This is where it happened.
Well, I didn’t have any definitive proof at the time to back up my assertion, and I would continue to not have any proof well after the violation had been “resolved”, because people hide things and are not forthcoming, but my gut tells me it was right here.
We had stumbled out of the plane in the bleary, wee hours of a Saturday morning, having just completed the second segment of a three-hop, never-ending run from Dallas to Malaga, Spain. We were in one of the Madrid airports (I’m assuming they have more than one, as it’s very trendy these days for larger cities to confuse people with variables) and it was requisite that we prep ourselves for the next stage.
This entailed following hundreds of other disembarking people as they tried to figure out where to go. I was not in any position to make my own decisions, having just spent an unhealthy amount of time seated next to a strange man on the plane. He had a number of issues. I hadn’t had any until he sat down beside me. Perhaps in the future I will expound on the many reasons why he should not be allowed access to public transit, but this is not his story. All you need to know is that I was not impressed.
So we’re following the pack of people, somewhat mindless but cognizant enough to realize that we need to find the ticketing stations. Due to the whimsical follies of the God of Travel, each leg of our flight had been doled out to different airlines, which meant that we had to check in and get new boarding passes at each stop. On my list of “Interesting Things to Do Today”, this concept was nowhere to be found, and it never will be. I want to check in one time and then wake up at my final destination.
After a considerable amount of trudging (making it very clear that our plane had landed in another country for murky legal reasons), we came upon this extremely-long walkway that stretched from here to Jamaica. There were a number of doors on both sides of the walkway, consecutively aligned. They had the appearance of being very important portals during business hours that were not swathed in moonlight, but at the current moment they were ominously locked and shackled in a manner that bespoke of what can happen to your life if you sell hashish in Turkey.
My musings were distracted by the realization that there was one of those moving sidewalks smack in the middle of this epic walkway. I had another realization that my partner was giving no indication that he would be utilizing said means of quicker transference, a move that most sane people would make after being on the road for 47 days, despite the possibility that you could trip at the end of the moving sidewalk and bust your ass in front of Jesus and all of his International Disciples.
I briefly thought of taking my partner’s life for making me walk when we could ride. But I was too tired to lift and adequately control any form of weapon, so I just shrugged and followed along, my footsteps echoing in the Turkish penal institution as we marched toward what may or may not be a prison yard where I would be shanked for not procuring enough cigarettes for my bunkmate and master, Hector.
Eventually, and it’s entirely possible that I napped at some point and was just whisked forward by the crowd, we spied a ticket counter for our airline (our third airline, mind you). It did seem a bit odd that this counter was out in the middle of a large landing, with no other booths for miles around, like a mirage appearing in the Salvador Dali Desert. (That right there should have been enough of a warning sign to set off alarm bells but this did not happen because, tired.) We checked in with Cristina.
Cristina was nonplussed as to why we might me checking in with her.
Because we don’t have boarding passes, dear. We were told at the last airport to get them from you. Well, not you specifically, just someone who does things just like you should be doing right now, so could you just do it and everyone involved will get a gold star.
Cristina consulted with her booth partner, a surly woman who did not have a name tag, probably because she was surly and management was tired of people reporting her. I’ve been in the corporate world and I know these things. Upper management doesn’t fix problems. They just shift them around and print out new spreadsheets for the Board of Directors.
Cristina and Surly, after several committee meetings and some keyboard clacking, decided that perhaps they could assist us after all. Passports, please? I handed mine over and then let my partner handle the rest. After all, he was apparently in charge of sidewalk travel so he could surely deal with this as well. Besides, I had just spotted two chairs off to the side, chairs which could easily be arranged into a rudimentary bed and, once that was done, I could then fall into the contraption and sleep for the rest of my life. This was so much more alluring than a boarding pass.
My lustful reverie was interrupted by said boarding pass being shoved into my hand, dissipating my dream of nocturnal bliss next to a broken vending machine and a unisex bathroom. I studied the pass, trying to recall what you were supposed to do with such things, and my eyes wandered over the space for the boarding gate. It simply said: “Gate: H,J,K”.
