Last night was one of those zany-in-a-bad-way experiences from airport hell, a cautionary tale for children to tell their parents, less such parents forget the all-important key to the magic kingdom.
It started so well. At 5 PM, spawn and I took a remise to EZE for his solo flight to the US. We made it in under an hour, a work of miracles considering it was afterwork Friday and a holiday weekend. We've become such adroit international travelers, he and I--each racking up more than 12K miles every year--that we practically sleepwalked through the officialism: paid the unaccompanied minor's fee of U$S75 at the AA counter, got his boarding pass, paid the airport tax of U$S18, bought some dollars at the exchange window. As smooth as a baby goose's behind.
Then came the moment of farewell: Spawn and I exchanged a tearful-only-on-my-part goodbye, 'til we meet again in exactly a week. Being a most excellent mom, I harangued him nonstop:* Call or text once you get through security and immigration, call or text before boarding, make sure you get boarded first with elderly people, text when you get to Chicago, text when you board Chicago for LA. Simple, right?
I waited a few minutes after he disappeared from view, then wandered outside the airport building for what seemed like miles to buy my ticket for the Manual Tienda Leon bus heading downtown. I was positively excited by the deed, since it would have marked my first colectivo experience in Argentina. I wanted a leisure bus ride back into town, collecting my thoughts on another semester's end.
So I got my ticket (32 pesos) at the kiosco and began waiting for the 7:30 bus, the saleslady losing patience with me as I bugged her yet again, yo espero aqui? (There was no bus stop sign or line or designation, except in her mind.) She rolled her eyes, si, si! Ten minutes passed, and I was as dubious as ever, until around the corner a giant bus started to turn toward me... but wait...here's a call from spawn! He sounded exasperated, "Mom, the immigration guy says I can't go because I'm missing some sorta letter!"
Me: "Wha--? What letter? Show them your unaccompanied minor card!"
Him: "I did! They said I don't have my parents' permission to travel alone!"
Me, the realization of what I'd forgotten settling in: "Oh shit! Meet me where we parted."
I hauled ass back to the airport and saw spawn tearfully coming out of security. He said we needed to go downstairs and talk to the Migraciones people. We had a mere 30 minutes before boarding.
I took one micro-look at the Migraciones lady and knew doomsville. And by golly, if my Spanish vocabulary of 19 words utterly failed me on such an occasion. She had even less English. We were practically miming, with spawn too upset to be helpful in any sense of the word. (Ninety minutes of daily Spanish at school for naught.) Finally, one rueful traveler opined, "You really should go back to the AA office and see if they can sort it out for you" (or lady, you've hogged the window long enough, it's my goddamn turn). And so we hauled more major ass across the diameter of the airport.
The lad at the AA counter started with, "You shouldn't need the letter because you're American citizens.** You're on vacation, right?"
Me: "Not exactly, we're living here."
Lad: "Ahh...that's the problem. You need the letter."
Me, playing dumb: "What letter is this? His father is in the states and he's going there to be with him, so of course he has his permission to travel!"
Lad's manager, newly emerged from the aircon room in the back: "You need the letter. I was in this situation years ago, and my father had to go to the consulate in the United States to get his permission notarized. I'm sorry, [and...here come the dreaded words] there's nothing we can do." Arrrgh, arrrgh, fuck me!
Here's the thing: I am practically OCD when it comes to this kinda crap. I had my custody papers translated by a certified translator, notarized, Apostilled, and coddled by Silvia, the frighteningly robotic gatekeeper at the Argentine Consulate in Los Angeles. Ditto for every other scraps validating my right to live, and spawn's. (Actually, getting a work visa for Argentina required everything short of being blessed by the Pope, though I had my rez for Italy ready should that've been necessary.) For the past year and a half, I dutifully carried around this dossier of very.important.papers (including the Consent for International Travel of Minor) whenever we traveled, but not once were we ever asked for them. So, on spawn's very first solo exit from Argentina, it slipped my (already vacationing) mind that he'd need them. Looking back, it seems so frankly idiotic this oversight, I feel I need to be taken out back and shot.
The silver lining: I was able to recoup the bus ticket, the unaccompanied minor's fee, the airport tax, though it cost me an extra U$S254 to switch spawn's tickets to my same flight. (There goes the iPod nano I was going to get myself. It is to weep...)
Actually, the real silver lining is that this morning I was able to procure seats for spawn on my coche cama trip to Iguazu tomorrow. I'm totally excited;*** he's somewhat excited. I sincerely hope we travel happily ever after.
* Spawn's traveled as an unaccompanied minor plentiful times with better than no hassles, he was treated like royalty. Thus, this fiasco was orthogonally related to his solo traveling.
** Lad's incorrect: You need the other parent's permission regardless of whether you're residing or vacationing in Argentina.
*** Though I still feel like a fucktard for last night's debacle.