The 737 we take from Newark is a Cadillac compared to the cramped puddle jumper we rode out of Norfolk. There’s actually a little legroom, and LCD screens on the seat backs show a list of movies for our entertainment. The stewardess brings us some plastic looking meatloaf, and still I feel like we’re on a luxury liner.
Barbara takes a sleeping pill, and not 15 minutes later she’s nodded off in the middle of eating our plane meal. An older, white-haired gentleman across the aisle looks with concern or consternation, I can’t tell which. I’m pretty sure he thinks Barb is a heroin addict, and we are on our way to some fancy rehab in the U.K. I turn off the overhead light, lean her seat back, and switch off her iPad. Now she looks more like another jet-lagged passenger and less like someone suffering from advanced narcolepsy.
The rest of the flight passes painlessly. Barbara’s self-induced coma is only interrupted by intervals of prepackaged flight meals, and Bernie is engrossed in watching the new ‘Mad Max’ movie. Minutes before landing, we are given customs cards to fill out and I’m warned by my companions not to reveal that we are musicians on tour. Technically, playing music overseas would require us to apply for work visas and there’s no time to indulge in such bureaucratic pleasantries- and since we’ll be lucky to leave here with 6 pence it’s not as if we are defrauding the Kingdom. After some hand wringing I put ‘Massage Therapist’ as my occupation, Bernie writes ‘Teacher’, and Barb decides to go with ‘Innkeeper’. I’m pretty sure we’re going to be deported.
As we reach customs, we shuffle into a line of tourists and expats. I see a friendly Scottish customs agent chatting with an older couple in front of us and begin to relax. Surely a Massage Therapist would be welcomed here. It’s my turn to be interviewed, and as I walk up to the friendly agent I get redirected to the far end of the customs area where a bald headed agent eyes me suspiciously. They send Bernie in behind me and I do my best to smile and look as touristy as possible.
If skepticism and incredulity were to have a baby, this bald headed Scotsman would be it. He asks what the purpose of our trip is and I let him know we are here to sightsee, (as we are definitely not playing music in random pubs across the Isles).
“A holiday, eh?” the agent looks at the paperwork and I resist the urge to break into the Madonna song that starts playing in my head. “How long are you going to be in Scotland?” he asks robotically.
“Uh 17 days, I think…” I look to Bernie for confirmation as my heart rate starts to rise.
“And where are you planning to go?”
My mind goes blank- Barbara did all the planning and I didn’t spend much time studying the itinerary.
“Ummm…” I look again to Bernie but he looks as lost as I am.
I come to my senses and rattle off a list of destinations- Loch Ness, The Highlands, St. Andrews. My mind is hazy from the lack of sleep and this agent is somehow starting to have me wonder if I actually have a brick of heroin shoved up my ass.
The agent rolls his eyes and asks me what I do for a living. “Massage therapy,” I reply sheepishly.
“Massage therapy, eh? And who do you work for?” Though this is turning into an interrogation, I find myself entranced by the Scottish brogue.
“Umm… Myself mostly… And uh, sometimes a spa…” I stammer unconvincingly.
My wife tells me I’m a terrible liar and its true- even white lies come out like the last bit of toothpaste from a depleted tube. I’ve done nothing wrong except fudge an inconsequential technicality, but I feel like some kind of infiltrator bent on corrupting the country of Scotland. This agent is good… too good.
An interminable silence lingers as he eyes me and Bernie, waiting for us to confess that we are terrorists or something.
Being the hardened con-men that we are, we stay strong and silent in this staring contest and eventually prevail. He hands us our passports and I start breathing again.
“Welcome to Scotland.”