Sunday, February 17, 2008

a story of a man and his sandwich

(this post was written by R.)

It was our last day on New Arbat Street, no. 160, and I was in the kitchen making sandwiches for the plane ride home. No offense, but Aramark's choices on Delta flights to Moscow and back can be less than satisfactory sometimes and I wanted to be prepared.

The loaf of sliced brown bread I had been fixing my daily lunch with had reached its end - but there was still almost half of the huge round of black bread I had purchased in the fancy grocery on Old Arbat on Sunday, which felt like months ago, back when Katia our guide and translator and Anton our steely-calm driver were strangers to us. I looked in the refrigerator and realized that our flatmates Lisa and Marty had left us an unopened pack of boiled ham slices and half a pack of really nice Swiss cheese - thanks, guys!

Ana came around with the camera as I was fixing two really thick, substantial ham sammiches. She laughed and took a photo, I posed formally for a second shot, and finished fixing my reserve lunch. Moments later we were in the Renault on our way to the airport in 10 degree Fahrenheit weather.

I had wondered what Russian security would be like. Homeland security folks, listen up - the Russians are more efficient than we are. Upon entry to the airport, after saying goodbye to Katia (and suddenly feeling like motherless children), we went through the first metal detectors, opened our bags for a polite, detailed, but very neat search, got our boarding passes, went through passport control, and then through the terminal. We beat the rush and went through the last security checkpoints for our flight and were in the locked down gate for a little less than two hours. Hunger set in.

Shortly after taking off, Ana and I tucked into our lunches. I wound up keeping my last gloriously thick Russian ham and cheese sandwich in reserve for later. Well, Delta did better this time with the food. The pasta had lots of veggies, which I was craving, and the salad was devoured sans dressing. Later on they brought us lots of strong black tea in tiny cups, which was just delightful. I slept some, looked out the window and saw Scotland at one point, and walked up and down the aisle.

Eleven hours or so later, we landed in Atlanta. We clapped on landing as the Russians do, glad that we were indeed (finally!) on the ground. It was something like 67 degrees, so I was burning up in my long undies, jeans, shirt, sweater, etc. We got through passport control, then off to find our luggage.

We were standing around the baggage carousel when Ana said, "Oh look, they have the dog out today."

I looked but didn't see the dog, but noted the older officer with a trailing leash. Our checked bags came around about the time the officer turned the corner. The dog was a beagle, wearing a blue vest identifying him as a working Customs and Immigration dog.

"Afternoon. Would you please put your carry-on bags down for the dog?"

So we did. And the beagle hit on my bag.

"Do you have any food in the bag?" the officer asked.

I remembered. "A sandwich."

"A meat sandwich?" he asked.

"Ham and cheese," I said.

He nodded and asked for my customs declaration form and wrote "ham sandwich" on it in big letters with a blue magic marker. "You'll need to go through Agriculture."

Great, I thought. Stopped by customs for a ham sandwich. Lovely.

So we made our way through the line, making a left turn to discover NO ONE ELSE ahead of us in the Agriculture line. We zipped on up and put our bags through yet another conveyor/scanner. The officers working the apparatus took my form and said, "Please remove the sandwich."

So I opened my backpack and took it out. Despite traveling more than 5,000 miles and the compression of being in the bag, it was still a big, thick, meaty, solid, substantial sandwich. Three pieces of ham. Two slices of creamy Swiss cheese. Gulden's spicy brown mustard. All on two hand-sliced pieces of black Russian bread. It was mighty appetizing looking, even now, and the two officers looked at it - dare I say it - hungrily.

"We'll have to take that," one officer said.

I nodded and handed it over. Whatever happened to that wonderful sandwich after then was no longer my business or my problem. We answered a few more questions, assured them we had no other meat products or fruit, and were sent on our way.

We still had to go through one last batch of security procedures, complete with removing boots and taking the laptop out of the bag and running everything one more time through the security conveyors. At last we were free in the Atlanta airport.

Strangely enough, we were ahead of everyone else. Getting popped for a sandwich and going through the Agriculture line had saved us a bunch of time. I'm not necessarily advocating having a small amount of undeclared processed meat from foreign countries to shorten your time in the security lines, but the thought definitely crossed our minds!


Tiger & Kar said...

Ha!! Oh my goodness - I can't stop laughing! Thanks so much for the great "non-tip." We may have to try this when we go on our first trip!

So happy you guys made it home safe & sound.
Karyn & Norm

Antoine & Lori said...

Oh, my, I lost a really good bottle of wine like that once! I liked to imagine my little buddies from agriculture enjoying it over a candlelight dinner!

Welcome home! Lori

Denise and Mike said...

I read this to my husband, we think its a excellent idea-- wink, wink. You should really do that when you have Eli with you too, you know that little one doesn't want to wait in long lines. Glad you are back and thanks for all the details that we can look forward too. I hope you hear about a court date very soon!

Michael and Carrie said...

That story is too funny! I giggled as I read it-especially the part about writing "ham sandwich" on your customs form! That is hilarious!

I'm glad you all made it home safely and that you had such a wonderful experience meeting Eli!

Troy and Rachel said...

So glad you are home safe. The sandwhich cracked me up! I bet they ate it!! Or gave it to the beagle!! I vote for the beagle!

Becky and Keith said...

hehehehe... what a great story! :-) Atlanta customs can be a bear so it sounds like the sandwich was a great diversion! :-) Welcome home! Prayers for a speedy court date!

Joy said...

I made Gerard read this post he was laughing. He has never traveled outside the U.S. so when he goes to Russia it will be quite an experience.
Your husband has an offical nickname 'The Ham Sandwich Man'
I know what he means though the bread is the best. I love ham too so for me that is like heaven.