Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Never Connect Through Mexico City: Welcome to LA

I have probably had worse transfers in my life, but right now, at 6:45 in the morning after zero hours of consecutive sleep, I can't think of any.

I'm sitting in Mexico City airport. If it can be, at all, avoided in the future I will never return to this airport. It's not that it isn't pretty, and it's not that it isn't clean, or safe, or blah blah blah – it's that here's how my last hour was spent:

I got off my plane from Buenos Aires, and wandered around following connecting flight signs that all of a sudden stopped showing up. Then I was told I had to go through immigration. There is nothing more terrible than immigration in order to grab a connecting flight. It's ridiculous. I don't want in to your country, I want out! I never wanted to be here in the first place! But no, now I must join the long line of slovenly people looking to spend their wonderful time in Mexico. Which isn't to say people going to Mexico are slovenly, but that after the flight from 11pm to 8.30am, with the magic of time zones transporting us back to 5.30am we are all a tad slovenly. It is most likely I still smell, though now so do others, and thus all is well.

So there I stood waiting to get stamped into the country. Finally I made it to the front of the line, and bam, stamped in. Did she stamp it on any of the pages with one stamp already? No. She stamped it on a blank page. Thanks. Thanks a bloody lot. No, let us not see that there are few blank pages left, and make an effort to preserve them. Let's just rub another possible visa out of existence. That's just wonderful. I'm ever so grateful that you took the three seconds to flip through my passport. The page one over? Would have been great.

So now I'm in Mexico. I could go visit my friend in Mexico City – who knew you had to actually enter the country? Oh and while I was told in BA that my luggage was checked through, I am not trusting. And with good reason – my pack was one of the first out. I then had to have it scanned, opened, and checked through (welcome back to North America) and then placed on a new conveyor belt, which I am hoping will send it to its proper destination. Time will tell. About six hours time.

So now having been searched and cleared into the country, I must follow non-existent signs to M. Not that I've been told what M is, or that there are signs for it. I follow the signs to L, and it gets me there eventually.

Time to have my bags checked again, and get cleared out of the country. I'm so glad I had this thirty second stay.

Once more Scott Wilson your theory of “once you have the passport stamp, you've been there” falls flat on its face. I would not say I visited Mexico in these few moments, but stamp I have. Many countries I spent a long time in? No stamp.

So time to find out what gate my flight is. It is not yet listed. That's fine, I'll just plug in my laptop and hang out for a bit until it shows. Oh, but wait, the plug sockets in this airport are specially designed that you need a strange bonus prong, that all airport items have – but not you – to trip a breaker thing to allow the power to flow. So now, I sit, watching the battery drain on my laptop. Here's the thing – they have pay-wifi here. Who is going to pay for the three hour package of wifi when their battery won't hold out that long?! Mexico!

I can not tell you how excited I am to get to an English-speaking country. I didn't think I would care all that much, but after this long failing to communicate thoroughly, or having to accept being taken advantage of, because there is no way to express what you mean, I'm very excited to get to something that feels like home.

Yes, I may have a fun time at the American border – but once I'm in...

Plus, I'll be clearing through LAX this time, not Fort Meyers. I'm sure the guys a LAX are used to backpackers, yeah?

Wha – so close. So close.

So why have I not slept for more than an hour? Oh it has to do with two terrible monstrous things: Babies. They screamed. The whole flight. All nine hours of it. And the half hour we taxied around the ground. They would give ten minute breaks of silence before screaming again.

At first people started to shush them, this lasted hours. Then they gave up.

Look – here's the thing – if I screamed for ten hours, I would probably get shut down by the flight crew. So these babies should have to operate on the same level. I'm sure everyone coming off that flight is a lot more agitated and ready to snap then they were getting on. This is an in flight risk, even more so than a – shock – water bottle!

So what do we do? I propose sound-proof baby chambers, or head masks, or even a needle to put them to sleep for a few hours. Or, you know, a needle to put the rest of us to sleep. Why not give them some sort of sleepy time drug? Why not tell parents that if their baby screams for more than forty five minutes then these things will come to pass – then they can think if they want to take their child or not. Or, hey, baby flights. Get them all together and have them all suffer hell, leaving me to sleep.

Or just not let them on overnight flights. I can deal with a baby screaming in the afternoon, but from 11pm to 8am, I am less gracious.

And then, when I got off the plane, and walked by the two monsters, I discovered they were 2 to 3 years old. This is the age a parents can deal with their child, and communicate. I thought I heard real words in the screams... but no, no teacup-human would possibly scream for that many bloody hours. And yet they did.

