July 30, 2010


How a pizza cutter (or an axe) nearly made me miss my flight

Not to flatter myself or anything but I got the distinct impression when I left Mexico yesterday that Mexico did not want me to leave. That’s not to say the reasoning was that she loved me. For all I know, she didn’t think I had suffered enough. But whatever was motivating her to throw obstacle after obstacle in my way, that was clearly what was happening.

It kind of started on Tuesday. I went into the bank to close my account and the gal cut my debit card into a variety of pieces before telling me that she could not give my money until a pesky charge from the night before had cleared.

“Come see me tomorrow,” she said.

The next day was my last full day on the island and I had to cross to Cancun to cancel my health insurance, which I had not wanted to do until I knew when I was leaving the country, because with my luck, I would have canceled it and then come down with swine flu or been attacked by a shark or something. So, I had the meeting with my agent, who looks like a Mexican Dustin Hoffman, and all was fine— until it came time to leave. Then the handle broke on the one door to get out of the office and I stood there for about half an hour, while the agent kept going into this side room and coming out again with different screwdrivers and flat tools, sticking them all into the door jam and wiggling it, and gradually disassembling the handle until it was just a rod sticking out of the door and he was finally able to get it to open.

That was maybe my first clue that someone didn’t want me to leave.

Back on the island, I was busy getting ready for a little Hello-Goodbye party to see me off and to see the new hotel managers in, so it was 4 o’ clock when I remembered that I still needed to go back to the bank. But inside the bank, there was one teller and about six waiting customers, and the party was starting in an hour and I was still far, far away from being ready, so I decided to help get the party going and return to the bank once everyone had a drink in their hands. But of course, one thing led to another and when I finally realized I still had not gone back, it was too late. The bank had closed.

So, the morning of my departure, after I had stayed up all night, save for the two hours I slept in a hammock on the roof at my friend Steve’s, I had to be at the bank when they opened at 9am, which was also exactly when I was supposed to be crossing over to go to the airport. The gal working was not the same gal who had torn up my card; that girl was not coming in till 10 o’ clock. So, there were about five dicey moments, where I thought there was a problem, but when I mentioned that I was leaving the country in a few hours (which seems to be the trick to getting stuff done in Mexico; glad it took me more than two years to figure that out), the girl snapped to attention and gave me my cash.

The whole thing made me 30 minutes late leaving the island but I crossed my fingers that AirTran was not going to be its usual vile self about insisting that passengers get there THREE HOURS before their flight. Like, who DOES that?

Over on the Cancun side, Ricardo the Taxi Driver was waiting for me, even though I was later than I had said I would be, and he whisked my things from my hands, loaded his trunk and sped me out of there— until he got pulled over by the police and had to bribe them to let us move on. And as I watched him through the rear window and saw him pulling his wallet out, I had a growing sense of disease that this trip was not meant to be.

“If you miss the flight, it was not your destiny,” Ricardo said, as we pulled up an hour and 40 minutes before I was set to take off.

“I know,” I said. “But I’m kind of tired of my destiny. She keeps changing things.”

Which was probably SO not the right thing to say.

I bid him Goodbye and ran into the terminal— only to see that AirTran was the only international airline NOT to be in the international terminal. So, I had to run back out to the curb to try to find a way to get from Terminal 3 to Terminal 2, and of course Ricardo was gone and of course there was no shuttle scheduled to come for another 15 minutes.

“Taxi?” a man asked me.

And he quoted me $10, which I tried to bargain down to $5 but he wouldn’t budge, so I said “Fine,” because I knew that missing the plane was not worth saving $5, and he threw my stuff in the van. And the van wouldn’t start. So some guy came over and I sat in the passenger seat, muttering that I couldn’t believe this was happening and after a few tense moments, it finally started.

Inside Terminal 2, it didn’t look too grim. There were about seven agents checking in about five parties ahead of me, so I had this brief moment of optimism where I thought I would be fine. Right.

Nearly 30 minutes later, just an hour before my flight was to take off, I dragged myself to the counter.

“I hope I don’t have to wait in that line, too,” I said to the agent, because by then, I had noticed that nearly every person who had checked in ahead of me had then taken their luggage to another line next to ours.

“Well, yeah. It’s to pay for your checked bags.”

“But I don’t have time,” I said. “I still have to go to immigration, too.”

Because whenever I leave Mexico, I have to check in for my flight, run down to the immigration office, get my exit paper that corresponds to my work visa, run back to the airline counter, get my boarding pass and go through security. That’s the way it works. That’s the way it’s ALWAYS worked for the last two and a half years that I have left the country. Every. Single. Time.

Except this one. Because the agent was apparently in on this plan to keep me in the country. All of the agents were apparently in on it. And so they refused to check me in, until I had run down to immigration, and the manager said all snotty, “That’s why you should have been here three hours before your flight.” So I glared at him and grabbed my things and went running down to immigration to get my paper, and there were huge masses of people staggered all throughout my path, and I was nearly running over people’s feet and fingers but I made it and I got my paper and I went running back to the ticket counter.

“Is it.” Pant, pant. “Still.” Pant, pant. “Atlanta?”

