I had prepared very carefully, from packing everything days in advance to dropping the dog off at the kennel early to renting a car to get me to the airport as well as run those last few crucial errands. I even bought an extra waterproof camera the night before I left, remembering that I’d used up all my shots early last year.
Yet as I got up at 4am to be at the airport bright and early for my 7am flight, I had a vague feeling that I was forgetting something. It wasn’t until I was at the airport, staring at the electronic ticket kiosk, that the circuit finally closed.
My passport was sitting in a drawer at home, 90 minutes away.
I was trying to board an international flight.
People who work the ticket counters must get a lot of sob stories (even if most probably come from people trying to avoid paying a $25 baggage charge). I think the fact that I was trembling uncontrollably from sheer overwhelming stress did a lot to lend credence to my tale of woe. As my house was a 120-minute round trip away, and I had an hour until boarding, you can probably see where I was coming from there.
I hoped that the Dominican Republic might be like Mexico at El Paso in 2000, when all I needed was a driver’s license–but no, not in this age of international shoe and underwear bombs. The lady at the counter instead booked me for the second and final flight from the USA to Punta Cana, which left from Philadelphia at 10pm.
“I’m shocked that there’s another flight,” I said, with no small measure of relief.
“I’m as surprised as you are,” she said. “You have three and a half hours to get back here with your passport.”
Lucky for me I’d chosen to rent a car instead of taking a taxi–I really would have been out of luck then. Even if I’d been able to hire another ride, I doubt that any taxi driver would have been willing to violate the speed limit as flagrantly as I did on my way home. The trip usually takes 90 minutes one way; I did a round trip in nearly the same amount of time. I actually only missed my original flight by about a half-hour.
I introduced myself to the baggage handler as “the unfortunate with a tale of woe” as she reflected how quick my passage had been. The gate agent had changed shifts, with the matronly and helpful agent who rebooked my flight replaced with a male agent more or less my own age.
“You’re lucky she did that for you,” he sneered as my itinerary printed. “Normally, ‘I forgot my passport’ isn’t an excuse for waiving a rebooking fee.” I was able to make it to the gate without injuring him, an action which I believe qualifies me for a Nobel.
That aside, I wasn’t out of the woods yet. Bizarrely, my path took me further away from the Dominican Republic–first to Charlotte and then to Philly. Each connection was super-tight, less than 45 minutes from arrival to boarding. A delay of any kind would have stranded me overnight.
Amazingly, both flights were not only on time, they were early. 30 minutes early, both of them, a feat probably never equaled before or since in this age of delays and just-in-time arrivals. I had enough time to buy lunch and dinner and keep my family up to date on my progress via text.
Whoever scheduled the USA-Punta Cana flights clearly did so under the influence of powerful narcotics. There were two a day: one from Charlotte arriving around 5, and one from Philly rolling in around 10pm, long after the airport had basically shut down. When my flight landed (also 30 minutes early!) my tour company had long packed it in. The only fluent English speaker I could find (other than my fellow passengers) was a German expat working for another tour company who confirmed that a $70 taxi ride to my resort was the only option.
I split the ride part of the way with a couple from Connecticut (interestingly both academics, like me) but once they were dropped off at their rented Punta Cana townhouse it was just me and the driver with only my high school Spanish and his handful of phrases between us. I was, understandably, a bit nervous.
It didn’t help that he clearly had no idea where the resort was. We stopped three times for directions–a gas station, the Connecticut townhouse, and a police post–and most of the route looked to be raw, howling wilderness. I felt like I was being driven to the ends of the earth, and it was all I could do to maintain a cheery facade by tapping my bag along with the Caribbean beat in the van’s speakers.
Needless to say, I was so relieved when my resort appeared that I paid the asking fare, $80, without even haggling. The driver attempted to negotiate an airport return in a week, but I left him at the front desk while I went to my room, where my brother was already checked in, and basically collapsed.
But you know what? Aside from my slip, which I attribute to lack of sleep more so than anything, I was extraordinarily lucky. I got a second chance at my long-awaited tropical paradise vacation with my family, and I seized it. The rest of the week seemed like a beautiful waking dream, made all the sweeter by the fact that I almost missed it.
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