“Flight attendants, please prepare the cabin for arrival.”
The announcement woke Kaleb from his sleep. It wasn’t hard to rouse him, he could rarely catch much sleep on flights. He had dozed off somewhere after his departure from JFK. It had been a long night.
Fourteen hours earlier he had caught a redeye from San Diego to New York. A brief stop in JFK afforded him enough time to grab a donut before hopping on his connection to the Caribbean. It was an odd route to take, but the flight was free- well, to an extent. It had been earned through a combination of about $10,000 in credit card purchases, and another $1,000 in airline tickets. Nothing in life is free, but this was as close as one could get.
Raising the shade of his window seat the tropical sun pierced his dilated pupils. Squinting through one eye all he saw was blue. Various hues of the color could be seen all around-a combination of the cloudless sky meeting the unwavering dark blue of the sea.
As the plane descended further, this image remained the same. The only noticeable difference was the addition of a few fishing boats which began to dot the horizon. At about one thousand feet he began to wonder if they were going to land on an island, or the pilot had made a navigational mistake and was going to plunge the jet into the sea.
As this thought entered his mind the sea below began to change. The deep blue gradually gave way a light turquoise- indicative of shallower seas. Even from a thousand feet up the water looked much more inviting than the water back home. California’s coastal waters travel are born in the Arctic Circle, then travel South, before finally circling up from the Equator. This water began its journey from the opposite direction- warmed from the equator before making its way North- and the difference in the disposition of these e two waters was recognizable even from his current altitude.
With this change in color came other noticeable differences in the sea. First more fishing boats smattered the surface of the sea, then waves began to crest as the seafloor below rose from the depths. Surfers could be seen paddling out to what in his mind could only be a perfect tropical point break. and then- land.
The coastline was more jagged, and cliff lined than he had anticipated- but the familiar sight of palm trees and the lush green that pervades the tropics dominated the landscape. Passing over the coast at only 500 feet, the plane would be landing within a minute. The scene framed by his window was now changing at a rapid rate, as the plane hurtled over the land at just a few hundred feet.
The ruralness of the area struck him. Vast expanses of open fields sprawled across the landscape. Occasionally, a cow could be seen grazing. At two hundred feet houses began to have a more prominent presence; however, this was no city.
One hundred feet. Fifty. Finally, touchdown.
“Ladies and gentleman welcome to San Juan, Puerto Rico.” The announcement sends a round of applause up from the passengers- an occurrence that Kaleb had not recalled happening on any flight he had yet been. He was unsure if everyone was cheering because they were thankful to have survived the flight, or because they were excited to be home. He imagined it was a bit of both. Kaleb too felt a desire to cheer. He had arrived, and a small smile crept across his face.
From the time Kaleb first seriously thought of going to Puerto Rico, to the time he purchased the ticket was only forty eight hours. While he was known for making spontaneous decisions, this one was stretch even for Kaleb.
“Well gentleman, thank you for taking the time to speak with me today. I hope that this presentation was informative and gave you a better idea of what our system can offer you. We would love to get a test going of one of our applications to show you the many benefits it will offer. Shall I follow up with you next week?”
Alone in his office, Kaleb was putting the finishing touches on what had been an hour long webinar, led by him, and attended by higher ups from various locations around the country. He had given the pitch 1,000 times, and by this time he could recite it in his sleep- backwards. He knew there would be promises to follow up, and everyone said how great the product was, and how excited they were about it. There was a time too, when Kaleb too would become excited by this positive feedback; however, by this time it had lost its effect on him. It was a routine, and the routine was stifling him.
As the call came to an end, and promises were made for future action, a small window popped up near above his icon tray; a notification of a new email to his personal account. Typically Kaleb had made it a point to deactivate the feature during his conference calls, as his screen was viewable to those around the country to whom he presented and on more than one occasion he had been slightly embarrassed by the subject lines of emails sent from his college buddies, who for some reason always seemed to choose a lewd subject line.