And they conceded to check me in. But then my bag was four pounds overweight and it was going to be $40 to pay the difference and I knew that most of the problem was this bag of nearly full bath products, so I went to open my suitcase and the zipper was broken and I was afraid to force it and break it, so I just opened it the 12 inches that it would open and reached my hand in there, like I imagine you do when you are birthing a calf, and I fished the bottles out. And it was still two pounds over. So I kept climbing on top of my suitcase, because it was sitting on the scale, and I was pulling out item after item, climbing off again, seeing that it was still overweight, and climbing back on it to pull out more stuff. And I know I had crazy eyes. I know I did. But I finally got it to 50.5 pounds.

Then I had to go to that stupid other line to pay for my bag and check it, and there were like three agents and only one of them was actually doing the transactions, and then, at the end of it all, they told me they could not put my bag on the belt, because it would never make it to the plane on time, so I had to pull it with me through security.

I glared at them one last time, and ran off with all my stuff one last time, and almost stepped on more errant limbs one last time, and got to security and heaved my bag on the belt and walked through, no problem. And then I could see that something of mine was holding everything up. And a supervisor came and looked at the X-ray screen. And then my suitcase came out and one of the agents starting putting rubber gloves on and I knew I was in trouble.

“Is this your bag?” he asked.

“Yes, but I am not taking it on board with me. They just made me take it through security, because they said there was no time otherwise, and I am just taking it to the gate and leaving it with them. It’s not going on board with me.”

“But I still have to inspect it.”

“But the zipper’s broken. We can’t open it.”

And could tell that wasn’t going to cut it, and then I remembered packing at 3 o’ clock in the morning and how I had included a few kitchen items that I had left behind in May. And I knew I was in even more trouble.

“It’s the pizza cutter; isn’t it?”

“Well, I don’t know what it is. It looks like an axe.”

“It’s to cut pizza. It’s a wheel and it’s got a handle and it’s to cut pizza.”

But actually, thinking back, it was probably the garlic cutter that my dad had given me after his Alaska trip. Whatever it was, they didn’t like it and even though I reiterated to them that I was not going to be taking it on board with me, we all just kind of looked at each other and then I asked if someone couldn’t escort me to the gate and hand the bag off for me, so that they knew I was not going to take such weapons on board and chop up the plane, and they said Yes, it had to be that way. But of course the escort could not be one of them who escorted me there. Of course they had to call an escort in from somewhere else in the airport.

“We don’t know how long it’s going to take. They said the escort is outside.”

And I had this image of someone on the lawn, smoking a cigarette, gazing up at the sky. So I stood there at the end of the conveyor belt, while passengers streamed by on all sides of me, gathering their purses and cell phones and laptops, before moving on to their gates, and tears began rolling down my cheeks. Now, I am not the type to cry in order to get out of a speeding ticket. But I was short on sleep and I couldn’t believe this was happening and I was convinced that I was going to have to call my sister and tell her I had missed my flight, which is also what I had to do last May, but I did not even have a phone to do so this time, because I had given them both up back on the island, and there is only one AirTran flight to Atlanta  per day, and I could not IMAGINE missing it. I just couldn’t.

So, I just stood there while everyone cast sideways glances at me— my tear-stained cheeks, mournful expression, forlorn tone as I asked the agent again and again, “Do they know at the gate that I am coming? Do they know not to leave? Where’s the escort?”

She finally showed up. My flight was leaving in 30 minutes by then and she grabbed my suitcase and we took off running, and my purse strap broke as we flew around corners and dodged people, but I held it into one piece, and meanwhile, as we rode up a long escalator, she was shouting into her walkie-talkie, “We’re coming. Tell him to meet us. Tell him to run!”

And he did meet us and he took my suitcase from me and by that point, I didn’t care what they did with it. I just wanted to get on that plane. And I did.

Read more from Biding time in Mexico
8 Comments Post a comment
  1. Jul 31 2010

    OMG What a misadventure! Mexico did NOT want to let you go and I’m fairly certain that you were lucky to get out of there alive. (Not that I ever want to leave, mind you, when I’m there). I LOLed at birthing the calf comment. Glad you made it back to the states safely!

  2. SirenaSteve
    Jul 31 2010

    Ahhh, the drama. Time for a new suitcase AND a new purse. You will feel better after some successful shopping. And I feel bad, ’cause I gave you that stupid pizza cutter. Miss you mucho.

  3. critt decristofor
    Jul 31 2010

    You are such a gifted writer ! I just read this to Bob and we are hysterical. I cannot wait to go on your journey with you through wonderfully written words.

  4. Anna
    Aug 24 2010

    oh my goodness… this blog would make an amazing chapter in a book.. suspense, drama and i was crying laughing. Mexico just couldn’t make it any easier for you. It brought me back to when i almost missed my flight from hong kong.. there was running involved too except the whole time i was convinced this was a joke or they decided to leave an hour early.

  5. Dec 15 2010

    I’m sorry to tell you that I have been laughing hysterically at another person’s misfortune, and that person is YOU. Have you considered yet what actress would play you best in the movie of your life? I see it as a comedic misadventure romp with cameos by David Cross and Cloris Leachman. Amy Sedaris occasionally pops in for the retrospective narrative.

    • Dec 15 2010

      Schadenfreude! But to answer your question: no. When I start considering all that, it’s over. I like where you’re going with it, though. I’ll have to come back to this comment every once in awhile when I need a pick-me-up.


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