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We were sitting on a hotel bed in Málaga at 4 in the morning, our sleep-deprived brains trying to process the thrilling concept that we essentially did not have a way to get back home to Dallas, with the first leg of our flight being delayed which meant that we were going to miss our connecting flight in New York. This processing was not an easy task, as I generally need to be awake for at least 2 hours before I begin to vaguely recall my own name.
“What do you want to do,” asked Partner, one of his eyes twitching downward in a desperate attempt to coerce the rest of his body back into slumber.
“We might as well just head on out to the airport. We’ve got to work out new flight arrangements and we might end up on a plane that’s leaving in a few hours. Besides, I’ve also got to figure out why I’ve been branded as a potential heretic. With my luck, and my attitude, that will probably take a while.”
“Got it.” He staggered into the bathroom and slapped on the shower, while I got busy checking for the hundredth time to make sure we had everything packed and that nothing important had rolled under the bed to gather dust in its abandonment. (I’ve had a fear of leaving things behind ever since I walked off and left my very expensive retainer sitting on a lunch tray during my sophomore year in high school. Some things just stay with you.)
At 4:50am, we approached the front desk in the mostly-dark hotel lobby. The attendant looked up, startled. “Checking out? But your taxi will not be here until 5:15. 25 minutes. Do you want I should call and have them come early?”
“No!” I practically screamed. It was suddenly very important to me that something happened today at the time it was supposed to happen. No more surprises. “We’ll just wait outside for him.”
The attendant’s eyebrows raised. “Are you sure that you want to do that?”
Just then, there was a startling and drunken yell of salutations from the public square next to the hotel, quickly followed by several other happy drunks hollering back and lots of people laughing. Oh, right. We were in the very center of tourism and entertainment for the city. Apparently, the bars around here either closed very late or opened very early. “Um, we’ll just sit over here in the lobby for a bit, if that’s okay.”
He nodded and made a welcoming gesture toward a couch across an expanse of marble. Anything you want. Have an orgy, if you feel up to it. We aim to please our guests.
Partner and I fell into the sofa, off in the murky shadows. (The only true illumination was the circle of light over the front desk, where the attendant immediately went back to doing whatever he had been doing before the Americans had arrived, ahead of schedule and looking a bit wild-eyed.) Two minutes later, I snorted myself awake and roused Partner as well. “This is too comfortable. Let’s just go wait outside where I have to stand up.”
We clattered out the front doors.
There were people everywhere. Not tons of people, mind you, but a sizeable contingent, considering it was 5am. And they were all under libational influence, to one degree or another. But at least they were happy and cordial, with many of them waving and greeting us warmly. (Perhaps they had heard about the orgy in the lobby and were finagling for an invitation? Who knows.)
Suddenly, a taxi appeared and stopped in front of us, the driver hopping out. “Room Mate Larios?” he queried, naming our hotel. We voiced confirmation, although the smart-ass side of me greatly wished to point at the sign over our heads, but I refrained. “Málaga Airport?” We nodded again, and thus began the ritual of shoving luggage into a stranger’s back end. Then we were off, after the driver pointed out I was trying to use the wrong seatbelt and that’s why it wouldn’t work.
As we darted along the mostly-deserted city streets, the Delta Airlines app pinged on my phone. Great. What was it now? The company had gone out of business because of Trump’s stupid tariffs? I scanned the message. Oh. They had found a later flight from JFK to Dallas, one that would accommodate the delay on the first leg, and they had already booked us. Four-hour layover, which wasn’t great, but that would give us plenty of time for the hell of going through Customs. I suddenly loved Delta Airlines, even though I had hated them a mere 3 seconds earlier.
I gave the news to Partner. “Good. Now we just have to figure out why they think you’re Patty Hearst.”
A bit later, we arrived at the airport, and I knew right away something was out of sorts. We’ve done very-early flights out of this airport before, and typically there are very few people around, with most things still shuttered for the night. This time? There were hordes of haggard people criss-crossing the vast spaces of the terminal, dragging luggage and sleepy, complaining children. I was not in the mood for that many people at that time of the day. Then again, I’m not in the mood for people at most times of the day, so I might as well suck it up.
As we scanned the terminal, looking for a Delta Airlines desk (because the app had told me I need to physically speak with an agent, being marked as a terrorist and all), I spied one of their automated check-in machines. “You know what, I’m going to give that a try.”
So, I did. I punched a few buttons, mashed my passport with my ugly-ass photo against the scanner when prompted, and punched some more buttons. In less than a minute, a boarding pass printed out and dropped in the little slot. I was golden. So, what the hell had been the problem? A very small part of me was disappointed that it had been that easy. A very small part. (Little did I know that I wasn’t so golden after all, but I wouldn’t find that out for a bit.)
Partner printed out his pass as well, and we were both good to go. Granted, there was no seat assignment on the passes, but that was part of the deal we bought. We were guaranteed a seat, but we wouldn’t be assigned one until we got to the gate. (It’s a little unnerving to fly that way, but it saved us 400 bucks a ticket, and we had ended up with great seats on the two flights on our journey to Spain.) We wandered off to a slightly-remote area of the terminal and plopped into some typically uncomfortable chairs. We still had hours to kill before we even needed to go through security, so there was no rush.
