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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Run for the Border (Parte Dos)

The Splat-ter-in-Chief had started to delve into the details of a trip to Mexico for a Chexican wedding when the siren song of "why not?" travel called me away to visit a dear friend in Seattle.  I'm back now, and ready to pick up where I left off, more or less. 

International air travel is like a long-running broadway play. You know the elements of the plot before you go, and very little about the play, characters included, comes as a surprise.  For example, you expect the flight to feature at least one passenger every five rows who performs an intensely personal function from the middle seat, such as toenail clipping.  Another person’s inadequate hygiene habits will perfume a row or two.  Someone else will try to fit a water buffalo into the overhead compartment and feign surprise when its legs poke out every time the flight attendant tries to close the bin. 

In the face of such predictability, there's only one way to create any dramatic tension at all: Babies.  To keep the proverbial play interesting, at least one row within a 10-seat radius is required to contain a baby, preferably a very new one.  

Passengers in and around the Baby Rows sit on the edge of their seats—which, based on the legroom of today’s aircraft, requires a forward scoot of approximately two centimeters—wondering, “Will it kick the back of my seat every two seconds? Will it cry? Will it perform disgusting bodily functions with no regard for fellow passengers?”  Everyone roots for this last option, because it's nothing they haven't seen before and at least it offers some potential for a tranquil trip.

On the six hour Detroit-to-Mexico segment of our trip, the token infant was located one row ahead of me and sat with her parents, as these children tend to do. The parents, whose conversation I couldn’t help but overhear, mentioned their daughter hadn’t flown before. 

As it turns out, air travel and the newborn did not really agree with each other, and the baby aired her side of the argument openly.

To give the baby proper credit, the uninitiated never would have believed this flight her first.  The kid had the chops of a veteran flying baby. Instead of producing a uniform one-note wail, as so many unseasoned flying babies do, she cranked out an interminable series of screaming arpeggios, like Swiss Miss with colic.

This particular play seemed to have nineteen acts instead of the customary three, but I realized with relief that the final curtain was about to fall when the flight attendants handed us a variety of entry paperwork. 

Grateful for the diversion, I scrutinized the duty form.  It specified the following items that are permitted free entry because they are considered personal items: treadmills, a surfboard (with or without sail), portable typing machine, five laser discs, and trophies/awards. In other words, not so much personal items as yard sale inventory.    

The paperwork also addressed the topic of animals coming into the country. According to the English version of the form, passengers may bring into the country, without payment of duties, three pets, “for pets we understand”: canaries, hamsters, Australian parakeets (we assume some sort of accent discrimination is at work there), cats, dogs, ferrets or turtles. I was heartened to see that the Mexicans and I already had something in common: We don’t understand snakes as pets.

S and I sailed right through customs, having forgotten to pack our typewriters and hamsters (but hoping we could remedy these oversights at one of the kiosks). Knowing that we had a long ride to Cuernavaca ahead of us, we decided to eat at the airport. 

For the second time this year, I began my stay in another country with a meal at an American-themed steakhouse. (The first was in Munich five months prior, a trip whose stories will be told at some point.)  In each case the authenticity of the experience began and ended with the pricing.

Still, few things usher in a vacation as clearly as drinking a glass of red wine at three o’clock on a Friday. [To be continued…]

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