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Friday, July 26, 2013

Near-Death in Mexico City, Part 6

If you've missed any of the previous installments, you can view the entire tale (including this conclusion) by clicking here.

His side, at last:

We were hopefully nearing the end of an evening that I remember as a weird combination of late-night cable reruns. Our adventure began as Airport 1978, next transitioned abruptly into The Amazing Race, and then The Twilight Zone.  I was numb enough from our harrowing experience to not get aggravated by the huge crowd at the hotel front desk. We had survived; we were safely out of the airport. I could wait in line with my hands tied behind my back.

Even though we had led this rag-tag group of travelers to the Promised Land, the duty-free debacle caused our arrival to be a good 30 minutes after everyone else.  I don’t recall seeing my Bob in the lobby (with any luck he was mugged and stripped of his double-triple platinum card). I did see reformed loud and angry Bob and the jerk-lady that scolded me about the tequila among the rest of the passengers. I tried my best to talk to the folks that I didn’t hate and to avoid eye contact with those that I did.  My main goal at the time was to keep my eye on the prize: the very well-stocked bar adjacent to the check-in desk.

The only thing now between me and total bar bliss was getting the key and dropping our bags in the room. I shouldn’t have been surprised that this seemingly easy step would be a difficult one. The first problem was that Courtney was absolutely adamant about not flying Mexicana Air ever again.  She managed to have a total breakdown on the short trip from the lobby to the second floor room. “There was something wrong with that plane! They were lying to us about customs!”  Both were very good points, but I worked extremely hard toward getting those tickets, and they wouldn’t cost me another $500 in cancellation and re-booking fees. Who did she think I was, Big-Time Bob?  I lucked out and somehow got her to agree to sleep on it and discuss it in the morning. 

When we entered the room, the second problem came up. “The room smells like smoke. It’s disgusting,” my beautiful, sensitive new fiancĂ©e announced.   

Without the energy for my usual polite demeanor, I mumbled, “You can call to get a new room if you would like. I’ll be at the bar.” 

As I sat on the stool, I noticed she had followed me down. I caught my second break-- maybe I could buy her enough alcohol to forget about the dangerous airline and crappy hotel room. 

We spent the next few hours spending a fortune on overcooked Mexican food and overpriced tequila. Apparently, Courtney could only feel okay about ordering from the dingy little bar if we exclusively drank Patron.  I'm guessing her reasoning was that the staff would have more respect for the top-shelf spirit by not using a dirty glass and washing their hands thoroughly before pouring it.  

After a while, the warm glow of the drinks had lightened our disposition significantly.  On the trip back up to the room, Courtney resumed her rant about conspiracy theories and emergency vehicles, but at least she said nothing about the room that awaited us.  I managed to side-step the rebooking of the flight again as we re-entered the room by using my standard, “I understand your concern, and I think we should sleep on it” line. 

I took a shower to wash away the day’s events while Courtney was still stewing about the smell and cleanliness.  I began to believe that I had gotten away with the thoughtless comment about the gross room until I stepped out of the bathroom and realized that Courtney had fallen asleep with all of her clothes on atop the sheets and all.

The next morning, I somehow talked Courtney into dropping the idea of cancelling and rebooking the flight. I began to hope that I didn’t live (or not live) to regret it. The beginning of the day unfolded as almost an apology for the events that had transpired the day before.  The hotel treated us to a full breakfast, the layout of the airport magically became clear to us, we instantly found where our tequila was, and got to our gate in plenty of time.

Unfortunately, we were both so nervous about the impending flight we did not enjoy the luxury of everything lining up in this way until weeks after the incident. 

At our gate, we saw many of the familiar faces from the first flight.  Today, the relationship with our fellow passengers was different.  There was a kinship.  We were more like comrades who had just finished fighting a battle together instead of weary travelers fighting each other for the last few vouchers.

Most of us were abuzz about why the plane turned around and the reason for all of the emergency vehicles.  There were a few interesting theories like radar trouble, mechanical malfunctions, and suspicious passengers (I could have helped the authorities out with that one). I wanted to add my thoughts about Big-Time Bob calling his an airline and his wife in the middle of our descent, but the anger was still too fresh to revisit.  There were many great ideas, yet none of us could come up with a definitive explanation for the mysterious event.

