It was going to be an easy trip. I had been home for less than 12 hours after a trip from Atlanta, but the trip to Hailfax, Nova Scotia was just another day for a road warrior like myself. I got my upgrade so I settled into my first class seat ready for the flight, everything seemed to be AOK. How quicky things change.
I was connecting on my trip to the East coast of Canada via Chicago. Chicago is a fine town but the airport is the black hole of air travel. I rarelly change planes in Chicago without a two hour layover; this time it was only an hour but the weather couldn't have been more perfect for the trip. No worries.
The pilot suddenly made an announcement. It seems the galley floor needed to be inspected by the mechanics. The mechanics had been called but the estimation was an hour before they could certify us to fly. We would be more than an hour late to Chicago. Any connections less than two hours of lay over time in Chicago were in trouble.
There are two options given us unfortunate travelers. One: stay on the plane, and they would try and get us to our destinations via another flight from Chicago. Two: get off and rebook on another flight. I called the main office of Royal Caribbean who had booked the flight. She checked her schedule and there were no flights to Nova Scotia that would work out of Chicago. Even if I spent the night in Chicago, which the airline would pay for, all the flights the next day got me in too late to catch the ship I was contracted to work. I took my carry-ons and left the comfort of my first class seat.
The customer service desk was swamped with 40 other people who were in the same situation as me. It was 45 minutes before I got to a talk to a frazzled agent. The mechanics had signed off on the repairs and the Chicago flight was calling for all passengers to return immediately for take off.
I explained my delimna to the agent. I said, "Unless we can get my bag off that flight to Chicago there is no reason for me to make this trip." The checked bag was undeniably connected to my reason for traveling that day. She excused herself and headed for the tarmack. The jet way was being disconnected from the plane. There was no way to get my bag off that plane.
I called the office again and told them my situation. The reality is... if I was not on the ship by the next day there would be no way to join it because it would be at sea. I was trying to resign myself to the idea that I would be back home sooner than I thought.
But the United Airlines agent found a way to get me to Halifax before the ship sailed. In thirty minutes there was a flight to Newark, New Jersey. At 7:00am the next morning there was a flight from Newark to Halifax. I could make it. "What about the checked bag?" I said.
She explained that since it was an international flight to Hailfax from Chicago they would pull my bag after it got to Chicago if I wasn't on the flight. Then they could direct it to where ever I was. In fact there was a Chicago to Newark flight that would arrive before I did... my bag was going to be waiting for me when I landed.
I ran to the gate to catch the Newark flight. We took off. I have an app on my iPhone that registers stress. The reading said, "Stress level very high... close your eyes and take deep breaths."
It was evening when I got to Newark. I proceeded to baggage claim to get my bag. Indeed it had not gotten there before I me.
"The only thing I show on my screen is that the bag was checked in LA to Chicago." Said the agent. I explained my situation and how I had to be on a ship before it sailed with that bag or... there was no reason from me continue my trip. I also said that I would not get on a plane out of the country unless I had the bag with me. The options were very limited but she understood I was desparate.
She dialed Chicago and after several unanswered calls an actual human answered. We described my bag and the situation. The person said. "Oh yes the bag is right here. It just arrive at the baggage office. We were wondering what to do with it." The Newark baggage agent said that bag had to be on the plane to Newark leaving Chicago in thirty minutes... it was the last flight that would work.
The Newark agent said not to worry, the bag would be delivered to the hotel room when the plane landed at 2:30 am. Having run this drill before I said, "What is the turn around time to deliver the bag once it arrives?" In Los Angeles it is a minimun of 5 hours. I said, "I am afraid that it will be delivered after I have checked out of the hotel to make the Hailfax plane tomorrow morning." She agreed that there was a possibliity of me and the bag missing each other at the hotel. We decided the bag should stay at the airport and I could pick it up in the morning before my flight. Unfortuantely it would arrive at the domestic terminal and I would be leaving from the Internationa terminal. I would need to pick the bag up no later than 5:30am to make it. She said, "I will make a note to hold it here for you to pick up." With that reassurance I proceeded to the Ramada Airport hotel for a very uncomfortable night's sleep. I was up and out of the room by 5:00am. I caught the bus to the domestic terminal and by 5:25 I was back at the very baggage desk I had been to only hours earlier.
The morning shift agent was very nice. She told me that indeed that bag had arrived on the early morning flight. I began to breath again but stopped when she said, "The truck just left to deliver the bags to the hotel." I told her that it was supposed to be left here for me to pick up. She typed a little bit on the computer and said... "I don't see that note here."
I was done. Foiled by the joys of air travel. It was my last attempt to make it to the ship with my act. I was glad this happened before I left the country but it was of little solice. The agent said, "What does the bag look like?" I told her and she went into the back storage room of baggage claim. It took a long time for her to return. I was sure if I used the stress app. it would say.... "Go to the emergency room immediately". The door to the back room opened and there she was... with my bag. There was a hand written note attached in bold letters. HOLD FOR MR. JOHNSON TO PICK UP. I rushed to the International terminal and, against my better senses checked it in again.
