I'm in Washington DC for four days. I decided it would be fun for my daughter to celebrate her 10th birthday in the capital of the USA. I've got all kinds of stuff lined up for her: the International Spy Museum, the theatre box where Lincoln was shot, the Vietnam war memorial....
My wife took a look at my proposed itinerary and suggested in a quietly aggressive manner that this might not be the ideal trip for a 10-year-old. I stood my ground – what was not to like? I got a kick in the shins. To top it all, the city is insufferable in the late summer: it is built on a swamp and mind-blowingly humid. Anyone sane leaves the place to the tourist masses.
We landed at Dulles airport in a balmy 35C and 90 per cent humidity. Dulles is without a shadow of a doubt the worst airport in the world. For somewhere that services the American capital, it is a complete disgrace.
We joined a queue of more than 1,000 people waiting to have our passports processed by only two officials. The entry process takes, on average, five minutes for each person; I worked out that we had about 41 hours until we got to the booth where a red light would buzz once they saw I was born in Beirut and I would be directed to the "Arab room". Over in the US citizen line there were 10 manned booths and the queue moved smoothly.
The message to non-citizens was that we were not priority goods. Everywhere videos blared out insanely upbeat messages welcoming you to the US and telling you that courtesy and respect were uppermost in everyone's mind. The reality was the complete opposite: Ellis Island had nothing on Dulles airport.
Uniformed lady-mountains waddled about and any attempt to ask for information was rapidly quashed.
"I was just wondering how long this might take as we've been standing here for three hours now...." The lady mountain interrupted: "What language are you speaking?" I was dumbfounded. "Uuum, I'm speaking English."
"You just gotta wait like everyone else." She waddled off, clearly having smelt doughnuts in the air.
I grabbed yet another lady-mountain who was munching on a bagel the size of a car tyre. "Excuse me, could you tell us whether more officials will start work soon?"
"Honey... you just gotta' wait. You don't like it, you can get a plane home."
It was the use of the word honey that annoyed me, but experience had taught me never to look remotely angry in an American airport – this could be an imprisonable offence.
Once all of the US citizens had been processed, two more officials started to service our line while the rest disappeared to the Krispy Kreme suite. It took us four-and-half hours to have out passports checked, and I was duly dispatched to the "Arab room" for further investigation.
My wife and my daughter sat next to me for a further two hours while they ascertained my potential security risk. Parker suddenly looked at her watch. "It's midnight in the UK. It's my birthday, I'm 10."
"Happy birthday, baby," we both chimed, trying to make this a more enjoyable experience than it was.
"I hate America," said Parker.
We laughed overly loudly and tried to conceal her radical thoughts from anyone around us. Words like that could land you in serious trouble in the land of the free. All around sat disgruntled travellers of Middle Eastern origins. At the start of their journey they'd probably rather liked the US, but things were changing rapidly.Reuse content