Missing the Boat

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2003

As Louise prepares to embark on another cruise next week, a previous one in March of '02 comes to mind. One that she missed! Here is the story:

Friday was one of the most challenging of my life; not in a precarious or daunting way, but in that it pushed my limits of frustration and tenacity

—until I surrendered to the inevitability of what was obviously unfolding in the bigger picture, of what was not meant to be.

The day started with two cabs pulling up to the curb at 21 Convent Hill. London, at 5:45 am. I had forgotten to dismiss the more expensive hired taxi to Heathrow after calling the car service that John suggested. I made a call to get an estimate and was delighted to learn that “Eagle Cars” charges £4 (about $6) less because they originate in East Croydon, less than a stone’s throw to my new Upper Norwood address. The other company is located farther away.

I had slept less than two hours the night before. After final sorting and packing, at 1:00 am, I took the necessary time to count, bubblewrap and stow tapes and books in my already filled suitcase. That next morning, there were still a few after-thought items left to stuff in outer suitcase pouches.

At the peak of my frenetic last mad dash around the house, I wondered why one of the taxi’s dispatchers called to tell me that my taxi had arrived and made such a point of emphasizing, emphatically, “It’s the LARGER VAN out in front.”

I looked outside and saw, to my horror, that two drivers—one of a mid-sized taxi car and the other, belonging to a van—were talking to each other on the other side of the low wrought iron gate at the front of the house. My “Wonder Woman” self-perception suddenly became one of self-deception. I had been juggling multitudinous balls in the air for too long. A couple of them were now bouncing on the sidewalk out in front.

In the past few weeks, I had traveled to-and-from Israel, made the necessary arrangements—strategizing logistics with fiancé John, still living in Australia—for the house to be re-painted and carpeted while I worked this cruise for a week. I had planned an August wedding, ran my business from another country, made a round trip to my visit my daughter in precarious Israel, and worked on additions to a submitted book manuscript, while trying to master the bus schedules to, from and south of Central London.

I was to return from the cruise a week from the following Saturday, leaving me one-half a day at home in which to re-pack and head back out to Heathrow on Sunday for my flight to New York for three days. Then I would fly Seattle for a week, the beginning of a couple of months of business travel in the US.

It was Network Solutions that pushed me to my limits when they mistakenly deactivated my website and important client email (from clients who wanted to schedule consultations during my US tour) over two weeks before, upon renewal of my domain name subscription. I had tried to sort this out from Israel as well as London, to no avail. I was picking up phone messages in New York, saying, “Haven’t you gotten my email?”

I paid the driver of the more expensive car service the required £6 dismissal fee, with my apologies. “There goes my effort to save a few pounds,” I thought to myself, a reflection that was to become one of extreme irony by the end of the day. In fact, one definition of “irony” says is best: Incongruity between what actually happens and what might be expected to happen, especially when this disparity seems absurd or laughable.

I motioned for the other driver to load my expanded medium-sized suitcase, smaller carry-on (with the books, tapes, tape recorder, computer and other work supplies) and leather duffle bag. Then I hopped into the van, feeling quite embarrassed by my blunder. Wonder Woman doesn’t like making mistakes.

We had driven close to one-half hour, when I thought to check for my passport. I hadn’t scanned it on my “radar screen,” because I thought I recalled having put it in the proper zipper pocket in my purse a few days before. After the fiasco nearly five years ago, when I sent the cab back from JFK airport to retrieve another forgotten passport—barely in time to continue with my journey to my daughter’s wedding in Jerusalem—I thought that I would never forgive myself if I ever repeated that mishap. “Please Dear God, not that again!” I prayed to the producer of amazing-things-happening in a play of infinite possibilities, as I crawled halfway over my seat’s headrest into the baggage compartment of the van.

Leaning upside down and twisted to the side, I zipped and unzipped every compartment of every piece of my luggage over and over again, while I prayed to the passport angels. My fingers became raw from pulling grudging zipper pulls back and forth. One dressy presentation shoe fell out and landed defiantly out of reach on the far side of the car’s spare tire. The silk turtleneck underneath my sweater was damp with perspiration. My hair had flopped over my face, dramatizing these critical moments of searching with a few stubborn, moist wisps stuck to one cheek.

Finally, I alerted the driver to the situation and asked him to turn back around. I would simply have to make a fast and desperate check back at the house. He couldn’t have been too surprised by my request, given all that he had to have witnessed in his rear view mirror. He sighed, nodded, made an illegal U-turn in the middle of a crowded road and headed back.

