Return to Oaxaca ?

30 July 2017


I'm pretty sure that this isn't Santa Cruz Etla. It may not even be Oaxaca. But it sure is where I'm going to lay my head this evening , after I chow down an insalata caprese and try my luck with a steak.
Because since 3:00 this morning I've eaten only a dozen grapes --- that was the vegetarian substitute for the Delta ham and cheese roll served as we flew from Detroit to Mexico city.
Oh, wait I did get a strawberry granola bar-let in the Mexican airport, served by Aeromexico as a bribe for continued patience as they kept telling us that would know a definitive take off time for the Oaxaca flight.

Mine is 10:40 on Monday morning, it turns out.


Mind you, I am not mad or, really even ticked off. Rather, I think I'm bemused.
And what I do admire are 2 things.
Once Aeromexico got off its "we'll know more in 15 minutes" refrain they , unlike their American counterpart, sprung for everything: taxi to a specific hotel (the Holiday Inn, about 25 minutes away; voucher for the return taxi trip in the morning; the hotel room which is fantastic and in a quiet neighborhood; more vouchers for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and yet another for a snack.


This will probably be breakfast tomorrow as well, as my taxi comes at 7 and the restaurant opens at 6:30.



I wrote earlier that i admired two things about all this chaos. The second is the fleet of wheelchair , um, assistants.
I've had decent service here almost always.
But I didn't expect the fine attention that I had yesterday.
(Just a reminder: pulmonary hypertension.  I don't breathe so well at Mexico City's high altitude. And I find the airport ginormous, too big to walk from one gate to another, especially with luggage, any luggage.)

As with every previous flight, I was met with a wheelchair and "pusher" immediately when I got off the Detroit to Mexico City flight. A strong young man named Angel.
He did the usual: got me to the head of the line in customs; picked up my suitcase as we passed thru "declarations"; helped me open & close the darn thing so I could exchange my RI fleece jacket for a linen on one; got me to a bathroom; waited while I chose a drink.


And then it starts: I had only a 500 peso bill and the shop cashier (with 20 people in front of me and another 20 behind me, all paying for food) says he has no change. A sweet family paid for my drink and Angel took off with my 500 pesos. 2 minutes later and we had smaller bills.
Then, as per usual, we wait for the flight's gate announcement, but because it's an hour away, Angel parks me in a waiting room and promises to return at 1:55 when the gate gets announced.

I fiddle& knit for the hour. 1:55. 2:00. The gate is announced. Boarding to start at 2:25. 2:05.  2:10.   I figure Angel is with another client. The gate is a relatively short distance away. I hoof it there. Well, they may have announced the gate, but no one is actually boarding. Btw, to board this plane one must descend a long ramp with 4 switchbacks to get to the actual plane ramp, I'm starting to get a bit worried.

And, then, voila, Angel appears with the wheelchair. He had figured

out where I had gone and then in that waiting room of maybe 400 people (waiting for various flights) he had remembered what I look like and picked me out of the crowd.

Things start to get serious. No boarding announcement. Angel does the usual: chats with other wheelchair people, talks with the powers that be behind the desk.
No plane yet, we have to wait a while. Thus done; no info; another series of Angel--begun conversations. No plane and now no crew.
Now the Aeromexico personnel begin public announcements to the effect that they are struggling with the situation, and please wait 15 minutes and they'll know more. This goes on for an hour.

Finally the personnel say they'll have more on the situation in 30 minutes. Angel asks to go to help another client. He knows where to find me. He goes; 30 minutes later he's back . in the meantime, I'd been invited to water and granola bars (is that healthy combo?)

More waiting. Finally, Angel goes up to the desk to ask just how long this was going to continue before they cancelled the flight.
He turns around with cellphone in hand and starts dialing.
By the time he gets back to me, Aeromexico is just beginning to announce the cancellation.
But Angel had gotten the word first and we were first out the door toward the needed elevators. He joins up with Armando, also pushing along an Oaxaca-based woman in a wheelchair.
They know the drill. Angel explains it to me:
"Get the luggage.
"Go to a different room.

