I was packed and ready to fly. I had spent days preparing for the airline reunion in Atlanta – a gathering of “Stewardesses of the 1960’s and 70’s.” Yes, there is such a group! In fact we have over 7,000 members!
Nancy Duke, the organizer of this “first annual,” had no idea what she set off. When the date of the gathering was announced, a shot of adrenaline shot up my spine. Four months! I have four months to finish writing my book, get the cover design completed, and get it printed. They said it couldn’t be done.
Best way to get me to do something – tell me I can’t do it!
So, I dug in. I cloistered myself in my casita and wrote a thousand words a day with the deadline in mind of April first. April Fool’s Day?! Nope, won’t do – changed it to April 8, my birthday, with a departure date of April 30. I WILL have books in hand on that plane, dammit. With the help of my fabulous editor, Bob, and printers extraordinaire, Efrén and Evelyn, we did it! Books were hot off the press with time to spare.
I loaded up my suitcase with books, a pair of jeans, a few tops, and some undies. Mostly books. It reminded me of when I used to put my skydiving rig in “Big Red” (my TIA airline issued suitcase and stuffed a few articles of clothing around it). I stuffed my carry-on with a few more books and I was ready to travel.
Bob, in addition to being the best editor in these here parts, is also a good friend. I asked him to drive me to the airport in my car on departure day, keep the car for the weekend and pick me up on Monday. I felt very clever saving on cab fare by doing it this way. The little red Hyundai wouldn’t use even a quarter of what the cab would cost. I had it all figured out!
In preparation for flying, I switched wallets and purses to the U.S. paraphernalia. My small, but mighty Brighton bag has it all. In a space smaller than the average paperback, you can carry everything from credit cards, license, and paper money. It has compartments for lipstick, pen, coins, and the best part? A secure slot for your passport.
I opened the safe in my Costa Rica casita and switched out colones for dollars, reached in, grabbed my passport, and shoved the little blue book into the special slot. I am of the travel mindset that the only essential items are the passport, credit cards, and a bit of cash. Everything else can be purchased or negotiated. In this case, the books were essential. I had seventy copies of “Flying High with Carole Jean” securely packed.
So – Books? Check!
Credit cards? Check!
Cash? In U.S. dollars? Check!
I even had my Bevmo card. And the CVS card.
Good to go.
Bob dropped me at the curb at the busy Juan Santamaria Airport with time to spare. He leaned out of the window, and said, “So, you’re all set? You have everything? Passport? Are you nervous?”
“Of course I’m not nervous, Bob. I’m a seasoned traveler. Remember, I was a flight attendant for years. It’s all under control! See you in a few days.”
And I trundled off with my two rollie-bags loaded with hot-off-the-press books waiting to make their debut.
My jaw dropped when I entered the terminal! The line to pay the “departure tax” snaked through the entire building. I felt as if I were in New York on the subway at rush hour – right down to the short old Japanese lady in a funny hat. She cut in front of me with her pink polka-dot rollie-bag. She looked straight ahead through her coke-bottle glasses and pretended she didn’t see me.
The line clipped along and before long I was standing in front of a payment window with my twenty thousand colones in hand. I laid my passport on the metal tray, the Spanish speaking agent flipped it open to the photo page just as my eyes registered the two punch-holes through the cover! The agent and I locked eyes, as I gasped and froze. “Oh no!”
The nice young man could feel my pain. He wanted to help me, but there was nothing he could do. I told him the current one was at home in Atenas which is thirty minutes away. His eyes lit up as he said, “Good. Go get it and when you get back come straight to my window – don’t wait in line again.”
I took a deep breath, schlepped my heavy bags to the side and whipped out my cell phone. Who do I call? Bob!
I dialed. No answer. I dialed again. No answer. Okay, I didn’t actually dial like in the olden days. I punched a button. Nobody knows anybody’s number any more. If you lose your phone or it dies, you can’t call anybody. On the third try, Bob answered.
“Bob! Where are you? I have a situation.”
“Almost in San Jose,” he answered.
I hissed into the phone,”Make a u-turn. I grabbed the wrong passport.”
“How is that possible? What do you mean you grabbed the wrong passport? How many passports do you have?”
“I’m hanging up now. I’ll tell you later. Concentrate on driving. Get here as fast as you can!”
After I hung up, I checked the time. Hmm, if I wait for Bob, I’ll never make the flight. Go to plan B. I grab the phone and punch a button. It is answered on the first ring.
“Isa! Where are you?”
“I’m by the Red Cross heading home. I’m sick.” as she sniffles.
“I need a huge favor! I’m at the airport with an expired passport. Can you go to my house and get the right one?”
“For you, I will do it, sister/friend. I’m on my way to Roca Verde now,”
“K. Call me when you get there. I’ll walk you through the hidden keys.”
After a series of phone calls back and forth, the mission was accomplished! She found it in the “monkey” purse I had switched out of.
“What the hell were you doing with an expired passport anyway?”
“Well, I keep the old ones to remind me the places I’ve been – you know, memory triggers for the book. Half the time I didn’t know where I was until I looked at the stationery in the desk with the name and address of of the hotel on it.”
After laying out several scenarios for getting the passport into my hands, we figured out, the only way I stood a chance of making my flight was for Isa to drive directly to the airport, pass the document out the window of her moving vehicle, race to the departure tax window, dash to the check-in desk and maybe, just maybe I would make it by the skin of my teeth!
Bob made it to the airport just moments before Isa came screaming up to the curb. When I saw him coming, I started for the terminal and hollered over my shoulder, “Bob, go stand next to that hot pink suitcase on the curb. Isa will be here any moment with the passport. Meet me inside by the departure tax line.”
There was nobody else in line. I had my eyes riveted to the entrance watching for Bob. My outstretched hand snatched the passport from his hand as soon as he was within range. “Thanks, Bob! Take the hot pink bag over to the line right over there and wait in line. I’ll be right there.”
We were lucky the check-in line was right next to the departure tax area. I kept checking my watch. It would be close. Real close!
After paying, I sprinted to the pre check-in kiosk. Breathlessly, I asked the nice young lady checking my documents if I would make the flight. “Si, señora. Tranquila.”
I had my doubts. Bob, who stayed with me in case I didn’t make it, had his doubts. My phone rang as I was sitting at the gate waiting for my group number to be called for boarding. “Carole, did you make it?” asked Isa.
“Thanks to you and Bob, yes! I owe you sister/friend.”
“Nope. That’s what friends are for. Go and have a great time!”
And I did. The first annual airline reunion in Atlanta was a blast, with plans for future reunions. I heard so many fun stories, I may have to show up next year in Nashville with “Flying High with Carole Jean – AND Her Sky-Sisters!”
We are definitely “Leavin’ on a Jet Plane. No doubt about it!”