Travel Day: Hurry Up and Wait.
When I tell my girlffriend that Matt and I will be spending Thanksgiving in the Virgin Islands, she sighs with envy..."How Romantic...."
Then I add that my 76 year old mother-in-law and her friend will be coming with us. To which she says: “Are you insane?”
To be fair, I’m famously lucky to have a mother-in-law who is funny and adventurous, who loves most of the same things I love, and who I truly enjoy spending time with.
She is not mean. She does not talk about other women my husband used to date that she thought would be better mates for him. She does not rearrange my kitchen. As far as mother in laws go, she's pretty much tops.
Still, no matter how lovely your mother-in-law is, a family trip – especially one of the multi-generational variety that includes someone who recently had hip replacement surgery – is bound to be fraught with potential problems. Throw in a remote island location that is not exactly known for being ADA accessible, and you're simply asking for it.
Nevertheless, we had promised this trip as a bright spot on the horizon when she was valiantly struggling through rehab after her hip replacement, and we wanted it to be amazing.
I was determined to make this trip everything it should be....a romantic island vacation for me and Matt, a wonderful tropical retreat for my sweet mother-in-law and her good friend, Elaine, and a smashing Thanksgiving all rolled into one.
Who says you can't have it all?
I started to get nervous when it was an hour after our departure time and our plane still hadn't arrived. Mechanical issues, they said. Getting another plane, they said.
When a plane finally arrived, I thought we were saved. We had a pretty long layover in Charlotte, and we still had just enough time to make it.
That was, until the replacement plane also had mechanical issues and we sat on the runway for 45 minutes.
There was now no way to make our connection. We landed in Charlotte 10 minutes AFTER our flight to St. Thomas left. I wanted to cry.
It was the Saturday before Thanksgiving. They say the Tuesday before Thanksgiving is the worst travel day of the year. THEY are liars. All the other flights were sold out. On every airline. Until the following day.
"We'll get you a room at a hotel," they said. Matt and I looked at each other in our thin shirts and flip flops. We didn't even have socks for goodness sakes, much less coats. How were we supposed to survive a night in 28 degree Charlotte? We also had 2 elderly women with mobility issues in tow.
We would also lose our rental car reservation on St. Thomas and they were sold out for the week. We wouldn't likely get a car the next day.
This was not awesome.
"Well, there is one final flight today and we can put you on standby," they said.
What were the chances that 4 people wouldn't show up for this flight? The odds of getting 4 seats on that plane were impossible. One? Possibly. Two? Maybe. What would we do if we only got a seat or two? Both of our travel companions needed help getting on the plane and carrying their luggage. I was suddenly regretting my decision to insist everyone do carry on only.
I sat nervously biting my nails as the plane boarded. Happy passengers on their way to paradise smiled and practically danced onto the plane as we sat dismally on the sidelines....hoping....waiting.....
The flight was completely boarded and I was trying to figure out where I could buy a pair of socks in the airport when the gate attendant called our name over the loudspeaker.
But how many?????
Matt and I ran up to the gate.
"We have two seats," she said.
We looked at each other miserably.
"You take Mom and go," Matt said. "You love St. John more than I do. I'll stay here with Elaine and we'll meet you there tomorrow."
Wonderful sweet man.
I was so excited about getting on the flight that I didn't really think through the logistics of helping my MIL through the travel process......
She has difficulty walking and certainly can't carry anything. I sent her onto the plane with her purse as I wrestled with two overstuffed rolling carryon suitcases and my ridiculous beach tote that was literally overflowing with 13 pounds of camera equipment, a zip-loc bag so filled with toiletries that the seam had split, bags of snacks, my wallet, sunglasses, hand sanitizer, 4 magazines, my iPod, iPad, and iPhone along with all the necessary charging equipment, a GoPro, and a chapstick.
God help me.
Why do I always overpack? I cursed myself.
I don't want to sound like a helpless female, but I suddenly realized how wonderful it is to have a man that you can simply shove your bag at and say, "Get that."
I awkwardly pulled the two suitcases down the jetway behind me as my giant tote kept slipping off my shoulder. I had no idea what I was going to do when I actually got to the plane, with its narrow little aisles.
My seat was in row 8. Not too far. This should be okay. I pushed one bag in front of me and pathetically pulled the other one behind me as I walked sideways down the aisle. I could do this.
My confidence was short lived. Because the plane was fully boarded when I got on, that meant that there was ABSOLUTELY NO OVERHEAD SPACE LEFT ANYWHERE. The bins were 100% packed. People had put EVERYTHING in there. Their personal items. Their suitcases. Their shoes. Their jackets. Pillows. Boxes of crackers. I think I saw a crate full of chickens.
It also meant that everyone on the plane didn't realize I was a standby passenger and simply thought I was late. And that I had an excess of luggage. They hated me. I could see it in their eyes. It didn't help that I hit everyone in the head with my tote as I walked by.
Hundreds of eyes glared at me.
I tried finding a flight attendant, but they refused to make eye contact lest they be forced to actually help me.
I was on my own in a sea of angry passengers.
I opened every bin. Nothing. I started to sweat. My breath was coming in shallow little gasps. I'm pretty sure I had a torn rotator cuff.
