Pittsburgh International Airport, taxied to runway 10L and took off into clear skies, heading south towards Orlando.

1200 miles away in Dallas, several dozen people in the Command Centre watched throughout the day as a further 4000 flights came to life in the new reservation and departure control systems.

In a number of strategic airports across the the US, more than a hundred subject matter experts were deployed to provide technical support and operational advice.

My assignment was Baltimore. They call it The Beast of the East, due to the huge volume of departures; we handled up to 260 flights a day. And there were tears, screams, frayed tempers, banging of fists on desks, banging of heads on walls, periods of dark despair, and mainly that was just me. There was also a great deal of laughter.

Cameras and airports don’t mix well. Being behind a check-in desk, at a departure gate, in the hold of a 737 or wandering around on the apron snapping pictures raises questions, even if you do have the appropriate ID. With film, there’s an extra problem. Whilst I’ve happily subjected film to a couple of x-ray screenings, I knew that in this case I’d probably been going back and forth through security a dozen or more times a day. Therefore I reluctantly made the decision to take a single roll of film and to keep the camera landside, hopefully grabbing a few shots in the downtime.

These are a few of the wonderful people I worked with in a state of barely controlled chaos over the last month. Thanks guys, for all the laughter, warmth and friendship.

Baltimore
Nikon FE / Kodak Tmax 400 / Developed in D76 1+1

Arrival

Atlanta, Georgia. Not my final destination, but US regulations dictate that I clear customs and immigration at the first point of entry. I’m nervous. I’m midway along a twisting line that’s snaking its way towards the cubicle one hundred feet ahead. Inside, a granite-faced immigration officer. My hands are clenched into solid fists and I feel the beads of sweat popping out on my forehead. In front of me, a young Hispanic woman with nervous eyes clutches a mewling baby. Behind me, an elderly couple argue in Polish, the man hissing at his wife through clenched teeth. You could slice the atmosphere with a taser.

I’m told that US immigration can be tough. Grueling. That they ask you questions. Ideological questions. One wrong answer and you’re on the next flight home. Or worse. I use my balled hands to knuckle the perspiration from my eyes. My Adam’s apple is bobbing up and down like a monkey on a stick.

I’m near the front of the queue now, and get a better view of the officer. He’s younger than I initially thought. Severe brush cut. Impassive expression. Aviator mirrored sunglasses. One of those black-eyed aliens from The X-Files springs to mind. The only movement in his face is the slight chewing motion of his jaw; gum, presumably. Other than that he’s as still as death.

And then it’s me. I hand over my passport. He swipes it. Thumbs through it. I see him pause on the visa for Kazakhstan and the Egyptian entry stamp. Then the photo. He scrutinises it, looks up at me. Reflected in the sunglasses, a middle-aged man with salt and pepper hair and a face that looks like it’s been dipped in flour stares back at me with insane eyes.

“What exactly is the purpose of your visit, Sir?”

I’m stammering. I could be fifteen again, struggling to explain exactly why it is that I want to take his fourteen year old daughter to the school dance. I’m dimly aware of someone babbling something about work, business trip, aviation industry, reservation systems.

He watches impassively as I ramble on, then removes his sunglasses and glares at me. “Let me just ask you this: what do you think of Mr Trump?” His eyes narrow to dark slots.

“Donald Trump? That orange dude from The Apprentice? Well, I’ve gotta be honest – the UK version of the show is far superior.”

He freezes. There’s silence. The air seems to have been sucked out of the room. Blood gushes and pounds in my ears. Very slowly, he raises himself up to his full height. I hear a ptui sound of tongue between teeth, followed by a plop, and a quarter-sized blob of brown chewing tobacco appears on the cap of my shoe.

“Boy,” he says, towering over me, “We don’t like your sort here.” He signals towards a couple of security guards in the corner, who start to stride over. “And what we’re gonna do is haul your sorry ass downtown and throw you in an empty cell. Empty, that is, ‘cept for a single bunk and a big, lonely guy called Bubba. And when you’re squealing, squealing like a pig on on its honeymoon, we’re gonna ask you again what you think of our President.

The security guys are upon me now, each grabbing an arm and forcing me to my knees.

“Hey, c’mon guys,” I plead, but they drag me along the floor, nearly yanking my arms out of the sockets. I’m panicking, my eyes imploring the people in the queue for help. They avert their gaze or look at their feet. I start to shout. “Please, someone help me,” I scream. “Please!” Tears are flowing down my cheeks. “Help! Please! Someone rush to Starbucks and bring me one of those Coastal Elite Lattes to catch my liberal snowflake tears. “HEEELLLLLLLPPPP………..!”

Okay, wait. Hold it right there. Now’s not the time to be flippant. Let’s think this through. I can do better than this. Okay. Try again:


He removes his sunglasses and glares at me. “Let me just ask you this: what do you think of Mr Trump?” His eyes narrow to dark slots.

“Oh I’m sorry. I don’t follow pointless celebrities on Twitter. That’s because I’m not a twelve year old girl.

ptui

plop


“Let me just ask you this: what do you think of Mr Trump?”

I unbutton my jacket to reveal my Make America Great Britain Again T-shirt

ptui

plop


And then it’s me. I hand over my passport. He swipes it. Thumbs through it. I realise that’s he’s not actually wearing sunglasses, neither is he chewing tobacco. He scrutinises the photo, glances up at me, hands it back. I turn to go.

“Just hold it right there.” I freeze. The words sound menacing. Slowly, very slowly, I turn to face him. “Welcome to America,” he says, a friendly smile stretching across his face.

“Erm, thanks.”

‘Well, that was easy,’ I think as I follow the signs for baggage reclaim. ‘I don’t know why people make such a fuss about these things. Damn snowflakes.’

Leaving Heathrow: Nikon FE / Kodak Tmax 400 / Developed in D76 1+1

A Day at the Races

Four things I’m not that fond of:

  • Horse Racing
  • Gambling
  • Tribute bands
  • Taking photos once I’ve had a couple of drinks

So joining my work friends for a night out at the races that ended with a guy who thought he was Freddie Mercury may not have been one of my best plans. Should have thought that one through, really.

Windsor Races
Nikon F90X / Nikkor 35mmf/2.0 / Kodak Tmax 400 / D76 1+1
Yashica Mat 124G / Ilford FP4 & Kodak Tri-X / Rodinal 1+99 60 minutes

The Office

Pentax KM / Kodak Tri-X


No idea how I managed to take a double exposure with the Pentax – that shouldn’t be possible


A plane appears to be on fire on the runway. Everybody looks up from their desk momentarily. Then we all get back to work.

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