31 December 2013 — I need to call Orbitz.
“¿Puedo utilisar el telefono?” I query.
“Si. Ahhh, number quatro” The woman at the desk of the locutorio says gesturing behind me after consulting her computer screen. I feel a twinge of relief my stilted and literal Spanish seems to have gotten my point across.
I am in the international terminal of Buenos Aires’ Ministro Pistarini International Airport en route to the alpine climber’s winter Mecca, El Chalten, Argentina. Somewhere in the past 24 hours of traveling, ones filled with layovers, delays and missed connections, I have lost my bags. But that is not my concern. In fact, if the weather plays out as El Chalten weather often does, it simply means my bags will be delivered to me as I rest from travel and wait for the always finicky weather to cooperate. My weather hampered travel has me trying to re-book my southbound flight to El Chalten’s gateway, El Calafate.
“Gracias” I say and turn and walk toward a wall of glass booths. Having only one small pack, I easily open the door and step inside. The clear booth immediately gets lighter as the white motion sensor light high on the ceiling brightens the striped, white glass.. I drop my pack on the floor, pull notes and phone numbers from my pocket and sit down. I pause. The light goes off. I twist my head to read the rates and the light goes back on. I scan the printed rates and my mind takes a minute to translate. Internacional EEUS $2,26. More mental translating. OK, .50$ a minute. The light flickers off. And then back on as I reach for the hands set and dial the ten digit number. A sexy automatron answers and I watch the meter on the wall creep upward. The light flickers off as I motionlessly answer the sexy robot’s questions. “Yes” I do want to make changes to my ticket. “El Calafate” is the name of my trip.
I push a frustrated breath outward through pursed lips, imagining the scrawny, pimply faced, crew cut, kid with braces sitting in a cubicle in some undistinguished office building in some shithole suburb of middle America.
“Let me transfer you to an operator” the scantily clad robot says. I frown, thinking I will miss her voice. Shit, just when I thought it was going well, I think to myself. “Your call is important to us… a less sexy recording tells me before trailing off into music. “Fuck” I mutter as I lean backwards, causing the glass closet to once again be flooded with light. I watch the meter tick upward for ten minutes before a high pitched nasally voice with a lisp introduces himself as Herbert.
I push a frustrated breath outward through pursed lips, imagining the scrawny, pimply faced, crew cut, kid with braces sitting in a cubicle in some undistinguished office building in some shithole suburb of middle America. I tell myself to go easy and have some pity on him, but my frustration shoves that thought out the booth as I answer his introductory questions and then lay into him for keeping me on hold on the international line for 10 minutes.
Five minutes later… “So what you are telling me is that despite my spending 2000$ with your company you can’t access my itinerary and re-book a flight for me? And you can’t email me but instead want me to go on hold, on an international call for 15 minutes while you call United?”
“Ahhh yes, unless you can give me a call back number…” I look around again at the phone for the tenth time trying to ascertain a number for the phone. I sense the aura of a coming seizure as the spiral fluorescent bulb does its continued and random flicker.
“I don’t have one, I am at a public phone…” I tell him again, probably for the third time. He gives me the local United number and I jot it down on a piece of paper. “Thanks” I say as I hang up, hearing him wish me a happy new year . “For nothing, fucker” I add as I click the receiver down and before realizing I am in public. I quickly twist around to see if anyone has heard my frustrated outburst, but not a soul is looking my way. Frustrated, I dial the toll free Argentina number and get a message in Español with a new phone number. “WT fuck, haven’t these people heard of call forwarding.” I stand up, shove my stuff into my pockets, grab my bag, walk to the counter and pay my $62,66 bill.
13 November 2015 — I feel the calling rearing its head once again. It takes the form of a small knot in my stomach, tinged with excitement and potential mixed with una pequeña serving of fear and doubt. It is a palatable slurry, the kind that initiates a tasty, productive burp. Gross, but strangely enjoyable; contradictory, like the land to which I seek to return.
Today, several years and a touch wiser and more forgiving later, I find myself sitting on a second story balcony in the Swiss village of Villars sur Ollon. With sweeping views to the west and of Dents du Midi, I peruse plane tickets on the United website. For this upcoming trip to Patagonia, I have cut out the middle man. Today, with a couple of airline sponsored credit cards, much long distance air travel under my belt and hundreds of thousands of miles of the frequent flyer type I have learned the benefits of the direct purchase of airline tickets and even the more substantial benefits of occasionally using a travel agent. All of that is not to say that I am a savvy traveler, only that I seem to no longer have international, long distance telephone conversations with people who are unable to help me.