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Posts tagged ‘JFK’

Unexpected Detours: A tale of flight delays, tropical escapes and chance encounters

 

The 5 Gringas: Mumsy, Jules, Kathie, Nona y yo.

Mumsy, Jules, Kathie, Nona and yours truly atop Mount Isabel during our 2014 Dominican adventure. I can assure you, a good time was had by all.

At barely 5 a.m. on the morning of January 9, 2014, I found myself staring bleary eyed at the departures board at Syracuse Airport. I was queued up with my four traveling companions – Mumsy, Jules, Kathie and Nona – and what felt like half of Central New York. We were at the tail end of one of last winter’s (then infamous, now long-forgotten) storms, and were well aware that some 12,000 flights had been canceled in the preceding days. The weather had finally cleared, though, and every flight listed was showing on time.

The five of us were bound for the Dominican Republic, and I for one could already taste the rum cocktails we’d be sipping on the beach by early afternoon.

A murmur moved up the line, intruding on my reverie. My friend Kathie, a little ahead of us, caught my eye and gestured to that same departure board I’d been staring at. Somehow, while I’d been daydreaming of sun and sand, the status of our flight had changed from ‘on time’ to ‘delayed’. I groaned, drawing the attention of my mother.

“We’re going to miss our connection,” I told her, leaving her to watch the bags as I wound my way to Kathie’s side.

The next hour was a blur. The airline’s counter person – no doubt eyeing the lengthy line of groggy would-be passengers behind us – insisted that she couldn’t help rebook us. We’d need to go through the group reservation line, she said. (Despite that there were only 5 of us.)

Too bad the first two numbers she gave us to call weren’t in service. The third was actually a chat line. (I kid you not.) And when, on the fourth try, we succeeded in getting the right number – we learned that the group reservation call center didn’t even open until 8 a.m. It wasn’t yet 6.

You can imagine how pleased we were at that.

Kathie made one more trip to the poor, frazzled woman behind the counter and miracle of miracles we ended up with a number that actually worked AND connected us to a human being. After jumping through the usual electronic hoops ,anyway.

For the next 45 minutes, the woman on the other end of the line was my best friend. Time seemed to stand still as she worked through a thousand different possible flight permutations in an effort to get the 5 of us ladies to our tropical destination. We were a model of flexibility, offering to fly out of another airport or fly into another one in the Dominican Republic. (We were headed to Puerto Plata, but we could make Santiago work if need be.)

We asked about other airlines, but she said wanted to exhaust all of their own possibilities first.

As the minutes ticked by, the options grew progressively worse, not better. And it was starting looking as though any cocktails we had in the foreseeable future would be imbibed in the bar of an airport (or airport hotel) rather than on a beach. Because the way she was talking, it would be DAYS before we made it to the DR.

It all went even further down hill when we were handed off yet again, this time to a supervisor. He was most definitely NOT my best friend. In fact, his first suggestion was that we fly to Newark and then wait THREE DAYS for a flight to Puerto Plata. This was the best option, he explained, unless we were willing to drive to Newark in three days time. The latter was certainly more appealing, because no offense to Neward, but spending the first part of our vacation there wasn’t exactly what we had in mind.

We asked again about options with other airlines, but all we received were a few vague promises that he’d follow up ‘later’. I could tell, though, by the finality in his voice as he signed off that there would be no further follow up on their end.

If we wanted a better option, it would be up to us to make it happen.

Before making our final exit from our home-away-from-home in the airline terminal, Kathie and I took a walk to the Delta counter.

What happened next was, in my opinion, a sure sign that there is a higher power in the universe. Because not only was there a flight to DR leaving that night, but there was space for us on it.

The catch, because there is always a catch, was that it leaving from JFK, not Syracuse, and landing in Santiago, not Puerto Plata. But we could work with that. Because it was definitely better than three days in Newark. Or waiting three days for the long-anticipated getaway for that matter.

As the incredibly helpful Delta representative worked with our original carrier to sort out the flight arrangements, I started working out the other details. Like changing our rental car reservation, reaching out to the Farrell network to find a home for our vehicle that didn’t involve paying $30 a day in a lot at JFK, etc.

Kathie sprung into action as well, since with our new, radically altered itinerary her friend Elena could no longer meet us. Elena, ever helpful, arranged for a taxi to meet us in Santiago. (Because, let’s face it, there wasn’t a chance that the accumulated luggage of five women was going to fit in one rental car. Oh, and there was the small matter of not being one hundred percent sure of the directions…)

The airport terminal was all but deserted by the time we had it all sorted. We were in a bit of a daze as we reboarded the shuttle to take us back to the airport hotel to retrieve our vehicle.