The two-hour check-in requirement demanded that I be standing in line at Air France by 8:15 am for the 10:15 am flight to Charles de Gaulle airport. A bus was to shuttle the cruise group from there to Orly Airport for a 3:15 pm flight to Guadalupe. I had no time to spare.

I ran through the gate at home without stopping to slam it shut. I started to unlock the door to the front vestibule, but realized that it was open. Inside, I saw that the workmen had already begun their task of removing layers of very old wallpaper throughout the house. Furniture had been moved to the center of all the rooms downstairs and covered with protective tarps.

I waved to the young man and older woman who were steaming the walls of the front lounge as I ran by, shouting a very fast—and undoubtedly incomprehensible—explanation. Upstairs, I was still able retrace my steps from the last few days. I tried not to miss anything in my quick attempt.

I looked frantically in the drawers of the bedroom dressing table that had belonged to John’s mother. I double-checked the nightstands where I’d put away the drastically reduced assortment of “dust collectors,” since my ambitious space clearing in this house where John grew up. It is where we were going to begin our new life together, and was now about to be ushered into the 21st Century.

The passport was nowhere in sight. After searching the drawers of the old pull-down desk in the “box room,” now converted into my office space, I ran back down the stairs and out the door. I told the driver that I was going to chance that my passport was somewhere in my luggage, and asked him to drive back out to Heathrow.

Rush hour traffic congestion was now moving full (non) speed ahead. I continued to search, this time, in a very intentional, calmer and more calculated manner. If the little blue culprit was there, I was going to find it.

By the time we pulled up to the curb by Air France, I was still without passport, now resolved that I would miss the boat. I felt horrible about disappointing Diane, the cruise director with whom I had participated in five previous cruises in the states. As before, it was to be a working engagement, but I had been looking forward to blue skies and sunny weather after my first and cloudy winter in England. Now I was bearing tidings of great gloom. I braced myself to face Diane and her husband, David.

Another irony of this fiasco is that in the preceding months, Diane had fought an impossible battle with the British Home Office for her marriage visa. After weeks and weeks of following prescribed protocol, her passport was returned to her only a few days before the day of departure. Eleventh hour results came after personal and persistent pleas to her district’s Minister of Parliament. Now I was the one showing up without the passport.

It felt strange to rush through the airport without baggage in tow. It felt wonderful, actually, starkly contrasted with my imminent, discouraging mission. I dashed between pillars and dodged luggage trolleys belonging to passengers who probably would make their flights. Finally, I skirted the far perimeter of an endless, weaving line of cordoned Air France customers. Nearing the front of one long line, I spotted Diane and her husband, David.

“Louise! There you are!” Diane yelled, smiling with relief upon seeing me arrive on time. I stepped forward, swallowed hard, and broke the news to her. She had already lost another of her main speakers a few months before. She’d been orchestrating a cruise with complicated logistics, bringing together Americans and Brits in challenging travel times. I really hated to let her down.

I knew “my driver” by name now—“Darin”—and he felt quite familiar after chauffeuring me along this morning’s futile efforts. I waited for him to circle back around to the curbside drop-off. I was exhausted and disbelieving of all that had transpired when I crawled into the van’s back seat.

Diane’s parting words lingered in my head. “If you DO find your passport, try to catch the next flight to Paris! There might still be time to meet us at Orly!” I hadn’t considered pushing on to a potential positive outcome. I didn’t know if I even had the energy to pursue an alternate solution at this point.

Nevertheless, I called Air France on my cell phone, hoping that its battery juice would outlast the aggravating hold time I had just been cued into. Finally, I learned that there was an 11:15 am flight that could still deliver me in time for plane and boat connections. The very latest check-in time was 10:30 am for that flight.

It was now close to 8:45 am. In good traffic, we might make it back home in 45 minutes for another search. If fruitful and not too lengthy, a forty-five minute return to the airport could have me back in time. It just might be worth a try. “Step on it,” I said, managing a laugh along with Darin, at the tritely dramatic ring to my urgent request.

Once more, I ran passed the wallpaper people in the front room, this time with no attempt to explain. I was back to searching my office space. I had already peeked and prodded into every possible nook and cranny. I was leaving the room, when suddenly, I felt nudged to go back and move the bookcase away from the wall.

There it was: my blue passport, looking so harmless, yet the cause of unimaginable turmoil. It was lying sideways on the floor, wedged between the bookcase and the wall. I didn’t even remember being in that area of the room in the past few days. I was too busy yelling at Network Solutions’ tech support staff as I sat at the desk across the room from the bookcase.

