June 20, 2019

Getting There Is Half the Fun

“Getting there is half the fun.” That’s what Dad always used to say back in the days when visiting Grandma and Grandpa was a full day trip by car. Remembering that when I’m about to embark on yet another epic journey seems to dull the dread of modern travel. A recent trip to the Dominican Republic gave new meaning to “half the fun.”

Our first flight was scheduled to leave Phoenix at 10:45 PM, so we arrived at the airport our obligatory two hours before departure only to find that our flight was delayed until 12:08 AM. We passed the hours being entertained by a group of teenagers playing football, hide and seek, and holding wheelchair chariot races in the deserted terminal.

Our plane arrived according to the revised schedule and we queued up to board. We had checked our bags, so I was not dragging a bag behind me and therefore was not able to create the “buffer zone.” When we bunched up at the door to the plane the guy behind me was standing closer than any guy has ever stood before. I thought about checking the security of my wallet, but didn’t want to create any false impressions.

We found our seats, settled in, and the plane pushed back from the gate at exactly 12:08, I thought that things were finally turning around. But halfway down the taxiway, we ground to a halt and the captain announced, “We have to wait for about forty minutes for the backlog to clear.” And since it is virtually impossible to tolerate “seat backs in their full upright position,” half of the seat backs on the plane immediately reclined.

We inched along the tarmac for the full forty minutes, the captain announced we were next in line, and all of the seat backs returned to the full upright and locked position–except the guy in front of me. I never fully understood why a difference of about ten degrees in the angle of the seat back could differentiate between living and dying in the event of catastrophic event during take-off. I also never knew whether the danger was to the seat occupant or to the unfortunate schlemiel sitting behind him. I knew I was gonna die and started to reach for the call button when another memory from family trips stayed my hand: Nobody likes a tattle-tale. Fortunately, I still don’t know who’s at risk, since the take-off was uneventful.

As the flight progressed, it was apparent that the guy in the seat behind me was on his way to the World Cup Soccer matches in Europe and was using the back of my seat for practicing his shots on goal. Finally, after heaving himself out of his seat by pulling on the back of mine and nearly catapulting me down the aisle when he released it, he finally drifted off to sleep. I decided to plug in my headset and watch the movie, but I was having a very hard time understanding the actors until I realized that I was listening to English in my right ear and Spanish in my left. I thought that was really being bilingual and chose to sleep instead.

About halfway through the flight, I pried open an eye to discover the guy across the aisle and one row up had his cell phone turned on and was checking his messages. Again I knew I was gonna die, again I reached for the button, and again my brother’s whiney voice stayed my hand. The plane seemed to be flying OK, I’m on vacation anyway, what’s the worst that could happen? Maybe we could land in Iceland? I’m sure the airline would bring us back.

We landed in Newark without any problem at the adjusted, estimated, scheduled time only to discover that our connecting flight was scheduled to leave from the gate that was absolutely the farthest possible distance from the one where we arrived. I later learned that this is the reason why there is always construction at airports. To maximize the minimum possible distance between any two arriving and departing flights.

The flight to The Dominican Republic was relatively uneventful, but the airport was a unique experience. There was a long line at the ladies room on the way to baggage claim, so I stood and waited for my wife and listened to the band welcoming the tourists. There was a box there for tips, so I gave them one: Toilets with no seats in the ladies room and music that sounds like a goat, with one foot in a bucket, humping an accordion, does not create a good first impression.

After retrieving our bags from the carousel, dragging them a quarter mile through the terminal, we located our waiting taxi driver and he went to retrieve his cab. When he pulled up to the curb, I dragged our two bags around to the trunk, which he had popped. I let go of one bag to load the other and some guy grabbed the second bag and stuck it in the trunk. I said “thanks” and got in the car. He stuck his head in and asked, “Do you have a tip for me?” I gave him one, but apparently not what he was expecting.

We started down the road. It was hot in the car so my wife told me to roll down the window to let the hot air blow out. I looked for the window crank and there was none. The door handle was missing, too. I wondered if I would ever see civilization again. It was hot and humid. You know how your glass of iced tea sweats? Whenever the driver turned on the A/C, he had to use his windshield wipers, too. We also had more of the goat music. I don’t speak Spanish at all, but even I could recognize the same four words repeated three hundred times. We finally arrived at our resort after a drive that you would not believe.

Absolute confirmation that the decision to not rent a car was the wisest one we ever made. You’re right Dad, getting there was half the fun.

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