Our journey from D.C. to Vieques generally took between eight and nine hours door-to-door, depending on our connection in San Juan.
On departure day, we would get up at about 4:00 a.m., leave the house at 5:00 and catch a 7:00 a.m. flight from Dulles to San Juan that landed around 11:45.
If luck was on our side we would then sprint across the sprawling, hyper-air-conditioned airport and jump on a 12:45 flight to Vieques.
But that was a rare occurrence.
More often than not, there was a delay in our departure from D.C., meaning that we’d miss the 12:45 to Vieques and be forced to take the 2:30 flight instead. Even so, we would get to the house by 3:30 or slightly later.
We had made the journey from D.C. to Vieques eight times since buying the house and had fluctuated between the two scenarios described above.
But that was about to change.
And things looked normal enough at the gate, meaning that the waiting area was crowded with sleepy-looking people sipping coffee, the heavy silence punctuated by the occasional, muffled flight announcement or the scream of an over-excited child.
We settled in for a half-hour wait before boarding began.
We were still waiting five hours later.
First came an announcement that the “carrier” (aka plane) that was slated to take us to San Juan had been delayed in New York. This seemed odd. Typically planes scheduled to depart as early as 7:00 a.m. have been loitering on the tarmac since the night before.
But of course there are always exceptions, we told ourselves.
And anyway, the flight from New York was a short one and since there was no bad weather to cause further delays on this cloudless July morning there shouldn’t be a problem. Maybe we’d be delayed an hour or so and would be forced to take the 2:30.
No big deal.
Then came the announcement that the plane in New York was experiencing mechanical difficulties.
Big deal? Yes.
…while I dashed to the check-in counter. Four people had already queued up ahead of me but I was quicker than most—within minutes at least twenty people snaked along in my wake.
The woman in front of me was soon up to bat. “I’m making a speech in San Juan this afternoon. How are you going to make sure I get there on time?” she hissed, all but seizing the gate agent by the neck.
The agent, who had looked grumpy even before the delay was announced, now bristled with irritation.
“To be honest,” she replied, not even bothering to look up, “I can’t do anything to guarantee you’ll make your speech today.”
The woman spluttered. “You’re not even going to apologize?”
The agent looked up at the woman and flashed an odious smile. “Okay, I apologize.” This was spoken with all the sincerity of a python to a rabbit just before swallowing it whole.
God help me.