The International Journal of Sport and Leisure
(Some sport. Some leisure. Also, schistosomiasis.)
Galapagos Islands (5)
About Me (1)
Ecuador: Quito (5)
Honduras: Utila (4)
Rio de Janeiro (2)
South Africa (13)
Temporary Update (1)
* South of Durban
* Escape from the Cape
* Skydiving for Bacon
* Rage Against the Machine
* Bite Me
* Africa Cold
* Scum-Dodging on Long Street
* Cable Cars, Lentil Soup and Bart Simpson
* Cape Town
* Cape Drear
* Lows of Travel ("Welcome to Africa")
* High Entertainment
* Paradise or Miami Vice? (Part 2 of 2)
* Paradise or Miami Vice? (Part 1 of 2)
* Don't Make Me Cry, Argentina
* Hago el Vago en Buenos Aires (Part III: Final Week)
* Gloom at the Top
* Its The End Of The World As I Know It
* Perito Moreno Glacier
March 19, 2005
Don't Make Me Cry, Argentina
Buenos Aires, Argentina
(Morning) Saturday, March 19, 2005:
I tried to go to sleep early so as to be well rested for the next day --- which would begin at 5 AM. In fact, I only slept for a little over two hours and spent another two hours watching TV and trying to rest. Having had a heavy steak lunch but no dinner the day before, I was getting hungry. I finally showered, dressed and went out to the pedestrian street Lavalle to catch one last lomito completo steak sandwich at 4 AM. In a large and nearly empty 24-hour diner I watched the couples and drunks and homeless children go by in the steadily lifting darkness.
I returned to the hotel, finished packing a few last items and watched a little more TV to pass the time. Argentina has a station called "Rock and Pop TV" which is kind of like MTV but with actual music videos. They were playing the US/English songs that are popular in Argentina and South America right now including Galvanize (Chemical Brothers), Processed Beats (Kasabian), Everybody´s Changing (Keane) and the attrocious, god-awful new Lenny Kravitz song, Lady (rhyming "she's a super lady" with "she's not shady, yeah, yeah" might just be the dumbest lyric of all time). I have absolutely no idea as to what they are playing in heavy rotation back home, so perhaps all of this stuff got old 5 months ago and is only just now being played down here.
I checked out at 5:45 and caught a cab at the corner. My flight was at 8:00 with check-in scheduled for 7:15. I figured an hour´s extra time would be more than sufficient. My driver was quiet during the ride, a rare but welcome occurrence that permitted me to catch some final glimpses of the city as the sun came up. I also nodded off a few times --- although I hadn´t been able to rest, I was still completely exhausted.
We reached the airport at 6:15 and I was pleased to see very few people in the line for my carrier, the Brazilian airline Varig. The woman at the counter looked at my ticket with a confused expression, punched a few things into her computer, looked more confused, and asked me when I had changed my original ticket for January. This caused me some stress and after I gave her my answer, she went off to speak with a man further down the counter, who gave her an expression even more confused than the one she had given. They talked for a few minutes. She came back, typed a few things into the computer and, to my relief gave me a boarding pass. "Pay the departure fee at the booth over there. Then you board at this gate at 6:15," she said. I looked at the ticket: Boarding at 6:15.
"Umm, shouldn't this be 7:15?" I asked.
"But the flight leaves at 8:00 and its 6:25 right now."
"No, the time changed. The plane leaves at 7:00. You have got to hurry."
I dashed madly to pay the departure fee of $4 or so, plus another $15 that Varig had generously tacked on because I was a few pounds over the weight limit on my backpack, which was now stuffed full of various books. After 5 minutes, I went upstairs, through the metal detector and, at 6:35, glimpsed the maddening, hope-squelching sight of the Passport Control Line I had to go through to get my exit stamp. It had several hundred people in it and snaked back and forth through 5 lines of rope. The thing was a monster. My flight was scheduled to leave in 25 minutes. What were my options? I had three of them, as I saw it. (1) Pull an "Argentinian" and boldy stride forward through the line and cut off everybody, as though I had a perfect right to; (2) Ask one of the officials monitoring the line to help me because I had an emergency situation; or (3) Stand there helplessly and hope for a miracle.
