Don’t Moan, Get on the Phone

Christmas in Antarctica originally posted by Linda Lou Burton December 15, 2005 from Los Angeles, California, United States – I had a plan. First, a 6 AM wakeup call. That’s when the insurance company in Kansas City would answer their phones. I got through to a fellow named John. The bottom line, according to John, was that I was covered for $100 per day UP TO a max of $500 for “mechanical breakdown” problems. Nothing more. “Now, if you were SICK,” he continued, “we’d cover full price.” Thank you John.

Next a call to the cruise line in New York. Par (pronounced Pair) answered. I told him what I’d learned about the insurance, and assured him I was heading back to the airport soon to get in the standby line. “If I get to Santiago today,” I said, “I can join the tour at the airport as they leave for Puerto Montt.” He agreed that was a great plan. “But if I DON’T, what are my alternatives?” I asked. He would talk to his manager and find out. “I’ll call you back at 7:30,” he promised.

I showered and dressed and zipped up the carryon. Par called at 7:30, with booking agent Mark on the line. “We offer you a fresh tour, starting over from day 1,” they said, “if you can’t fly out today.” I pondered that option. I asked about other tour dates. Nothing else they had would get me “down south” for that treasured First Day of Summer. “I really, really, really need to make this tour,” I said. “I’ll see if I can get to Santiago one way or another.”

“If you do,” Par said, “we’ll catch you up to the tour at some point along the way.”

AHA! A surge of hope opened my eyes wide and set me smiling. “Then let me hang up and get back in line!” I hastily said goodbye to Par and checked out of the hotel.

I was the only passenger on the shuttle back to LAX, and the driver was in a talking mood. His name was Reynaldo. “I’m from Guadalajara,” he said, “but I’ve lived in LA for 18 years.” He described Guadalajara to me, talked about the cost of living. “I’m going back when I save some money,” he said, “where the pace is easier.” He let me out at the busy LAN Departures gate and wished me luck.

Inside, all 16 stations for LAN Chile were closed. A sign promised Open 8:45. I found an elevator and a McDonald’s and ate the Big Breakfast for $3.49. While I drank my coffee the speaker announced, on a 7-minute repeat schedule “You are not required to give money to solicitors.” A man laid a paper on my table, requesting money. “I am deaf,” it said.

Back in line at 8:45. A gentleman in a LAN Chile uniform approached to ask if I would give up my seat on the plane today. “We are overbooked,” he said, “and we’ll give you a ticket to anywhere we fly for use any time this year if you don’t fly today.” I thanked him for the offer, and took that as a Very Bad Sign for a Standby. At the counter, they said No Way Jose. Or, something that meant the same thing. “Try American,” they offered. “Or, come back manana. We have two flights tomorrow so you have two times chance.”

“You still have my luggage,” I said, “What should I do about it?”

“You should prolly take it home,” I was told. “It is in an open area.”

OPEN AREA? NOT LOCKED? That factoid has escaped notice the day before. My fancy-schmancy wheelie luggage had sat in an unlocked area in the Los Angeles airport for a day??? Yikes.

I requested that they bring it forth herewith, and that, surprisingly, happened quickly.

Now I’ve got the dreaded four-bags-on-two-wheels situation, and a walk to American Airlines in the next terminal. My determination fizzled, but on I marched, bump dabump dabump. There were 500 people in line at American. That I could see. The serpentine lines wound to a balcony upstairs that was completely out of view. The Big Breakfast had not prepared me for that. I found a bench outdoors, under the blue Los Angeles sky (only slightly dinged by brown smog and cigarette puffers), and watched the tour buses drive past, headed for Disneyland.

Where else do I want to go? Hmmm, I haven’t been to Death Valley yet, or the Channel Islands. How about Christmas in Santa Barbara? I’ve even got relatives there. Maybe I could rent a car and drive home, enjoying the beauty of the Pacific Coast . Rats, I remembered, it’s December and the passes are already getting bad in the Oregon mountains.

I finally wrangled the luggage back inside, found the hotel phone bank, called for a shuttle, and trekked back outside to the Red Zone to wait for a ride.

This time they gave me a larger room, much nicer, for the same rate. Did they feel sorry for me? I was getting the bedraggled look, for sure. Although it was on the 4th floor, a palm tree brushed against the window. Down below, a back yard, a swing set, a barbecue. So peaceful, I thought. Suddenly three little doggies ran from the patio to the shrubbery, in a yipping chase. In the sky above, JAL was coming in for a landing. Three yippy dogs and an international flight path. Oh happy day. I kicked off my shoes and rubbed my blistered feet.

A voice inside instructed: Don’t moan, get on the phone.

First, American Airlines. YES! YES! There is ONE SEAT left on the Santiago flight tomorrow! YES! She booked the flight, gave me the confirmation, and instructed me to call LAN Airlines so they would endorse the ticket.

Second, LAN Chile Airlines. “My name is Magdalena and I would like to help you,” in a beautiful, lilting accent. I told her the story. I asked her to endorse the ticket to American. “You are both a part of One World,” I said to her, hoping that would engender the spirit of cooperation. She asked for my ticket number. “I will read the regulations,” she promised. Soon she was back. “The ticket may be endorsed,” she said. “But they will have to do it at the counter tomorrow, I cannot do it by phone.” “Thank you, Magdalena! You have been so helpful!”

What a plan I have now! Three options! I can Standby for the 12:35 LAN flight. I can Standby for the 1:05 LAN flight. If I don’t make either of those, I can have them endorse the ticket and go to American for the 3 PM flight. Either way, I get to Santiago in time to join the tour, fly to Puerto Montt, and get to the ship in time.

My life is perfect. It is too late to call New York and give Par the news. I brush my teeth and head next door to Casa Gamino, ready for guacamole, ole.