Three seconds later, a massive cavalcade of high-school students surrounded us, a few of them taking seats but most of them plopping on the marble floor and relaxing. (Floors are comfortable when you’re 15 and limber.) All of them immediately launched into excited chatter about something they were about to do or had just done. It wasn’t clear, because they were speaking German, but it was very exciting and they couldn’t live unless they talked about it. They just had so much energy. (There was a handful of older, chaperone-types with them, but without the energy. They looked exhausted, with their clenched postures and unblinking eyes indicating that they would never sign up to be chaperones again.)
The noise was overwhelming. We should have moved, but we were just so tired.
Then I got another ping on my Delta app. Well, look at that. They’ve already assigned our seats. That’s great. But wait. Our boarding passes don’t have a seat. Is there going to be an issue with the discrepancy? On the flights over, Delta had sent me digital boarding passes when our seats were assigned. There were no digital passes this time, just the message.
Suddenly, all of the German students stood up and raced away, followed by the weary chaperones. It was probably an unrelated development, but it did not sit well with me, a harbinger of sorts. I turned to Partner. “I better go talk to an agent.”
Partner was fine with that, because the Germans were gone and he could hear his own thoughts again.
I approached the Delta Airlines help desk with what I hoped was a winning smile. This effort proved only partially successful. One of the two ladies immediately snatched up some paperwork and looked everywhere but at me. The other lady beamed with high-wattage and may or may not have shown some cleavage, proving they had different operating styles. “Yes?”
“Um, the Delta app is showing that my seats have been assigned but my boarding pass doesn’t have my seat. Is that going to be an issue when I go through Security?” As an added flourish, I slid my pass across the counter toward her. She plucked it up and analyzed such.
I thought this was a well-worded question. Cleavage looked at me like no one had asked her such a thing, never in her entire life. Her wattage faded a bit. She turned to her partner and there was an extended discussion in Spanish, with me only catching every fourth word or so and her partner exuding a body language that said “if you had just ignored him, he might have gone away”.
Cleavage finally looked back at me. “I will make a phone call.” She picked up the instrument and punched a button, then her eyes flicked past me, studying something in the distance. I turned in that direction, and I perused one of the agents at the multiple check-in lines grabbing his own phone.
More rapid-fire Spanish, with my comprehension rate reduced to every sixth word or so. They chatted for a very long time, much longer than my original question. Much of the interaction involved Cleavage referring to my boarding pass and punching keys on her computer. Seriously, what was going on here?
The guy across the way finally slammed his phone down, followed by Cleavage releasing her own instrument. “You will need to check in with the ticketing agent.”
“So, you can’t print me a new boarding pass?”
Our relationship was over. “I am not a ticketing agent. I answer the questions.”
Fine. I took back my now-dubious pass and went to find Partner. “We’ve got to go through the check-in lines.”
“But we’re already checked in.”
As we approached the line, we encountered two Delta agents at the entrance to said line, a man and a woman. Woman: “First, I must apologize for the delay of your flight.”
Wait, how do you even know what flight we’re on?
“Second, please go with this gentleman here who has a few questions for you.”
Gentleman began walking slowly through the complicated approach to the actual ticket desk, with those myriad poles linked with black tether lines, rats in a maze looking for cheese, an arrangement that was completely unnecessary at this time, as there were only about four people in the line, way at the other end of the maze. He had a lot of questions. They started out typically (Did you pack your own bags? Have you left your bags unattended since you arrived at the airport? Do you have any machetes?), but then the queries became a bit more personal. (Where had we stayed in Spain? Had we visited the caves in Nerja? Did we try the gambas pil-pil?)
It was all a bit much, which triggered my anxiety, natch.
As we neared the cheese of the actual ticketing desks, Gentleman happened to notice and appreciate Partner’s luggage tag, which is a rubberized vision of Han Solo frozen in carbonite. (“I’m a geek, too!”) Well, then. Surely, we were going to get through this mess okay.
He asked for Partner’s passport, and upon receiving such he placed a cute little green sticker on the back of it and scribbled a few numbers. Then he handed it back to Partner lovingly, father to son. They would be soul-mates forever.
Next, he asked for mine. He placed a red sticker on the back of it and scribbled a lot of numbers. Then he shoved it back at me, making it very clear that we were not soul-mates and I should have been more creative with my own choice of luggage tags. Then he thanked us for our time and trotted away, but not before giving a final, brotherhood glance at Partner. (“May the force be with you!”)
I stared at the back of my besmirched passport. “I’m not getting a warm fuzzy about this red sticker.”
Partner: “Oh, you’ll be fine. He wouldn’t have let us keep going if there was a problem. Relax.”
We were now at the front of the line, waiting for an opening at one of the various counters to become available.
“Next!” hollered one of the agents, the very agent who had spoken with Cleavage on the phone, back before Han Solo became a subplot in this sordid tale. This did not feel right.
I gulped and stepped forward…
Click here to read the next bit of madness in this series…
Categories: My Life