Monday, December 22, 2008

You Think You've had a Bad Layover? Check out "Club DR!"

This is a firsthand account of the worst airport experience I've ever had, courtesy of the Santo Domingo airport in the Dominican Republic on October 29, 2008. I thought it might make everyone laugh...


I've had some bad layovers in the past few years. Sickness, cold, rude people, hunger, exhaustion, etc top the list of stories. But I've never had anything like this happen to me before. Vikki and I like to call it "Club DR." It gets really exciting about halfway down....

Fun Things to Do While Stuck in an Airport for 18 Hours in the Dominican Republic:

-Depart your location at 5:30 am; arrive at the airport at 8:15.

-Break the fast with chocolate
-Wonder why the guy two rows over looks famous. Search for his name on carry-on luggage from afar and feel like a stalker.
-Check for the internet connection that does not exist.
-Wonder what kind of plastic surgery the woman next to you got; finally decide on a facelift due to the incision next to her hairline and the bandages wrapped around her head.
-Board the plane for an hour.
-Find an English newspaper from the day before in the seatback in front of you. Read it from front page to back and critique the pagination.
-Watch as maintenance personnel board the plane and leave repeatedly while shaking their heads.
-Disembark the plane due to technical difficulties after an hour of sitting on the runway.
-Stand in line to verify unclear information, thanks to loud talking Spanish speaking plebeians and a distorted sound system.
-Call the United States on a payphone until you have no pesos left and therefore terrify your parents.
-Dream/hope for free roundtrip tickets to Hawaii as compensation for travel inconvenience.
-Watch 3 children wreak havoc and indulge in the revelry that they are not your responsibility.
-Stare longingly at the Caribbean Sea, which is literally within American walking distance and contemplate the unique properties of your glass prison coupled with your desire for all things tropical-beach related.
-Console fellow travelers in English and in Espanol; acting as liaisons between airport bureaucracy and lowly plebeians such as yourself.
-Stand in line for food voucher
-Look longingly at Paris’ gates because you want that awesome bread and cheese
-Scavenger hunt for reading material in Ingles and come up empty.
-Look for DVDs to buy but be thwarted yet again.
-Stroll many miles
-Visit the lovely washroom—a lot. At least it's something to do.
-Wave at the Hilton sign
-Consider taking a picture in front of numerous advertisements because it’s more than you’ve seen of this island in the entire 30 days you’ve been here.
-Stare at the locusts on the windows and find their secret entrance.
-Use the food voucher. Stand in line with the rest of your fellow passengers (aka plebeians) for a long time (like 30 minutes) only to be told that despite the menu with a plethora of choices, there are only 2 options for you, the unfortunately plebeians—rice and beans or a ham and cheese sandwich (toasted). The tasty hamburger with bacon y queso is not available.
-Be serenaded by Aventura y Romeo.

-Paint your face with the wall of Chanel sample pallets available even to plebeians. Put $300’ worth of makeup on your face, especially the silver shimmer while on the search for turquoise, and find poppin’ the lipgloss. Then wave good-bye to the salivating saleswoman who will not earn commission but has newfound hope in another customer who is currently making over her 90-yr-old wheelchair ridden grandmother.
-Sample the perfume.
-Be offered free alcohol.
-Appreciate Matthew McConnahay’s new advertisement and critique the artistic design
-Listen to people’s conversations while you try to rest
-Run away from the old creepy American guy that won’t stop openly staring at you
-Get a kick out of snoring plebeians
-Make friends/be friendly (small talk)
-Watch a bootleg movie on a fellow passenger’s laptop for a few minutes.
-Comfort a disoriented child because her mother left her all alone while she went to the bathroom.
-Watch a beautiful, life-worn saint read her Santa Biblia
-Watch “Club DR” form as 7 Hispanic men pass around hard liquor and get more and more boisterous as a Caucasian woman goes ballistic on a flight attendant.
-Have an awesome conversation with an interpreter for the deaf who has been here for ten months as a Jehovah’s witness missionary.
-Look away very fast as PDA goes a little too far… honeymooners perhaps?
-Watch the sunset over the ocean that you didn’t see until today, the day you left the Caribe, and then spent all day trying not to pine after it as you tumbled about your glass cage.

