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The plane came in from Heathrow, passing over Boston late in the evening, where the fireworks were reflected in the harbour. A sparkling sight from ten kilometres up.

There was some delay at JFK, with luggage and immigration. A plane had come in just ahead of ours, loaded down with anxious folk from Africa, and things took their time. It was a few minutes shy of midnight before I got to the immigration bloke.

He looked at my passport.

He looked at me.

"Happy Birthday!" I smiled.

He took a couple of beats, then the joke sank in and he smiled back.

I hope I made his Fourth of July a little bit happier.

Me, I had a grand time in the early morning, with friends to show me Manhattan. So many things to see - my eyes were wide open until the fatigue caught up with me a little after dawn and I started falling asleep in mid-sentence, wanting to see everything but needing just a little battery surge to keep going.

So many things to love about America. Our big brother, showing the way to independence, democracy, a better way of doing things.

A few things to dislike, but on balance, I'm a fan.

Happy Birthday, America!
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While my day driver's off on a five week holiday - yesterday he drove the Great Ocean Road - I'm on the day shift. At first I was doing doubles, meaning that I could drive the car whenever I wanted within the 24 hours of the day, maybe with a nap here and there, and then I was supposedly given a night driver, putting me on the day shift.

I say supposedly, because as yet I haven't seen him, and though I know the cab was driven on the weekend, it certainly sat idle last night after I finished at three in the afternoon.

I've been enjoying day driving. There's more traffic on the road, but there's also fewer kangaroos, drunks and crazies. I get more of the little old ladies and gents who are scarce after dark but fun to chat up and be nice to.

And I get to be out on a series of glorious autumn days. Cool and clear, leaves in red and gold and everything in between. It's pure pleasure.

I was doing well yesterday. Took in about as much as I do in a nightshift, thanks mostly to a long duration "wait and return" government job. Banked the big notes, gassed up, ran the car through the wash, vacuumed it out...

And then, as I walked the tangled vacuum cleaner hose out across the service station forecourt to straighten it out before replacing it on the holder, I tripped. I lurched backwards, trying to gain some support from the slack hose before I went down under the wheels of an oncoming car, but after one or two steps, I landed heavily on my backside and outstretched hand, cap flying off.

Luckily the car stopped, the driver laughing on, I retrieved my cap and limped the hose back. Hurting like blazes, but that's how these things go - a day or three of bruising to show off and then fadeaway.

I drove home, unloaded the car, and waited a bit for a night driver. But not too long. I was hurting in two places and exhausted after a long day.

Woke when Kerri came home. She wasn't too concerned about my bum, but the wrist was a worry. It was hurting a lot, and though painkillers were found, I still have no strength in it. Maybe it's broken rather than spraint.

I'm to take the day off and get it x-raid. If it's broke, there's the chance of six weeks in plaster. Six weeks of no driving. Six weeks of no income. And me with a world trip coming up in seven weeks.

But if I can't hold the wheel firmly in two hands and lift baggage in and out of the boot, then i can't drive a taxi.
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In preparation for my next world trip in June, I applied for clearance to travel to the USA today. On my previous trips, as a citizen of a nation participating in the US Visa Waiver Program, I filled out the green form handed out aboard the plane and presented it to the immigration officer on arrival. Like for just about every other country.

But now things have changed, and pre-approval is required. The Department of Homeland Security has set up an “Electronic System for Travel Authorization” system, whereby intending visitors must register a minimum of three days before travelling. Heeding the warnings on my travel documents, and mindful of my habit of leaving things until the last moment, I went hunting for the ETSA website.

Google was my friend, as ever, and I clicked on what looked like the official website. On reading through the material, I found that there were apparently only two ways to make an application with ETSA. First, you could purchase a guide to applying for $25. Second, you could have a professional make the application on your behalf at a cost of $250.

Cripes, I thought, this is all a bit rich. Having filled out the green form several times, I know it’s a simple process. I looked for a link to just apply for clearance myself, but there wasn’t one. At this point I smelt a big stinky rat.

Looking at the website URL, I noticed that although it gave every impression of being an official government website in design and appearance, it wasn’t. It was a private site.

I went back to my Google search page and found a number of similar sites before spotting the official one, which had a “.gov” TLD as part of the URL.

Completing the process was quick and easy, and my travel was approved within minutes. Of course, this does not guarantee entry, no more than filling out the old green form did. It just speeds the process.

What disturbs me are the scam sites, which rank higher than the official site on Google. The operators of these sites must be collecting some serious money from gullible people, especially those who aren’t fluent in English. Paying somebody $250 to fill out a simple online form on your behalf is a complete waste of money, but there must be thousands who are grateful for the apparent help.

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Skyring

September 2010

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