Tuesday, September 06, 2011

PRp (Pt. I): Delayed in Dallas

Puerto Rico promise: In 2002, I was reunited with my cousin Danny at another cousin's wedding in Hawaii.  Danny and I share a wealth of memories from our childhood.  At that time, I promised him that I would visit him and his family at their home.  (They were then living on Guam.)  Nine years later, I made good on that promise when Maty and I went to visit Danny and family at their new home in Humacao, Puerto Rico.

Stand-by misery
Well, here we are... Maty and I, sitting at Gate D34, in Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, hoping against hope that we'll get lucky and snag a couple seats on the over-booked 7pm flight to Portland.  Fat chance.  The ticket agent informed me that the flight is over-sold by five seats and that we're not even at the top of the stand-by list.  Looks like we might be stuck in this god-forsaken Texas hellhole until morning.  Ah, well.  Such is the price for missing our flight out of San Juan this morning.

It all began with a late start out of Humacao.  I had failed to set my alarm and we awoke late.  We jumped up, flung the last of our unpacked belongings into our suitcases and scurried out to Cousin Danny's car.  He got us onto the freeway and we were moving at a reasonable clip when, to my despair, brake lights began firing on the vehicles ahead of us.  We soon found ourselves in a nasty morning-commute traffic snarl.  We crept along at a snail's pace, watching the digits on the car clock fall.  Our departure time came and went with the airport in sight, but unreachable due to the slow-as-molasses flow of traffic.  Stressful!

Now, I'm sitting at the terminal gate in Dallas, tired, smelly, and unshaven.

And, although I can't say I'm not irritable and feeling harried from our travails (it is often thus with travel), things are not as bad as they might be.  A Puerto Rican mellowness lingers.

The Puerto Rican lifestyle struck a chord with Maty and with me.  On our first full day in Puerto Rico, Maty declared, "This is a happy place."  She said it reminded her of Africa.  And I felt it, too.

Puerto Ricanos are an open, relaxed people.  And I found it contagious.  Hurricane Irene had passed through only a week before, but there was little evidence of her passage.  We noticed a few toppled coconut trees.  There was certainly no residue on the faces of the happy, frank, and open island folk.

Coconuts in Humacao
As we were leaving this morning, I told Maty and Cousin Danny that if I couldn't live in Portland, I might choose Puerto Rico as my home.  But more about all that in future posts.

Right now, we're enduring the misery of waiting on the stand-by list in drought-stricken Dallas, Texas as told.

So, I cast my thoughts back to this morning, at our gate in San Juan airport...

A young father accompanied his two children to the ticket desk.  He was a man in his 30s, with dark complexion, dark hair, dark eyes, dressed in jeans and a tee-shirt.  A workman's black-pepper stubble darkened his cheeks.  His son was about 14, on the verge of manhood, dressed in a white tee-shirt, with a lighting-bolt pattern cut into the close-shaven, dark hair behind his ears.  The daughter, perhaps 12, was pretty and precious and cheerful.  She wore a white, lacy blouse and bright blue shorts.  Her jet black hair was held back by pink barrettes.

Papa was seeing his children onto the plane.  They were leaving; he was staying.

I was moved to see that the boy was crying.  He rubbed at his eyes and tried bravely to hide his emotions.  Papa smiled at them both, reassuringly nonchalant.  He got their boarding passes from the ticket agent and the three of them embraced for a long time.  The children clung to their father.  Finally, he gathered them each under an arm and walked them onto the plane.

An announcement came informing us that we would soon begin boarding, so Maty and I gathered our things.  A few moments later Papa came out.  He was sniffling and wiping at his eyes.  "¿Puedo esperar por la ventanta?" he asked the ticket agent.  She nodded, impatiently.  She was busy with other passengers.

Then they announced that our group could begin boarding and Maty and I were swept into the rush to get overhead space for our bags.  I thought of my father, and my brothers and sisters and my cousins.  I thought of Maty and her family, and her journey to America.

Papa was still standing at the window when we walked down the ramp to board.  I rubbed at my stinging eyes, trying to be discreet.

To be continued...

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