Summer Adventures – Part One – 11 June, 2016; 11:13 AM – Mexico City Time
As I’m writing this, I’m sitting under an escalator at the Mexico City airport, unable to connect to wifi and feeling like I’ve lost my umbilical cord to the world. Also, texts cost 50 cents, so I am stranded on the desert island of my mind until four-something in the afternoon. That’s six hours from now. I’ve been up since 5 PM yesterday. I have already finished reading two books, and now that i’ve gotten Starbucks in me — yes! Mexican Starbucks! I have a problem — my brain is scampering like a hamster on its wheel. I have to talk to somebody, but my Spanish is much worse than I thought possible. Once upon a time I was a Spanish major. Now I teach American Lit, and I hardly ever flex my Spanish muscles. All of the conversations I’ve had so far here have gone like this:
Person yells at me in Spanish! I understand, obey, but don’t say anything.
OR: Person says something to me in Spanish SO fast — Señora, I don’t listen that fast in English — that I just smile, or I say, Huh?
The rest of my interactions have been in Spanglish. They say something in Spanish. I respond in Spanish (thrilled!), then they pepper in English words, and I lose my grip and never totally to English. I hope it’ll get better. The Spanish teacher at the high school where I teach said it would start coming back to me once I got here. It is. Slowly. I’ve had a few hours start.
The second person I spoke to in Miami, the man who drove me from the parking lot to the airport, didn’t say much because, after a mind-numbing, three and a half hour drive down I-95, hitting accidental tolls all the freaking way down, my brain was fried, and I could barely talk in English let alone in Spanish.
At the airport, too, everyone else waiting for the flight with me at 4 AM was speaking Spanish. So did the lady who checked in my baggage — equipaje, I relearned a word already—and so did the flight attendants, one of whom was part of my first successful Spanish conversation of the week. (Her: Would you like something to drink? Me: Coffee with milk, please. Her: With sugar. Me: Oh, yes. Thank you.) She even recognized how pleased I was with myself. It’s the little things.
The plane was fully half children, a screaming baby two rows behind me. I settled in to a book with its audio hooked into my ears to drown out the usual disdain for humanity that accompanies air travel. Buena suerte, I had an entire row—not two seats, but three seats—to myself, which must be plane karma for the time when I flew to Prague and had a panic attack because the woman beside me, her entire leg was touching mine, and I almost tore out of the tube like a sardine with a can opener. Not this time. I was flying sola.
Still, I find air travel totally stressful. Like, I know planes don’t just fall out of the sky like bricks, and that really my harrowing drive down the interstate to Miami was statistically far more dangerous than my flight. I mean, my dad was CEO of a small airline when I was a toddler. I have flown a plane before! And yet, flying is a religious experience for me. It’s the only time I ever cross myself. And Dios mio, I pray like it’s just me and God keeping the plane from falling. You know, not aerodynamics or lift and thrust or any of the science and math I fracking know. No, put me on a plane, and every superstition comes bubbling up from the primordial broth of my soul.
We made it. (You’re welcome, fellow passengers.) Despite a single drop so steep that the little girl behind me screamed, the flight attendant fell into the seat in front of me, and I latched onto the setback for dear life, despite all that, we banked down over the multicolored buildings—bright reds and oranges and blues—to touch down on a runway with a perfect, seriously beautiful, three point landing. All the wheels touched at the same time. They guys in the cockpit were pros. They had us all along, even though I couldn’t understand a word they said over the intercom in any language.
These are my impressions of the Mexico DF aeropuerto. 1. I can’t find a freaking map. I don’t want to wander far, but I’m starving! 2. I found a Starbucks. This sounds silly, but this is something I always do not matter which country I come to. I partially do it for the humor factor, but it also helps me understand the exchange rate a little bit. My mocha was 69 pesos. 3. This place is shiny and clean. I’m sitting on the floor, and I’m okay with that. It’s kind of like Orlando, but with twice as many Mexicans. 4. People seem nice. The ones who work here have been helpful. A guy asked me for some change so he could make a phone call. I never carry money, which got me in trouble with the tolls (oops). I told him I never have any. He was super nice about it though, and we both wished each other safe travels.
Now I am waiting. I could go back to reading the book I started on the plane, Barbarian Days, by William Finnegan. I hadn’t planned to start it yet, but I needed something to drown out the impending doom crushing in all around me on our descent. So: surfing memoir. Worked like a charm. I also need to find some food, maybe el baño. I’m nervous to wander away from the little vagabond camp I’ve set up under the escalator, but this is also exciting. This is the first time I have travelled without having my father tell me what I need to do. And I haven’t died yet. There’s hope for me yet.
Onward and food-ward.