We all have stories about first impressions and problem solving, here’s one of mine that combines them both.
I saw the road barriers … and promptly dismissed them.
Nawwwww … this isn’t the parade route. If it is I’m sure we can pop out from the other side.
So I parked the rental car in the parking lot on St. John Street (yeah … my new-to-me-car was sitting in my driveway, recovering from a serious overheat two days before), I led my two young friends from a local Church in the direction of the music.
Even though Antigua’s Carnival parade is published to start at 11 a.m., I’ve never seen it begin until around 1’ish. Since I had a flight leaving Antigua for Barbados at 6 p.m. that evening, I wanted to position us near the start of the parade so we see as much as we could before I had to jet off.
After two hours of watching the masqueraders chip, dance and jump, our 3:30 p.m. departure time rolls around and we squeezed our way towards the car – but not after the girls ask to stop for hamburgers, candy and drinks.
My heart stopped as we approach St. John Street.
“I am your PE teacher, I’m here to make you fitta” … It’s a line from a popular soca song for Carnival 2K8 and it was blaring from that direction.
The entrance (and only opening) to the parking lot was 100 percent blocked by the parade that had just turned on that street. Judging by the bands that had just passed, it was guaranteed to take at least another two hours. Yeah … that would be AFTER my flight was scheduled to depart.
Ok … maybe I can still squeeze out. Just one block to Friars Hill Road but there a massive crowd blocking the street. Is there enough of a break in the parade for me to drive in? Yeah … ummm … no. Ok … Laura … you’re a problem solver … solve this one.
I called a friend.
“Zebo … yeah … my dumb blonde streak isn’t over. Would you do me a favor? I parked my car in lot that is blocked by the parade. Yeah … I know … My flight leaves in less than two hours. Would you come pick up the car and return it to the agency when the parade is over? The keys will be left inside. Thanks!”
Ok … car … check.
I pop open the car’s trunk and pull out my luggage and work bag. Of course, this would be one of those trips when I packed heavy.
“OK girls, let’s see if there is there is a gate or break in the fence to the side road.”
Through gravel and grass I lug the burdensome rollerboard bag (with all its extensions open) with my overflowing work bag perched on top. No luck … No exit except through the main entrance and the parade route.
Of course, during my parking lot exit search I passed two former Caribbean Star employees who stop me to chat. “Laura, you’re still in Antigua?” “We thought you were long gone.” “What are you doing?” “ Caribbean Star’ closure isn’t complete yet?” Yada … Yada …
Great. This story will be passed around in no time. Oh well … Less that two hours till departure time and I still have to get a ride to the airport.
“Ok girls … June, take my work bag and we’re going to bust through the crowd as quickly as we can towards Friars Hill. Stay close.”
“Excuse me. Pardon me. Could I just squeeze through?”
The crowd was too thick to make it easy.
Forget it … I’m just gonna go on the street.
So I did.
I, in all my fair skin, summer dress and plaid luggage glory, entered the Carnival parade amidst all the costumed islanders.
I ignored the quizzical looks shot at me and my luggage and two young girls trying to keep up with me. I kept my head high, looked straight forward, walked with intense purpose and smiled at the “Look at the bag lady!” comments and the occasional exclamations of recognition.
We made it. I took my heavy work bag from June and looped it on top of my rollerboard bag.
“Sorry to not be very fun right now but we gotta walk fast so I can get you home in time so I can get a ride to the airport.”
They looked at me like I’m crazy. After what I had just made them do, I didn’t blame them.
So we speed walked down the back streets to the Williams home as I desperately tried to reach Heidi to see if she could pick me up and take me to the airport.
Please don’t be at the parade. Please be at the hotel. Please. No answer the first time but hallelujah she answered the second time.
“Heidi. Hi! I need a huge favor. Are you available to take me to the airport? I parked my car in a lot that’s blocked by the parade and my flight leaves in an hour and a half. Yeah … I know … I’m walking down the street right now. I will meet you on Friars Hill near Epicurean. Thank you! Thank you!”
I deposited the girls safely at their house, give them a quick hug and proceed down the street at a pace speed walkers would envy.
With sweat dripping down my back, my arms aching from forcing my bags through gravel and potholes, and my face burning in the summer sun I make my way to the bus stop near the Epicurean grocery store.
Honk! Honk! “Need a lift?” Beep! Beep! “Hey beautiful, I’ll give you a ride.”
I was a sight to behold posed all alone at the popular bus stop in a trademark Laura dress, bright blonde hair, sunburned face with now-dirty luggage – just three blocks up from where the Carnival parade and most Antiguans were in full bacchanal.
Heidi and Ashif rescued me and quickly carried me to the airport.
I was among the last to be checked in for the Caribbean Airlines flight. In all my sticky, sweatiness I was recognized by the airport supervisor as the airline’s new PR consultant.
I smiled and forced myself to push aside the fluster and muddle in my mind to offer the usual professional questions and responses. And I had to do it all again a few minutes later when I boarded the aircraft and, one-by-one, the flight attendants came to introduce themselves.
How nice! Of course … this would happen when I am I sure I look like a mess and probably smell as if I just completed a two-hour workout in the gym. What a first impression.