I arrived in Miami grateful to be in the United States. Miami was no California, but at least I was in my own country. Where people spoke English. I had never been to Miami before, but departed the plane with Will Smith's "Welcome to Miami, bienvenido a Miami," replaying in my head accompanied by apparitions of bathing-suit-clad adolescents with Mai-tai's and Sex on the Beach in hand. I promptly perceived that everyone here spoke Spanish. I may as well have still been in South America. I visualized arriving in San Francisco in seven hours. San Francisco, the city of homosexuals, Asians, and fog. My city. A smile spanned my face as I envisioned the maniacal drivers. My driving abilities are tantamount to the rest of the city's drivers. After seven years of driving with six tickets, two hit pedestrians, and three accidents, I feel unequivocally at home among SF's motorists.
The flight from Lima landed at 6:10pm. My connecting flight to San Francisco was at 7:15pm. I considered this consummate timing, as I had been in an airport the entire previous day and would have limited time here. I proceeded with my fellow passengers to the baggage claim. Eighteen minutes later luggage ceased ejecting. My backpacker's bag was absent. Cognizant of the clock, I approached an airline employee and annotated the situation.
"Your bag has to be here," he informed me.
"I would like it to be, but it's not."
"No, it has to be here somewhere."
"Ok, but it's not."
At my repetition he snatched my baggage tag from my hand and examined the numbers, cross-referencing them with those of the excess bags in front of him. Two feet from the baggage, I easily discerned that none of them were mine, and told him so. He ignored me.
"It is here somewhere," he told me, still perusing numbers.
"Ok, that's nice, but I'm looking at what you're looking at, and none of those are mine. I watched every bag and never saw mine. It's probably in L.A. That's one of the flights I was supposed to take yesterday."
Mao Zedong notified me that I must be mistaken and it was here somewhere. Twenty-three minutes later my luggage was declared lost. I proceeded to check-in to my next flight where I was told that I was too late to board the plane and would have to wait until tomorrow for a flight to SF. My San Francisco fantasies fled faster than Michael Phelps' 100m butterfly. I was ushered like a mentally disabled sea lion to another line to reschedule my flight.
I felt lost in this situation because the two aspects I am most proficient in - eating and drinking - were about as useful as George Bush's public speaking abilities. I stood in line vacillating between laughing and crying. I rarely cry and this paroxysm was perplexing because I was laughing at the ridiculousness of the situation but crying at the overwhelming hopelessness that was attacking me like the swine flu. To assuage this nonsensical reaction, I placed my iPod earphones in my ears and stood, shaking, my fingers covering my face. I hoped if anyone observed me they would think whatever I was listening to was emotionally provocative. Like Harry Potter. That's when I felt something between my legs.
I glimpsed down to distinguish a two-year-old's dark chocolate pig-tailed head smiling up at me. I contemplated whether her hair was actually the color of dark chocolate or whether I was delirious and exceedingly craved chocolate as something that would provide sanity. I dissolved in laughter, removed my feet from either side of her head, and played a game with the child. She lay on her back in the American Airlines line, legs in the air. I shook her legs alternately, one of her feet to one of my hands. This was as sporadic as me quitting Spanish on a whim two years ago and signing up for bartending class. I had no idea what this game was but Pigtail giggled and I was content to be shaking a small child's legs.
When I subsequently spoke to a service rep I was as serene as the time I got handcuffed outside my own house.
"Hi. Ok, I have a problem because I missed my flight to SFO because the airline lost my luggage. I have been trying to get home for two days but the flu has not allowed me to. My purse got stolen in Peru so I have no money and no access to money. I have no money to eat and I am very hungry. I don't even have money to call my mom to tell her not to come to the airport. And my sister's getting married tomorrow and I need to get home. I'm the maid of honor. Even though right now I have no money and no clothes, not even a toothbrush, because of the lost luggage, I just need to get home. For the wedding. And I need to eat. Preferably soon."
My sister is nineteen without an impending marriage. I am not usually one to lie and didn't know where this development derived from. I shrugged at myself but concluded a little motivation didn't hurt as I had originally intended to arrive in San Fran the morning before and for some unknown reason was currently on the opposite side of the country.
She looked at me like I had suggested she inject pig excrement in to her eye. I smiled and contemplated crying to augment the significance of the situation. My face must have reflected this because she slid her cell phone to me across the counter.
"Ok. Since you have no money I won't charge you for the flight alteration. Call your mom and tell her your flight was changed. What time is the wedding?"
"Well, everything starts at 10am," I said, thinking that was a reasonable time to fly in. For the second time in three minutes she looked at me like I belonged in the California Institute for Mental Health. I recalled weddings are generally in the late afternoon/early evening.
"Everything meaning I have to get my hair and nails done and begin preparing my sister for the biggest day of her life," I followed up with as convincingly as the time I told my teacher my brother had peed on my homework.
"Ok, call your mom, I'll see what I can do," she said.
I proceeded to call my mom and somehow integrate the imminent wedding. My mom's response: "What? What wedding? Did I forget about a family wedding again?"
I recollected the time in college I had arbitrarily asked my mom how Aunt Addie was doing, as I hadn't seen her in three years. "Honey, she died last year. You went to her funeral," was my mom's response. I was relatively certain I would have remembered had I attended her funeral. I called my brother, also in college, and asked him if he knew Aunt Addie had passed away. His reply: "Aunt Addie died?"
After obtaining a ticket for the following day, being shuttled to Miami's Marriott, cherishing a steak dinner, and drowning in another white bed, I discerned that though I wasn't home, I was as pleased as the time I secured first place in a coloring contest and received a box of crayons as a prize.