The flight finally boarded.  Both of us were on edge.  It was too late to cancel now. Even though I had done a great job convincing myself that we had made the right decision in taking the voucher with Mexicana, that it would be okay, I just couldn’t shake the feeling of impending doom. 

The lump in my throat became larger and more painful as the flight took off and stabilized at the correct altitude. This first step to a safe flight did not quiet my fears.  My pulse was racing, my palms were sweating, and my mind kept wandering down terrible paths.  I was just starting to contemplate whether or not Courtney would say “I do” in marriage before she said “I told you so” in a fiery plane crash when something caught my eye.

The morning sun shining through the tiny airplane windows illuminated a beautiful and familiar liquid on the flight attendant’s cart. The lovely clink of the large liquor bottles as the cart rolled towards us (unlike those pathetic mini bottles on U.S. flights) was like church bells before Sunday service.  The best part was it seemed to be complementary.

It was only 9 a.m.! Paying for alcohol at this hour would be crazy, but taking a little free lubricant to ease our fears sounded almost responsible.  Without much thought, we both said in unison, “Tequila, please!”  It was obvious that we were making the drink lady uncomfortable.  In her broken English and hand motions, she went through a variety of mixers to accompany our breakfast drink. 

“Margarita mix?”

I’m not sure if it was the gleam in our eyes, our refusal of all of her offerings, or our nervous demeanor that caused it, but she was definitely becoming frightened.  We decided that we would say yes to ice, her final offering, just to keep the peace.

The free alcohol began flowing; the rest of the flight was lovely.  They even served a real meal on the flight, with real silverware!  It was ironic that this flight from the same airline was so classy and comfortable when the one the night before was so horrific. The landing went off without a hitch.  We had finally made it out of Mexico City alive!

The final step in getting this nightmare behind us was U.S. customs. It was hot, the line was long and slow, and German shepherds weaved in and out of the cattle pen that we were all stuck in. It’s odd considering what I had just been through, but I began to become increasingly nervous about my Cuban cigars that I had in my luggage. The dogs sniffed me a few times and moved on. Whew! We finally got to the desk. 

The customs guy looked suspiciously at our bags then at our passports.  I was not in the clear yet. My heart stopped when he said I would have to go to the special line down in the basement. It's all over, I thought.  I survived certain death over Mexico just to rot in customs prison in Texas for the rest of my life because of some stupid contraband stemming from some stupid law that was created because we didn’t like Fidel Castro in the early 60s.  There were only two people ahead of us in the “special” line, but it was the longest wait that I can remember since we left for Puerto Vallarta.

When we finally got to the desk, I prepared myself for the feeling of handcuffs around my wrists while I practiced my most innocent, indignant face for my impending performance.  Then, a sort of happy surprise occurred.  It wasn’t the cigars that I was here for; it was the alcohol. 


In one more Three Stooges-style eye-poke, my great bargain on alcohol at the duty-free caused me yet another delay.  Apparently, the Mexicans who'd told us that we could have two liters per person didn’t know about the great state of Texas’s law about only one liter per person.

The customs officer must have seen how much that I needed to keep the cheap spirits which had already cost so much, because he claimed that he didn’t care about the one-liter law. He didn’t work for the state; he worked for the federal government. He told us to take all of the bottles and just keep the law in mind in the future.

During the entire customs experience, the running joke among our group had become giving the customs officials a hard time for leaving at 11 pm and getting us stuck in Mexico. No one let on the fear and confusion they felt when the officials answered, “I’m not sure what you mean; I clocked out at 3 a.m.!”

No one believed the customs story told by the airline, but the official denial would mean that we would never get what we all craved.  Many of us managed to get home with cheap liquor, Cuban cigars, and even some pretty fantastic memories.  Unfortunately, all of us from the doomed flight would have to leave the airport without answers for why we almost died in Mexico City.

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