POPMART Leg 3: 1997, North America

Jan
17
2006

London

This was the morning of the U.S. visa pick-up for which a man would be wise to prepare mentally and physically. Through the 1990s the U.S. visa process became increasingly user-friendly and straightforward but thats all behind us now. In fact, one could be forgiven for thinking that the entire process was conceived specifically to wind up the would-be traveler. First of all the visa form itself now includes a new supplementary form which, with the exception of some countries, is for men only. This requires information such as the address and telephone number of your high school and a list of all the countries you have visited in the past ten years, with dates - not a short list for most of the people on this tour. One of the best wind ups is the requirement to provide a photograph of very specific dimensions, conveniently not available from any standard passport photo machines the world over. Best of all though is the visit to the American Embassy for interview, which is now mandatory for all work visa applicants, including the band. This was the assigned morning so I headed to Grosvenor Square to join the queue outside in the freezing drizzle.

There was an element of deja vu about it as we all did this exactly a year ago prior to the tour starting. I remember being sick as a dog that day but also that the entire 'Vertigo' experience was still just an unrealised concept, to which we were all about to give birth. In the queue this time I met Felix and Sandy, our tour caterers, so it was good to catch up. As we got closer to the building, the full depressing extent of the new security arrangements became clear. Scaffolding, hurricane fencing, grubby vinyl tents, concrete blocks - its all so soul-rottingly ugly. Soviet Ikea. What these people need is a good security designer, though I cant imagine its much of a priority round here.

Once inside, X-rayed, prodded, computers confiscated, cellphones switched off and customer numbers issued, we made our way to the holding zone, a vast silent room with rows of chairs facing each other. Just when I was contemplating how dismal and officious this all was, I was delighted to spot Craig, one of my lampies, waving at me from across the room. Moments later I heard a call from the other end of the hall and saw Gary and Ed, two of the video crew, then Karen from wardrobe appeared. It hadnt occurred to me that of course all the UK-based crew would have appointments at the same time, so before we knew it within the dull, depressing and confrontational atmosphere of the embassy we were having our very own school reunion. 'Hows the family?', 'What did you do for Christmas?', etc. Everyones clearly excited about the forthcoming part of the tour and I think our general enthusiasm might even have helped cheer up some of the other applicants.

One by one we went through our interviews and the various other parts of the process. The young woman behind the glass asked me 'how long have you been working with U2?' and I realised it was quite possibly since before she was born. Finally escaped and told well see our passports again on Friday, hopefully.

From there to OneDotZero where Sam and Luke are working on the tour video visuals which was much more cheerful. U2 now get to do two songs at the Grammys, so were making the background material for that and its all coming together nicely.

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