Empty Seat to San Juan.

All packed and ready to go.  My wife, Winnie, had never been in an airplane.  She was petrified as she was about to board a DC9 for San Juan, Puerto Rico. To calm her nerves, she had just swallowed a sedative at the water fountain, in the Philadelphia International airport, as prescribed by her doctor.  Being so nervous, she promptly threw up the pill in the fountain, and it washed away down the drain.  The rest of the prescription was in her luggage, now loaded on the plane.

For the preceding month, Winnie successfully recruited her friends to join us on the trip to support her. But in her frightened state, she just could not force herself to go.  A DC-9, which I had chartered, was waiting on the tarmac with everyone’s baggage loaded, including my Winnie’s. Since the passengers were all my business and personal friends, most of whom re-arranged their vacations on Winnie’s behest, I had no choice but to go, leave her at the airport, and depart alone with our friends on the DC 9 without Winnie.   She knew that I had to do this.  So be it! Her decision! I had no alternative. I waved goodbye. She watched from the pier window and waved.

As we approached the plane, the pilot and the first officer were talking under the shade of the wings.  One of our boarding passengers was blind with a Seeing Eye dog.  Another passenger helped the blind man up the stairway.  The Captain offered to take the dog onto the plane to sit in a cage, beside the blind passenger.  As with most pilots, the Captain was wearing the typical aviator type dark sunglasses.  When the Captain entered the cabin, the guide dog led him to his master’s seat. A lady in the second row looked up and saw the Captain with dark glasses, and a Seeing Eye dog leading him.  She let out a screaming gasp, startling everyone aboard, including the Captain.  The disconcerted Captain turned towards the cockpit completely distracted, and walked right into the open door of the forward rest room. The frightened passenger barked, “These airlines are just going too far with this seniority business.”  Right behind the pilot was the fun loving co-pilot, who coincidentally, when stepping aboard sported very heavy, thick, beer bottle bottom, type glasses. He reached out pretending to feel his way through the entrance and into the cockpit, just for a laugh. The passengers weren’t amused. Enough fun already, let’s go.  Since this was a chartered flight, not a commercial airline, a little levity was tolerated. After calming everyone, following the unplanned humorous greeting, the plane was cleared for takeoff to San Juan, Puerto Rico, for what was destined to be a very interesting vacation.

As we arrived at our cruising altitude, the Captain turned on the mike and announced that we were now cruising at 20,000 feet.  The weather reports were excellent all the way to San Juan.  He wished everyone a pleasant trip, then screamed “OH MY GOD!” and the mike went dead.  The passengers were now quite petrified, some very upset, and others praying loudly and audibly.  After a few very long minutes, which seemed like hours, the Captain returned to the mike and calmly explained.  “I want to beg the pardon of all of our passengers, and give you an clarification of what happened when I shrieked, OH MY GOD!  At that moment, the flight attendant was delivering me a cup of steaming hot coffee, and spilled the whole cup on my lap, giving me a scalding unpleasant reaction everywhere in the area.  You should see the front of my pants.”  With that, an irate passenger shouted back, “You should see the back of mine!”  The plane landed safely without further incident, at San Juan.

Now on with our vacation, and the rest of the story!  I checked into the Pan Am Hotel, with my luggage and all the new clothes.  I also had the luggage that my wife bought for this trip she never took.  What happened? It gets better.  Read on. I can’t wait to tell it to you.

At the Pan Am Hotel in San Juan, I proceeded to unpack everything, including my wife’s clothes, which were in our jointly shared suitcases. I just hung my wife’s dresses in the closets randomly with my clothes, in no special order, to reduce wrinkling.  Shoes remained in one smaller suitcase, unopened.  The next morning, after breakfast with my friends, I returned to my room.   The maid was just leaving and she asked: “You expect company Senor?”  No I replied.  I noticed a rather quizzical smile on her face, but disregarded it at the time.

After breakfast the next day, I once again encountered the same maid on the balcony, leading to the rooms.  She and another maid stopped their chores and both were examining me as I approached my room.  Friendly, I thought, and a special smile.  When I left to explore the town, I got another eyeball examination, but now by three maids. This time they continued looking as I walked all the way along the open air balcony, overlooking the Hollywood style swimming pool on the way to the elevator, about 50 feet away.  As I turned and looked back, the maids quickly turned their heads, assuming that I would not know that I was being examined, for some reason.  Then I had a revelation. The maids had either presumed that I had a liaison planned with a lover, yet to arrive, or that I was a cross dresser on a San Juan holiday.  I figured this out all by myself. When I returned to the room, all of the clothes, which I had randomly hung in the closet, were now neatly separated into two sides of the closet – one side for me, and one for my nonexistent lover or my transvestite adventure.  For the next five days, each morning the maid re-inquired, “Senor, you are expecting company today?“  “No, not today”, I replied.

In the casinos the first night, I sat alone at the bar and had several friendly smile and nod greetings from the men at the bar, and an invitation to join them in some kind of a party.  I declined.  Then, ladies at the bar also became very friendly. I must have lit a dozen or more cigarettes for scantily dressed, half bare bosomed, lonely ladies who seem to be smoking a lot and needed a lot of lights.  The pretty girls were wearing lots of make-up, were sitting by themselves, or with a few other girls at the bar.  They were similarly attired, all smiling at me.  They were very friendly girls.  I thought there might be a high school reunion or something in town.   After the second or third time this happened, I realized that my reputation of having women’s clothes in my closet had preceded me.  It was probably presumed that I would make an interesting companion for the evening for some lonely man or woman.  I don’t know if I should have been flattered or insulted, but whatever, I was uneasy and embarrassed. I left the casino to join my friends in the hotel’s restaurant.  The good part is that I won enough money that night to pay for the entire trip to San Juan and did not have to entertain the boys or the girls, who were so sociable.  I regret that my wife did not enjoy the sights and good times we all shared in old San Juan, and the other tourist adventures.  Winnie was only 43 years old at the time, but never during her entire life, did she ever get on an airplane.

On the flight home, we flew with another chartered airline.  Although the flight was uneventful, we did notice that the Captain and the first officer made several trips up and down the aisle during the flight, seemingly looking for something.   When we landed, I asked the Captain if they lost something on the plane, which required the scanning of the cabin during the flight.  He said no, just a little communications problem with the airport tower staff in San Juan.  They were given a message that on our plane, there was one armed man on the plane and to be sure he was not seated by an exit.  Since firearms were forbidden on aircraft with the exception of law enforcement passengers, our assumption was they did not want this passenger to be sitting beside an escape route in case he would try for a quick exit.  When the passengers rose to disembark, sure enough, there he was, just as they advised, “a one armed man” passenger. Some things get lost in the interpretation when the tower staff is bi-lingual, and especially when the first language is not English, and indefinite or definite articles are dropped in a sentence.  As the passengers disembarked, the police cars were waiting for the plane, but they quickly disbursed and we all went home.

A voice came over the speaker as we were unloading. “This is your Captain speaking.  Thank you for flying our airline, where we have some of the finest planes in the air.  We also have some of the most beautiful stewardesses in the fleet.  Unfortunately we didn’t have any on this flight.  Try us again next time.  Traveling can be such fun. “