Remember the last holiday you had with your family, before the pandemic, when things were different? With all the chaos going on and the current restrictions in place everywhere, that last vacation is just a memory. One of the last ones we went on together was four years ago, on a cruise to Hawaii for the holidays. It was one I had planned for, saved for. Those of you who have a special needs child understand a cruise is ideal: Cruises have programs and lots of activities, and because your kids are on the ship, there’s no place else for them to go. Everyone gets a vacation. With COVID, no one really would consider going on a cruise right now, but for us, it was filled with a lot of great memories.
At the same time, if you ask my kids, traveling with me is an experience! Their word, not mine. On this particular trip, after the cruise docked in California, we spent the night in a hotel because our flight home didn’t leave until very early the next morning. When I woke at four a.m., ready to get to the airport for our flight, I opened my eyes to a really bad headache. Any of you who’ve woken up with one of those headaches that borders on a migraine will understand how painful that is. I’m not prone to them. In fact, it had been many years since I’d had one. I figured the hotel had been very, very stuffy, and sleeping in a closed room with no fresh air, no ventilation, is not ideal. I climbed from bed, and we packed up our bags, with plans to grab breakfast at the airport.
We grabbed the hotel shuttle, and the entire time my head was aching. I don’t carry Advil, Tylenol, or Aspirin, because I never need it. I just don’t take drugs. A headache is unusual for me, like one every two or three years. Unfortunately, nothing was open at that time of the morning, so I knew I would have to grab something at the airport. We arrived really early, with plenty of time. As we stood in the long line to check in, we were told to use the kiosk to get our tickets printed. It worked, for the most part, until it came to my daughter’s passport and entering her information. My kids helped, because the headache meant every question at the kiosk left me staring in confusion, but the machine rejected my daughter’s passport with a computer-generated response like Go see a ticket agent.
So we had to get back in line—a really long line. But we had two hours, so no problem, right? We finally made it to the ticket counter and explained the kiosk’s rejection of my daughter’s passport as we were trying to get our boarding passes. The lady typed in some stuff and explained that she wasn’t sure what the issue was other than that the airlines didn’t like her passport. Whatever it was, it was no big deal, just a glitch in their system. She printed off the tickets and checked our large suitcases, which I had to pay an additional fee for. We swung our carry-on bags over our shoulders and set off for security. Now, at this time, I was counting the minutes to get through to the other side so my kids could eat and I could buy a painkiller. I needed something to put me out of my misery.
We were in line at security for a while with tons of holiday travelers, but when we finally made it to the first security point, where you show your passports and boarding passes, the security lady said that the papers we had weren’t boarding passes. She handed everything back to me and flicked open the rope to send us back out. When I was like, “Huh, wait, what?” she told us to go back to the ticket counter to sort it out, then come back with the correct boarding passes to the shortcut point where she was standing so we wouldn’t have to go to the very back of the long line. That was great, because my head was still giving me grief and I really wanted to just buy whatever brand of painkiller was available in the gift shop.
I mused in sarcasm that maybe the airlines really hadn’t liked my daughter’s passport, after all. We went back to the front where the airline check-in was, and I saw a ridiculously long line. Although we’d had lots of time before, we had not so much now, so we stood off to the side where the lady’s counter was and tried to catch someone’s eye. It took about ten minutes because no one wanted to look our way, but finally the same lady finished with the person she was checking in, and I took a step in before the other people could go up and have their turn and said, “Excuse me.” I held up the tickets. “The tickets were rejected at security.”
Now we had her full attention. She waved us over, thankfully, and took in the tickets. Someone joined her, maybe a supervisor, because she had to have heard. Not sure what the issue was, but she walked her through something, printed off new tickets, and assured us they were correct now and sent us on our way. Still hauling my carry-on bag, I was feeling miserable, but my kids were awesome as usual, picking up the slack. We got to that shortcut point and had to wait a bit, maybe another few minutes, before the same security lady saw us, unhooked the rope, and let us in line.
We proceeded to security, and I took off my shoes, coat, and purse, unpacked my laptop, put my bag in the bin… You know the routine. Everything, including the bags, went through their scanner. I was like, Hallelujah! We’re almost to the other side. Breakfast now meant grabbing an apple or something quick, because not a lot of time was left. My kids were ahead of me, getting their shoes back on, grabbing their coats, and packing up my laptop. Then one of the security guys called out, “Whose bag is this?”
Of course, I looked to find it was my carry-on. Yes, everyone was looking my way as I lifted my hand and said, “Oh, that’s mine.”
As I walked closer, the security guy opened my bag and pulled out two bottles, saying, “There’s wine in here.”
Okay. Now, early that morning, as I’d scrambled to pack with a headache, I had pulled out the two bottles of wine that had come from the cruise ship as a gift the night before we disembarked. I had packed a big suitcase full of clothes that would be checked, and I had put the two bottles, wrapped in a sweater, in my carry-on because my pounding head had mixed up the airline rules. Yes, wine goes in the carry-on, I had thought. Really!