At this age we can totally throw them in the soundproof cage near the back of the plane. And if the parents want to stay with the child, fine, they can go in too. But if they want peace, well lesson learned wee one.

Something must be done! Now lets turn off the lappy, save battery, read some more Ian Rankin – Doors Open, and find my gate!

8:20 – I have been alerted to the gate I need to board at. Gate 59 – the farthest from where I was sitting. But that's ok, because now I'm there and can read and waste time until I get on my flight taking me to America – and something I feel that I understand. And people I know. People I know is a key thing.

Then in a few days I'll by flying into San Francisco to meet up with Katherine, and perhaps use more rusty pilers to remove more earrings. But probably not. Which makes me sad. And her, happy, I'm sure.

It should be noted for the record, and back dating purposes, that today is March the 16th. Rarely do these get posted correctly, and I've given up on proper back dating. But as I write one a day, it shouldn't be too hard to figure out what day is what. Or which is which.

Also – I am almost through my Malaria pills. Still taking them, since Africa, then South East Asia, then Peru. Only a small handful left. It was brought to my attention by a medic that I would be relieved to know I couldn't possibly have chlamydia whilst I was still taking them, as doxy is used to cure such things. I'm pretty sure I wasn't looking to pick up chlamydia, but – you know – good to know, I guess.

One more hour, and I'll be off again. I hope my baggage will be on board. Seriously, I'm quite looking forward to clean clothes. It's gonna be great.

As I sat in the plane headed to The States I was both excited, and apprehensive. Apprehensive because America hates letting me into their country, and they always do new and strange things that I don't quite understand. Landing, though, I was just stoked to know that when I ran into problems I could get out of them using my words, and be understood. And that? That was really exciting.

Of course, then I landed, and quickly made my way through immigration. For the first time I had an expiration date stamped into my visa with the American stamp. The girl at the desk also told me I was Argentinian. I assured her I was not. She asked if I had two passports, and I told her that there was no way that I was from Argentina. She questioned this again, but then I told her I'd not have had to pay for the 70USD entrance visa to Argentina were I from there. Seeing this in my passport, she agreed. Points for not peeling that out yet. (Can anything bad happen if you peel out old visa to free up pages?)

And then the baggage claim. Out come the bags, away walk people with their bags, and then the belts stop moving. I have no bag. But, neither do eight other people. Who connected. Twenty minutes pass, and I go from calm, to forlorn. I love my stuff, and I'm so close to offloading a bunch of it. To lose it all now? That would be a real kick in the undesired kicking place.

The man tells me he will check to see if there is more luggage. He comes back and says there is not. He wonders if it might have come on another flight. Time passes, and he says – ahh, it was on another Air Mexico flight, and out it came. And I hugged and kissed my pack, and told it that we had a pact that it would never do that again! But I forgave it. What else could I do? I'd also need to soon tend to its wounds with duct tape bandages, before its booboos got any worse.

Leaving the luggage claim area I silently wondered how my pack leaving Mexico city had ended up on a flight from half a country away. I did not believe this mysterious tale, and wondered what really happened to it in the in-between time.

Exiting, I was of course stopped and told that my bags would need to be searched. Of course they would.

I am becoming an expert at being searched. An absolute expert. I know when to smile, how to answer their questions, and how to laugh appropriately at each repeated joke. Ai ya. I almost broke form. Today the guy going through my pack in his snazzy black gloves, told me how cold it's been lately. “I bet it was colder where I was,” I said under my breath. Where was that, he wanted to know. But I held my tongue, and didn't say the truth – oh, just in South America. Not that warm. Please, continue to unpack my bags.

And he did. He unpacked all the sub bags from my bags, and then unpacked those. And then went through all the pockets. Now I almost have a respect for a good search – all those quasi-searches just feel like a waste of time, they're not doing anything, just pushing things around. But this guy was pretty on the ball. Of course, he left – unsearched – the same three pockets that everyone misses.

Like I said, I'm becoming good at being searched, and I bet I could get things across borders that shouldn't pass. Not that I would be such a damned fool – but, still.

I also thought about the “you packed this bag yourself? It hasn't been out of your sight?” question. I no longer answer it as, yes – no. I am more truthful. Yes, I packed it myself, and yes it was in my sight until I put it on the conveyor belt for the plane.

If you get caught with drugs in your bag, it's crap that you get charged even if they were put in your bag when you had no access to it. I refuse to shrink wrap my pack – they're just going to cut it open and search anyway. But to assume everything in a bag is the travellers is ridiculous. If I left my backpack in a movie theatre, and ten hours later, I go to pick it up with a police officer, there's no way he could prove in court that what was in that bag was placed there by me. But when you get off a flight, you are granted no immunity. Which is stupid. Because this scam is well known.