So, after 12 hours cooped up in this glass prison, we find out that the airline lied to us, that no one has fixed our plane, we are stranded in Santo Domingo, and something else… what is it… oh yes, there’s no chance of us getting out for days. Here’s what came next. Please excuse the change in tense, personal pronouns, etc, and join us in the bedlam….

-Drunk man in yellow and green flowered shirt calls NY and finds out that our plane has been canceled. Which is quite curious, being that the screen at the gate has recently switched from “delayed” to “confirmed.” He looks like he’s about to cry. I refuse to believe him bc that would mean that I wasted an entire day in the Caribbean in the airport, staring at the ocean—and that would make me cry.
-At 6:30, when our flight is supposed to leave, the attendants announce that we will not leave Santo Domingo that night.
-Ruckus. Chaos. Zoo-like. Uproar. Riot. People screaming, crying, waving arms. Woman with possible facelift right in with them, sitting in a wheelchair and gesturing wildly.
-Vikki and I start laughing and can’t stop.
-Vikki says “We have to videotape this and put it on youtube!” Ariel promptly pulls out his camera and says “I have 4 gigs!”
-In the midst of the insanity, of Dominicans screaming and threatening in Spanish and of Americans doing the same in English, sits one lone Asian-American. He speaks excellent English but has no idea what is going on because he couldn’t hear anything over the sound system due to the drunk men screaming. He sits there with his arms crossed, relaxed, a blank expression on his face. In a room painted red with frustration and anger, he is most definitely colorless. Vikki sees his lack of external expression and laughs so hard she’s crying. I almost fall out of my chair. Ariel is still videotaping.
-It turns out that honeymooners were in fact honeymooners. The wife is has to be a work the next day. She lied to what she hopes is a future employer in order for one extra day in the Caribbean. Ironically, she said her flight was cancelled. If she can’t get to Orlando, then she won’t get the job. So she and her drunk husband tag team screaming at the agents.
-Everyone’s dropping the f-bomb like it’s hot
-Screaming. Someone calls security. The mob looks violent. There is no sense of control, decorum, etc. I’m thankful we already went through security so there are no weapons nearby.
-The externally stoic Asian, who I shall call Oakland, joins us and asks for a translation as to what in the world is going on. Will he get to California tonight? We catch him up between giant gulps of laughter. He says “You two are the happiest people in this room. I’m going to stick with you.” We welcome him into our group, which has now grown to 4.
-The snoring plebeian from the morning stumbles over to us holding a clear, plastic cup full of rum. Holding it up, he tries to make eye contact with us. We will later learn that he lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvannia and is a former illegal alien. He walked across the US/Mexico border in 1994, walking for 3 months and taking buses through Mexico until he reached the US. He married a DR girl, got divorced a bit later, and now lives in Amish country bc “it’s peaceful.” He came to the DR to see his mother 2 days before she died. After he sobers up, he’s a lot of fun to talk to. Right now he’s just fun to video tape as he angrily slurs at us in a thick accent, “Injusticia! We need to stand up for our rice!!! We have rice!!!” Vikki and I continue to laugh so hard that our abs hurt. We’re pretty sure that he meant “rights,” but maybe he really likes rice…
-Honeymoon wife-liar calls the airline in the US—no answer. She calls the airline in the DR—no answer. No one has a number where they can reach the airline and she begins to freak out again, which sends her drunk husband back up to the counter as she drops the f-bomb. She then takes his place bc she doesn’t want him arrested, and screams at the people behind the counter again. “DO YOU WANT A CLASS ACTION LAWSUIT? We will sue!!” She screams. It turns out that the airline did this once before this year, stranding an entire plane for 18 hours on a runway without any care for the passengers. Precedent has been set that the first passengers to wait get to go out first. What the airline was going to do with us was put us on outgoing flights a few at a time over the course of the next several days. The plane they promised to take us to America came and left and no others were coming. “PUT THIS ON CNN!!!!” she screamed. “THE WHOLE WORLD WILL KNOW ABOUT THIS!!!!”