Tuesday, April 14, 2009

lax > buenos aires > mar del plata

By Pauly
Mar del Plata, Argentina

I can't recall ever being in such horrible head space on an important travel day. Sure, there have been times when I left an assignment or holiday totally hungover and completely ill, but that was at the end of a trip and I was on my way home after a late night of partying. On Monday morning, I was physically ill (the effects of the tainted Indian food which slayed me for 48+ hours and left me with a bloody arse) and on mega-Citibank tilt. That's no way to start a 24 hour journey just to get to where I needed to go for a week long assignment in Argentina.

I was flustered trying to leave the apartment. I was on the phone and doing my best to not to unleash a tirade on an outsourced call center person. Look, at this point I expect that major companies will outsource their support staff. However, they should at least make sure their operators speak English clearly. I honestly couldn't tell what the person said until I was finally transferred to someone with better communication skills. These days, if you give your bank an opportunity to fuck you over... they will. Luckily I caught the problem before I went out of the country.

Anyway, while I was on the phone I rushed out of the apartment and forgot to bring a couple of chapters of Lost Vegas that I printed out. That was considered a non-essential items. While on the road, if the shit hits the fan, I only need one thing... my passport. Everything I take on the road with me is expendable even my precious laptop. Obviously it has to be a live or death situation for me to make the decision to ditch my baby. But stuff like notebooks, ipod, and clothes? All replaceable.

I also try to pack as light as possible. However, on a work assignment there are two types of items that I bring along... essential items (passport, laptop, credit cards, cash, camera, and underwear)... and non-essential items (books, iPod, extra clothes). You get the picture.

I had a super tight connection. My flight from LAX to Buenos Aires connected through Dallas, since that's American Airlines hub and the point of origin of several South American routes. I'd have less than one hour to make the connection. As a gambling man, I figured that I was 3 to 1 against making the flight because of the limited connection time which left very little leeway if my flight from LAX was delayed. And if you ever flown on American, you know how awful they are for on-time performance and that flights from LAX can be a clusterfuck. Plus, DFW is a huge airport and I was worried that I'd get stuck in a different terminal and have to take a train to the correct terminal.

Nicky booked on the same flight from Dallas to Buenos Aires, but she selected a much earlier flight from LAX to Dallas in order to give herself breathing room. My company could not fit me on that flight since they tapped me for the gig just last week and arranged travel plans on short notice. Alas, I had to take a different flight from Nicky. I tried to change the flight or get on the list for standby but they wouldn't let me because of some bullshit about altering a ticket for a international travel after 9/11 blah blah blah.

Nicky and I arrived at LAX at the same time and she left on a flight one hour before me. We said our goodbyes. I mentally prepared myself and expected to get stranded in Dallas since there was only one flight per day heading to Argentina.

Oh, and here's the worst part of the journey. My assignment is located in a beach resort town south of Buenos Aires approximately 5.5 hours. I had to book a separate domestic flight from Buenoa Aires to Mar del Plata on Tuesday morning which flew out of a different airport in Buenos Aires (similar to arriving at JFK and then having to head to LaGuardia to finish up your journey). All of the other Buenos Aires > Mar del Plata flights were sold out on Wednesday. So if I missed my Monday night flight to BA, then I'd have to fly to South America on Tuesday night and forced to take a 5.5 hour bus ride after I landed on Wednesday morning.

I discovered that Otis got fucked over in a similar situation. His flight from Greenville to Miami (connecting to Buenos Aires) was cancelled because of shitty weather. Act of God. He had to postpone his journey by one day... which meant a five plus hour bus ride awaited him when he eventually cleared customs in Buenos Aires.

Originally, my client arranged me to travel on a bus from Buenos Aires > Mar del Plata. I could only imagine what a bus ride in South America would be like... chickens flying around, crying babies with snot crusted on their face, holes in the floorboards with dust swirling all around... not to mention, a gaucho with a blade in the back row challenging anyone who wanted to use the toilet to a fight to the death. So instead of riding on a dilapidated bus without AC while sitting in my own warm piss, I decided to avoid a scene out of a Jose Luis Borges short story and I paid money out of my pocket for a flight to Mar del Plata to avoid the plight with the unwashed masses.

I caught a little wave of luck and my flight out of LAX was only delayed by ten minutes. Nicky waited for me at the gate when I arrived and I caught another break because the flight to Buenos Aires was leaving only three gates down. I had enough time to load up on energy bars and pick up a couple of thousand Argentinian pesos at the exchange booth.

