Trabajo en Mexico: Parte 5 Abierto a Ocho.
I fell into bed on the third floor of the Juan Peron Aeropuerto International (wait, that’s not the name! Juan Peron was Argentina….how could I ever make that mistake?) in the weirdest Hilton you have ever seen.
Even the room lighting was weird. Fluorescent? I think? I’m not sure, but it was a blueish, greenish light that bathed the room in a shadow-less glow similar to the inside of a bus terminal. Or IRS cubical. Or both. The hotel, just above the United gates in Terminal Dos (I think? Or is it Terminal Uno? I’m so confused!) was one floor. You took an elevator — unmarked — up and down, and were just a few steps from the ticket counter.
I got up with plenty of time to spare. Ate my free Diamond Hilton Breakfast, with Matthew at my side, and ventured back down into the bowels of the Juan Peron Aeropuerto International. (I really need to check that name!) We turned right off the elevator, per the instructions of the front desk agent, and ….
NADA. Un restaurante. Nothing. A restaurant. Then a sign that said, “TAXI” and an arrow.
WTF? Where are the gates? The front desk agent, in English, said left and then they were right there! I asked the host at the restaurant in front of me.
“Donde esta United?”
“NO SE”. He turned his back.
This was becoming a habit.
So, I ventured forward, past the restaurant, and just around a bend, there was a Skycap. I quickly enlisted his help, and peeled off 50 pesos, about $5. He took me eight steps, rounded a hidden corner (hidden to me) and there was United.
I immediately went towards the business counters, and was stopped by the gate agent who makes sure you are in the right line, and not trying to hop the line from economy into business. I was in the right line. I tried to push past her. She kept mumbling something about a paper. In Spanish. I flipped her my passport. No, no, she said, PAPER. PAPEL!
Then I remembered. You’re supposed to have a slip of paper the customs people stamp when you enter the country. It’s usually in my passport. It wasn’t there. My eyes rolled into the back of my head; I realized in a moment of cleanliness I’d pitched the paper, along with my old ticket, the morning before.
No tengo el papel. Que ahora? I don’t have the paper. What now?
“You have to go to the Department of Immigration, downstairs, through the door, around the corner, up the steps, go left, then right, then down another set of stairs, up the elevator, three doors down, knock 8 times, wait for a reply, and they will help you once they verify your secret knock.”
That’s not really what she said. But to my ADHD, over stimulated brain that’s exactly what I heard. I turned to the sky cap. “Can you bring me there?”
He nodded, looking slightly amused.
We went downstairs, via the elevator directly in back of me. When the door opened up, we went 6 paces to the left, and there was a little cubby hole in the wall marked “Department of Immigration”. It looked just like a Mexican MVA, all the lights were off.
There was a security guard at the desk. Or was she the immigration officer? I wasn’t sure. She looked official. I tried to open the door.
The official looking SENORA pointed to the sign, faded, on the door. “Abierto A 7 am – 12 am”.
It’s 7 am! I pointed to my watch.
“Es Domingo.” (It’s Sunday)
She pointed to the sign.
Small print: A Domingo, y dias de Dio, Abierto a 8 am. (On Sunday’s and Days of God, we open at 8)
I yelled through the door: My flights at 9! I won’t make it if I wait until 8! Is there any way you can help me?
She shook her head, NO!, firmly, “NO ES POSSIBLE.”
I let the skycap go, who was looking at me like I was the biggest fool in the world. I ran back to the elevator, went up, told Matthew to check the bags under his name, and go. He said he’d check the bags, get his boarding pass, but wait for me.
I went back downstairs. Exactly 2 minutes had passed, but now there was a line of about 5 people in front of me, waiting for the doors to open.
The official looking SENORA was sitting behind a tattered desk, her back towards the line of people. She spent the next 45 minutes putting on heavy makeup. When she was done, for the next 15 minutes, she played Angry Birds on her cell phone. All in full view of the waiting line.
At 7:45 another SENORA, dressed differently, entered the officina de immigracion. In fairness, she opened the door about 4 minutes early, and quickly helped all of us, all at the same time. I got my replacement paper stamped, paid the $350 peso fine (about $30), and ran back up to the United desk to check in.
“It is too late to check in for this flight,” said the machine.
I drag over a desk agent. Explain. No luggage. Luggage already checked. Need boarding pass. Flight already boarding he says. Shakes his head. Hands me boarding pass. I snatch it out of his hand. It is 8:20, flight leaves at 9:05. I have plenty of time, right?
No line at TSA (Mexican equivalent) security check. NONE. Lucks changed? Give Matthew the small camera bag, he takes out the big batteries and other things that they like taken out, separate, and walks through the metal detector. I yank out my laptops, iPads, etc., from the big camera bag, and walk through the detectors.
TSA (Mexican equivalent) goes into complete meltdown over the big batteries.
They are arguing with Matthew, who speaks no Spanish, and the discussion is heated. It is now 8:40. Our flight is boarding.
I intervene. They tell me, in Spanish, I should have put the batteries in the checked luggage. I say no, it’s not permitted by the TSA. I point to my passport, say I’ve traveled the world, those big batteries aren’t allowed in the checked luggage (and they are not). I point to my media pass, explain I am credentialed press. They argue back and fourth. Matthew says we are going to miss our flight….
I tell him to go, I will catch up.
When he leaves, I turn. I force myself to smile. I know I am leering like a letch with a virgin in front of me.
I can’t help it.
“Un momento,” he diche, “Yo sé que usted está haciendo su trabajo y mantenernos muy seguro. Gracias. Realmente appreicate ella. Pero, tengo que coger mi vuelo. ¿Es posible que usted podría tomar una muestra estas baterías y me mueven a lo largo?”
(I know you are doing your job and keeping us very safe. Thank you. I really do appreaciate it. But, I need to catch my flight. Is it possible you could swab these batteries and move me along?)
I’d love to say I said it exactly this way. It looks so nice written out! But my pig Spanish would never allow it. More likely, I said a pig version of this. But, I think I got my point across, because….
They swabbed the batteries, said, Have a nice flight (in English), and suddenly, I was through security.
And running like a wild man through the terminal to my flight. My heart pounded. A half hour ago the front desk agent had said the flight was boarding. It must be gone by now, though I heard no announcement.
I reached the gate. Nobody there, except Matthew. Before he could say a word, I threw my ticket and passport at the gate agent.
“Bienviendos, Senior. We’ll start boarding for this flight in 5 minutes.”
I was early.
A few minutes later, we boarded the plane, I found my Business Class seat, and was dining on crepes with grilled pineapple and raisins.
Matthew sat next to me, an omelette in front of him. The Gulf of Mexico stretched below us, shimmering blue and reflecting the shadow of the airplane.
He grabbed my hand.
“I love travelling,” he said, “what a great trip.”