When I reached row 24, I found some space. Unfortunately, it was on the inside of the plane. You know, the side that won't possibly accommodate a rolling bag but is just big enough for a small purse? Just as I was about to give it up and ask them to check my bags, a man grabbed his backpack out of the side I needed and started rooting around in it for something.
"Excuse me?" I said, "Do you mind moving that to this space on the inside bin so that my rolling bag will fit?"
He glared angrily at me, but then put his backpack on the other side.
I was elated until I figured out that I had to lift a suitcase that weighed over 1/3 of my body weight over my head. Have you seen my arms???? Somehow, I managed to shove it up there without taking off anyone's head, but I still had one more suitcase. This was hopeless. I looked over as my MIL sat happily in her seat, munching on Cracker Jacks. I whimpered.
A few more rows down, I found a space, jammed her suitcase in it, and dashed back up to the safety of my seat.
I was hot. I was sweating. My back hurt. This sucked.
I spent the 3 hour flight to St. Thomas wondering how I was going to get back to Row 20-something and retrieve 2 suitcases when everyone was jammed in the aisles trying to go in the opposite direction.
And there was still the matter of the rental car. We were late. We were very late. I had emailed Budget to let them know, but we all know that rental car agencies at Caribbean airports aren't always known for their customer service. Did they even check email anyway??
I hoped my Jeep would still be there when we arrived, but I needed to get off that plane fast. Before 200 other passengers got off and filled up that line and got my Jeep.
When the plane landed, it was every man for himself. I pushed and shoved my way through bodies to get the two suitcases, leaving my tote in my seat. I then pushed and shoved my way back up through those bodies to get back to my seat. People scowled. Some cursed. At least one forked the sign of the evil eye at me. Somehow, I managed to get back to my seat with all the luggage before the door opened.
My elation was cut short when I remembered that there is no jetway in St. Thomas. You have to go down a rickety, wobbling, extremely steep and ridiculously narrow set of stairs to deplane onto the runway.
I had to do this with two 35 lb suitcases and a giant tote bag.
Why did I wear a maxi skirt???? With an elastic waist no less. Oh dear sweet Jesus. I just knew I would step on the hem of my long skirt as I deplaned and pull it right off. That would likely happen just before I crumpled under the weight of the bags and tumbled down the stairs, where I would land on the runway in my underwear.
I almost wished I was back in Charlotte, trying to figure out how to get my flip flops over my socks so that I could go to dinner.
Forget the whole "I immediately loved the rush of warm air and smell of the sea and looked forward to my free rum punch as I got off the plane" bullshit......I grunted and groaned my way down the stairs, legs shaking, unable to hold the handrail every time the stairs wobbled, and somehow got off without pulling off my skirt. I bolted to the Budget counter.
My Jeep was still there. Thank you, God, for small favors.
I again realized how much I take Matt for granted as I tugged the luggage across the median, up the steps, and through the parking lot to the rental car. Even more when I remembered I still had to drive us across the island on the narrow, winding roads, on the wrong side of the road, and then had to back the Jeep onto the car ferry in the dark.
I had a moment of panic when I pulled up to the gate at the airport where I was supposed to hand the gate agent my ticket to depart. I couldn't find the window button. My MIL and I both started looking everywhere.
HOW DO I ROLL DOWN THE WINDOW???????
WHERE IS THE %&$#@@@@**&$ WINDOW BUTTON????????
This was simply more than I could take. I was moments away from having a full blown nervous breakdown when the sweet gate agent walked around and showed me the window button.
Now, who the hell thought putting the button in the middle of the console was a good idea? That's just dumb.
We managed to get out of the airport and I even found my way across the island to Red Hook without getting lost.
Now came the fun part. Our Jeep was crammed in with 50 other Jeeps on a ferry dock in the dark. It was now time to back the Jeep onto the ferry, about 6 inches from the Jeep next to me. I wanted to vomit.
Miraculously, we made it onto the ferry without me crying, cussing, or hitting another car.
I was exhausted.
But we weren't done yet.
We had to get to St. John, get our groceries, and get to our villa before travel day would be done.
When we drove off the ferry, our villa agent was waiting for us. I have never been so happy to see another human being. She would lead us to the villa.
I was super happy that I had decided to pay the small extra fee to pre-order my groceries online. They were packed in boxes and waiting at Starfish Market. All I had to do was pick them up.
Then it was on to Azul Peter Bay! Woo Hoo! We were almost there.
I did my happy dance a moment too soon.
As the villa agent pulled away, it started raining. No, not raining....POURING.
It was in this downpour that I had to unload all our luggage along with 6 heavy boxes of groceries, 2 gallons of water, and 2 cases of soda.
The cherry on top? I had no choice but to give my MIL the beautiful upstairs master bedroom with a giant walk out balcony because I didn't want her going down the stairs to the downstairs bedroom.
I was sleeping in the basement.
No worries. I WAS FINALLY HERE! I took a deep breath and let the stress of the day wash away as listened to the sweet sounds of tree frogs coming in on the breeze.
It was late, and we hadn't eaten since breakfast. We were so worried at the airport that we didn't even think to stop and grab a bite of lunch while we waited.
It was dark and drizzly, but that didn't stop me from driving down to Morgan's Mango for a bite.
It's amazing what a tall frozen drink, an order of mahi tacos, and a giant slab of key lime pie can do.
All was right with the world.
We were on St. John and the week was just beginning.