Well I’m snowed into my apartment in North Carolina, so I think it’s finally time to tell the story of the time I missed my flight to Bolivia and got stuck in Miami, and then, miraculously, how the plane came back for me.
It was 4 pm on a Tuesday in June, and I sat in the Raleigh-Durham airport next to several women dressed for the beach. A woman on my left read the paper, the news showed the latest escapades involving Donald Trump, who at this point hadn’t become President. Reality still felt somewhat trustworthy, and I expected soon enough to hear over the loudspeaker that my plane to Miami would board.
I was albeit, quite early, having left my house around 2 pm for a 6 pm flight, driven to the airport by my friend Sadie, who escorted me all the way to security at which point she waved goodbye dramatically. We wouldn’t see each other for at least three weeks, which was far longer than any other separation we’d had since becoming friends in grad school.
Sadie sent me several WhatsApp messages while I waited at my gate. I was going to Bolivia, where text messaging wouldn’t be possible, so we’d already assumed the new mode of communication. She told me to be careful, to have a safe flight, implying that I was somehow in control, which seemed doubtful.
Things still felt very normal, but I was on edge, as I am before all big things that involve a dramatic leap into the unknown. In this case, this trip, involved several layers of unknowns, from the people I would be working with to the culture and landscape I’d be entering.
And then the first text message arrived from American Airlines. My flight was now set to depart on time at 8 pm. This was not on time at all. My connecting flight from Miama to La Paz, Bolivia, was set to depart on time at 10:25, which meant that if my flight was leaving RDU at 8:00 and arriving in MIA at 10:05, I would have a layover of 20 minutes. Miami is a large airport, but I did not know this at the time, and even were it small, the gates close 10 minutes (at least, I would learn) before flight time.
I saw people around me lining up at the counter. I, flustered, quickly followed suit.
When it was my turn, I explained my situation, and the airline professional explained theirs right back. There had been heavy rains in Raleigh, making landing impossible for a while, and all the flights coming in, mine included, had been delayed. However, now flights were arriving on time. There was nothing they could do to get me there sooner. However, she looked at my itinerary and said, with a slightly detectable accent, “Oh, you’ll make it, you’ll be fine.”
I went and sat down. “I’ll be fine,” she said. I tried to remain calm, or rather, become calm again, which I hadn’t been for several days. I thought about eating, but I had stress-eaten an apple while trying to interpret the text message, and now my blood sugar would be soaring because I hadn’t thought to give myself more insulin until after I spoke with her, so I decided to wait.
A beautiful woman with lush black hair sitting near me, was talking about her crumpled plans. I guessed she was returning to Brazil, but I found out her destination was actually Argentina, and they had told her a similar explanation of why, but that in fact she would not be fine, and would have to reschedule the second leg of her trip because she would never make her connecting flight with such a short layover. I asked her how long her layover had become, and she said her original connecting flight was set to leave at 10:45 PM. My brain registered a problem.
I went back up to the counter where the woman with red lipstick and perfect scarlet gel nails had told me that I would be just fine. I recounted my situation again, almost verbatim, with the caveat that although she told me it’d be ok, I just didn’t see how that could be true. She clicked her nails on the desk and asked for my boarding passes. “Oh no! You’re never gonna make this. Sorry.”
“What?” I asked, or said, because I had heard her, and really didn’t want to hear it again.
“Yah, no, you’ll never get from that gate to the departing gate in, what, 20 minutes. Nope.”
“Ok, well, can you offer me some other options?”
And then she starts looking at tomorrow’s flights, and she’s talking about how I can leave in 24 hours, from here, this gate, and just do this whole thing that I’ve been waiting for, for months, tomorrow, instead of today. And tomorrow feels so far away, in fact, so far, that it doesn’t even exist in my mind. Tomorrow is supposed to exist in Bolivia, which is a place I can’t even imagine, and that I would learn was totally different than even the small imagining I had been able to do. And I couldn’t imagine, going back home. Going back home to my apartment where I had eaten all of the food except for half of a carrot because I wanted to make sure I could leave everything closed up like a book I had finished and come back fresh from this journey. The house that I had checked four or five times to make sure that the dryer, and coffee pot, and oven, and lights, and sinks, and all of it, were turned off, that the door was locked, the blinds were drawn. I couldn’t go back.
“I can’t go back” I told her.
“Well if you go to Miami, I mean, you might be able to get on a flight tomorrow at 11 AM instead of 6 PM but….”
“No” I said, “I have to get to Bolivia by tomorrow morning.” (I was scheduled to arrive and meet my friend in the airport in La Paz at 5:30 AM).
I began to look more and more frantic. My eyes were wet, I was crying a little. I heard her speak Spanish to a co-worker as she turned and took a break from me. She looked back.
“What are you doing in Bolivia?”
I responded in Spanish, which was a good move, it turns out. I explained to her about the children with Type 1 Diabetes I would be meeting and talking to. Her eyes looked wet too. Suddenly a flurry of google searches, she was really trying to help me. I had become ‘Mamita,’ which I felt really good about. But…there were still no good options.
“What if,” I started, “the weather gets bad in Miami,” and then the planes can’t leave or are delayed from there?”
“Nah, it’s not as hard for them to leave, and your second plane is already there, sitting at the airport. Not gonna happen Chica.”
“Ok, ok, well what if my first flight gets in earlier than expected, I mean that happens right? And then I run like crazy to the next gate and at that one, maybe they know, at the airport, because y’all could give them a call, and tell them, that it’s not my fault but I’m going to be just a few minutes late..and…”
“Mmm, look, if you get on the plane to Miami, you better make sure you have some backup once you get there. Because since this is weather, and we can’t do anythin’ about that, they’re not gonna pay for any accommodations for you either.”
I go sit down. I get on Facebook. Miami in the search bar. I know no one. I start to send text messages fervently. I realize I know two people who know two people in Miami. Neither can promise me outright that those people want a house guest who may, or may not, be arriving at 11:00 PM and leaving early the next morning, but it’s the best backup I’ve got.
I go back up to my friend at the counter. She says hello, with sympathy in her eyes. I explain the situation and I say, “What would you do.” She meets my gaze and says, “You’re never gonna make it. But you could go for it.”
This was the whole truth. I was never gonna make it, but I could postpone that realization by several hours and accept it once I was alone in Miami. So that’s what I decided to do.
To be continued.