This is "the beach" we were trying to get to: Playa Costambar.

This is “the beach” we were trying to get to: Playa Costambar.

Now that the first – and arguably the biggest – obstacle had been overcome, my adrenaline was kicking in. There were still a host of challenges standing between us and the beach. Like getting a refund on the long-term parking we’d prepaid for at the airport hotel. And re-loading the aforementioned luggage into the car without the help of Jules’ very handy husband Lyndon to oversee the process. Not to mention the four-hour or so drive to JFK; the construction related traffic we’d invariably hit along the way; and coordinating the hand off of our keys to my awesome Uncle Tim.

But failure wasn’t an option. Come hell, high water or further interference from the travel gods, we were getting to that beach.

There was too much adrenaline in my system for me to relax on the plane. In fact, I didn’t start to breathe easy until we received the keys to our rental car in Santiago and the smiling cab driver and the off-duty cop riding shotgun with him started loading our luggage.

It was 2 a.m. at that point. We still had an hour or so drive to reach our final destination  on the North Coast. I might not get to sink my toes into the sand for a few more hours, but I was ok with that. Because my Dominican adventure had begun.

When I woke up the next morning and laid eyes on my surroundings for the first time – the palm trees, tropical foliage, the ocean, just all of it –the trials and tribulations of travel didn’t matter. Because on some level, I think I already knew this was where I was supposed to be.

Yes, Andry is that off-duty cop that met us at the airport. We met again in mid-March, when the Delta agent came to Costambar. See what I mean about unexpected detours?

Yes, Andry is that off-duty cop that met us at the airport. We met again in mid-March, when the Delta agent came to Costambar. See what I mean about unexpected detours?

A year has gone by since that hectic day. It feels like a lifetime ago. So much has changed in the intervening 12 months. I now wake up every morning to that beautiful tropical vista I fell in love with on that very first day. The customer service agent from Syracuse who helped make our dream of a tropical escape come true has since come down and had her own Dominican adventure, and a wonderful friendship has been formed. Elena is now my friend as well as Kathie’s. Kathie and her husband Mike have added an addition to that beautiful house I stayed in during my first stay (and a couple of subsequent visits, as well). They’ll be arriving in a few days to spend a whole month here. I can’t wait. (And yes, they do still rent it out when they’re not here. You can check them out on Facebook at Oceanfront Rental Dominican Republic.) The cab driver, José, has also become a trusted friend. And that off-duty cop? Well… That’s a story for a different day.

Who knows if any of that would have happened if our travel plans hadn’t been turned inside out that day. Sometimes it’s the unexpected detours that makes all the difference. That one point in time sets off a chain reaction, putting us in unexpected places, meeting unexpected people and it can make all the difference in the world.

It certainly has made all the difference in mine.

 

Snow Daze: A tale of freezing temperatures, heated mattress pads and karma. (Oh, and nuns.)

A beautiful walk in my winter wonderland. (In case you were wondering, at the time this picture was taken it was 82 degrees in Puerto Plata. Just saying'...)

A beautiful walk in my winter wonderland. (In case you were wondering, at the time this picture was taken it was 82 degrees in Puerto Plata. Just saying’…)

Not everyone has a nun in the family, but I do. My extended family affectionately calls her Aunt Sister due to the fact that she is (a) my aunt and (b) a sister – as in Franciscan Sister of Allegheny. But to me, she’s Aunt Kathleen.

A native New Yorker like the rest of the family, Aunt Kathleen has been stationed in St. Petersburg, Florida for the last thirty years or so. Where the tropical climate has thinned her blood to the point where any drop in temperature below eighty necessitates multiple layers of flannel and fleece.

Her semi-annual visits to the Stagnaro homestead always took place in the warmest months of the year. And who could blame her. Of course, here in Central New York it’s not uncommon for the temps to dip down to the 50’s (or lower) even in the middle of summer. As a result, when we were complaining about the heat wave, she’d be bundling up in all available layers. Then adding a blanket or two to for extra warmth.

Having grown up in Central New York, I found this hilarious. And I often poked fun at my dear Aunt for being ‘soft.’ After all, when you’re from the Frigid North, you don’t think it’s truly cold until it’s at least 20 below zero. (Fahrenheit.)

Now, of course, I regret that supercilious behavior. Especially since it’s come back to bite me in the buttinski.

A buttinski that is currently FREEZING, I might add.

Because as we all know, Karma is a bitch.

