Thank you to everyone who cheered me on as I embarked on my first “bucket list” adventure. I am glad to finally tell you that our intended mystery destination was… Puerto Rico. Visiting this lovely place has been a dream of mine for many years. Why?
#1: Thanks to photos and travel shows I formed this picture in my mind of a beautiful island filled with old world charm and beautiful beaches.
#2: I have always wanted to visit a Caribbean isle. Our passports expired long ago and P.R. is one of only two Caribbean destinations (that I’m aware of) that doesn’t require them from U.S. Citizens. Since it’s the cheapest of the two to reach, it was an easy choice.
But this was hardly what we found… And when I say we, I am referring to my twin 8-year-olds, my husband, and my dear friend, jme. Jme and I grew up together (she was Jamie back them). We’ve experienced many milestones together. And we’ve experienced some significant losses together. And you may recall that when jme first learned that I had the disease that played a role in her mother’s death, her reaction involved getting on a plane and flying clear across the country to show up on my doorstep. She is the kind of friend you would feel lucky to have — if you were one of the rare few fortunate enough to know someone like her. Anyway, she flew across the country again a few weeks ago, but this time it was to say a quick hello to her family before getting on a plane (a bunch of planes, actually!) to seize the day and make some memories with me and my sons.
I’m getting side-tracked already! Okay, enough backstory…
The First Uh-Oh.
We left the house at an ungodly hour for this region. Okay, 4 a.m. is probably an ungodly hour anywhere. But in western N.Y. in mid-January when it is as cold as it is dark, you get the sense that you are violating some unwritten law by being outside at this hour. It just feels wrong. Especially when you haven’t slept a wink in a couple of days.
But I was excited and determined. I had been waiting for this for most of my life. So my husband (I’ll refer to him as “H” for husband from now on)… Crap, where was I? Oh, yes, so H dropped us off and drove off to park our minivan at an economy parking lot nearby. And we went about the business of checking in for our flights, begging for seats near one another, printing our boarding passes, checking our bags, and ensuring that they were free (thanks to a credit card perk) at the counter. This shouldn’t have been a big deal, but when 5 people are booked under 5 separate reservations (this is a requirement for getting the huge travel discounts that we do), it is. No big deal. Still excited. Let’s get to security.
After taking our shoes off and putting all of our belongings in buckets on the conveyor belt, I was told that in lieu of a traditional walk through the metal detector, I would need to stand in the full-body X-ray scanner. Not one to speak up or slow a line down, I reluctantly said that I would rather not. I was asked if I was refusing the security measure. So I explained that I had had enough radiation in my lifetime to grow a tail and start glowing and, thus, I was leery of the X-ray scanner if another option was available. I told him that I would prefer the pat down option.
The T.S.A. agent was rather smug and made me feel as though I was I causing a major problem. He set me off to the side and told me that I would have to wait for someone to come to give me a pat-down — and did I want to reconsider in lieu of being a giant P.I.T.A.?
I told him I’d wait for the pat-down.
When the patter-downer arrived, she asked if I would like to have it done out in the open or if we should go to a private room. I jokingly said that I’d had enough surgeries to make my dignity a non-issue and told her to go ahead right there. She smiled and began. It was my first pat-down and not a big deal. It did take much longer than I expected, especially given that I normally walk through the metal detector and that’s it — quick and simple.
I passed, of course, but my jar of peanut butter didn’t fare so well. It didn’t cross my mind that the sealed jar of organic peanut butter I brought to make everyone’s sandwiches with during the long day of travel wouldn’t make it through security. Alas, it did not. And my inconvenienced T.S.A. agent friend seemed all too happy to confiscate it. Since I would much rather airport security be more cautious than less, I happily sacrificed my jar of contraband in the interest of national security.
We finally redressed (coats, sweaters, hats, shoes) and made our way to the gate, still with 5 minutes to spare before boarding. It was about 15 minutes after we were supposed to board when I started to get a bit nervous. We were on a tight timeline. You see, to do this trip on a shoestring budget, we had to book two separate itineraries with two different airlines — and do it all through a 3rd party website. In hindsight, it was a bit crazy. But it was the only way — and it should have worked out.
We began boarding at about 5:45 a.m., toting our carry on bags out of the warmth of the airport and into the bitter cold and darkness that surrounded the little plane that waited to carry us to New York’s J.F.K. We shivered as we inched up the plane’s steps and found our seats at the back of the plane.
And we waited. And waited. When the pilot announced that we were experiencing mechanical issues and that we wouldn’t be leaving until they were taken care of, I wasn’t surprised. ”These things happen,” I thought.
The surprise came when he later returned to the intercom and announced that they were unable to fix the problem and that we were to collect our things and leave his aircraft while further repair attempts were made.
“What??” I didn’t understand. ”Why can’t we just wait here while they fix it? It’s going to take longer to get off and get back on.”
I really didn’t understand — until we were told that we could rebook our flights at the gate. Uh oh. We didn’t have enough padding in our schedule to account for this much of a delay.
So we reversed the boarding process and walked the steps down the plane and the steps back up into the airport. At the gate we were told that we could form a line and the gate attendant would attempt to find alternative flights for everyone. H immediately took off. He left the secure area to go out to the main ticket counters at the airport entrance to see what could be done there. So while jme and the boys sat patiently, I stood in gate counter line with a bunch of other passengers and tried to figure out how to get us to Tampa, Florida in time for our JetBlue flights that afternoon. I knew that if we missed our flight out of Tampa, our trip would not happen.
It still seemed possible to get to Florida. But it wasn’t.
There’s more to come… I just know that if I break without posting this first installment, it will be harder for me to carve out the time to finish it later. And I know it’s not that riveting a story to warrant a cliffhanger, so thank you for indulging me!