I slept like a baby on the flight to Canada. It seemed I dodged a bullet and would actually be able to fulfill my contract on the Explorer of the Seas, next stop the ship. But there was one more test of my resolve to entertain the aged passengers already on board. Canadian immigration.
The officer said as he looked the computer screen, "You have worked in Canada before?"
"Yes, 20 years ago I did an American Television series that filmed in Vancouver."
"Were you asked to leave?"
"No. The series only went for half a season."
"Have you ever been arrested? Spent time in jail? Convicted of any offense?'
"Not at all? Ever?" Said the officer implying that it was a total lie.
"I got a speeding ticket 12 years ago on the Ventura Freeway."
"Driving too fast were you, eay?" I didn't know what to answer to that question. When I don't know what to say I usually go for the quip.
"I owned a BMW M3 at the time... It would idol at 85 mph." He looked at me over his half glasses like a high school principle.
"How long will you be working in Canada?"
"I won't be working here."
"How long will you be here in Canada?"
"Long enough to drive to the dock and board the Explorer of the Seas."
"Where is that?"
"Next to the bay I would imagine."
"When will you do your shows?"
"I have no idea. When ever the Cruise Director has me scheduled in the next week."
"So you will be here a week?"
"No sir... on the ship for a week. I am on the ship till it gets to Bermuda."
"Do you have a work visa from Bermuda?"
"I'm not working in Bermuda. I'm not even staying in Bermuda. I get off the ship and go to the airport."
He began to type and read the screen. Type some more and read again. Finally I said very politely, "Can you get word to my driver who is waiting for me in the lobby? He may think I missed my flight again and leave."
"You missed a flight earlier? Why?"
"Faulty Galley floor on a United 747, I think."
"A flight from Newark?"
"No Los Angeles."
"You arrived on a flight from Newark New Jersey."
"Long story but it was the only way to get here before the ship leaves."
"Who paid for your flights?"
"Royal Caribean Cruiselines. And they are expecting me on the ship...If my ride leaves...."
"Well, you are about done here. I just have to check your arrest record."
"I don't have a fucking arrest record you brainless idiot. I am a ventriloquist just trying to earn a living by getting on a ship, and I made it here by the skin of my teeth. Fuck you Fuck Canada and Fuck the Royal Canadian Mounted Police."
No, I didn't say that... I was thinking it... but better judgment took hold at that moment.
He was finally done with me. I connected with my bag which had been taken off the belt and waiting to be sent to lost luggage. I was the only one left in the terminal. Except for the Customs agents it was completely empty of humans. I could see the exit and prayed there would be someone there with my name on a sign.
The officer at the exit stopped me and pointed me toward a small room. It was time for another officer to "check my luggage". Holy Mother of Pearl, it was time to start all over.
"How long will you be in Canada?"
"Less than half an hour."
"Where will you be working?" Bla Bla Bla.....take two.
This lady officer asked me to open the "head box". I told her it was fragile but she gloved up.
"You have anything sharp inside, any needles or anything that might stick me or hurt me?"
With that she took a dive into the case.
"What is that?"
"A puppet head"
"What is all this fur?"
"Is it an indangered species of Monkey?"
"I don't think so. It's a puppet. I use him in my act."
"What kind of fur is it?"
"Monkey fur...I mean artificial monkey...uh...puppet fur.... it didn't come from an animal it came from a textile factory."
"Where is that factory located?"
"I don't know. I didn't ask."
She let me have the head box back to repack. Then she went through every item in my breif case. She examined the change that had fallen to the bottom of the case and counted it in her hand. She asked me what the medicene was for in a perscription bottle.
I said, "Anxiety and stress. As a matter of fact I could used one now... could I get a glass of water?"
"There is no eating or drinking in the inspection area, Sir."
She even took out my iPad... turned it on and scrolled through all the apps. She then found the Pages app and scanned some of my essays and writings. She read a paragraph from each page to herself. I thought it was funny that she moved her lips a little with each word. Thank God she did not open an art app to see the depressingly dark images I love to draw.
"You a writer? What do you write?"
"Stories about my travels. I think I am going to be very busy writing about my last two days."
And with that she left all my stuff on the counter for me to replace in the breif case and vanished into the back room. I assummed I was free to go, but was not sure until Jimmy the driver was on the road to the dock and out of the airport property.
On board ship the officer at the pursers desk said, "How was your trip from California?"
"My bags went to Chicago. I went to Newark. We connected again at 5:30am this morning after a miserable night in an Airport Ramada Inn and the Canadians kept me at immigration for over an hour."
It was a rhetorical question. He was not listening nor even interested.
"So you made it. Welcome aboard."
"Glad to be here", I said and really, nothing else mattered.
As you were,