11.22.2014

Preamble: Pang

The staff member at the United check in counter at the Madison airport wasn't sure how to handle an international traveler with dual citizenship in both the departure (USA) and destination (Australia) countries.

When I had arrived at the Madison WI airport, the recommended two or so hours prior to my first flight, there was no line at the check in.

"Thanks for getting rid of all the lines," I jokingly said to the Asian woman "manning" the desk, by way of greeting.

"You must be here a little early," she replied, smiling, with an accent I took to be Laotian, in my standard American ignorance of other cultures. The basis for my surmise, drawing from most Americans' primary information source - pop culture - is that her accent reminded me of that of the Laotian character in the animated TV sitcom, "King of the Hill."

I presented the woman, whose name was Pang, I soon discovered, with my two passports and told her I would be traveling to Australia. At first, she picked up my American passport and swiped it through the reader on her console.

"I think you may want to use the Australian one for my outgoing trip," I advised, drawing on past experience from the handful of forays I have taken down under in the past 30 years or so. "Because the American one will probably make you enter visa info, which I don't have."

She pondered her screen for a moment and then opted for expediency.

"I make a call," she said, picking up her walkie talkie. She spoke to someone named Connie for a few seconds, then set the walkie down and said to me, "This my first time with dual citizenship...I call...make sure I do it right. I am new. [Connie] will come down and help. She is just pushing out a jet bridge."

As it turned out, jet bridge pushing out is a process rife with delays. When it was discovered that Connie would be there no sooner than 15 minutes from Pang's follow up inquiry on the walkie, Pang went to plan B.

"I call Customer Service." Customer Service confirmed that it was indeed my Australian passport that would free Pang from her newbie dilemma and the rest of the check in process went to plan.

"Glad I could assist in your training, Pang. That will be $50," I joked...on the square. That would compensate me for United's bogus $25 checked bag fee and leave me with a handy net profit of $25.

She smiled and handed me two of the three boarding passes I would need to get to Melbourne, Australia.

"You have to get last boarding pass in Chicago," Pang said. "I cannot issue that here. Just ask at gate and they will print for you. Enjoy your trip."

The Travel Gods smiled upon me at Security, where there was also no line. I made it to my gate a good 90 minutes before my flight to Chicago, the first leg in what will be a 30 hour marathon of air travel, allowing me ample time for this blog post of creative nonfiction.

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