An Unforgettable Trip Home

P. S. Gifford

© Copyright 2006 by P. S. Gifford


I have just been to paradise. I am not fibbing or even exaggerating, I have truly been to paradise. Or at least my idea of what paradise should be. You see for the last eight glorious days I have been in Barbados. The weather was perfect, the ocean warm and calm, the white sandy beaches spectacular, the streets spotless with not a single piece of graffiti splattered anywhere, and best of all there are the people. Yes the people, they nearly invariably are friendly and genuine. There is a lifestyle in Barbados, relaxed, gentle and peaceful. They are an unhurried people who allow them selves to enjoy quality of life. I suspect that this comes from being a small country, only 260, 000, who have a strong religious ethic, and thanks to abundant tourism they are extremely well educated boasting a 99 % literacy rate, and one of the lowest crime rates anywhere…

So, you are probably sitting there, reading these words, wondering where the horror of the trip comes in. Well, there was a fly in the ointment, a great big fat hairy fly to boot. You see Barbados wasn’t (or never really could be…) the problem, it was the journey home where the difficulties began. Please allow me to explain…

At noon yesterday I was sitting at our hotel, on the beach, enjoying an ice cream cone. My mind was full of the events of the last few proceeding days. I had snorkeled with turtles, enjoyed glorious sailing on a catamaran, visited the largest collection of orchids on the planet, played tag with a green monkey and enjoyed some of the finest food I had ever eaten. Life was good, really good. It was then I heard the words.

Mr. Gifford your taxi to the airport is ready.”

That innocuous sounding statement snapped me instantly back to reality.

The short bumpy journey back to the airport was a disheartening event. The driver, possibly being some sort of mind reader, or more likely noticing the familiar dazed and dreamy look on my far too tanned face prompted “Should I pinch you?” I simply smiled.

Three hours later the completely packed plane was taking off. I stared through the window affectionately once more at the sparkling blue ocean, and at the beach where we had relaxed and sighed. It was moments after the seatbelt sign was turned off that a young boy, around three years old I suppose, sitting just three rows in front of us on his father’s lap vomited. And I am not talking about a dribble here; I am on about a full force stream which was an odd shade of brownish- yellow and surprisingly chunky. The father responded by gasping out loud hurrying him to the bathroom. Shrieks of disgust and disbelief came from passengers as when he stood up another stream, not quite as frenzied erupted from the small child. This managed to hit several passengers with remarkable accuracy. It was at that moment that I realized that here I was sitting on an aisle seat, and directly between the demon child and the bathroom. I was trapped…I watched on helpless as the red faced young boy, who was making  curious gurgling noises eyes was escorted by an embarrassed and helpless father towards me. As they began to pass by me, I held my breath and squirmed as far away from the aisle as I could…I thought for a moment I was going to make it, then all at once he began to splutter and shake and another stream gushed from his mouth…Straight onto my arm.

We all managed to clean ourselves up the best we could, the father kept apologizing and going on about how he shouldn’t have fed his son so much junk food. It was another two hours before we landed at Miami, and that smell, the one that still seems to linger in my nostrils as I type, never dissipated…

Finally we arrived at Miami. I departed the plane with visions of a large Cuban coffee and pastry dancing through my mind. It was when I arrived at immigration we saw it…The lines. As we were transferring flights we needed to pick up our luggage go  and then recheck it for the flight back on to Los Angeles. We had a three hour layover-plenty of time I had assumed. Fifty minutes later we had managed quite easily to get our luggage. Hand in hand my wife and I  we looked for the line to recheck it, and to our alarm noticed that an incredibly long line was snaking throughout the airport.

We have had computer troubles.” A frantic man in an airport uniform informed everyone.

People all about us began to complain, but there was nothing we could do. We glanced at our watch, it was less than two hours before we were supposed to be boarding…Finally fifty minutes later we dropped off our suitcases at the check in point. There were literally thousands of suitcases all tagged with different airports all assembled there with no apparent order or system

We were then herded to immigration. As I am not a U.S. Citizen, just a permanent resident, I could not go through the U.S. Passports only checkpoint, which was the only line that actually seemed to be moving. We stood there solemnly in our line, along with nationalities from each corner of the world. Periodically a petite lady, who rather reminded me of a very stern private school mistress, would come along and direct folks to the appropriate line. She was both matter-of-fact and apologetic…After an hour, and only moving about for feet forward, we were getting stressed. We now had less than forty-five minutes to board our plane, I made eye contact with her and she  promptly marched over.

Do you have American passports?” she said.

My wife and son do.” I answered attempting to muster up all the charm I could. “But all I have is my resident alien card.” She looked at me, then at my son, and then at my wife.
This line is taking up to four hours,” she said, “you had better come with me.” I wanted to give her a big hug and a kiss on her cheek, but I quickly suppressed the notion.

She marched us over to the front of the passport only line and she whispered something to the immigration officer. He grinned; nodded, and then waved us over…We were through.

We now had just thirty minutes to make our flight.

We are going to make it dear,” I said trying perhaps to convince myself as much as her.

It was then I saw it, the security check point.

We once more got in  a long line.