Option 1 would get me killed by the angry, impatient mob writhing ahead of me. I tried Option 2 and waved to a man and a woman in uniform who were patroling the line. "Excuse me but they changed my flight time and I am about to miss my plane, is ---"
"We do not deal with this," the woman cut me off, "you will have to wait in line with everybody else."
Lovely. Charming. Completely unsurprising. I love Argentina but after more than two months there, I feel I have learned enough to say that "beaurocratic" isn't a strong enough word to describe some of the practices and attitudes. Several long minutes later, I flagged down a different official who was slightly less polite than the first one had been. When I began to explain my problem he turned away and kept walking.
The line moved at a crawl. I had no watch. After some time I was 2/3 of the way through. I glanced at the wrist of a man ahead of me. 7:03. I bit my lip and ducked under the rope to head back downstairs. What was the point in waiting another 10 or 15 minutes to get my passport stamped when I would get to an empty gate and then have to deal with getting my passport re-stamped or un-stamped or whatever the deal was with the very lovely, helpful people who worked in Passport Control? They would probably throw a rectal exam into the mix, knowing the way they worked.
I had to explain myself to the official at the head of the line and again at the metal detector. At the latter, the woman there was actually very sympathetic and told me in a rarely fluent and accent-free English that I should go to see my airline first, then the departure tax booth where I would get a refund. I thanked her and headed downstairs.
The Varig counter was virtually abandoned. There was one woman there, not the one I had dealt with originally. She listened to me explain my situation and looked alarmed.
"Why did you leave the line?!" she asked. "The flight is still boarding! You have to go back up quickly!"
I cannot say I was too surprised that things would work out this way. In my head I realized that this was the perfect irony --- I would now miss my flight because I had actually dared to assume it would leave on time. Now I had the same huge line to confront and really would miss the plane.
The Varig agent marched me upstairs in a militant style and told me she would make a call to try to get me advanced to the front of the line. While she did that, I should get back into the line and wait. I passed the metal detector again (the woman there --- who I would bet $1,000 once lived in the U.S. for a while --- smiled knowingly) and went back to Passport Control. The line was only half as long as before. This means that it was still going to be at least 15 minutes at the very best (realize that the line fed to about 9 different agents).
I waited. I waited some more. When I was halfway through the line, a blonde woman in a Varig outfit appeared some distance away and called out "Rio? Rio?" I raised my hand and waved. At the same time I did this, a woman further ahead of me waved her hand as well. Not seeing me, the agent went up to her, pulled her to the head of the line and vanished in the span of about 3 seconds. I was left waving to nobody.
Several minutes later, when I was just about to reach the terminus of the line and see an agent, the woman from Varig reappeared, calling my name. I waved and she spared me the last 2 minutes in line by bringing me to a very rude agent who did everything but spit on my passport as she stamped me through. She seemed very annoyed that I had been spared my last few moments in the line. Rule-breaker and scoundrel that I am, I moved through and followed the agent in a mad dash to the gate. As I boarded the plane, the woman told the men behind me that they could now seal the door. I was the last to board and the plane was waiting for me, VIP that I was.
I turned right as I entered the door to look for my seat, 5C. The first seat I saw was in aisle 8. Huh?
I turned left. There was a curtain blocking my way. I pushed through and found myself in First Class (VIP that I am). There was seat 5C, wide and cushy with a big fat fluffy pillow on it. Collapsing into it next to an Argentinian business man in a blue pin-striped suit, I fell asleep almost immediately. I had fewer than 10 minutes of fragmented conscious moments until we began our descent to Rio de Janeiro some two hours later.
Posted by Joshua on March 19, 2005 03:04 PM
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