A sense of relief swept over him when he realized this was not such an email. The details given in the notification were minimal. It read:
After claiming his bags and ensuring his boards had safely made the treacherous journey through baggage handlers at three airports, Kaleb grabbed a coffee and went outside to await his ride. He would be staying in Rincon, an area about 40 minutes away from the airport. He had traveled 4,000 miles already, yet he knew the last 50 would be most trying. Although a territory of the US, in his mind, Puerto Rico was as foreign to him as any place. He had a firm enough grasp of Spanish to get around; however, attempting to find a taxi to take you forty minutes from the airport with two surfboards and luggage would be a struggle even back home.
Kaleb had contacted the owner of the house he was staying, Koty, a few days prior to departure. He was calling to inquire as to what the best way to get there was, and to find out the address for the cab driver.
“We don’t have a street address. A lot of places here don’t have addresses,” she had said simply.
Koty had said the 45 minute cab ride would cost about $45- the last 50 miles would also cost more than flying from 4,000 miles away. With no address, she gave turn by turn directions from the airport, which Kaleb frantically jotted down in his notepad. The idea of trying to relay this information to a cab driver in a non native tongue seemed daunting.
“Perdon me, senor. You necesito ir a Rincon. No se la dirrecion, pero es cerca de la panateria.”
“Pardon me, sir. I need to go to Rincon. I don’t know the address, but it is near the bakery.”
Thankfully, minutes after the call had ended, Koty called back. A friend of hers had overheard the conversation.
“If you want, my friend Rody said he will pick you up from the airport for $30.”
Done and done.
And so Kaleb sat waiting for someone he never met to pick him up in another country. Rody was apparently going to be in the area to surf that morning, and for that reason had offered to pick him up. Kaleb was to call him the minute he landed- and Rody would then cruise over to the airport to grab him. Things don’t always go as planned.
Leaning against the airport wall, with his board bag as a backrest, he finally began to soak it all in. He had made it. What had started with an email for a free flight had turned into this: thousands of miles from home, alone in a tropical land, with a week to relax, surf, snorkel and have an adventure- something that had been missing from his life for a time. The trip would be rejuvenation for Koty.
“This is what it is all about,” he thought, “these are the moments that I live for.”
It was a beautiful day. The temperature was just about perfect in the shade where he sat. It was not nearly as warm as he had anticipated, and he was grateful for that. The weather reminded him a bit that of back home; however, there was slightly more humidity in the air. He took this as a reassurance that he had arrived at his tropical destination. A light breeze kept the humidity at bay. Perfection.
A sense of pride overtook him. He had made it happen. He was there. The fact that Rody’s phone had gone directly to voicemail when he called did not even bother him.
“It will work out. Don’t worry about it. You’re here.”
Sitting alone with his thoughts, he decided to give Rody another call. Again- directly to voicemail.
“Rody, it’s Kaleb, I just landed. Give me a call when you get this at 540-232-0444.”
Five minutes turned to twenty which turned to forty. Kaleb began to have his doubts of his ride.
“Oh, well,” he thought to himself. “Guess I will just have to catch a cab.”
The cabbies standing outside the airport had badgered him when he first landed; however, Kaleb had told him that he had someone picking him up. Since then they had stayed at bay, smoking their cigarettes, and drinking their coffee; talking about whatever the gossip of the day was.
As if sensing Kaleb’s building doubt, one asked, in perfect English, “Are you sure you don’t need a ride?”
“No, I am okay thanks.” But he knew within minutes he would likely be packing his stuff into the back of one of their vans and attempting to strap the surfboards to the roof- what’s more he feared that they would sense his desperation and $50 cab ride would turn into a $100 one.
Then, up pulled a green van. The window rolled down, and a scruffy looking, thirty something Puerto Rican stuck his head out of the window.
“Are you Kaleb?”
“Sure am. You must be Rody.”
“Yeah, bro. Sorry I am late, my phone died. Hop in.”