Although my father was an ophthalmologist, my brother and I rarely see eye-to-eye. Nonetheless, there's one thing we're in complete agreement on: neither of us is waiting to retire to do the things we want, especially to travel.
The way we see it, the odds are we can expire before we retire, so why take a chance on booking with Sweet By and By Travel, Inc. after we shuffle off this mortal coil?
Thus, every year, the extended family takes an extended vacation. This year we hiked on and about Mont Blanc.
Because we're spread out all over the U.S., we have to meet at a central departure point for our overseas flight, which for the Mont Blanc trip was Newark. The Amazon Queen and I were flying to Newark from Burlington.
The ride over was uneventful and we arrived the airport an hour-and-a-half before our noon flight, only to see on the departure board that our flight had been delayed.
"What's that all about?" I asked the AQ?
"What am I, your friendly ticket agent?" she said.
Ignoring her uncalled-for sarcasm, I asked a ticket agent what was going on, and found out - that in the case of the plane that was supposed to take us to Newark - nothing was.
Due to mechanical problems of some sort, the plane had been grounded in Newark and they were waiting for its replacement to head north.
"So do you know what time we can expect the other plane to arrive?" I asked.
"No," she said. "But we'll know more at 2:00."
Since it's an hour's flight to Newark and our flight to Geneva left at 6:45, simply knowing more at 2:00 wasn't the least bit reassuring to me. I told that to the agent and she said we should get to Newark for the 6:45 flight, but in case we didn't, she'd book us on the last flight to Geneva at 8:00. It was a sensible option. It was also our only one.
At 2:00, true to their word, the airline knew more, namely that no plane was on its way to Burlington. However, one should arrive at 4:00 and leave by 5:00, in plenty of time for our 6:45 flight.
The key word there, by the way, was should.
When I called my brother, who was already in the Newark airport, and told him of the new flight times, all he said was, "That's weird."
"Why?" I asked.
"Because on the arrivals board here it says your flight's scheduled to come in at 7:00."
"You don't suppose they're lying to us, do you?" I asked.
"Why not?" he said. "They lie to everyone else."
Without a polygraph, I can't vouch for the airline's sincerity. But I can vouch for their scheduling - our Newark flight was finally ready to leave at 6:10. That'd get us in a little after 7:00, but still on time for our 8:00 overseas flight.
It was an uncomfortable situation, and I was made more uncomfortable by my hiking boots - old school leather monsters that weigh as much as foundation blocks and that had broiled my feet to twice their normal size. So I asked the AQ if I could stash my boots in her carry-on duffel, and then wear my sandals on the flight.
She generously agreed and we boarded our flight, but when we took our seats, because of my boots, her carry-on wouldn't fit either under our seat in the overhead bin.
No problem, the stewardess assured us. She'd check the duffel on the flight and we could pick it up when we left the plane.
The plane took off and now all I had to do was compulsively check my watch, keep telling myself we had plenty of time to make our connection, and feel the rivulets of sweat stream down my sides.
At 7:05, right on schedule, our plane touched down in Newark. Unfortunately, that's about all it did. Due to all the traffic on the tarmac, we headed toward the terminal at a pace that could generously be described as glacial. All I could do was sit there and contemplate the irony of being in a vehicle designed to cruise at 400 m.p.h. that was now crawling at 1/100th that speed.
The AQ and I reviewed our game plan. As soon as we got off the plane, she'd grab her duffel and we'd sprint to the overseas' flight's gate. It was in the same terminal, at Gate 136; we were deplaning at gate 100. We had no idea how far apart the gates were, but we figured it couldn't be more than a five-minute sprint.
But as soon as we got off the plane we encountered a major problem the AQ's duffel was nowhere in sight since it was still being unloaded.
It was 7:40 - 20 minutes till our flight. Now it was up to meand only me.
I took off on a dead sprint. Or perhaps to be more exact, a deadly sprint.
Thirty years, 30 pounds and a triple bypass ago, I was a runner. Then I became a jogger. Then a plodder. And now a pathetic old poop. And there I was, pathetically and poopishly - all motion, but no action, desperately trying to sprint and barely moving beyond a brisk walk.
But you can't fault me for my persistence - pack on my back, sandals on my feet, I was doing my level best of hard-charging through the masses of humanity, when suddenly a sharp pain drilled me dead-center in the chest..
This is it, I thought - the Big One.
I stumbled on, my feet slapping the floor, my breathing ragged, my chest constricted in pain, and vision floated before me. In it I turned blue, took a few more awkward steps, and then dropped like a sack of potatoes, dead before I hit the floor.
Next, another vision came to me. It was my putative friends having a wake in my honor in Grizzle T's.
Bellied up to the bar were Bunk and Bob Griffin, Kenny Fontana and Pat Bentley.
I saw them perfectly - hoisting their drinks, which Adam Harris, Grizzle T's owner, had generously discounted a dime apiece in my honor.
"To the Dope!" they shouted as one. Then they drained their drinks and called for refills.
Suddenly, a huge tear ran down Kenny Fontana's cheek.
"It was all my fault," he said. "I killed him."
"What?" said Pat.
"Yeah, I did it with all those omelets I gave him," said Kenny. "Them and the extra butter he always had on his cinnamon-raison bread. If only I'da thought of it, I'd -."
"Stop right now," said Bob, giving Kenny's shoulder a manly squeeze. "He made his own choices. He was an adult even if he never acted like one."
"Yeah, guess you're right," sniffed Kenny.
"Of course I am," said Bob.
There followed another toast to the dearly departed and another refill.
"Besides," said Bunk, "he died doing what he loved best - traveling."
A long moment of silence passed.
"Yeah," said Bob. "But dying in the Newark airport? Could anything be worse than that?"
"Sure," said Pat, his eyes alight with sardonic glint. "Dying in the Newark bus depot."
They then all dissolved in hysterical laughter at my expense.
The image of my wake fades as I finally lumber up to the counter at Gate 136.
The ... ugh ugh plane hack to Geneva?" I gasp.
The agent shakes her head.
"Sorry. The gate's closed. No one can board now," she says.
I lean on the counter, hand on chest, panting, an overheated, under-conditioned, sodden mess.
"Are you OK?" asks the counter agent.
"If you don't mind my saying it, you look rather sick," she says.
Yeah? I think to myself. Well, if she thinks I look sick now, she should just wait around a few minutes till the Amazon Queen shows up.