Desafortualmente, señores, su vuelo a Santiago está cancelado. El aeropuerto está cerrado por que de la neblina.
The alarm may have been set for five in the morning, but I was awake at 4:30. And 4:00, 3:42 and pretty much every fifteen minutes throughout the night. Early morning flights, early trains, early boat rides, early taxi rides, early exams, early anything usually mean an alarm clock is pointless. Oversleeping does not happen – instead, a restless night of non-sleep leaves me wide-awake before dawn has even considered cracking I was awake, waiting to head home.
Our flight was scheduled for 8:40 to Santiago. I wanted to get some gas for the rental and get to the Puerto Montt airport. I showered, Jack slept. I dressed, Jack slept. I wished that I could sleep like that, Jack slept.
“Hey, time to get up,” I muttered, walking over to kick his bed.
Jack grumbled and turned over. “What time is it?”
“Quarter to six; we need to get on the road.”
The airport could not have been more than a half hour away, but US airport security has me trained to get to airports early. We dragged our bags quietly down the stairs, loaded the rental and headed to Puerto Montt. The fog that I had noticed as gloom as light filled the sky did not improve. We drove in near silence, me out of a lack of caffeine, Jack out of not being a morning person.
“So, when will the next flight leave?” I asked.
“At 1:30 this afternoon.”
“And when does that get us to Buenos Aires?”
At eight this evening.”
My flight for Dallas left that evening at 9:40. Ezeiza International Airport is not famous for its organizational skills. Previous flights out of Buenos Aires proved to be a seemingly endless series of long, snaking lines, surly fellow passengers and slightly less hostile airline staff. Lan Chile’s staff confirmed there was a later flight out of Miami if need be, but tried to be supportive. “You may,” one demurred.
International education, as I describe it to friends, is all about problem avoidance. Students complete forms to guarantee that their credits will transfer back. I stalk them to get these things completed because I know what happens when things go wrong. Things were currently going wrong, and my date stamp of problem prevention was six thousand miles away.
I know the basic techniques of crisis management – appear calm, but allow the insides to turn to goo.
“Okay then, at least we’ve got the car. Want to go check in and then go have a look at Puerto Montt? Maybe we can find some coffee.”
“I want that nice aisle seat I pre-selected on American and they’ll just stick me in the middle in the back. I hate Miami’s airport. I want control back. GAAA!”
A provincial Chilean harbor town, Puerto Montt has an attractive, wind-swept waterfront, a large mall and casino under construction, spectacular mountains in the background, and any number of hills to walk up and down trying to find an attractive shot of the city. We wandered into a café and asked for coffee. Two steaming cups of Nescafe appeared on our table. It was markedly better than gritty instant chai, so I swallowed any complaints with the coffee-esque liquid. We walked, we snapped photos, we talked, and we headed to the airport after a few hours
On board our plane to Santiago and in the waiting area, Jack and I were checking out. At the end of any journey, I start to draw an emotional end to the trip. It was never evident until a Russian friend pointed it out. Two days before leaving my second summer in Moscow, Misha, noticing me stumbling over simple Russian, told me, “Brian, you have already left us.” “Chego?” came my reply. “You’re head is already back in America. You don’t leave until Wednesday, but your mind is no longer here.” He had a point. Jack and I sat in silence in Santiago, Jack wrapped in the protective white plastic ear buds of his iPod, me plotting strategies of getting on my next plane. We were still in Chile, but neither of us was really there. The adventure over, mundane existence creeps in.
My insides churning, I created a plan to get out of Argentina.
1. Luggage needs to appear.
2. Sprint to the check-in area.
3. Unload my sleeping bag that I had packed away in my bag for Jack to use the rest of his time here.
4. Jack needed to find a cajero automatico that both worked and dispensed dollars as well as pesos to pay me back for his Chilean reciprocity fee.
5. Line up to pay my airport tax.
6. Find each other to transfer goods and say goodbye.
7. Sprint to the gate and sit in the aisle seat.
In an hour.
As we taxied to our gate in Buenos Aires, I lay out the plan to Jack. “Here’s what needs to happen. Once we get through immigration and I get my bag, I am going to run. I will meet you at the American check in at the far end of the terminal. You get my sleeping bag and the Chile guidebook; I’ll get on the plane. You go find an ATM and get cash. Okay?”
“Dude, run. Don’t wait for me. We’ll catch up inside” Jack replied. If it were not for the fact that he is hoping to go into academia, Jack would make a good study abroad advisor. He has already learned the art of the gentle-reminder-as-subtle-threat e-mail technique from a pro.
On the world’s slowest luggage carousel, bags emerged from the netherworld of baggage claim at a leisurely pace. We waited. I breathed. And remembered to breathed. Boxes appeared. Other backpacks appeared. Televisions emerged. After a short eternity, my bag appeared, and off I sprinted.
The line at check-in was horrifyingly long, stretching well past American Airline’s designated space. Hoards of surly passengers glared at their watches, then at the slowly moving line. I ran past them all to first class check-in. The Platinum Card trumps the cheapie coach ticket. I tore my pack apart, grabbed the toxic blue sleeping bag, and threw the now hated, uncomfortable and damp hiking boots into the recently vacated portion of the pack. I sweat. My check-in agent looked at me with alarm, “Are you okay, sir?”
“Yes, I just ran here.”
“From Buenos Aires?”
I checked in, grabbed my luggage tags, and darted to the airport tax line. I kept looking for Jack in the mobs swirling around. Had the plan included a place to meet in case all of the necessary steps actually worked? No. I climbed atop my luggage cart, hoping to give another foot to my height to find him. Why do Argentines have to be so tall? And so prone to wandering around in unorganized clumps when I was trying to find someone?
In the crowd, the familiar four-day scruff and black t-shirt emerged. “I have never been happier to see anyone in my life,” more out of happiness than honesty. Jack’s a good guy, but Mom wins every time. While my news was good, his was more Argentine – no ATMs were dispensing US dollars, so no reciprocity fee. “Whatever – you’ll get it to me when you get home,” was my reply, “I have got to run. Have an amazing experience here. Even on your worst days here, remember how staggeringly jealous of you I am.”
We hugged goodbye, and we were off – Jack to his shuttle downtown, luggage and toxic blue bag in hand, me to battle three more lines to get to that aisle seat.