For months, I was looking forward to a vacation in Jamaica, my mother's home. Much of her family, 25 of us in total, was due to converge at the Montego Bay airport on the afternoon of Friday the 13th.
The last-minute prep was harried. My passport arrived the day before departure. And at nearly 5 a.m. under a full moon, we were en route to the Atlanta Airport for our flight.
We arrived at the Delta terminal shortly after 6 a.m. While one attendant was checking bags, my mother and I showed another my 15-month-old daughter's birth certificate.
"Where's her passport?" he asked my mother. He's holding mine, I thought, but he can't possibly be talking about the baby. No passport.
"I've flown with her tons of times with her birth certificate," I protested. "No one at the travel agency mentioned a passport."
The attendant, Charles, tells us he will get my husband, daughter and me on the only other flight out that day at no extra charge. We just have to get her a passport and get back to him by 11:14 a.m. sharp. He somehow believed we could do that.
We drove to the Atlanta Passport Agency. I headed for a nearby photo shop with the baby. The woman who takes the passport photos insisted on getting an adorable shot of my irritable daughter. But it was taking forever and I was sweating.
The passport agency is like the DMV. People wait for their alphanumeric ticket to light up a screen, allowing them hope for an international future. We submited an application to a man who heard our plight. He rightly labeld us idiots with his eyes and gave us a ticket. He also told us passports don't get made in less than an hour, which is how much time we have if we intended to check in to our 12:15 a.m. flight. Amazingly, our ticket is the next to light the screen.
Next, we speak to an employee named Derek. He says he'll do his best, but confirms the previous sentiment: We are expecting the impossible. "Why would Charles get our hopes up?" I keep wondering.
We sit. The baby falls asleep. Pete asks Derek for an update, only 15 minutes after we left him. I watch from afar. It doesn't seem like good news. Pete returns. "He says 10 minutes."
My heart flip-flops. We have a chance!
I get the car and meet him out front. He's got the passport. It's 10:50 a.m.
While he dials Charles, we book it back to the airport. Charles is disturbingly relaxed. He knew we'd make it. "Is Charles an angel?" I wondered.
Pete and the baby get checked in with Charles while I park the car. I return and we speed through security to our nearby gate.
"Have we missed boarding?" Pete asks, out of breath. In a Jamaican accent that could soothe a dragon, the attendant replies, "Nah, mon. We have not started!" And with that last blessing, we make our flight to join the family in Jamaica.
It shouldn't have happened, and I offer this as an admonishment to gather all details when you travel this summer.
But it did happen, so I also offer this as reassurance: There are good people out there going above and beyond for strangers and making the impossible an incredible, tropical reality.