It was meant to be the trip of a lifetime, or at least my daughter’s lifetime at the moment. She was turning sixteen and her dad and I wanted it to be special. Being a theatre lover, we decided that nothing could be more exciting than standing at midnight at the top of the Empire State Building, looking down on the lights of the city which we knew she would come to love. If she continued down her current career path of theatre, we assumed that someday it would be her adopted home – New York City.
My son was spending his summer working as an intern at a golf course in Galway, Ireland and the primary purpose of our vacation was to take advantage of the opportunity to visit that gorgeous country as a temporary “local” and relieve some of his need for a bit of home. We decided to tag on a trip to New York for the second leg of our trip.
The hotel was booked, the airline tickets purchased, all the plans were made but as they say “the best laid schemes of mice and men, oft go awry”…
So, first we headed to Ireland and it was a glorious trip! We traveled from Dublin to Galway, stopping along the way to sample some true Irish fare. We looked with awe at the Cliffs of Moher, drove through the wild Connemara region in the west of Ireland and explored medieval abbey ruins. Dolphins leapt wildly through the waves as they led our ferry to the island of Innisheer, the smallest of the Aran Islands. We saw great castles and churches, while the many pubs became a second home. It was a wonderful trip and we made our way back to Dublin, after tearfully, well, maybe a little hysterically, saying goodbye to my son, (coming over made me realize just how far from Texas he really was!) We arrived early the next morning to board our plane to Chicago, the first stop on our trip back to the States.
The minute we arrived in the terminal, I knew something was up. There were lines of people at the American Airlines check-in counter and with great trepidation I asked what was going on. The flight had not arrived from Chicago. Bad weather had prevented the plane from taking off and there was not one to replace it.
I left my husband and daughter in line to find out our options and decided to be proactive. Finding an empty phone, I used my credit card to make a call to reservations. It was hard to get through and the connection kept dropping. In the back of my mind, I was worried that the call would cost as much as another ticket, but it was my daughter’s sixteenth birthday and a determined mother will do most anything!
Finally, I managed to get a sympathetic reservationist that helped us get on a flight to Boston on Aer Lingus. Elated, we practically ran to the Aer Lingus counter and checked in. I breathed a sigh of relief. As we took off, I found out we actually had to make a stop in Shannon. That’s right, the area we had just driven from the day before…didn’t they know that I have a fear of flying and another stop would be over my limit of one layover per trip?
But these were desperate times, so I sat back and ordered a glass of wine, yes, it was only 10 a.m. but as I said, these were desperate times. We arrived in Shannon to find that we had to disembark completely, go through customs, don’t ask me why, and get back on to the same plane. So we did, but at least it allowed my daughter and I to stock up on last minute souvenirs and I bought a beautiful sweater to bring back with me, not to mention we actually saw the mural of John Kennedy highlighted in the film The Matchmaker. It’s a great flick by the way, if you’ve missed it.
Back on the plane, it was time to go. I have to follow a strict gluten free menu, but of course, there had not been time to order one, so while my ravenous family inhaled their lunches, I picked through mine hoping to avoid too terrible a reaction. All was fine and good, until they turned off the “seatbelts on” sign. Chaos ensued. Apparently, the friendly Irish airline allowed children to run unencumbered up and down the aisles, yes, this was a giant playground in the sky. And what do kids like best on a playground when they’ve made themselves hot and thirsty, but sweet, sticky orange soda, which on the friendly Irish airline, they allow you to fetch yourself. Small children ran laughing back and forth numerous times holding their glasses high. As you can imagine, the soda refused to obey and stay in their cups, deciding it would be more fun to splash on to the surrounding passengers.
My poor husband was ignoring all this crazy carrying-on, as he was busy with his own trial. A rather rotund little leprechaun was having a grand ole’ time moving his seat back and forth, unaware that every time he did so, it bashed my poor husband on the knees. If I hadn’t been laughing so hard, I would have felt huge sympathy for the big man.
With great relief and little rest, we landed in Boston, no worse for wear, other than needing a hot shower to wash off the orange residue and a wheelchair for my husband, who was finding it difficult to walk. Another line as we waded through customs, the second time that day. We were supposed to catch a connecting flight to LaGuardia Airport, but coming up on the American counter to check in, faith and begorrah, we found ourselves in yes, another line, with again, a canceled flight! Apparently, the storms affecting travel from Chicago were upsetting the Boston skies, also.
