• In partnership with John Reamer and Associates •
Down by the pebble-strewn shore, the river looked as still as a lake, transforming from waterway to a long, glass mirror as the afternoon rendered into evening.
It was one of those glorious days when the air feels neither too hot nor too cold, and the Mississippi reflects the deep, cloudless sky, the lush green shore and, somehow, the very exuberance of one of the summer’s best offerings.
On the first full day of the next leg of my journey through Central America, I was enjoying it to the fullest — but I was not in El Salvador, where I had planned for months to be on this date (Tuesday of this week). I was nowhere close. In fact, I was back in Minneapolis, stranded in the U.S. after one of the most hellacious travel disruptions of my life.
And it was pretty damn great.
One day earlier, I had trekked to the Detroit airport before 6 a.m., filled with expectation for the start of three-plus months in El Salvador, not yet realizing I was going absolutely nowhere. Well, nowhere I had planned anyway.
The decimation happened very quickly.
I got up to the Spirit Airlines counter and the agent eyed my reservation, then asked me the question I was expecting to hear.
“You don’t have a return flight?”
I was ready for this. I have this conversation so often, I’m rehearsed at it by now — 13 months into buying only one-way flights, many of them out of the country. Some airlines get nervous when passengers don’t have a return planned, because there is no guarantee a country won’t deny them entry (and in that case an airline is responsible for flying them back to the U.S.).
Every time I’ve done this, I’ve calmly recited the visa requirements, assured them I have plans to exit the country by bus rather than by air, answer a few extra questions and go on my way.
But this time was different. Not having a return flight was a deal breaker.
“Ma’am, I’m sorry, we’re not going to let you on this flight,” the woman told me. “We can’t let you leave the country today.”
The next thing I knew, my flight had been cancelled, two managers had washed their hands of me and I had collapsed into a confused, woefully under-rested pile of a person next to a fake plant in one of those sad airport corners, staring down thousand-dollar options to rebook a flight that was probably busy boarding someone else into my seat at that very moment.
In the span about 15 minutes, my travel plans had been completely upended, with no immediate fix on the table. I was in the wrong city, the wrong country and by all appearances, getting back on track would cost me at least a week and hundreds of dollars.
I momentarily considered crying, but didn’t have the right sunglasses for it. I tried screaming, F-bombs reverberating off the Spirit check-in podium, off the concrete parking garage walls as I wandered aimlessly for 20 minutes looking for the ride-share pickup zone, which I could not manage to find in my state.
And then I realized that since my fate had been sealed, I should probably enjoy this lovely late July day.
So I took a Lyft back to the hostel I had checked out of, pulled the key back off the counter and slept a couple more hours — then got up, scootered to get a loaded egg bagel sandwich and a cold press and whipped out my laptop to make a plan B.
Two hours later, I was trekking BACK to the Detroit airport, this time for a quick hop over to Minneapolis — given my multitude of friends and free places to stay here — where I’m biding the time before making another go at my delayed itinerary.
Soon, the other pieces started falling into place, too. Spirit finally agreed to refund my cancelled flight. My San Salvador Airbnb hosts allowed me to push my reservations without penalty. A friend with travel industry experience found a way to get me to get me there cheaply the following week.
It looked like I would barely lose any money in the mishap after all, and since I’m in control of how long I stay in El Salvador and when I leave, it didn’t really feel like I was losing time either.
Instead, I just gained another week in Minneapolis, during perhaps the best weather stretch of the year.
I get to see more of the people I love. I get to go to a cool show (Surly reached out with tickets to the sold out Tame Impala concert tonight). I get to indulge in more cold beers on more patios. More late-night guitar sessions. More brunch plans. More river walks.
Hmm. Perhaps I should actually go thank that Spirit agent.
Next week, I’ll try this thing again. I’ll get on a different (non-Spirit) flight to El Salvador. I’ll pick up where I left off.
But for the next few days, I’m going to enjoy the last remnants of ruined travel plans to the fullest. Because it’s pretty damn great.