Jessica and I have had the good fortune of being able to travel frequently and I have, over the course of time, discovered some strategies that make our trips less dramatic and less prone to fits of anger and threats of divorce. I thought that I would share those with you, our faithful readers, that you may suffer less than have I since all of these lessons are ones I learned from experience.
RULE #1: DO NOT leave your passport at the Brookstone store at your home airport on your way to Paris
I came to understand the importance of having your passport in your possession by leaving it at the Brookstone store at the Pittsburgh airport while trying on a new pair of earbuds. Unfortunately, I did not notice that it was missing until the gate attendant at the airport in Philadelphia asked for it as we attempted to board the flight to Paris. Visions of awakening the next morning in the City of Light quickly turned into a toxic emotional mixture of embarrassment, guilt and disappointment as we were informed that we would have to return to Pittsburgh on the next flight and that it would be two days until we could be re-booked to Paris. Then there was the matter of our luggage which we had checked through to Paris for the two-week trip.
But, by far, the worst of the results of my venture into idiocy was the look on Jessica’s face. There was no trace of anger but what was there hurt even more: it was pity, pity and understanding. I think that she had been expecting me to do something like this all along and she was not a bit surprised when I did. I was so hoping that she would ask me, “How could you be so stupid?” but it occurred to me that she already knew the answer.
We returned to Pittsburgh late that night, retrieved my wayward passport from the airport authorities to which Brookstone had given it, and went home to a very expensive bottle of wine.
We spent the next two days trying to find my luggage which consisted of one checked bag (Jessica’s had been taken off of the Paris flight and returned to us the next day.), without success. I was given various reports by the folks at USAirways. It was in Pittsburgh, it was in Philadelphia, it was in Newark, it had gone to Paris and is now in Boston, etc. I packed another wardrobe for our two-week trip and wondered if I would ever again see the things I had sent to who-knows-where. We went early to the airport, allowing time to check in at baggage claim to see if the bag may have arrived, but, no. When we got back to Philadelphia, we did as we were told and checked with baggage claim there, again, coming up empty.
It wasn’t until we arrived at Charles De Gaulle Airport in Paris that I was reunited with my possessions. Jessica went to the USAirways baggage claim office there, as we had been advised to do, and I went straight to the carousel to retrieve our luggage. I got to the carousel ahead of the baggage for our flight and the revolving belt was empty, empty, that is, except for one lonely suitcase which had probably been going ’round and ’round since our original flight had landed in Paris two days before. I took some comfort in the knowledge that I now had more than enough underwear for the trip.
RULE #2: DO NOT, EVER, check the box on the US Customs Declaration form that says “We have been in close proximity of (such as touching or handling) livestock.”
Jessica was sound asleep on the plane when the flight attendant handed out the US Customs Declaration forms. We were returning from a short trip to Costa Rice where we took an excursion the vendor called “An Adventure Day.” The “adventure” started with a couple of hours of zip-lining in the jungle canopy. Although I was a bit intimidated at first, I came to conclude that it is less dangerous than changing your own flat tire. There are so many redundancies and safety features that it’s hard to imagine a scenario where someone actually gets hurt.
More risky, at least for the women in our cobbled-together group of around 16 people, was the water slide. The slide was a natural one and the process of riding it involved the victims sitting in a trough one at a time and awaiting the lifting of a door that released a rush of pent-up water that carried him/her to the bottom of the slide. There are two things I would want any but my enemies to know about this experience. First, I was told that there are no glaciers in Costa Rica but, I am convinced that the water that hit me full in the back so as to take me away down the slope of the trough, came from recently melted glacial ice. The temperature of the water was such that it took my breath away and I never retrieved it until long after I had gotten out of the basin at the end of the ride. The second thing to consider is the force of the water as it’s released. It seems that many of the females who have allowed themselves to be flushed down this particular drain have ended their journey sans bathing suit bottoms, they having been stripped off by the rushing water. To avoid this happening more frequently than it does, the conductors of the water slide activity offer leather “diapers” to their female customers. I’m not certain how that works, but they claim it does and, sure enough, Jessica had both pieces of the suit on when she arrived at the bottom of the slide.
But it was the next activity that got me into trouble. It was a horseback ride through the jungle and to hot springs where we cavorted with our comrades in pools of varied temperatures of water. After an hour or so of being wet, we dried off, put our horse-riding clothes back on, and re-mounted our steeds for the ride back. It was only natural, then, that, with Jessica dozing beside me, I would check the box next to “We have been in close proximity to livestock.”
I knew that I was in trouble when the customs officer looked at the form, asked me to confirm that we had, indeed, been in proximity to livestock and directed us into another section of the Houston airport’s Customs facility.
“Why would you ever have thought to check that box?” Jessica asked in an unpleasant way.