Of course, it’s my own fault. No one forced me to return to the Frigid North during one of the coldest months of the year – after spending most of 2014 in the Caribbean. I came up with that brilliant idea all on my own.

Who wouldn't brave freezing temperatures to spend Christmas with this lovely lady?

Who wouldn’t brave freezing temperatures to spend Christmas with this lovely lady?

When I told my friends in the Dominican Republic that I was heading north for three weeks to spend the Christmas holiday with Mumsy, they laughed. Then they laughed some more. When they finally came up for air, they suggested I reschedule my trip to late August.

They meant well, I knew. And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t consider it for thirty seconds or so. But I already had my heart set on spending Christmas with Mumsy, not to mention her birthday which is on the 21st. I wasn’t about to let a little personal discomfort get in the way of that. Besides, I was FROM the Frigid North after all. It would take more than barely freezing temperatures to get me down.

If I had listened closely, I might have heard Karma laughing.

I started questioning my decision shortly after landing at JFK. My connection to Syracuse was delayed. And then delayed again. To make it worse, there was a draft by the gate that had my teeth chattering and I felt woefully underdressed for December in my jeans and light sweater.

I was distracted from the siren’s call of the overpriced I LOVE NEW YORK sweatshirts in the gate-side gift shop by a group of middle-aged tourists who sat next to me.

They were wearing shorts.

That’s when I realized it wasn’t quite as cold as I thought. Not the low teen’s as I had imagined, but rather a mild 45 degrees. Which didn’t bode well for the rest of my trip.

The weather channel was going on and on about Winter Storm Damon, the Nor’easter bearing down on the East Coast and I was convinced I was going to get stranded either at JFK or at the Syracuse airport. But the Travel Gods were smiling on me, and I guess they trump Karma once in awhile. Because at 11 p.m., only an hour and a half after I was originally supposed to arrive, my friend Mo was picking me up at the curb in Syracuse.

Mo is pretty awesome. Not only did she brave the freezing rain to come get me, but she also had the foresight to bring a warm coat, crank up the heat in her car AND turn on the seat warmer in the advance of my arrival.

Due to the late hour, we headed back to her place in Mexico. (Which, for those of you unfamiliar with New York State, is on Lake Ontario. And therefore, slightly colder than its namesake waaaaay to the south.) Bless her heart, she even had the heated mattress pad pre-heating in her guest room.

The plan was that she’d take me home in the morning, but Karma – under the guise of Winter Storm Damon – hit over night.

By mid-morning, a sizeable stretch of I-81 was closed. Once I heard that, I knew I didn’t have a chance of getting home that day. So, despite the fact that there was only about six inches on the ground outside of Mo’s cozy little cottage on the Little Salmon River, we resigned ourselves to being snowed in.

This is how Central New York says "Welcome Home." Did I mention it was 82 in Puerto Plata that day?

This is how Central New York says “Welcome Home.” Did I mention it was 82 in Puerto Plata that day?

Which wasn’t exactly a hardship. At least not for me. I can’t vouch for Mo, who had to play hostess for an extra day. And what a hostess she was! When the subject of food came up, there was no scrabbling to throw together a meal from canned goods. Mo simply dug into her freezer and the next thing I knew we were dining on bacon-wrapped filet and Cajun shrimp, paired with excellent red wine. With cheesecake for dessert.

I woke the next day to find snow still falling, but I-81 had been reopened so it was time to go home. Thanks to my little sojourn at Mo’s – and the storm – I was ready. After all, the frigid temperatures and cold wind are a lot easier to take when the world looks like someone has given a snow globe a good shake.

And when I finally walked in the door Thursday afternoon – roughly 48 hours after leaving the Dominican Republic — the warmth of my mother’s greeting made it all worth it.

The early Christmas present she had waiting for me didn’t hurt either: a heated mattress pad of my very own.

As I type this, it’s about 50 degrees colder outside than I’ve become accustomed to. But that’s okay. Because the world outside my frost-covered window looks like a winter wonderland and my mother’s jazzy holiday music is floating up the stairs.

I’m taking it in from where I sit, on my bed, tapping away on my laptop – all bundled up in one of my favorite Champion sweatshirts (circa 1995) with slipper socks on my feet and a fleece throw tucked in around me. And the heated mattress pad cranked up to its highest setting.

Do you think that maybe, just maybe, I can talk Mumsy into a Caribbean Christmas next year?

I find a little Dominican hot chocolate with a splash of kahlua is almost as effective as that heated mattress pad for keeping the cold at bay...

I find a little Dominican hot chocolate with a splash of kahlua is almost as effective as that heated mattress pad for keeping the cold at bay…