Yesterday was the day I was scheduled to fly to LAX to meet up with Keith on s/v Chamisa, the Westsail 42 that I’m going to crew on between Long Beach and La Paz. The night before, I’d gone on-line and printed out my boarding pass and yesterday morning I packed. So, as usual, I was ready to go a long time before I needed to be.
The day before, I had called out on the morning Cruisers’ Net on the VHF radio asking for a ride to the airport. Rumor had it that the cab ride was around $40 one way and there are no shuttles. Fortunately, a fellow named Mike called back and said that he had to take a friend to the airport on Wednesday afternoon and I was welcome to go along. he said his friend’s flight to Tijuana was leaving at 2:00 PM and, since mine didn’t leave until 2:33, it should work out. I met him in person later and he said he’d pick me up at 1:15 which seemed a little late to me but he seemed confident and, since beggars can’t be choosers, I said OK.
Well, by noon on Wednesday I was ready to go. Before noon actually. But I tried to be calm and cool my jets by reading until it was time to go. Finally, at 12:50 I couldn’t stand it any longer and decided to head up to the marina gate and wait. Lulu came up to wait with me. Things were going along okay although I was still feeling a little hinky about how close it was between the time he was going to pick me up and the time my flight departed.
Finally, 1:15 rolled around. And then 1:20. We watched the clock nervously as Mike hadn’t shown up yet. I told Lulu that if he wasn’t here by 1:25 I was going to hoof it down to the taxi stand and get a cab. Sure enough, 1:25 came and went and still no Mike. I started hoofing it.
When I got to the stand, following protocol I asked how much to the airport. The ancient driver said “200 pesos.” Huh? Only $16.00? I said, “Let’s go.” He started down the street driving kind of slowly. He asked if I wanted to go slow and I said, NO! I need to go rapido! And rapido he went. He was zooming along wherever possible, weaving his big ol’ Dodge van in and out of traffic, hell-bent on getting me to the airport in the minimum possible time. My kind of hombre!
We got to the airport at about 12:35. I gladly paid him the 200 pesos and then threw in a 40 peso propina (tip) for “manejando rapidamente”. He gave me a big ol’ grin and congratulated himself on his fine driving.
I hoofed it in to the departure area. There was a line at the Alaska Airlines desk which I at first joined. Then I figured that, since I already have my boarding pass and I’m not checking any bags, why do I need to wait in line? I’ll just proceed directly to the gate like I would in the States. Showed my pass to the first guy and he waved me through. Got to security and went through the standard procedure of emptying my pockets, removing my belt, etc. They didn’t make me remove my shoes, however. Got through security with no problems and walked over to gate 3. Plenty of time to spare. This was going to be no problem after all.
Finally, it was time to board. I got in line with everyone else. Had my passport, my FM3 visa, and my boarding pass all ready. I got up to the lady that was checking passes and IDs and showed her mine. She looked at my papers and said,
“You didn’t go through the main desk, did you?”
“Well you should have. They would have given you an immigration form to fill out. You need to go back to the desk, get the form and fill it out and then take it to Immigration.”
“Will I be able to make the flight?”
“I hope so.” (geez, me too!)
So, I hotfoot it back through Security and back down to the main desk. No one there, of course, but the guy at the Volaris desk next door listened to my plight and gave me a form. I quickly filled it out and started speed-walking to the Arrivals area where the Immigration office was supposed to be. I got there and didn’t see any Immigration office. I was standing there like a dummy, just about to ask the Rent-A-Car lady if she knew where the office was when an unmarked door opened and a young lady in an airport uniform came out and motioned me over. The lady at the Alaska gate must have been in radio contact with this lady because she seemed to know all about what was going on with me. She grabbed my paperwork and ushered me into the Immigration office while telling me that I was late and I should have been at the airpoirt 3 hours before my flight was scheduled to leave. She said that I’d probably miss my flight.
Apparently this step in the process has something to do with the FM3 visa. If I just had a tourist card (FMM) I think I’d just turn it in with my boarding pass but the FM3 evidently requires something else. She rattled of some instructions to the young Immigration officer who looked none to happy about having to rush the job, but he did it anyway, such was her commanding demeanor. I explained that this was the first time I’d flown out of Mexico with an FM3 and didn’t know what the rules were. I don’t know if they believed me but I think they did as I’m sure I looked every bit as shaken as I felt. Meanwhile, my guide (the young female airport employee) is on the radio with the lady at the gate (I guess) and I hear my name mentioned several times. The Immigration guy stamps my paperwork and keeps his half. He gives me the other half and tells me to take care of it as I’d need it to get back into the country. Then, the young lady employee says to me, “Now, we run.” and she proceeds to start running through the airport.
I’m in hot pursuit but I’m hindered a bit because my big pack is only on with one shoulder strap making running an awkward affair. But I did my best and soon, we were back at Security. As I’m emptying my pockets and taking my belt off again, my guide tells me, “Your passport is expired.” WHAT????? I just got it when we were in Newport. Then, as I was filling my pockets back up and stuffing my belt into my pack, she said that she’d mistaken the issue date for the expiration date. My passport was actually good until 2020. Yikes! Don’t scare me like that.
Then, finally I’m running down the tarmac to the plane. Why did they park it so far away? A young man grabs my big pack to put it in the hold and I board the plan with my small day pack. I’m just sure I’ve held things up and everyone would be glaring at me. But, although I was the last to board, no one seemed more than curious. It was another 20 minutes before the plane took off. Man! Was I glad to be aboard!
The flight was uneventful and going through Customs and Immigration in LA was too, although it was still stressful since I was never really quite sure what was going on. It would really be nice if they had a big poster explaining what the process was and what one could expect. Same thing would be nice at the other end. I mean, if I knew why I have to clear out of Immigration with an FM3 but (maybe) not with an FMM, I probably wouldn’t have made my rookie error. As it is, I just go along and do what I’m told and have absolutely no idea why.
What the heck is a visa anyway?
Anyway, I’m safe and sound on Chamisa. If all goes well we’re looking at shoving off for Mexico this Sunday.
PS: Lulu met up with Mike just after I left to go get a cab. He told her that he said he’d be there to pick me up at a quarter to one, not a quarter after one. Yeah, whatever.