30 December 2012 United Airlines Customer Service Counter, Cleveland, OH — “Well, you might make ” the young, dark haired ethnically ambiguous woman tells me. She flashes a smile but her horn rimmed framed eyes betray doubt. “It is the only flight and it is a long flight, so they may hold it” she adds, making the “awkward¨ face. In the background I hear the flight crew announce group six. I once again check my ticket: Group 7.
“But you could re-book me on tomorrow´s nine p.m. flight right now?” I ask.
“Yes buy you could make it” she replies again. I glance at my watch; it is boarding an hour late. I look up.
“I guess Houston is to the south and that is the direction I need to go” I reply hesitantly. I tap the edges of my two tickets on the counter. “Thanks. Thanks a lot for your help” I smile, then spin and walk toward the boarding area. “Have they called seven yet?” I ask a traveler in the cue.
“Welcome to Houston” the intercom squawks. “The local time is eight forty-eight p.m. It is now safe to use your cell phones and portable electronic devices. We are going to taxi for a few more minutes so please remain in your seat with your seat belts fastened until the captain turns off the fasten seat belt sign.” I anxiously look at my watch. “Remember we have many folks making connections; if Houston is your final destination please, please stay seated and let those with connections disembark first. We apologize for the delay and thanks for flying United. Have a happy New Year.”
The plane rolls to a stop and the tell tale tone indicates the delighting of the seat belt sign. I stand up along with a cadre of other folks. For once the flight attendant´s request does not fall on deaf ears and I swiftly make my way from seat 30c to the door and sky way. I dig my next boarding pass out of my pocket and check the gate: E4. Just like it was fifteen minutes ago and fifteen minutes before that. A slew of hurried travelers adjust bags and layers and share worried looks as we speed up the metal corridor to the terminal. I quickly notice that we enter the concourse at a dead end and make the corresponding left turn. I ignore the official looking man shouting “gate info here” and begin to jog down the concourse. The La Sportiva Trango GTXs clod hop loudly, announcing my presence as I begin to sprint toward my departure concourse. I spy a departure board and pause to quickly scan for my flight. Buenos Aires. “Shit” I mumble to myself. United flight 819 is not there. “Fuck it, E4 it is” I tell myself and tug down on the shoulder straps of my backpack and commence a long distance sprint. I bob and weave, my boots loudly careening down the concourse. I make eye contact when I can and pass loudly and quickly when I can´t. The moving walkways multiply my speed as I continually scan overhead for signs pointing to the “E”. I pass through a long empty hallway and take note of the long line at the United Customer Service counter near E2. My labored breathing and sweat streaked face is met by the kind gate crew at E4.
“Go around…” the ticket collector begins to motion to the cordoned off aisle “…or go under” he says with a hint of laughter as I duck under the nylon webbing. “Got your ticket and passport and visa or means to pay…” his voice trails off as I hand him all the required documents. “Looks like Cleveland is here” he says to his cohorts at the gate. “Looks good” he says, handing the materials back to me. “Head on in” he adds, gesturing toward the door and walk way.
My heartbeat begins to slow as I warm down and slowly walk toward the 737-600 and El Chalten and silently wonder if my bags made such a sprint.