Now at this point stress was beginning to distinctly manifest itself with the normally relaxed Gifford family. Our speech patterns were much quicker, our sweat glands were beginning to work over time as our nerves were starting to fray…We finally made it to the front of the line and to the check point; we had six minutes until the plane boarded. We removed tennis shoes, watches, belts, wedding rings and anything else remotely metallic and cleared the check point. We now had four minutes till boarding, thirty four minutes to take off. I was not sure we were going to make it. To add to the excitement, we were surrounded by hundreds of folks in a similar predicament, and other folks still who had already missed their scheduled flight and  were just standing there motionless, almost in a frozen state, unclear as to how to respond to the situation. When we got off the plane, we carefully noted our departure lounge as D47, as we obediently followed the signs we began to jog. We became focused in our seemingly impossible quest, we became off one mind, we became a machine together… We avoided the moving platforms which glided passengers along, and we trotted in tight formation up the middle. Every minute or so glancing at our watches….Finally we saw it gate D47, victory was surely ours! We were just two minutes late. We arrived at the gate and sighed out loud  in relief, my son and I high-fived each other, and I might have even performed an Irish jig for a few seconds…That is till my eyes began to focus. I stared at my wife and we then looked about absorbing the scene- it was almost empty-something was terribly wrong. Our panic retuned as we  scurried towards the nearest message board…the gate had been changed to the other side of the terminal and the plane was on time.

Eight minutes and seventeen seconds later we arrived exhausted both physically and mentally at the correct gate. We noticed that this gate was full, overflowing even, and we slumped exhausted onto the floor. People exchanged satisfied glances…It was then that we noticed a plane taxiing into the gate…

Perhaps it is already cleaned and refueled and just came from the other gate.” I chirped optimistically.

Several minute later the passengers on the aircraft began to disembark and accompanied by a symphony of groans an announcement was made that the flight had a new time….one hour later. I suppose I should have gone and found my coffee, found some nourishment,  found some quiet corner to sob, instead I did not, I simply sat there.

Surely the worst was over…

It was thirty minutes later after my blood pressure had returned to relative normal that yet another announcement was made. The flight was not just full…It was over booked…They were asking for six volunteers to not take the flight. It was interesting, first they asked for volunteers, and then they began offering travel vouchers, hotel rooms and free meals, after the fourth offer, when the pot included first class travel the next morning some college students finally bit.

Soon after we were once more crammed together on the aircraft and I carefully eyed any nearby children with suspicion.

We had made it and were finally on our way back to Los Angeles…

I was hoping I would sleep on the plane, I did not. Well at times my foot, arm and hand slept, but my mind refused to shut off. It had already been nine hours since we left the hotel. The flight itself was thankfully uneventful…Uncomfortable and miserable…But uneventful. Four hours and twenty-six minutes after we took off the wonderful announcement was made from the far too cheerful captain that we were circling Los Angeles airport…It was now midnight California time, three in the morning by our watches.

The landing was rather smooth to be quite honest, one of the smoothest I have ever experienced, perhaps our luck had at long last changed .Just as I was considering sleeping in my own bed, and hugging my beloved dogs again, another announcement was made, this time the captain was not quite as happy.

Sorry to trouble you folks, this is the Captain again. They always say the last hour of the journey is the worst, and this one is no exception, it seems that another plane is at our gate, and we are going to have to wait for another half an hour until we can unload. We apologize for any inconvenience…”

By the time we had disembarked it was late. Very late. We had arranged for a private car to pick us up for the sixty mile drive back to the house. We called them and explained that we should be out in an hour or so. This time there was no need for immigration, customs or anything…We simply had to get our luggage and go home.

Now despite the time of the day it seems that several large airplanes all arrived within a few minutes of each other due to various delays, and because of the time of the day there was minimal crew working.

We made our way, in a zombie state to the luggage retrieval and there, along with everyone else, we waited. After we waited for half an hour disgruntled murmurs were beginning to bounce back and forth. I consider myself rather well traveled yet never before have I ever had to wait like this.We waited some more. And after that we waited even more. An hour and ten minutes after we sat there, the luggage carousel began to flash red lights and begin to turn.

Several minutes later suitcases began to roll, bounce and fall onto the carousel, one every ten to twenty seconds. My wife and I, remembering the chaos at Miami, looked at each other, and we both knew without exchanging words what was going through our mines…will our luggage be there?

After forty minutes luggage was still trickling out, other folks around us were celebrating as they claimed there bags, and I swear despite it now being two in the morning skipped out of the airway. Finally I spy it…My bag!  I jubilantly picked it up- surely the other two would not be far behind. Another twenty minutes go by, and by now there are only about two dozen dismayed folks still waiting for bags. Then the unthinkable happened, the machine shut off…Before we could scream however an announcement came over the speakers.

For passengers traveling from Miami we apologize for the delay in the baggage retrieval, the truck is at present heading back to the aircraft to retrieve a second load.”

Forty-five minutes later we finally did get our last two bags.

Time to call for our car, now three hours after our arranged pick up time…I can’t precisely remember that conversation.-It was an awkward one-But finally another car was dispatched, and twenty minutes later a car showed up to take us home.

By the time I placed my key in the door at home it was almost four in the morning…

So there you have it, our nightmare of a journey. Oh, and by the way, we are already looking into booking our trip to Barbados for next year.

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