My response to him was, “You mean it doesn’t go in the carry-on? Okay, I screwed up.”
He told me they saw that all the time at Christmas, and despite the fact that he was being really nice about it, I fought the urge to quip, You see all us holiday travelers suddenly going braindead? I’m not kidding when I say they were very good about it, though. The security guy said I had two options, either leave the wine behind or check my carry-on.
Now my daughter was like, “Mom, just leave the wine…”
Really, it’s not that I’m a big drinker. During the holidays or a few times a year, I enjoy a really good glass of wine, but to me, the wine was a gift, and I was taking it home. As my kids will tell you, I’m always an adventure to travel with because they never know what to expect. So I said to the security guy, “Do I have time to check it?”
By this time, there were three security guys there. One of them asked which flight we were on, and I told them, and another said, “Oh, you have plenty of time. Just go and check it.”
Meanwhile, my horrified, embarrassed kids were told to go on through, and one of the security guys assured me that my kids, all teenagers, were perfectly fine to go through alone without me. After one of the security guys shoved the two bottles of wine back in my carry-on, which was basically an overnight bag, all three walked me back out a different way to the front check-in area, flanking me. As they left me at the point just outside the security zone, my head was still pounding and giving me tremendous grief, and I realized then that I didn’t have my purse, which held my wallet and credit card to pay for the bag. Everything had gone with my kids except for my ticket and passport.
I saw the lineup, not very long, and got in it. The lady who’d done our earlier tickets looked up and spotted me, and the horror in her expression was priceless, as I think back now. She waved me frantically forward and said, “Your plane is leaving!” I was still standing there with my overnight bag and no purse. I explained to her what I had done, that I had totally screwed up with the wines and my purse was through security, so I couldn’t pay for the extra bag now.
She grabbed my bag from me and said, “Don’t worry about paying. I’ll take it and check it. You run.”
So, yes, I took off, hurrying back to the shortcut point again—but this time no one was there, and amid my pounding headache, I was starting to panic a little bit, dancing one foot to the other, going on my toes. There was no way I could go to the back of the security line and make the flight. As I was trying to get someone, anyone, to see me, a new security guy walked over. I explained my dilemma, and he unhooked the rope and let me in, and I quickly took off my shoes. Thankfully, I hadn’t worn a belt, because that would’ve taken precious seconds! I made it through the scanners unscathed, with nothing going off, no alarm bells, and I put my shoes back on.
The moment I stepped out of security with my passport and boarding pass, ready to head toward the departure gates, I heard my name announced over the loudspeaker: “Eckhart, party of four, we’re closing the doors in two and a half minutes.”
Now, of course, our gate was at the far end, so I started running. Meanwhile, my son was texting me:
Where are you?
The plane is leaving!
They won’t let us on without you!
What are you doing???
However, my daughter had my purse, in which my cell phone was stuffed, so the ding, ding of the texts coming in made her realize they had no way of reaching me. My kids were standing there in horror at the gate with one airline employee, no one else, because everyone else had boarded. My autistic son wore an expression of disbelief, gesturing that this was too much.
I was out of breath, and my head was killing me, but I made it.
“There she is!” my son said to the airline employee.
The employee waved us on, and the door to the airplane closed behind us, because everyone on the plane had been waiting for me. We got to our seats—which, by the way, were way in the back—with no breakfast and no painkillers. The plane took off for Seattle, where we would have to change planes, and I took those few hours to close my eyes and attempt some sleep for my aching head. When we landed in Seattle, we had only enough time to get across the airport to our next flight, which we did, thankfully free of any more excitement. Even better, there was a gift shop there and a few food vendors close to our gate. We bought smoothies, and I bought some extra-strength Advil and popped two before we boarded the plane for the short flight home.
By the time we approached our airport, where my truck was parked, I was sinking fast. The Advil had done nothing, and my head felt like it was going to explode. As we disembarked, my son saw I was dragging myself, counting the seconds until we could get out of the airport, so he grabbed a luggage cart and waited for the bags at the carousel. At this point, I was no use, but I knew I would still have to pay duty on the wine. My son loaded up the bags and waited for my carry-on, which came down last in a big plastic bag. As he lifted it, I could hear the broken glass and the slosh of wine that had seeped from the broken bottles, all because the security guys hadn’t repacked them with the clothes around them so they wouldn’t break. The smell of red wine didn’t go well with my bordering-on-migraine headache, and it was all I could smell as we walked through customs.
I handed the customs agent the forms where I had declared everything, which is what you’re supposed to do, but as I gestured to the wine-soaked overnight bag, now in plastic, I asked whether I still had to pay duty on the shattered wine.
He did chuckle a bit before shaking his head. “No, you don’t,” he said.
So we made it out of the airport and walked to the long-term parking, where my sons loaded up the bags. And as we all sat in the truck, waiting for it to warm up in the frigid, icy, snowy winter that had descended on our part of the Pacific Northwest, my daughter said, “I told you to leave the wine.”
The Next Book in The Billy Jo McCabe Series is now available for pre-order!