Seated in nearly the last row of a large aircraft that landed in Detroit yesterday, I was thus nearly the last of its passengers to make it to immigration. A cheerful airline attendant stood there, directing US citizens further down the hall, and us non-Americans to the end of a long (and slow!) queue. Must have been 70 people ahead of me; I resigned myself to a long wait and joined the queue.
Without warning, a balding Indian man wearing an orange shirt and a moustache pushed between me and the woman immediately in front, making me stumble backwards, my arms windmilling to keep my balance, and buttonholed the airline attendant.
I didn't hear what he asked her, but when I heard her answer, I guessed. "Don't worry sir," she said. "We know you've got a close connection, we're going to try hard to get you on your flight. If you don't make it, we'll put you on the next flight." She pointed, indicating that he should return to his position in the queue. He brushed past me again, though this time I had warning and did not stumble, wriggled through my fellow-passengers to near the front. (Must have been sitting in a row much closer to the exit than I had been).
Minutes later, he reached the head of the line, and one of the immigration officers waved to him. He rushed to that counter, wife in salwar-kameez in his wake. I could see him start to explain something frantically to the officer, who simply put up a hand indicating he wasn't interested in anything but what he needed to find out.
For whatever reason, the couple took an inordinately long time with the officer. They were still there when I got to the front and then was myself called to offer my credentials to another officer.
I was with her for maybe three minutes, then I wandered over to the baggage carousel. My two battered bags were sliding past lazily. I lunged for them, put them on a trolley and headed for Customs, where there were actually four short queues and an officer directing us to join whichever was the shortest. I picked the one that -- naturally -- moved the slowest of the four.
Suddenly, the man and his salwar-kameezed wife rushed past behind me, pushing two trolleys laden with bags. They joined the queue to my left and then -- I could hardly believe my eyes -- pushed past the three or four people waiting there, to the head. Nor did they stop there. They ignored the line on the ground and the sign that said "Please wait behind the line", and headed unerringly towards the Customs officer there, who was busy with another passenger. Surprised, he looked up and said, "Sir, please wait behind the line."
No effect. The man waved his passport and papers insistently, frantically. The officer repeated, sterner this time, "Sir, you have to wait behind the line!" A second officer came over and said, "Sir, please go back behind the line! BACK BEHIND THE LINE, SIR!"
The shouting finally did the trick. The pair stepped back to the line, the man still waving passport and papers.
Then it was my turn to step up to the officer handling my queue. Minutes and a few questions later, he said "Welcome to the United States, sir" and directed me to the exit. I took two steps towards it and had to stop for a moment for a small procession that passed in front of me. Two Customs agents escorted the man and his salwar-kameezed wife to an enclosure on the right where several more officers stood waiting.
I suspect they did not make their close connection.