There was a mob scene at the gate. I picked up a "blend in with the locals" guide book to Argentina and one chapter highlighted the cockiness of Argentinians and how they were too cool to wait in lines. Alas, when they called pre-boarding, a huge surge rushed towards the door which included an entire youth-group soccer team. Nicky had elite status on American Airlines so she boarded in the first group. She ran into a ticket agent on a power trip who refused to let her take a carry-on bag onto the plane. Nicky went on mega-tilt. She purposely carried on her bags because American Airlines lost her luggage on the way to Chile a few months ago. Sadly, she lost the battle with the bitchy agent even though she carried on the same bag on plenty of other journeys. Nicky unleashed a F-bomb and the agent was offended and chastised her for using foul language against FAA rules.

"When did this turn into a fuckin' Communist country?" she screamed.

Actually, we currently live in a socialist country with fascist undertones. But it was no time for semantics. Alas, Nicky had to check her bag at the gate and she boarded the plane in a huff.

Hourly Wage Slave 1, Nicky 0.

I waited fifteen minutes in the middle of the mob until I finally boarded the plane. Nicky had Row 25 Seat A. When it was time for me to select my seats online last week, I picked the closest to her... Row 25 Seat C. It was an aisle seat and we figured whoever was next to Nicky would switch since they also had an aisle seat. Except a grumpy old guy refused to switch. He didn't want to sit in the middle row with five other seats. As he explained, there were two or more people who had to climb over him during the 10+ hour flight. If he kept his seat next to Nicky, it would only be one person. When I sat down, I asked him to switch a second time.

"Any chance I get to sit next to my girlfriend? She's a horribly nervous flier."

"No. And I thought she was your wife? She said that you were her husband?"

"Ummm.... wishful thinking," I said.

Nicky purposely said husband because she thought that more people are sympathetic to married couples than boyfriend/girlfriend. Alas, I buttered the guy up a bit and engaged in small talk. When he noticed that no one was sitting next to me, he warmed up tot he idea of switching. In fact, there were two empty seats next to me. When the doors closed he agreed to finally move and I got to sit next to Nicky.

We were on a newer plane and American Airlines offered up individual TV screens and free movies-on-demand... much like my two other favorite international airlines... KLM and Qantas.

The dinner sucked, a dry piece of rubber chicken and cold rice infested with disgusting veggies. I was starving so badly that I actually ate the side salad with yellow lettuce although I tossed Nicky the tomato. The dinner roll was the highlight of the meal only because I dropped half my cookie on the floor somewhere over the Gulf of Mexico.

Unable to sleep, I popped a half of a pharmie and settled in to watch flicks. First up? Valkyrie... the Tom Cruise vehicle where he played a German colonel during WWII who was part of the conspiracy to assassinate Hitler. Better than I expected with cameos from top British actors Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, and Kenneth Branaugh. Fitting flick since I was about to embark on a side trip to hunt down ex-Nazis living in Argentina once my assignment ended.

Next up... Marley and Me. Everyone loves puppies. I didn't watch the end because I knew that the fuckin' pooch died in the end. And I switched to Frost/Nixon. Best one I watched in a while. The last flick that I watched The Express a bio-pic about Ernie Davis, who was the first black player to ever win the Heisman Trophy. Dennis Quaid played the coach of Syracuse.

When it was over... four flicks down.

I tried to sleep but the attempt failed. Nicky passed out for a few hours and I was engaged in deep thought about making some changes to Lost Vegas.

We arrived on time at Buenos Aires and we met up with Joe, a photographer who works with Nicky and Otis. He helped arrange a private car service to take us across town to the domestic airport.

As we walked out of the airport and followed our driver, a swarm of cabbies bombarded me with offers to drive me. I politely declined their assistance and instead hit them up for party favors instead.

"Donde esta la mota?" I blurted out a couple of times.

No response.

We hopped into a Ford Focus and our driver quickly sped off. There was wicked traffic since it was Tuesday morning rush hour. Our driver took us on a short cut through 9 de Julio Avenue, which is sort of the main drag or Buenos Aires' version of Broadway.

We arrived at the domestic airport and grabbed breakfast while we waited for our flight to Mar del Plata. It was a quick 45 minute flight and I actually slept 90% of that flight... or more time that I actually slept on my flight from Dallas to Buenos Aires.

As soon as we exited the baggage claim from the tiny airport, two stunningly attractive model types in black dresses walked towards me. One of them handed me a PokerStars brochure. I told them that I actually worked for Stars in the past and that I was media. One of them told me about the free shuttle bus to our hotel which was located next to the casino.

We jumped in the shuttle and it whisked us away to downtown Mar del Plata. It was much bigger than I expected with random dogs wandering the streets along side the ocean. After two taxis, three lights, five airports, and a shuttle bus... I finally arrived at my intended destination.

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