"This is your pilot speaking. We have a mechanical problem. The local mechanic, who works with us on contract, is taking his mother to the doctor."
It's 3:45 on a hot, sunny Saturday afternoon in St. Martin, a Caribbean island. We've taxied three minutes onto the steaming tarmac and are beginning a U-turn. We will await further instructions in the air-conditioned terminal. Off come the black jackets and sweatpants we donned for the airplane ride home, bulky layers hiding pastel t-shirts and shorts.
Adventure awaits, even as vacation seemed over. Many of us met the previous Saturday on the sun-bound plane, and here we are, together again. Most memorable is a woman in her 70s, the only person traveling solo on this ship of fools. She is wearing as many layers as Heidi and as many colors as Joseph. On her head rests a ratty, orange acrylic knit cap with earflaps, topped by a new, yellow St. Martin sun visor, tag still on. An ankle-length plaid skirt clashes with an ancient floral turtleneck and a tattered fleece from a high-school rowing club. We give her a wide berth.
For most of us, having chosen a Saturday return, an extra day is no biggie.
If you travel, you expect delays. So we prepare to relax and wait. My husband, Ed, and I agree to find the upside in this vacation downside. We chat, read, muse about the infamous doctor's office, disperse for snacks and magazines. In a few hours, we line up for the airline's ungenerous $10 coupons for more junk food.
The lack of seats in our gate area causes griping. While some sitters hog extra seats for carry-ons, others stand. Occasionally those with chairs beckon someone who appears to need a break. At 7 p.m. comes the announcement: Free overnight at a big hotel, free dinner, free breakfast, 3:45 p.m. departure Sunday. We line up to retrieve our checked bags, place them in a van, board a bus.
We queue in the hotel lobby for room assignments. We meet people we enjoy and, as hat-woman hovers, time passes. Our new hotel room has triple the space and quadruple the luxury of the room we occupied for a week, even though we will have little time to appreciate it. At 10 p.m. we join our new best friends at the phenomenal buffet. Ed and I delight in our fortune, despite needing to sleep in pajamas plucked from our laundry bag.
The 6 a.m. shuttle to the airport -- for a 3:45 p.m. plane -- gives us another day to kill -- but not a day to kill our mood. We refuse to be daunted. We re-visit the tacky souvenir shops, pretend the rancid coffee is appealing, reminisce about sandy beaches and the butterfly farm. We walk laps around the departure lounge, killing time and working a few muscles.
Are we having fun yet? Yes, because we choose to. We're still on vacation, with cell phones, calendars and responsibilities still at home. We have learned to appreciate the upside of the downside. Hope the mechanic's mom is feeling better.