Equator, unfiltererd

By Nancy Clark

I have gained a reputation with my grown children for patchwork travel. While some Boomers are respected for their online acumen booking leisure travel, I am not. I can’t make travel plans online at home because I don’t have a printer in residence. Alternatively, I have to slink into the office after hours to book my travel and print my itineraries—okay I own the business, but I don’t really want to confess my green inefficiencies to people who actually expect me to sign a paycheck.

I print out schedule after schedule yearning for the time when I dialed up my travel agent on a landline (yes, a phone with a tightly wound coiled cord) and simply laid out the days I would consider traveling, the destination I had in mind, and the assurance that I would be there that afternoon with a check.

No one does checks anymore for travel. For that matter, even I progressed to cordless phones sometime along the advent of the Millennium. Nonetheless, I’m out of my comfort zone when planning a trip to relax online. It’s exhausting.

There was the time I booked the trip to Eleuthera, in the British Virgin Islands, for three—my children and me—three months prior to takeoff. Using mileage earned I booked the flights Denver to Florida on one airline with a transfer to a distant concourse in Ft. Lauderdale for a flight to Nassau and a connecting flight from Nassau to Eleuthera. $3k into the trip for airfare alone, I patted myself on the back for avoiding hurricane season (two prior trips scheduled to Eleuthera had been terminated because of hurricanes hit the same day as my scheduled landing.) Three weeks prior to our departure, the airline for the first leg of our trip eliminated the scheduled flight causing me to have to rearrange the second leg of the trip and totally eliminating the possibility of catching the commuter airline out of Nassau. Instead I booked three tickets on the Fast Ferry which I proudly exclaimed to my offspring would allow us to dine in Nassau prior to setting sail.

The trip went exactly as it was scheduled. Roughly. Denver to Ft. Lauderdale, brief layover and concourse change; Ft. Lauderdale to Nassau, and short taxi ride with our luggage in tow to my chosen seaside restaurant. We arrived too early to be served and walked 8 blocks more to another dining establishment offering retiree dining hours. From the open air deck where we caught our breath and rested our weary luggage-bearing arms, I scoured the map to the pier and the print-out of our ticket confirmation. I had no mountains as my west. Panic set in. My daughter righted the map for me and groaned.

The Fast Ferry, it turns out, is sort of like a block party. Everyone on it seemed to have known each other for generations. The bicycles and live poultry on deck were less disturbing when we took our seats on the lower level. As we churned toward the island my daughter sighed, “Next time, I will make the reservations.” I shot back with, “Maybe next time you can pay for the trip too.”

We came. We saw. We laughed. We ate conch salad. We argued. We found a frog in the toilet of our 150-year-old guest house. We laughed nervously. We ate conch pizza. We left on a commuter plane because we could.

It wouldn’t be the last time my online plans went awry.

A few years later, others knew how to work blackberries, not just garnish a salad with them like I do. I couldn’t break the paper habit. In line at DIA, my daughter and I waited to board our plane to Houston where we would connect to Costa Rica’s Liberia airport for a quick weekend getaway. The sign at the boarding gate flashed “cancelled” and I began weighing whether to bag the trip altogether: One day there, one day on the beach, one day back seemed unreasonable. My daughter click-click-clicked her Blackberry and announced, “We’re on the next flight, booked into the Marriott at Houston for the night with a flight out in the morning. Let’s get a drink.”

I knew there was a reason I had children. We took the later flight, ordered too many Cosmos at dinner in Houston, slept soundly that night, and were on Hermosa Beach by the next day at noon.

Our last family trip was multi-generational. My parents were aging in front of my eyes like a junior high science experiment. Although well-traveled, the one place on earth they hadn’t seen yet and wanted to see was Costa Rica. I spent hours online coordinating a repeat tour of western Costa Rica trying to apply my earned miles on a multiple airlines to get my kids, my son’s girlfriend and my parents to paradise at once. On paper (yes, I printed out itineraries for everyone), it looked seamless.

My daughter would fly direct to Liberia with my parents…one wheelchair booked for dad and three adjoining seats. My son and his girlfriend and I were routed to San Jose with the plan to rent a car and drive the distance to Liberia. Departing at midnight and arriving at our destination at 6 a.m. looked solid, but the rental car agency forgot to send the van to pick us up and working our way to the independent rental car agency slightly off the airport’s main drag was our first challenge. The second was that we’d need an extra $1k deposit for wheels that were brand new, according to the agent who offered GPS. No thanks; I declined when the agent couldn’t confirm if the GPS spoke English or Spanish.

Our ride was a Daihatsu Bego Automatic. Slapped together with tin foil and frosting, our Bego was compact and yet offered seatbelts for five. Relieved to be one, not three in the backseat, I fumbled the first right and said “Left.” An hour later, my son who’d lobbied for a right from the get-go got us turned around. Shoulda gotten the GPS. I learned that the Costa Rican highway is the reason God created airplanes after all. At a roadside break, I confiscated the keys and claimed the driver’s role, unable to keep from screaming as semis pressed us to the edge of the road around hairpin turns with thick, tropical foliage. How would they ever find our bodies in the ravine?

Along the way, Holly (that would be the girlfriend) opened the glove box to find the bill of sale for the Bego, proving that it was in fact brand new and cost just over $5k. Fast math confirmed that rental cars would be a fine business to get into at this longitude and latitude.

The trip was all it was intended to be. We came. We saw. We laughed. We ate and argued and apologized and ate more. We parked ourselves on a beach, dad with his cane, sunburning his white birdlegs. Mom would later be diagnosed with terminal cancer—the first twinge of numbness appearing as she walked with me the length of the beach. She slapped at her leg thinking a bug had bitten her. In the course of our 6-day journey, each of us found our way back to the bad habits we thought we’d leave at home for just this one time. Somehow we also found the patience to forgive those missteps and we relearned how to travel together again…for the last time.

Back in the Bego headed toward San Juan, I peeled off my acrylic fingernails as a diversion. When I couldn’t help myself any longer I bellowed from the backseat, “I don’t intend to die on this highway. Can you slow down?” Secretly I envied Holly at peace in the front seat of the tin container we called a car. She’d beam a smile at my son and his driving would improve for the next 25 miles or so. Back in the States, I covered my travel arrangement fouls, claiming that I was glad I’d seen the landscape, up close and personal, but that I wouldn’t drive that route again. Friends who’d been to Costa Rica asked why we’d driven in the first place. “Don’t you know there’s an airport in Liberia?” they’d ask incredulously.

Yes, but it wouldn’t have been my way…the path of most resistance.

I’m leaving all future scheduling to my techno-savvy children who have mastered the Internet travel machine. I’m a believer that they can make better plans on the Internet today than I could at any time in my travel history using a personal travel agent. I am entrusting my offpsring with my credit card as long as they promise to book me a round trip and not one way. Which way is west, anyway?

Connect with <a href="https://plus.google.com/115462088018585877768/?rel=author">Nancy Clark</a> and <a href="https://plus.google.com/b/112306545216951613277/112306545216951613277/?rel=publisher"> WatchBoom</a> on Google+.</p>

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