-Two more people pull out cameras begin to videotape. One comes over to Vikki and I. Our faces are red and we can’t stop laughing. “Como sientes?” He asks us. Vikki doesn’t respond. I spread my hands in a gesture of “it’s okay” and answer “estoy bien.” “Bien?!?” he exclaims. “No! Es malo!” He begins to explain why it’s bad. Basically, I’m just messing up his documentary for CNN. He wants wailing and screaming passengers and what he’s getting are missionaries who have been trained to accept life as it comes, inconvenient and frustrating or not. Thank you, Adventures in Missions, and specifically, Alli Mellon.
-The smell of alcohol is quite strong, like a floating fuel source for rage. The riot is getting out of control.
-There’s another announcement in Spanish. Oakland promptly asks for a translation, to which Vikki and I start laughing. Ariel snaps a picture of us just as we learn that there will be a plane to take us to the US at 11pm. Someone called the head of the airline and told them the passengers were rioting. So they arranged this. Ariel begins to translate for Vikki in sign language, who keeps laughing.
-We’ve made a lot of new friends—Ariel, Oakland, Lancaster, and another guy named Jose. He’s Dominican American and lives in NY. Teaches English and Spanish to junior high students and has a beautiful, musical voice. He came to the DR for his grandmother’s funeral and is a Christian. Wants to get involved in the orphanage we just left.
-Oakland thanks us and we all stand in line for a new food voucher. He finds out that we are missionaries and can’t believe it. Vikki and I stop laughing long enough to thank the attendants and try to comfort them too. A lady gives us her Spanish magazines. We go back to the crappy restaurant, this time for French fries and chicken fingers. Oakland gives us his bootleg movie bc we were without entertainment for so long. He buys 3 bottles of soft drinks and water with his voucher instead of food. Vikki and I have an extra $6 and get a free sandwich. We are still laughing.
-There’s a change of gate and we get new boarding passes. The airline gives us vouchers for our inconvience, so Hawaii is actually a possibility. Oakland tells me that I look like a 50yrold movie star. My abs hurt from laughing. We give him our free sandwich.
-We talk with the head of Xnth, an engineer who just met with the President of the DR. He grows 30ft tall grass that can be used to fuel the world. In less than a minute of meeting him, he tells us that he is voting for Obama, even though he’s never voted democratic before and even though he makes over $250,000 a year.
-Oakland comes over and talks with us. We find out that he too is a very successful business man. There we are, 2 missionaries, sitting across from two very wealthy and powerful men…. Kings and paupers…
-Oakland asks me about Swaziland. He’s transfixed. He says, “What would make you want to do such a thing like this when you could have a job?” So I get to tell him about Christ and his love. I tell him about Sarafina, my Swazi gogo who was lame and God healed. His eyes grew big and he motioned the Xnth guy over. “Listen to this story!” he says. I tell it again. He can’t believe it. “You did this,” he said. “and she was healed.” “No, I have no power on my own. It was God.” He is fascinated.
-At that moment, they announce that we can board our 11pm flight. It’s midnight before it takes off. One bathroom is broken and our “free” movies don’t work. The crew is mad bc they are tired and wanted to spend a couple of days in the Dominican Republic. But we are finally in the air.
-As we land in Orlando at 2am, Vikki and I contemplate the inexplicable truth that we found on the handle of her bug zapper from Thailand—“It is every to refresh 15 hours in 10 in time.” Now we actually know what it means. And again, we burst into laughter in the middle of the immigration line.
-Her family picks us up at 3, and at 3:30 am, after 22.5 hours of travel for a 2 hour flight, we fall asleep.

And the last thing you can do while being stranded for 18 hours in an airport is:

-make this list.

When Ariel posts these videos on youtube, you'll be the first to know....

1 comment:

  1. I'm laughing histerically right now! I can't even believe this happened to us...terrible...