31 August 2007

Aug 30 – MX Trip, Heading Home

My alarm went off as scheduled at 5am. I showered, did the final packing and went down to check out. My airport ride was due at 6 so I sat in the lobby area just inside the entrance where I could see the cars pull up. Since it was the same guy and service that picked me up from the airport, I was hoping I’d recognize him.

I sat and read for 10-15 minutes and then I saw the vehicle pull up…10 minutes early. Eduardo put my bags in back and I got in the back seat. Pulling out into the street, Eduardo tried to engage me in conversation. My wits weren’t sufficiently sharp to keep up with him and I had to say, “Como?” a lot. He told me about the heavy rain storm in the night and that he hadn’t been to bed yet. He was going to drop me at the airport then go home to sleep. He said something about the earthquakes in Peru but I didn’t get much of that. He asked me about my flight route…whether I was going through Mexico City to Dallas and what my final destination was. He also asked me if I had kids and told me he had 5 or 6, he wasn’t sure, but knew that there were 3 mothers between them all. I asked their ages and he said from 16 down to 9…2 of them are 13 but I’m gathering that they aren’t twins.

After that, I think the struggle of trying to communicate became too much and we rode the rest of the way in silence.

He dropped me at the airport and I got in line to get my tickets. No automated kiosks in Guadalajara… Then I got in line for security. By the time I got to the gate area, I didn’t have a whole lot of time before departure. I had some pesos I needed to get rid of and planned to buy a T-shirt or something at one of the shops. I sort of wandered through one or two on the way to the gate but didn’t like any of the shirts and the stuff I did like was either more pesos than I had or too bulky/fragile to mess with on the plane, given I already had my 2 carry-ons.

I found the gate and decided to at least get something for the plane ride…a pop and maybe some snacks. There was a vendor near the gate area and I got a bottle of the yogurt drink that seems to be popular here (they had it at morning break every day at the office), and a packet of cookies and bottle of pop for the plane.

The actual gate was down an escalator, and there were a lot of people there. The space wasn’t much more than a hallway about the length of the escalator and it was filled with people. I asked a few people what flight they were waiting for and there were about 3 or 4 all milling around.

The system seems to be that they use the people-mover things to collect a planeload of people and take them to the plane. So they can have flights “departing” every 10 minutes or so from the same gate. 2 different flights departed before they called mine. It was very confusing, with several different flight groups milling together and there are the inevitable confused people…just about anyone who hasn’t flown that way before.

As they made the boarding announcement for my flight, they also announced that no liquids would be allowed at all. I still had my unopened Coke and, in spite of the announcement, didn’t pitch it. I figured they could confiscate it if they wanted to.

There was a single doorway that everyone went through and everyone’s carry on bags were searched. Rather perfunctorily, but still searched. They confiscated my Coke but passed me on. I got on the people-mover and out to the plane.

This plane had more people on it than the one to Guadalajara…but not by a lot. After we got up in the air and the seatbelt sign was turned off, I moved up a couple rows to an aisle seat that didn’t have anyone sitting in front of it so that I could open up my laptop and work on the tray table without the seat in front reclined into me. It was a smooth, uneventful flight.

In Dallas, immigration was a breeze and there was no line at customs. The bottleneck was security getting back to the departure gates. There was an Asian soccer team…pre-teen and teen kids…that didn’t know the drill and, of course, the signage and agents don’t speak whichever language they spoke.

The kids were all split up across the security screening stations and didn’t know they had to take their shoes and jackets off, or that they needed to keep their boarding passes with them. So they’d get up to the scanner and stopped not knowing why. Finally, someone decided that the whole team should go through together where there was an adult who could interface between them and the English-speaking security people. That opened up most of the lines and people started moving through again.

Sometimes, I swear they make these airport procedures as convoluted and inefficient as they can. All in the name of “national security”, I know, but it’s such a joke. People lie and hide things and stuff gets through anyway and all it does is snarl things up.

Anyway, I got through and went to the posted gate. I bought a hugely overpriced sandwich and pop for lunch then sat down with my book to wait the couple hours until my flight.

I finished my book and used the restroom then looked at my watch and wondered at the boarding status of my gate. Given my flight’s departure time, there was no way it was going to happen at this gate. So I went to check the monitors. Sure enough, my flight had been moved to another gate so I got on the Skytrain and went to the station for that section of gates. I had time…not tons of time, but enough so that I was in no danger of missing the flight. Good thing my book hadn’t been 20 pages longer…

Shortly after I got there, they made an announcement that the plane taking us to Des Moines was late in arriving and now wasn’t expected to get there until after our scheduled departure time…our new departure time was about a half hour later.

That happened pretty much on time, we boarded and then we sat on the tarmac for a while. All the lights and air went off for a bit and it started to get stuffy in the plane and thought to myself, “Something’s up here…”

Sure enough, the pilot came on a little later to say that there was a problem in the collision avoidance computer and they had to “reboot the plane.” Then he came back on and said that after the boot, one system was still showing as non-functional and they had to get a maintenance team out to look at it. He went on at some length about our being able to fly anyway but they’d have to file some paperwork and get it in the log and satisfy the procedures.

All in all, we ended up rolling down the runway for takeoff at the time we were supposed to have been landing in Des Moines. Alan was picking me up and I knew it would play havoc with his schedule. He’d already had t rearrange things to get the kids picked up at school for my original arrival time. This was going to mess up his soccer practice time to both get the kids there and coach. But I know he’ll watch the flight progress via the internet and deal with it. Nothing I can do from mid-air.

We touched down in Des Moines around 5pm and Alan was there to meet me with his special, fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies…what has become our pick-up-Sue-at-the-airport tradition.

This trip home hadn’t been as long or arduous as the trip home from Egypt, but I felt every bit as fried. I am so ready to be home for a while!