Hoping to make more magic, I jumped back on the phone and found a flight on Delta that was available. Once again, we found ourselves running through the airport trying to catch the flight. By this time, as you can imagine, our nerves were fraught and tempers were shot. I wasn’t feeling well from lunch, but we had a warm, dry hotel room in New York City waiting for us and an appointment with the Empire State Building. By this time, we had no idea where our bags were or where they were headed, but we didn’t care. We checked in with no luggage which the new security measures didn’t seem to like. As we went through the security station, we were plucked out of line to be assessed.
It’s always been a family joke that my daughter had the intelligence of a much older person, the physical size of someone two years older and the emotions of someone much younger. She wears her feelings on her sleeve, which I usually find endearing, but by this time, she had had enough. It may have been her sixteenth birthday, but right then, her six year old inner child came out and she was not happy. Big, fat tears began rolling down her face and I could tell a meltdown was imminent. “Don’t cry.” I begged her. ” It will look suspicious, like we’ve been caught with illegal drugs or something.” To no avail, the body shaking had begun. I hugged her as she wailed and the crowd around us stared, some with interest, hoping to see something, anything to take their minds off the sorry traveling day, some with sympathy, wondering what was going on. I mouthed to anyone who caught my eye, “It’s her birthday,” as if that explained everything.
The security officers were actually fairly sympathetic, even as they went over us with a fine tooth comb, as my daughter continued to cry. In fact, they seemed quite ready to be free of this dysfunctional family group and sent us on our way.
Success! We boarded the plane. Only to find it wasn’t taking off just yet. The pilot was a hopeful kind of feller and he wanted to go home, apparently. With an optimistic tone in his voice, he kept us informed of the weather and kept our hopes alive. After a few hours, we were not feeling so positive. We were hungry, bored and tired. They decided to let us off the plane to go back into the terminal and find some food before all the shops and restaurants had closed. My daughter and I were off like a bullet. Most things were closed by this time and my choices were limited, but we finally snagged some yogurt, drinks, candy, whatever we could grab and headed back to the plane.
All of a sudden, the flight attendants came storming in hurrying everyone into their seats. The pilot had been cleared for takeoff and I’ve never seen people obey and hunker down as quickly as those passengers did. We started to pull away from the terminal and I looked out the window to see lightning crashing all around us.
It was now my inner child who came out to play. I was absolutely terrified and knew that if we tried to take off there was no way we were going to make it. I pictured the headlines, “Teenager Goes Down with Plane on Her Sixteenth Birthday Trying to get to the Empire State Building”. Yes, I was quietly freaking out. Big, fat tears were making their way down my cheeks.
Until…with a sad tone, the disembodied voice of the pilot announced that the weather was too bad to fly out of Boston and the flight was cancelled. Angry mutters of disappointment were heard all around me, but in my mind, I did a happy dance. Thank you, thank you! I sent out silent prayers of gratefulness.
The only problem was, it was now past midnight. The terminals were practically empty. The airlines were not providing hotels of any sort and we were stuck in Boston. There would be no other flights until the morning. By this time we had been up for almost 24 hours. We were tired, hungry and stranded. My husband pulled out his cell phone and started calling rental car agencies. Over and over he was denied, until finally he located one lone car left. It was tiny, but we didn’t care. With superhuman strength we made it onto the bus that would take us to the rental car location.
It was pouring rain. We were at the Boston airport with no map, no Garmin. We slowly made our way out of the airport and found ourselves in downtown Boston. How to get to New York? My daughter promptly fell asleep in the back seat. Happy sweet sixteen, dearie. Somehow my husband’s sense of direction managed to make his way out of the city and headed down the interstate to the Big Apple.
We were too tired to go far that night. But the hotels were full. We drove at least an hour away from Boston before we could find an empty room. It was too late to cancel the hotel in New York. We had to pay for a rental car. That was the most expensive non-birthday celebration my daughter ever had.
The next day the weather was beautiful and we enjoyed the drive down. We saw a part of the country we had never driven through before. But we had absolutely no idea where our luggage was. After checking into our hotel, we drove back to the airport to drop off the rental car and see if we could locate our bags. Outside the baggage claim area, I came across a huge pile of suitcases. No one was watching them. So much for security, I thought as I dug through the pile and located our luggage. I dared anyone to stop me!
We ended up having a wonderful time in New York. We rode the tour bus and as we drove down Broadway, the guide allowed my daughter to sing over the microphone. She has officially sung on Broadway! We made it up the Empire State Building. We saw Phantom of the Opera and Rent. We ate like king and queens. It was not the sixteenth birthday I had imagined for her, but it was definitely an experience!