May 1st 11:53pm - California Quest, Day 1

The morning of my flight home from South America I awoke as elated as Tom Cruise during his couch caper on Oprah. I jounced around the room like a hyperactive monkey on crack, gathering my life and positioning everything in the backpacker's bag. I clenched a cab without even bargaining for the ride. Since my wallet had been stolen I only had the remainder of the money that had been wired to me. This equated forty soles ($13.33), supplemented by $40US for Peru's departure tax. Fifteen soles to the taxi left me with twenty-five for a bottle of water and some food at the airport. The departure tax was $30US, so I would have $10 to exterminate during my twelve hour layover in Mexico City. I deemed my money planning as perfect as Jennifer Aniston's hair. 
I pranced in to the airport at 9am to find swarms of people packed around ticket counters like male dogs around a female in heat. I approached an employee in a surgical mask, said I was flying to Mexico City and asked what counter to go to. He replied that every flight to and from Mexico was canceled because of the flu outbreak. I needed to catch a cab to Miraflores, a fifty soles ride, go to the office tomorrow - it was closed today, Friday - and see if I could get a ticket re-issued to Mexico, hopefully for sometime within the next week. I looked at him as if he had just offered me a donkey as a future sex partner. I explained to him the impossibility and that I didn't even want to go to Mexico, I needed to get to San Francisco. He said that as it was the morning, the airlines hadn't yet adjudicated what to do for people like me, and to wait two hours and then speak to anyone behind a desk. 
"Should I talk to anyone specific?"
"No," he replied, "Just any one of those people," with a gesticulation toward a line of people behind kiosks. I called my mom, told her I had no flight and not to go to the airport, and then ate a sandwich at Starbucks. 
Two hours later I sidled in line behind forty-seven people (I counted) - the shortest line I could locate, and waited. Three hours and sixteen minutes of people-watching and iPod listening later, I got to communicate with an airline worker. I explained the situation. She motioned across the room and told me to go stand in another line. 
"Are you joking?" I asked, sounding as macabre as Hannibal Lecter. "I just stood in this line for over three hours." She apologized, pointed to the wall, and motioned for the next disgruntled person. 
"Goddamnit!" I screamed, swinging my luggage on to my shoulder and stalking off, nearly battering a baby who looked like it was taking its first steps.
I positioned myself in line against the wall. Fifty-three minutes later the woman attendant pointed to the end of the line next to us and told me I needed to wait there. I cried. 
Another hour revealed me explaining to the airline employee that I didn't care where in California I flew to, they could leave me in L.A. if they wanted, I just needed to get to California. She handed me tickets for a flight to L.A. departing Lima at 1am, with a connecting flight to SFO. I hugged her. 
I called my mom and apprised her of my new arrival time (11am). Overwhelming feelings of love for my mom as strong as the first time I tried shrooms overcame me. With the last of my money I bought her a bottle of Chilean wine in the Duty Free Shop as a love expression, and sat down to wait.
At 12:20am I advanced to my gate. My flight was canceled. A man escorted me back through customs and security to the line I had been in fifteen hours earlier. An attendant issued me a ticket to Miami and told me that I would have to fly to Miami and catch a connecting flight an hour later to San Francisco. I felt as gleeful as an innocent Guantanamo Bay prisoner. The airlines subdued me with a Sheraton Hotel stay, complete with dinner and breakfast. I hadn't eaten in eight hours (because I spent money on wine instead of food) and was exhilarated that I would get dinner. To appease my consternation at flying to Miami, the employee handed me $20US. 
I penetrated the hotel with an awe rivaling that of Pocahontas when she entered Whitehall Palace. I had been residing in hostels for $3-$12 a night and had forgotten amenities such as provided towels and toilet paper.  
I checked in and requested the promised dinner voucher, my stomach feeling as satisfied as Aron Ralston, the hiker who amputated his own arm. I was informed that the kitchen ceased serving dinner at 2am. It was 2:10am. No amount of pleading for the kitchen to issue me food, the snack bar to open, or the non-existent vending machines to materialize accomplished anything. I went to bed with a cavernous stomach, but gratified to be in a white bed as sizable as Pamela Anderson's breasts. 

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