"Start the process to get another flight.
"Get papers. Show passport
"Get needed vouchers."

Armando and Angel divide duties. Angel stays waiting for luggage, while Armando takes our passports and flight boarding passes and disappears. Remember the caveat: "Never give your passport to anyone" ?

Our luggage arrives last. 30 minutes or more have elapsed.
Armando has not returned. Angel begins to push both wheelchairs up to the unknown location for rebooking the flight.



When Angel sees Armando in the hallway with all the paperwork in hand, the two confer, and I hear Armando repeat the info at least once.
There is an exchange: Armando gives some papers to -- no, not to me, but to Angel, and Armando takes over the wheelchair of the other Oaxaca-bound woman.

Now, if it were I and it was at least 6:30 pm, and there had been no lunch break and it was nearly quitting time, I think I might have been tempted to hand the wad of papers and passport to the person in the wheelchair and say, all done.
Instead, Angel took all the papers to a counter top and went thru them. Twice. Then, as I later figured out he put them in order, numbered a couple of them, underlined info on another.

Then he proceeded to another nearby counter, this one belonging to a specialized approved airport taxi service, where I saw the attendant ring up 2 different papers from those Angel was holding. More writing on his part.

Finally, Angel wheeled me and my belongings to a quiet spot and laid it all out:
Aeromexico had cancelled the flight. Then they had put me on a Monday flight: the last 3 papers were my boarding pass, my ticket, my luggage receipt. The hour 10:40 was hand written on one paper; the flight number was underlined on 2 papers.
Then, Angel explained, Aeromexico had set up my evening in Mexico City: "You'll spend the night in this hotel" (he had underlined the name and address on another paper). "They have given you vouchers for it and for all your meals". He shows me each voucher and "dinner" on one is underlined. On the other vouchers, I see "snack," "breakfast" and "lunch" all marked.
"There's a peso limit for each meal." He makes a checkmark by each voucher's peso amount.
"A taxi takes you to the hotel and tomorrow morning another brings you back here. I've already set those up and here are the receipts for each trip. I paid for them with your taxi vouchers. When you get you the hotel tonight you will call to confirm tomorrow's 7am pick up time." He underlines the phone number.

"Now, let's get you to the hotel. I start work later tomorrow so I won't meet you. But it's all set up and paid for. We just have to hope that tomorrow's plane takes off as scheduled."
Angel wheels me to the taxi, introduces me to the driver, looks in the backseat and mutters, "nice and clean," then seats me. He arranges my belongings, shakes my hand, and says "Buena suerte, senora." And is gone.

These people work for a reduced minimum wage, depending on tips to supplement. What would you have tipped Angel?



Monday morning, 6 am.

Ah, In the Mexico City airport hoping to finish my journey from Rhode Island, I waited through a solitary delay of 15 minutes, which turned into nearly an hour; a brief bus ride to a plane, a smooth trip to Oaxaca.
A lovely lunch, a nap.
I have made it home again.



The question: What would you have tipped Angel?  On my Facebook page (where I initially wrote this brief saga), I read several good ideas. Hindsight, they say...

Angel had picked me up at the arriving flight from Detroit about 12:15 pm. He put me in the cab about 7:30 pm. A full day. I had only a brief moment to grab at some Mexican cash. I remembered that I had a 20 peso note stuffed in the front of my overly stuffed Vera Bradley bag. My empty wallet was way to the bottom of everything, underneath a plastic bag filled with 8 pill vials. I had remembered fleetingly a 200-peso and a 500-peso note somewhere in my arrival papers.

I was tired. Grateful. Amazed by all the attention. In comparison to what the carpenters and builders earn per day here in Santa Clara doing humongous construction projects, more than a 20-peso note would have seemed outside the mark.  But Mexico City and its international airport are some things different.

I erred on the side of deep thankfulness.

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