I caught Cristina’s attention a mere millisecond before she turned and ran for another career where people didn’t expect her to do things. “Why are there three gates listed? How does one leave from three gates at once? Where are the gate numbers? Why are you trying to torture me at 4AM in the morning?” (Naturally, that last line was implied, what with the way my eyes were darting about like short-circuiting bumblebees.)
Cristina smiled primly, as it was clear to anyone around that I was an idiot, but she would still help me for the sake of my saintly mother who had somehow managed to raise such a wretched thing. “This is standard procedure. We don’t announce the actual gate until closer to departure.” Then she smiled primly again, in case I hadn’t caught how annoying such an effort was when she did it the first time.
Our plane was supposedly leaving in a little over an hour. What were they going to do? Wait until thirty seconds before takeoff and then hoist a carrier pigeon in the air? I don’t think I like Spanish airports, at least not this particular one in Madrid where they hired people named Cristina and unnamed people named Surly. Then something else clicked in the fogginess of my mind. “Don’t we need to go through Customs at some point?”
Cristina and Surly were absolutely horrified that we had somehow made it to them without some guy in an official hat grilling us about transporting radioactive cheese and rambunctious livestock in our carry-ons. “How did you get here?”
“We walked,” I offered, wanting to flash a prim smile as well but not willing to stoop to her level, at least not when it came to facial expressions. “You are the first people we’ve seen who were not on the plane with us.”
“You simply MUST go through Customs,” exhorted Cristina, the primness dropping from her self-satisfied visage and fear replacing it, as if Imperial Stormtroopers were about to leap from behind the broken vending machine and hack us all to bits for such extraordinary indiscretions.
“I got it,” I said. “But where is it?”
“On the way to gates H, J and K,” pronounced Surly, then she turned away and began fiddling with something that looked like my Grandfather’s Chrysler hood ornament. Cristina nodded her head in agreement, with one eye still on the vending machine.
“So Customs is beyond your little station but you expected us to go there and then come back here? How would we know to do that? Shouldn’t they put everything in a little row to make it easier?”
Cristina was back to her primness. “This is standard procedure and-”
“Thanks for your help.” We grabbed our multi-directional boarding passes and took off.
Fifteen precious minutes (they could release the pigeon at any second, hurry!) we topped the last of thirteen escalators (some went up, some went down, none of them made any sense) and found ourselves right outside Customs. I’m not a fan of Customs, with the way they make you sweat and feel extremely criminalistic even though you haven’t even had the illicit joy of doing anything illegal, declaring everything on your form down to the bristle rating on your toothbrush.
Happily, in one of the rare moments of fleeting luck on this trip, we caught a break in the manner of the European Union. There were roughly 3,000 people in the EU line, looking disgruntled and not moving. There were exactly four people in the non-EU line, and one of them was a small child who could get a good fifteen more years out of life before she had to assume any responsibility for her actions whatsoever.
This resulted in me standing in front of Official Hat Man within seven seconds. I handed him my paperwork. He opened my passport and glanced at the photo, circled something on my boarding pass (Waldo?) and then shoved everything back at me, without speaking a single word throughout the encounter.
I was confused, accustomed as I was to somehow exuding an air of malfeasance, leading to Customs officials asking hundreds of questions concerning my linage, political affiliation, shoe size and a careful scrutiny of all testing procedures that I may have had performed at shady public health clinics. “Are we done?”
He just looked at me primly, empathizing with my saintly mother.
I snatched up my documents and ran.
Next up? Security. Not a fan. Moving on.
Right outside Security? Another ticketing booth for our third-in-one-trip airline. I had an unsettled feeling about this whole experience, and I just wanted some reassurance, something that Cristina and Surly had not been quite capable of providing. Would the agent mind checking to see if our checked baggage was fully secure and headed to our final destination? We hadn’t seen it since Dallas, three different connections, yadda yadda yadda, I’m completely anal about these things.
“Sure!” said the agent. He pecked away, made a few affirmative noises to himself, then handed back our boarding passes. “Everything is completely in order. Have a great trip!”
The carrier pigeon flew overhead.
Two hours later we arrived in Malaga.
Our luggage did not.
Categories: Present Tense