This tale of woe was caused by Mark, a buddy at SciQuest. It begins on a happy note as I had been selected to go on the annual SciQuest Pinnacle Club trip. My wife and I were really looking forward to a great time. I had not flown since 2007 and really don't like to fly. But I considered it a necessary hassle to get to Mexico and the fun that awaited us there. Laurie and I arrived at RDU around 4:30AM on Saturday morning and surprise! The TSA line was short. I walked up to the agent prepared to be striped to my underwear and searched.
But the agent took a long look at me and then gave me a plastic card and sent me to another line. I didn't have to take my shoes off or even my coat. No body scanner for me. My cousin Mike said I got through easy based on the Daniel good looks. I thought it might be because I looked like a grumpy old man and they didn't want to deal with me. I looked again at my boarding pass and "TSA Pre Check" was printed after my name. Now I was thinking this flying thing might not be so bad. Little did I know the TSA was just waiting until they could get me out of the country.
The flight to Mexico was uneventful until we started the descent. Then I thought my head was going to explode. My ears were killing me and there was nothing I could do to relieve the pain. Laurie said my whole head was red. I could barely hear when we landed in Mexico.
I have never been to Mexico so I did not know what to expect. The airport looked different than a typical American airport but seemed modern enough. Then we got off the plane.
We walked through a jet way to the end where the doors were open and we had to wait for a bus. The jet way was hot with no air conditioning. The bus arrived and it looked ok but I quickly noticed all the windows were open. They crammed everyone and their luggage into the bus and shut the doors. I was tired, hot, sweaty, in pain and standing cheek to cheek with people on a bus with no air conditioning. It reminded me of scenes I have seen in movies. All it needed was a few old women carrying chickens in cages and some goats and cows walking around outside.
The bus traveled about 100 yards and we all got off. That seemed a little odd. We had been given immigration and customs forms on the airplane to complete before landing. While clutching our forms we were funneled into immigration where we waited about 30 minutes in a line to get into the real line. Then about another one hour wait to get through immigration. There were a couple of signs instructing us to not forget to complete the bottom section of the forms. Crap! I looked around to see if anyone was watching and quickly filled out that section.
After immigration we walked to the baggage claim area and located our bags. Then we noticed there were more lines snaking through the baggage claim area. Which one should we pick? Laurie held our place and I walked ahead to do some scouting. All lines went through customs so I returned to Laurie for another long wait. She began to notice there were pieces of plastic and broken wheels from luggage scattered on the floor. We never found out if the damage was caused by the baggage handlers or people standing in line kicking their luggage in frustration.
We got close to the head of the line and I started to watch the process. It seemed low key. A check of the forms, a couple of questions and then the head of each family had to press a lighted button that always flashed green. That seemed a little odd to me.
We got to the head of the line and I handed him the forms. I don't even remember pressing the button. Laurie says I did and apparently it flashed red. Suddenly I could no longer hear the general airport noise. All I could hear were Spanish commands and there were urgent gestures toward an Xray machine. Beyond that I saw two men with latex gloves at a table grinning at me. My ear was still hurting and I could not hear very well. I was still tired, hot and aggravated. The two hour wait in various lines had not improved my condition. I didn't understand what was happening. I kept telling the agent "I filled out the bottom section of the form. What did I do wrong?" He just kept waving us toward him.
About now I'm thinking of telling one of the SciQuest execs what they can do with this Pinnacle Club trip thing.
Turns out the button was just a way to randomly select people for a search. The actual search was cursory. A quick look in the luggage and no body cavity search.
Our Pinnacle Club paperwork had warned that after we left customs there would be a long hallway with people on both sides trying to get our attention and offering rides to our hotel. Apparently they are all trying to sell timeshares and you have to sit through a typical sales presentation. It was like a gauntlet of hands reaching for us with pleading voices. We had been instructed to go through the doors at the end of the hall and look for the Amstar guy.
I have never been so happy to see another human being in my life. He simply raised his hand and said "Follow me." The wave of humanity parted in front of him and his upraised arm was like a beacon of light in the darkness. I would almost swear I heard him say "Follow me my children. I will take you to the promised land." They gave us cold bottles of water and soon I felt air conditioning again as Amstar took us to the resort in a van where we were greeted in a massive open air atrium with cold wash clothes and drinks. We were efficiently and quickly checked in, given a wrist band and escorted to our rooms.
Our experience got much better at that point. We had a wonderful time at the resort. But that is another story. This story continues back at the airport when we were departing Mexico at the end of our stay. Remember the TSA has me out of the country now.
We left the resort at 6:00AM on a nice bus. The driver swerved around a stopped truck at a red light and kept going but that seemed normal to us by now. We had to wait for the guards to arrive to open the gate into the airport and I swear I saw lights being turned on inside the airport. We got our boarding passes and checked the luggage. I was sitting at the departure gate when I noticed my boarding pass had SSSS highlighted with a yellow marker under my name. The TSA Precheck under my name was a good thing back in Raleigh so I wasn't worried. We had already gotten through security. Then I heard "Daneeel Booby, please come to the service desk" over the intercom.
After checking my shoes and giving me a good foot rub, we were sent on our way. I began to wonder what the odds were of getting the Mexican special treatment going into and out of the country. Then I remembered Mark Pugh.
A couple of years ago I sent a photo to Mark and a few of my co workers from a time when I had much more hair and had let my beard grow long.
Mark did a little photo shopping and the result was pretty funny. But the NSA must have been reading our email and sent the photo to the TSA. My name was flagged in the computer and then they just waited.
Thanks for the memories Mark.
You may be interested in the next article, Good Times on the Road.
The previous article is We Found a Camera and a Love Story in Death Valley.
© Bobby Daniel