But the more I thought about it, the people who traffic drugs probably want their merchandise to get through, so they can claim it at the other end. And as such, they would probably put it in nice cases that look like they won't be searched – unlike the big duct taped knapsacks, which get hit up all the time. So I no longer worry. Still, I answer the question differently in hopes that it might help some day. Probably not.

Eventually I was told that I could repack my belongings. Great, the precarious packing doesn't take twenty minutes, go off on a coffee break and leave me to it. I love that.

But then I was through, and just had to figure out how to get from the magical LAX, with what looks like a spaceship control tower outside of it, to Santa Monica. I feared for a moment and then asked at the information booth – two women with green antenna on their heads (presumably for St. Patty's day tomorrow). They preened over my beard for a few moments, and told me that I wasn't orthodox. Then they set me up with all sorts of information, such as how to take a shuttle to parking lot C, grab the Big Blue Bus from bus bay 12, once I'm there, and how to simply ride BBB3 all the way to my hostel. Price to get from LAX to my hostel? 75 cents. I paid a whole buck. Man, really? TTC! Curse you!

So easily enough I ended up in my room, checked in, and after discovering that while wi-fi is everywhere here, and while no one else has a problem connecting to it, my computer requires me to stand in a corner, on a book shelf, in order for data transfer to work. So be it.

A few messages to a girl I travelled with in Africa, and I have perhaps set up some plans for the future. We shall see.

Out to explore.

I want to point out that this is by no means an exaggeration. This is not me embellishing. This is not me wanting to make America look weirder or wackier than it is. This is just what I saw in my one and a half hours wandering the Santa Monica Pier. Oh America, sometimes (often) I really do love you.

I turned left and saw, in front of me, the ocean. I had no idea where this hostel was located, but it couldn't be in a better spot. Ten minutes had me walking on the sand, where my mind was overcome with thoughts of everything that the last three months had brought me. I was reminded of walking the beach in Florida, but then I was transported to Dune 45 in Namibia, before being swept away to the blowing dunes of Peru. These thoughts will accompany my actions for the rest of ever. And it will be strange to discover when they pop up. Vodka and snowballs will most likely bring me to Antarctica, next winter.

I dragged myself to the present, attempting to experience it for all it was worth. A sixteen year old, with a girl in her early thirties, was dragging along a little girl. All of them were dressed in what I believe to be the national outfit for this beach – bikini top, and jean shorts, buttons undone, and opened. I wondered for a moment – was I seeing three generations together?

On the pier, I walked to the end, watching as lifeguards attempted to save a rather obese woman, collapsed on the ground. The officers with them walked up to us and said – word for word - “Move along folks, nothing to see here.” Then he swaggled towards us, hands on his hips. Television could not have set it any better.

On my way back, I heard the sound of children singing. No less than thirteen six year old girls, with faces painted like those I saw in certain colour and luminescence related districts of greater Holland, wearing green and black mini dresses, danced in line, bumping and gyrating, while singing about how they weren't girls anymore, and needed to be treated that way. The fifteen seconds I spent videoing this, as proof that such a thing did occur, was the most awkward and creepiest moment I'd experienced in some time. The fact that others were there simply enjoying the spectacle distressed me nearly as much.

On my way to escape from that nonsense I came across a man wearing a speedo, holding live snakes, while preaching about how He, not he the snake holder, but He the capital H He will save us from our rapture, if only we look and listen. For added impressiveness he did this while balancing on a rubber dodge ball.

Hardly able to process anymore, I headed back to the hostel along the pedestrian street, where I was nearly lost in a flock of breasts, topped with giant lips, which must have had bodies somewhere – I'm sure. My only solace was in the dinosaurs that offered a reprieve. They were made from bushes, and brass, and whatever else dinosaurs could be made from. There, by one, I saw another potential triple generation, where i would be older than the eldest in the lot.

With much work, I made my way through a side street and back to the hostel.

There, I was gifted with three dollar all you can eat pasta, garlic bread, and lemonaid. Lemonaid? Please. I made it for you. You are my best friend.

A donut on the pier ran more than this.

Over food I heard about the American health care issue from the Americans (I did not bring this up – but had been wondering of it for so long.) You know – when they talk, you really can see the problems with the Canadian system. Still, I told him – as his argument started to persuade me – I prefer to have a system that will sew all my fingers back on, rather than making me pick and choose which to save.

However, without that, we never would have had The Ringer.

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