Do a Background Check

My eyesight isn’t that all that bad. With spectacles, I can generally see what I want to see so long as the colors involved cooperate. But every now and then, the colors turn on me.

Say the words to a hymn at church are flashed up on the screen. So long as they are on a solid background, I can usually read them. But if the screen gets busy with a background picture, say a landscape of rocks, rills, woods, and templed hills, I can’t read the words. They get lost on the other side of the templed hill, or at the bottom of the blue rill, or somewhere in the green forest, or under a dark-brown rock.

When a background gets busy, there is no shortage of places for a word to hide. And the color black doesn’t even have to get busy for me to get lost in it. I have trouble finding my feet in the dark or finding much anything against a black background. There are portals on the sides of my black laptop that I haven’t found yet.

The reason I mention my color problem is that I was recently at the Brussels Airport on my way back to the U.S.A. I’d been visiting family and eating croissants. It took me an hour and fifteen minutes to check in with United, which provided one check-in agent for Economy (95% of the passengers) and three agents for First Class passengers (very few). That it took so long to check in came as a shock. I’d had way too much black coffee for even a fifteen minute check-in.

And then I went through security. It didn’t go badly at first, and when it did it was my fault. Given the language difference, I thought I was competent enough in French to tell the security agent that I’d had a knee replacement, which accounted for the security buzzer sounding. Somehow, I turned to the wrong page in the French Phrase Book and told him, as I pointed to my left knee, that I’d had a bomb implanted.

After we got that straightened out – I really had them going there for a couple of minutes – it took me thirty minutes of standing in line to go through customs in order that I exit the country.

Even with the unexpected time spent standing in lines and spread-eagle on the ground, I arrived at the gate in time for my 12:00pm departure. Also, just in time to hear the gate agent announce a two-hour delay. With time to wait, I decided to sit down at a nearby terminal bistro and, since they were going to give us lunch on the airplane, have another cup of coffee. (Bad idea. I later learned that restrooms are randomly closed in the Brussels Airport every few minutes for cleaning. Furthermore, there are restrooms in only two locations, and no one has yet found the second location.)

Sitting there with my miniature cup of coffee – all cups of coffee in Europe are mini compared to even Small/Tall in America – I realized that I should alert my wife. She was thinking about giving me a ride home from the Albuquerque Airport later that evening. I might be late.

Getting out my trusty laptop – the one I can’t find if it hides against a black background – the Brussel’s Airport page popped up so that I could connect to free WiFi. I clicked the button and Voila! Nothing happened.  Time after time after time I clicked the fat, dark-green Connect button and failed to connect.

Above the fat, dark-green Connect button there was faded red message written in really thin letters on a white background, “You must accept both Terms of Usage and Privacy Policy,” which I assumed I was doing. I was religiously turning to both the Terms of Usage page and the Privacy Policy page and hitting a Continue button on both pages prior to once again clicking the fat, dark-green Connect button, which I was beginning to really hate.

After about thirty or forty attempts, I realized that I was getting nowhere slowly. So, what did I do? I found an alienated-looking teenage boy sitting as far away from his parents as the waiting area would allow. I held my laptop in front of him, which was opened to the Connect screen, and asked, “Pourquoi?”, which in French should mean “Why?”, but by the look on his face meant, “I’m too stupid to live. Will you help me?”

But he did help, merci. I have a touch-screen laptop. He touched the screen to the left of the statement that said in thin, faded red letters, “You must accept both Terms of Usage and Privacy Policy.” Why he did that, I had no idea. There was nothing there but white background…or so I thought. After he touched it, a black checkmark magically appeared! Only, it wasn’t magic. If there was a checkmark, there had to have been a little box in which to put it, although I never was able to see it on the white background. After the black checkmark appeared, he touched the big fat, dark-green Connect button, and returned to his alienation. Voila! I was in!

So what did I learn from my experience? Three things. One, the waiting lines at the Brussels Airport constitute full employment for orthopedists. My back and my knees still hurt from the hours of standing. Two, not only can I not see words on background screens busy with color, or see much anything on a black background, I can’t see boxes on white backgrounds when there is glare from the windows. And three, I’m going to pack a magnifying glass on all my future trips. It’s necessary for an adequate background check.

I wish I could say that the above story had a happy ending, but the flight was cancelled a few minutes after I sent the email saying it was delayed. Mechanical failure, and then the guy bringing the part in from Germany evidently got caught up in a lengthy customs line.

Flight cancelled, I stood in line for an hour at the gate to get a voucher for that night’s lodging and meal. And it was nice that United paid for it. But I had to go back through customs – in other words, return to Belgium – which this time took another hour, and then hike to Carousel 7 to retrieve my bag. Carousel 7 was so far from customs that I was sure I’d hiked to Austria. There was even a lady who looked like a young Julie Andrews standing on a mountain along the way singing, “The airline’s alive with the sound of music!” After retrieving my bag, I waited 90 minutes for my turn to board the shuttle to the hotel, which of all things, was next to a cornfield. Well, Belgians do eat a lot of jambon (ham).

I barely made it to the hotel in time to turn around at 5:00a.m. the next day to it all over again. But this time, when I got to the boarding area, I found out that I was still connected to Brussels Airport WiFi! But even if I’d had to search for the little box, I remembered what background area it was in.


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