3 min read
Ever been stranded on an island? I was. It was a surprise. But then, being stranded usually is… unless you’re living in a romantic comedy and you planned the stranding. I don’t live in a romantic comedy.
So this stranding was troubling… but if I was to be honest, maybe a little exciting. Something different was about to happen, and that could be fun or at least not boring.
Ok, this wasn’t exactly a desert island. Actually it was the island of Jamaica. You may have heard of it. Lots of people go there on vacations. Also, I did have my credit cards with me but you know what I mean.
What was supposed to have been planned and predictable, suddenly… wasn’t. Something had gone wrong. Somebody had to fix it.
I was at Norman Manley Airport in Kingston, Jamaica. There was supposed to be a ticket at the airline counter for me to fly to Paris. It wasn’t there. I had an upcoming job in Paris and people were expecting me. The same people who were supposed to have purchased the ticket.
But it wasn’t just the ticket that evaporated. There was also no flight to Paris, at this time, from this airport. It was like the glamorous rug of international jet setting got yanked out from under me.
The airline rep made some calls. My mind quickly went to work, dialing through the travel possibilities like a modern day Alan Turing pursuing Enigma. But instead of trying to break the German code, I was rifling through airline codes… and choices: Fly home to Los Angeles, stay in Jamaica, call the client in Paris… what?
Ah. There was a smile and recognition on her face. She cracked the code first. She hung up and explained the situation. There was indeed a ticket for me. It was just in a different city, Montego Bay, on the other side of Jamaica.
Oh, well that explains it. Somehow, someone had me situated in Montego Bay or Mobay as the locals call it. Only problem was that Mobay was hours away. I would miss the flight.
So could we just transfer the ticket here to Kingston and come up with a new route? Surely, there was a way to go from Kingston to Paris. The rep smiled, of course there was. She could route me through New York. But there was a small problem.
The ticket was stranded in Mobay. She couldn’t use it here for my flight.
So I did the usual exasperated traveler’s dance of, “Why not?, Why not?, Why not?” And she did the expected official’s official response of, “Dblewr fpstt qvmtp eplmwer fhfhfhfh… sorry.” In short, I was stranded. On the island.
So Just How Did I Get Here, Anyway?
I’m glad you asked. I had actually only arrived on the island the day before, to finish a job. I was producing a TV show about Jamaica featuring the Prime Minister as the host.
We had shot the production months before and now were back for a quick voice-over recording session with the Prime Minister.
It’s always interesting getting a head of state to perform. On the one hand, they are politicians, so acting is nothing new to them. On the other hand, their performance can get a little warped. It’s like they’ve always been cast as… a head of state but now we’re also asking them to play to the “studio audience”.
“You’re the Prime Minister but we need a bit more excitement and… exuberance. Perhaps just a touch of Wayne Brady… if you can.”
Some of them can pull it off. Usually the ones who are near the end of their term.
The point is, when it comes to performance, it’s our job to guide them, do multiple takes, be diplomatic and do it all in a four hour window. Because that’s about all the time they’re going to give us for this particular task.
They have important stuff to do, like running a country. But we have the even more important task of making our TV show.
Also, this session can’t go over schedule as I’ll be rushing to the airport for my flight to Paris. I’ve got a job there, plus shoots in Amsterdam, Germany and Cannes.
But, the Prime Minister is a pro and we finish on time. I suppose it helps that English is his native tongue. Other times we’ve worked with non-English foreign leaders at these recording sessions and then it can be a linguistic challenge – sort of like international night at the Improv.
We finish up, shake hands and promise to meet at the premiere. And I bolt for the airport.
“Dsflkj epor vpes ggefref ap fhfhfh… sorry”, the ticket agent further adds, as if this final explanation as to why I’m screwed would make me feel better.
Do you think it worked?
So… I call my partner to get his advice as to my next move. This man brooks no bull from anyone and has zero tolerance for incompetence, as in:
‘HOW COULD THEY SCREW UP YOUR TICKET!!?’
“I dunno.”, I shrug over the phone.
He feels I should extract revenge:
“BUY A FIRST CLASS TICKET TO PARIS!!” he insists.
“Really?”, I muse.
“THEY’LL HAVE TO PAY YOU BACK!!”, he barks before hanging up.
I’m not so sure about this. If they don’t, I’m out 4 or even 5 figures. But the client did promise me a business class ticket. You know, the one waiting for me in Mobay. So, I pull out my plastic, take a breath and hand it to the Esperanto-speaking counter agent. In seconds, she adds $6K to the card with a single, nasty swipe.
I’m relieved. I’m excited. I’m worried. And, I’m relieved. But… they better pay me back.
Here’s the new route: Air Jamaica to JFK and then Air France to Paris. Sweet!
Air Jamaica however does not have Business Class so I flew First Class to NY. Don’t get excited. First class on Air Jamaica just means a slightly wider seat that reclines as little as any on Spirit Air.
They did have a nice menu selection but were usually out of everything. I had done several trips to Jamaica in this First Class section and knew what to expect: They would be out of the shrimp entrée.
Sure enough. They were out of the shrimp entrée. This always amazed me as there were twelve seats in first class but they only stocked four shrimp entrees. You had to be in the first row to get the shrimp.
I always queried the flight attendants with the intensity of Carl Bernstein digging into that Watergate business - why didn’t the airline supply them with a few more shrimp entrees? They were at a loss. Perhaps that explains why the airline finally ceased all operations.
Who was it that said ninety per cent of success is just showing up? Perhaps with a few more shrimp entrees showing up, they would have prospered. We’ll never know….
These Little Town Blues…
What’s better than landing at JFK at night? I’ll tell you - changing planes at JFK so you can fly on to Paris. So long Queens!
I had lots of time to kill before my Air France flight and I walked the sleek corridors of a newly refurbished terminal, reflecting on my day. We had had a good session with the Jamaican PM. And while he wasn’t exactly Wayne Brady, he came across enthusiastic and likable.
Ok, there was a little turbulence at the Kingston airport, but I got through all that with an instant pocket loan from my friends at Citibank. This is what other people’s money is for… to make us happy. (Hopefully, I will be reimbursed).
And now I am heading to a few weeks’ work in Europe. Why, in just a little while, I’ll be ordering a Dubonnet from my luxe business-class seat as I sail through the starry night to Paree.
Only one thing is better in this world than a night flight to Paris: it is enjoying the delicious indulgence of anticipating… one’s upcoming night flight to Paris.
It might even be better than the flight itself. I realized this as I strolled the airport walkways, taking in the hordes of rushing travelers around me, some wrestling with luggage, others with small children. The children seemed to be winning their respective bouts.
How entertaining. My kids were three thousand miles away in Los Angeles. I’m sure they were behaving themselves…
For a brief moment time stopped and I felt no concerns – nothing at all. The only thought that floated through my mind like a party balloon: where should I stroll in Paris tomorrow? Place Vendome? La Rive Gauche? This was better than meditation.
Yesterday I had rushed from L.A. to Jamaica and today, Jamaica to NYC. But now, here in the sweet glassy corridors of Kennedy Airport, I was catching a perfect moment - so rare and flawlessly cut, I remember it well, these years later.
I knew the feeling wouldn’t last. So I treasured those few moments, happily lending my smile to the general chaos all around me. Then I floated on to my gate.