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The Missed Flight

People sitting in Times Square
Photo © Michael Sommers.

I did something really dumb this week.

Something I’ve never, ever done in all my 40-something years of traveling.

I missed my flight.

Not just any old flight.

But my flight back home to Salvador

– which, actually entailed three flights:
1) New York-Charlotte
2) Charlotte-Rio de Janeiro
3) Rio de Janeiro-Salvador
(all of which works out to around 14 hours in the air and 20 hours in limbo).

Amazingly, I have absolutely no great excuse for having missed this flight – beyond the fact that I was completely and utterly convinced that I was departing NYC on July 19 and arriving in Brazil on July 20.

Although I had no paper ticket, or even a print-out of my e-ticket, a great, bold 19, accompanied by a great, bold 20, had installed themselves in my brain and had been living there for quite some time. So indelibly were they tattooed upon my mind’s agenda that not even for a split second did I entertain the thought that I was perhaps not flying out of La Guardia airport on the 19th of July.

My only doubt was the time of my departure. As such, on the 18th of July, after a leisurely farewell lunch with a friend in Manhattan, followed by some even more leisurely browsing for last-minute reading material at The Strand bookstore, I leisurely returned home to my sister’s house in Astoria, where I opened my e-mail, and was horrified to discover that my flight from New York to Charlotte was about to take off in 13 minutes!

My first reaction was shock and utter disbelief; my trust in a July 19th departure date was so absolute that I considered the “18” staring up at me to be some hacker’s hoax.

I didn’t freak out until I called the US Airways reservation number and an agent robotically informed me that, aside from paying a $200 change fee, I’d also have to fork out the difference between my original fare and the current fare. She then proceeded to nonchalantly tell me that if I wanted to board a flight the following day this “difference” would amount to 3,000 dollars!!!!

While inwardly imploding, I had the presence of mind to ask about other possible departure dates. Although most of the rest of the week and all of the week after were booked solid, there was a lone flight available on the 21rst of July that I could have for just $600….

After hanging up the phone, $800 poorer, I was shell-shocked (not to mention filled with self-loathing). To help alleviate the pain (and shame), my sister gently led me out of her house and around the corner to the Astor Bake Shop, her local sanctuary, where she ministered to me by ordering a glass of red wine and a big platter of delicious garlic and herb French fries.

One of the waiters at Astor Bake Shop is Luiz, a Brazilian from the state of Minas Gerais, with whom my sister and I always speak in Portuguese. Luiz was working that fateful night and immediately approached us to inquire about the “I-can’t-believe-what-a jerk-I-am” expression that was obviously plastered all over my face.

Luiz expressed his sympathy by making sure that my wine glass was extra full and that the garlic fries were extra crisp and garlicky. He also generously confessed to having missed two flights in his lifetime as well. However, the most interesting thing Luiz had to say about my missing my flight was this:

“Isto é seu inconsciente querendo ficar.”

i.e. he placed the blame for my missed flight squarely upon the shoulders of my unconscious, whose desire was, obviously, to stay in New York.

As I let the wine do its work, I had to admit that Luiz perhaps had a point – although, at the same time, I didn’t like to think that my unconscious was irresponsible enough to cause me (us?) to part with $800.

Things got even more interesting the next morning when I woke up and checked my e-mails . The previous night, I had written a quick e-mail to my ex, also named Luiz, in São Paulo, informing him of my changed arrival dates and of what an idiot I was.

In his reply, Luiz, who is also from Minas Gerais, cut right to the chase. Without wasting time on the usual “Oi”s, “Ola”s, or “Tudo bem”s, his e-mail began with the following line:

“Isto é seu inconsciente querendo ficar…”

Which was, word for word, the exact same morsel of psycho-philosophical wisdom that the other Luiz from Minas, at the other end of the continent, had bestowed upon me only hours earlier.

Which seemed to me to be the most amazing coincidence.

And which made me laugh my guts out.

And actually made both me – and my rebellious unconscious – look forward to returning home to Brazil.

(Where I am now – yes, I made it!)

Moral of the Story: Don’t be ruled by your unconscious; always check your departure date days in advance. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt to have a Luiz or two (from Minas) in your life.