Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The iPad Saga, part III: the Descent into Hell

Remember how the last time I wrote about the increasingly absurd iPad fiasco, the idea of having to hire an Argentine lawyer to extricate it from customs appeared to be the zenith of ridiculousness? Well, allow me to draw a historical analogy. Apparently the first day of the Titanic voyage, there was a lot of rough water and some passengers got seasick. Then the seas calmed, and the passengers were all like, “Well, that was no fun, but at least the worst is over!”

Yeah. You get where I’m going with this.

So. Monday dawned bright and clear, and I woke with a sense of excitement, for I was scheduled to meet a driver at noon and head over to Ezeiza (the international Bs As airport, as opposed to Jorge Newbery, which is the domestic one; its international abbreviation is EZE, which reminds me of Eazy-E, the old-skool NWA rapper who died of the AIDS).

The lawyer my colleague had engaged sent an email clearly and simply explaining that he had arranged everything so that I needed only go to Ezeiza with my passport, head to the Customs Desk, and pick up my iPad. Good to have friends in high places, eh? So the driver rang me up early and I headed down. First sign that this was not going to be the easy day that was promised: The driver's name was Dante. Yes, as in the inferno, and you’ll recall that in the Divine Comedy, Dante descends into hell, in case the foreshadowing was not already brow-beatingly obvious.

So. Dante turns out to be a cool guy who likes Boca Jrs and speaks not a lick of English, which is clearly ideal since it forces me to practice understanding Spanish (and in particular the kind of street-slangy Bs As Spanish that is really difficult for me to follow). We chat, effortfully, on the way over, and I tell him the whole story. At Ezeiza, we show ID to get through a few gates, then park at the customs area of the airport, and wander toward a building elaborately named División Resguardo de la Dirección General de Aduanas (DGA).

We visit a few buildings in the complex, explaining where we’re headed (the people who work there listen to the long-ass name and then roll their eyes, and are somewhat concerningly like “Right, customs”), and we’re directed first to one building, and then by the people there to go around this building, up a staircase and down a hallway.

Oh, right: and during our trip to the airport, I called my Argentine colleague and she directed me to talk to someone named “Sr Rinaldi.” Apparently her lawyer friend had spoken with Sr Rinaldi, and he would be the one who would happily and in a friendly manner help us get the iPad. Finally, after much stair-climbing and hall-getting-lost-in (during which I learned the Spanish word “labirinto”), we found Sr Rinaldi located in an office behind one of those bulletproof-looking plexiglassesque windows (this detail added to explain why I did not attempt to shoot him later in the day--would have been a big waste though I was sorely tempted).

I explained, choppily, why I was there, and he gave me a look that was not unlike what you’d give a stranger who started imitating bodily noises in a crowded elevator. Rinaldi insisted that he’d never heard of us, and that the only person who could help us was his employee, the mellifluously named Viviana Constanza, who was located in another building.

So, we went to find Sra Viviana in the main customs building, as instructed. Inside the main customs building was a small hallway with three rooms and a gaggle of Argentines with the haggard aspect of people who are deep in the miasma of a time-sucking, soul-crushing, line-waiting, rationality-defying rassle with a government agency. Salient stock characters: the morbidly obese man who literally cannot stand in line, because he can’t stand much at all; the crying woman who constantly and without success seeks to make eye contact with you so you can see how much she’s suffering.

We enter the customs building, and bypass the line. My thinking is that I’m an American, and I don’t have to wait for squat like these sad-sack locals. I figure that the mysterious lawyer has probably given direct instructions to Sra Viviana, and that when I show up she’ll greet me with a smile and much deference. No one says jack as I slip into Room 2 (where Sra Viviana works), and when she sees us, I immediately recall my interaction with Sr Rinaldi with fondness for its comparative warmth.

We’re told to wait outside, I think just because it made Sra V feel happy to be mean to us, and after about 15min are summoned back inside (ahead of the line, happily), where we’re told that without something called a "Guía Aerea" (airmail bill) from DHL, she can’t (or won't?) help us.

OK. This was clearly not going as breezily promised by local counsel, but now the order of operations was clear: get the GA from DHL, give it to Sra Viviana, get the iPad. So Dante (who at this point is more devoted to the task than I am) and I head further into the industrial bowels of the airport, through a maze of hangars and forklifts, and arrive at the DHL headquarters, where a guard tells us that we’ll have to wait for a DHL worker to come out and help us. After a wait (obvs), a DHL employee came out and took my passport to write up the GA. We then fell to talking with the guard as well as a Colombian girl who happened to show up, and it became clear that getting this simple slip of paper confirming my ownership of the package's contents was going to cost $72. American. Which I did not have on my person.

So I gestured at Dante and we had a sidebar. At this point, I suspected that we were being defrauded, and that we should contact my colleague here in Bs As to make sure this was all on the up and up. So we told the DHL guy to forget about the GA, and we cruised on out of there, frustrated and annoyed at the hour-long fiasco that had gotten me no closer at all to extricating the iPad from customs.

On the way out of the airport (and, at that point, all the way back to the Recoleta), I talked to my colleague, who shared my outrage at the disaster that had transpired. She said the lawyer had planned to talk to Rinaldi directly, but couldn’t because someone had had a heart attack (or something—-I remember there being a heart attack involved but can’t recall exactly to whom or in what way), and so when he was free he’d call Rinaldi directly and straighten everything out.

So at this point Dante and I were leaving the airport, and I proposed to him that we wait just a little bit to see if the various lawyers on the case (yes, at this point multiple lawyers had been engaged to address the situation) could get some info. Dante kindly agreed to wait, and we drove a few minutes away from the airport to a little village where drivers hang out when they’re waiting for clients, or perhaps also for teams of lawyers to confer re iPad customs delays. We went to a café that was called (no joke, and look it up if you don’t get the reference) the “Chingales” café, operated by some girls Dante knew.

Despite my original concern that we were going to pass the fifteen-or-so minute wait a low-end brothel, given the establishment’s name, this was in fact merely a café qua café with a (surprisingly and unnecessarily) lewd appellation, and when we arrived I was pleased to see Marcelo, the driver who had taken me from Ezeiza into Bs As centro when I first arrived. I was floored to see Marcelo, and he seemed to remember me quite well, and we all had an amusing reunion when I recounted why we were there. Their ladyfriends made us some coffee and poked fun at Dante’s referring to me (in truly heinous English) as “my friend David.” Soon everyone in the “Chingales” was laughing uproariously and calling each other “my friend” in equally hideous broken English.

It occurred to me as I was laughing with them that this was the most fun I’d had in
Bs As, and for that moment I forgot all about the iPad tragedy.
But then reality reasserted itself. Dante got a call from someone related to the case, and I tried to ring up my assistant in the US to get the confirmation number of the DHL shipment (NB: no luck! It was Memorial Day! I was well and truly cursed!).

But the news was apparently good from Dante’s end: the lawyer had spoken to Sr. Rinaldi, straightened him out, and now, this time, for real, no foolin', if we went back and talked to him everything would work out. So we said goodbye to the girls and Marcelo, paid for the coffee, and went back for what promised to be the quick, efficient (I thought, with what is obviously in retrospect simply incomprehensible naivete) final chapter of the increasingly Kafkaesque iPad saga.

To be continued. Very very continued.