07 June 2013

Fight or flight... or both?

"Fortune favors the bold"
-- Pliny, the elder

Tons of time & thought went into planning my holidays in Belize.  I worried about bad weather and lost reservations.  I never anticipated the most difficult part would be leaving Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

I arrived an hour early at PIT around 5:30am. The line for US Airways was over a city block long. I tried my hardest -- at my boyfriend's request -- to be hopeful & diplomatic. 30 minutes before the flight departed I was getting antsy & decided to take matters into my own hands.  With the encouragement of another disgruntled passenger ahead of me (who had to suffer through the line to check baggage), I snuck around to an over-looked kiosk on the fringe of US Airways’ long counter.  I imagined someone in line or an employee would bust me, and I was fully prepared to give them my sob story, but I managed to slide under the radar.

Tickets in hand, the “alternate security checkpoint” (advertised as less busy) offered little hope of making the flight on time.  Though the queue moved, I did the mental math & once again, knew I would not make my departure.  Desperate, I scanned my potential victims like a lawyer does the jury: I needed a younger (to empathize with me), personal traveler (business people are all about business) and male (to bat my eyes at).  There he was, the lone African-American carrying a duffel bag.  As we neared each other at a bend in the queue I asked in the most innocent tone possible.  Like a charm, the sweet guy from Chicago let us ahead of him.  Thank you God for making me a female.

Because of my insulin pump I always have extra screening from the TSA, so – with 15 minutes remaining – I instructed my boyfriend to go on without me & inform the flight staff that I was en route.  Finally through PIT’s security checkpoint I hustled downstairs to the tram’s platform & saw my boyfriend still waiting.  Inside the tram to the terminal I devised a game plan. It was sink or swim time.  I took only my backpack, left the rollerbag with him & would make a last-ditch sprint to the gate as there was no way we could both run with the suitcases. I tied my boots’ laces tighter.

Before the tram doors were entirely ajar, I squeezed through.   Like clockwork, people flooded out of the tram cars ahead of mine, so I hugged the wall and by-passed everyone.  On the ascending escalator I hurdled steps two at a time.  I was the only person awake at this hour through the deserted corridors of terminal A.  Every time I inhaled my lungs seared, but I pressed on.  Closer.  My legs ached and begged me to slow.  I thought back to my increasingly difficult exercise regiment at the gym this past month & told myself “this is what you’ve trained for.”  I pressed on past the vacant stores.  Closer.  Like a beacon of hope, an employee stood in the middle of the long highway, waving me toward her.

The older woman grabbed my ticket. I could barely speak since my mouth was so dry, but managed to croak that my boyfriend was coming.  The lady snapped “You have to make a decision to get on this flight or wait for him.”  Excuse me?  I knew she was just doing her job, but it was early, I felt like I just completed a marathon & the plane had not yet sealed its hatch… over my dead body was this employee going to flog my vacation while I idly stood by!  I snapped back at her, “he’s right there!” & pointed to a random guy further down the strip.  This seemed to temporarily appease her.

I needed time. I needed to stall.

I fumbled for my identification; I feigned I checked baggage & began asking questions about it; as I rummaged through my backpack "looking" for my passport (although it was in my pocket all along) my boyfriend & another, older gentleman arrived at the gate out of breath.

Sweaty and beat, I shoved my way to the very last row of the plane.  My boyfriend and I simultaneously plopped into the seats and took a few minutes to decompress from the stressful situation.  The rain pelted the window as the jet became airborne.  From one of my favorite quotes “we were half-way out of our rut.”  As long as everything went smoothly with the flight from Charlotte, North Carolina, we would make it to Belize today.  
I rather enjoy the international terminal at smaller airports.  I get to read all the different destinations & eye the people headed there.  I judge them & wonder “why Mexico City?” but that concourse just feels happier. The majority of those passengers aren’t flying to a funeral, or for a job interview, or to return to the habits of home… they’re going off, into the world of their own accord!

CLT to BZE was uneventful & I watched the colors of the ocean change.  Out the window, cobalt blues changed to lighter turquoises and even mixed with the white of the sand.  The clouds were lined up like cabbage in a field & made for an inviting backdrop to Central America.  I studied the coastline (I practically had it memorized from all the hours spent on Google Maps estimating driving distances) and deduced we were somewhere around the Yucatan Peninsula.       



As soon as the airplane’s wheels touched the pavement, it violently slowed.  Even from the rear row it looked like there was little runway left.  Then, something I had never experienced before occurred: the jet screeched to a stop & turned around on said runway.  Yes, in Belize there was only one international airport & one runway – which doubled as the taxiway & loading area.

I emerged into the midday sun – still in my long-sleeved shirt, pants & hiking boots – and my breathing temporarily lapsed as I inhaled hot, humid air.  Like something out of the olden days, I descended to the tarmac via a flight of stairs on wheels.  There were no ramps nor gates.  Everyone on my flight from the U.S.A. funneled through one exit with one Customs desk.
Customs was a slow process.  No sooner was I out of the airport, then I was in a taxi whisked away to el puerto a.k.a. the port.  From the back seat, I watched Belize City unfold before me.  A chubby Latin chiquita a.k.a. little girl wandered alone on the squalid streets & I thought “I would never let my daughter run around here by herself,” but then I remembered, this was another world.  Belize did not have the crime issues the United States had.  Still, this did not settle well with the maternal side of me.  Here, there & everywhere, stray dogs ran rampant.  The cab passed a decrepit building held up only by thick tree branches.  Our driver informed us there was a speed limit, but no one really obeyed nor enforced it.  According to him, there only three stoplights in the entire city so the main concern was decelerating before you wrecked your suspension & axles on the scattered speed bumps (for which there were no warning signs).  A few times the driver gunned the car into oncoming traffic, thus passing slower vehicles in our path. 

This swerving, chaotic ride was nothing new to me: I have rode shotgun [and white-knuckled] a few times in Mexican taxis before.  However, I got a huge kick out of watching my boyfriend from the backseat.  His head was on a swivel, as he looked from one shady street to the next.  It excited me to watch him become overloaded with the new sights, people & form of driving. When we finally arrived at the port, the first words out of his mouth were “I wish I would’ve recorded that wild taxi ride!”

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