“Well, what if we were bringing back some animal disease on our shoes or something,” I said in lame justification for what I had done. “They need ways to find people and track these things.” Like I knew.
“Look at this place,” she said, and I did. Everyone consigned to this area was old, infirm, and disabled in one way or another. They were all carrying food of their native lands, wherever that might be and Jessica said, “If we didn’t have a disease when we walked in here, we sure as hell do now. I’m hungry, I have to pee and we may miss our flight home because we have to wait in this line.”
And we were waiting in a line, though we couldn’t quite tell for what. Did we have to go through some kind of disinfecting machine or what? Finally, we got close enough to the front of the line to see what process we would have to undergo. It was nothing more than putting our bags through the same kind of x-ray machine that graces the entrance to the security envelope of every airport in the world. We placed our bags on the belt, watched them disappear into the bowels of the machine, and come out the other end where the officer directed us to the exit. Now Jessica was really furious.
“All that and they didn’t even check for diseases?” she asked obviously rhetorically.
As we left the Customs area and entered the section where you turn your luggage over to the airline to re-check it, Jessica looked down at the bag I was dragging around and said in a quiet and calm voice, “And, you took the wrong suitcase off of the carousel. That one is supposed to be going to Denver. I’m going to the gate. Maybe I’ll see you on the plane.” Sure enough, it wasn’t my bag. I had to get an airport employee to escort me back into the Customs area, drop off the Denver-bound bag, and retrieve my own. As I started to exit the secure area, the Customs agent asked to see the declaration.
“So I see you were around livestock,” he said. Twenty minutes later, probably having contracted a number of diseases for which there weren’t even names, I walked back out of the Customs area and got to the gate just before our flight home began to board.
“Don’t you ever do that again,” she said simply. And I haven’t.
RULE #3: DO NOT go to the wrong airport on your way to visit your wife’s father in Amsterdam
Jessica’s father, Jeff, and her stepmother, Cindy, travel the world doing bicycle excursions. They have been all over Europe, in Thailand and elsewhere but, when they booked a trip that ended in Amsterdam, a relatively short flight from our home in Puglia, we decided to meet them there and spend a few days together. As usual, I took responsibility for booking the flights and the hotel. Now, there are two international airports in Puglia–Bari and Brindisi–and we live just about mid-way between them. For that reason, it is price and schedule that drive the decision as to which airport we fly out of. I went back and forth for days trying to figure out which was the better option and finally booked one.
The first leg of the itinerary took us to Rome and, from there, we were booked on a 90-minute flight to Amsterdam. On the morning of our departure date, we arose early, made the drive to the airport in Brindisi, parked the car and made our way to the Alitalia ticket counter to check in. We waited in line for forty minutes and, when we finally reached the ticket agent, the confused look on his face told me that something was wrong.
“I’m sorry, sir, but your flight to Rome is from Bari, not Brindisi.”
Oh, crap, I thought. There was no way that we could make the hour-and-a-half drive to Bari and still make the flight. I went to the Alitalia customer service desk and asked if we could be re-booked via Brindisi. The answer:
“I’m sorry, sir, but if we cancel the Bari to Rome leg of your flight, it automatically cancels your flight from Rome to Amsterdam.”
“That’s okay,”I said. “Then cancel the whole itinerary and just book us new flights.”
“The problem, sir, is that the Rome to Amsterdam flight is full. There are no seats on that flight.”
“But, if you cancel our seats on that flight, there will be two seats available. No one will be sitting in the seats that you cancel. We can just book those.”
“I’m sorry,sir, but the flight is full.” It went on like this for a while. This was not a language problem, nothing was lost in the translation. This was entirely a matter of airline logic not squaring with the reality in which the rest of the world resides. It was hard for me to be too assertive, though. After all, he had the weapon of being able to say, “Look, you’re the idiot who went to the wrong airport.”
After an hour of misery, consultation with Alitalia higher-ups, another 800 euros and daggers plunging into me from Jessica’s look, we made a very quiet drive back to Cisternino, having re-booked the trip for the next day. The only thing Jessica said to me on the 40-minute drive was, “You’re the one who is going to call my father and explain to him why we’re going to be a day late.” At that point I was ready to accept any punishment she wanted to dish out and I made the call to Jeff. He was disappointed that his time with his daughter was to be cut short by a day but it seemed that he more so felt sorry for me and what I would suffer as a result of my mental lapse.
The next morning, we did it all over again, getting up in the wee hours to make the drive to Brindisi but, this time, we went with an admonition written on the car by our friend Francesco.
It must be said here that I have learned lessons from these experiences and, thanks to Jessica’s patience and understanding, continue to be blissfully married despite them. I do, however, travel with some trepidation remaining fully aware that there are some screw-ups I have not yet made and never knowing when one might be right around the corner.