Passport to Oddville

(G-Vegas airport, 8am)–Leaving is never easy. I needed small bills and raided the boy’s piggy bank for two five spots. I left a Hamilton in their place and then felt guilty enough I gave the boy an additional ten bucks as payment for keeping an eye on his mom, the dog, and the house. He didn’t let loose of it the entire way to the airport.

“Watch out for rattlesnakes, Dad,” he said as we drove headlong into the sunrise. I tried to explain I stood a better chance of getting bitten by a rattlesnake in our own backyard, but he was undeterred. I promised to take a picture of one if I saw it before it killed me.

Leaving has become hard enough that the Band-Aid approach has become the best method of egress. Pull the bags from the car, a quick hug and kiss, and then to the terminal. My boy had no sooner told me to “Have a safe trip,” than I turned around and grabbed for my three bags. They were gone.

Understand, G-Vegas is among the safest places I’ve ever lived or visited. One has to actively try to be in danger or get something stolen. So, when I spotted the guy pulling my bags away from the car, I just assumed he was an over-eager sky cap. I let him go and followed behind. In Costa Rica, nobody will touch my bags but me. Here, I’d let a stranger wade through my socks and t-shirts just to make sure he didn’t drop his dentures in my bag by accident.

As we walked through the automatic doors, I couldn’t help but inquire, “So, what makes me so special that I get help carrying my bags this morning?” I barely noted the guy was wearing one of those golf windbreakers and a pair of shorts on a 36 degree morning.

He looked at me sideways and smiled. “Well, you must have done something pretty special to be going to Costa Rica,” he said. And that was all.

I slowed by half a step. “Um, yeah,” was all I said.

Though it had been a hectic 30 seconds during the goodbye portion of the Band-Aid maneuver, I was 99% certain my wife had not talked to the guy while I was saying goodbye to the boy. There was nothing on my bag or person that indicated I was going to San Jose. So, and pardon my French, how in the fuck did this guy know I was going to Costa Rica?

I stopped the guy in front of the U.S. Air desk and pulled some cash from my pocket to tip him. He smiled, “No, that’s alright,” he said. And then he walked away without another word.

I like my travel to go smoothly. It rarely does. Over the past few years, the odd stuff has run the gamut. Lost luggage in Denmark. Getting locked out on my balcony in Monte Carlo. Illegally entering the country of France. Taking a 12-hour trip to Tunica that should’ve lasted less than 120 minutes. It’s how I travel. However, when things turn all Kafka on me at 8am in my home airport, I know I’m in for an odd week.

“You must have done something pretty special to be going to Costa Rica,” the guy had said. Like he knew me. Like he knew where I was going. Like he knew I drank beer out of a Shakespeare’s cup while handing out candy for Halloween the night before. I was afraid to talk to the guy any more. If he had asked if he could guess my weight, I would’ve run screaming from the terminal. He couldn’t have freaked me out any more if he had said, “You must have done something pretty special to be wearing underwear with sharks on them.”

At the U.S. Air desk, I paid $15 to check a bag, which distracted me enough to briefly allay my fears that I was being followed and fucked with. Then the ticket agent said, “SJO!” She turned to the half-man, half-snowman at the baggage door. “SJO!”

“San Juan?” the guy asked.

“No,” the lady said with the excitement building in her voice. “San Jose, Costa Rica. You wanted to know what SJO was, and that’s it!” This to the guy who would be handling my baggage.

I looked around for a camera. Obviously, this whole “make Otis go to Latin America” thing was a set-up for a hometown version of Punk’d. As I looked left and right, I suddenly noticed the terminal was packed. Saturday morning is not a time when this airport gets busy, so I looked closer. Everybody was wearing name tags and smiling. Charter group, obviously. Nobody at an airport is this happy en masse unless they are going on vacation.

“Costa Rica. That’s where all of those people are going,” the ticket agent explained.

Two hundred people stood in line for another airline, all brimming with Pura Vida excitement.

“So,” I said, measuring my words carefully, “you’re telling me that all of these people are going to Costa Rica? On the one day in my life I am going to Costa Rica for the first time, 200 people are going to the same place from my home airport?”

“Ironic, isn’t it?” the lady said. “Sort of weird. At least they aren’t on your plane.”

I didn’t talk to her about irony. I just looked around at the charter line where everyone wore STOCK name tags and tried to figure out how to pack their carry-on bags.

This is not New York. This is barely York, PA. On any given day–hell, I’d venture in any given week–probably one or two people max leave this “destination and departure” airport for Costa Rica. On the morning I leave, 98% of the people in the airport are going to the exact same place.

My flight to Charlotte boards in a couple of minutes. I’ll assume the half-snowman baggage handler put my luggage on the plane. I will assume I will never see the 200 people in Costa Rica. I will assume everything on this trip will go just fine. But just in case, I’m writing this all down and posting it here.

If you don’t hear from me soon, look for a guy in a golf windbreaker and a pair of khaki shorts who looks like he knows more than he should.

Brad Willis

Brad Willis is a writer based in Greenville, South Carolina. Willis spent a decade as an award-winning broadcast journalist. He has worked as a freelance writer, columnist, and professional blogger since 2005. He has also served as a commentator and guest on a wide variety of television, radio, and internet shows.

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3 Responses

  1. BadBlood says:

    Have a safe trip. Give a shout if you need G-Vegas to assist the fam while you’re away.

  2. Uncle Ted says:

    I love this story.

    BTW, I think you mean “origin and destination” instead of “destination and departure”. I did a lot of GSP stories. Sue me.

  3. BWoP says:

    You give York, PA *way* too much credit.

    Have a great trip.