I grabbed the passport and ran out the front door, jumping into the van and yelling to Darin, “Let’s go for it!” He was optimistic that he might still get me back to Heathrow by the latest possible time. On this fifth of the back-and-forths between Heathrow and home, I got to know a bit about Darin, my shaved headed, ear-ringed young driver. I felt that I ought to know a bit about the family I was now supporting with my mounting taxi fare.

I learned that his wife was involved with conducting “Ann Summer’s Parties,” I came to know the nature of these British Tupperware-ish parties, where sexy lingerie and sex toys are sold to titillated attendees. If Darin’s wife proves to be successful in this enterprise, she will have a motivating hierarchy of cars at her disposal. The pinnacle of Barbara Summer’s underlings’ success: a Range Rover. “Sew perfect,” gushed Darin at the prospect of his wife’s anticipated success, “w’ile we caan’t affod another cahr, ‘ere w’ll ‘ave one at newh cost thees way, yew see!”

Darin dropped me once more at the airport curb. I jumped out before he’d brought the van to a complete stop. He quickly got out and opened the back hatch, then tossed my baggage onto the sidewalk. It was now 10:40 am. 10 minutes past the outer time limit of the next flight. We agreed that he would circle around until 11:00 am. If he didn’t find me waiting back on the curb, he would know that I’d made the fight.

I wheeled two suitcases and the duffle behind me as I ran across the street to the trolley stand. After hoisting the heavy bags onto the next available cart, I lunged into pushing it forward, prepared for a fast sprint to the Air France counter. The cart wouldn’t budge. I couldn’t see why because the bags blocked my view of anything beyond them.

A man who spoke French was standing to the right front of my trolley. “They ees no wheels!” he exclaimed, pointing in front of me. I couldn’t believe yet another impossible roadblock coming between the cruise and me. As fast as possible, I schleped the bags onto the next trolley in line, and raced on across the next street and on into the terminal.

This time I saw no people standing before the Air France counter. This was a more disturbing sight to behold, beyond the frustration of impossibly long lines. Three agents in a row were equally unsympathetic as they shook their heads, insisting that the gate was closed. No more passengers would be allowed onto the 11:15 am flight.

The ride back felt like a ball player must feel in the dugout after the defeat of his team. I’d run and lost. Even Darin, my teammate seemed sad and disappointed at the outcome, which felt unfair. I had to laugh. I was obsessed with saving £4 ($6) on taxi fare, and ended up spending £120 ($180) to be escorted to and from Heathrow all morning.

Thinking towards home and an alternate plan for my week, I remembered that I had no bed to return home to. By now it was pilled upon and pushed to the center of the bedroom, covered with a painter’s tarp.

Darin had thoughtfully recharged my cell phone with his car adapter. I decided to make an emergency call to my friend, Tracy, who lives in West Dulwich, ten minutes away from the refurbishing house. She’s a friend who is always there for her friends. How blessed I felt to be among hers, when she said, “Sure, come on and spend the week with us!”

At 12:30 am the next morning, Tracy awakened me with news of the latest suicide bombing in Jerusalem. She escorted me up into her office so that I could read the news report for myself on the web. This was the second terrorist disaster since my return from Israel, a week and a half before. The last one took place on the street where my daughter lived with her family, before moving to her current address.

“11 people killed, 50 injured, as people gathered at the Café Moment to visit after Shabbot. Body parts strewn, everywhere.” Another bomber was caught near the residence of President Sharon. Two men jumped him when they spotted wires under his shirt. He was found to be wired for “atomic” bomb capability at his detonating disposal, enough to blow up the city. That bomb had to be detonated outside of Jerusalem.

Early the next morning, I called my daughter. It felt so good to hear her happy voice and to coo over the phone with my two granddaughters. I knew how she felt when we talked the morning after my experiencing “9/11.” She reminded me that she does not hang out in cafés, does her business in town, and then spends most time at home with the girls. I do not live in fear, and I have seen my daughter and her family in a happy, future moment. It was still welcome assurance for me to speak with her.

When I hung up, I realized that I would not have been able to touch base with Adrianne/Rochel Ruth, were I working on the cruise this week. At Tracy’s, I’m writing, sleeping and having a good time with her dear family. I do not know that I would have had the energy to follow through with all that is before me in the weeks ahead, had I made it to the Air France counter in time and hopped that ship. I’m hopeful that Diane’s group also trusts a larger plan, enjoying their cruise and appreciating Diane’s dedicated efforts.

I always believe that a bigger picture is unfolding, most often out of range of our own contrived agendas, as well as beyond our conscious understanding. Through challenging times, I often say, “I can’t wait for retrospect!” Indeed, it is the epiphany that emerges at the right time after the chaos that is usually such a satisfying confirmation that “when we make plans, God laughs,” and has a much wiser plan in mind.