May 23rd, 1990
Ramada Renaissance, Royal Antiguan Resort
Deep Bay, Antigua
“Shit!” I shrieked, yesterday morning, when, just a few miles from Heathrow, my car started losing power and the engine light came on, followed by a sputtering sound that made me think my precious VW Golf might be about to explode. I pulled onto the hard shoulder, turned off the ignition and waited a few minutes before starting it again, at which point, the engine made a growling sound and the warning light shone like a beacon.
“Bollocks,” I uttered, through gritted teeth, as I shut off the ignition.
Thoughts of floating in crystal-clear waters and drinking from tall frosted glasses adorned with little umbrellas, propelled me out of the car, onto the hard shoulder, in uniform, in the pelting rain. I reluctantly popped open the bonnet and was promptly met with a huge puff of smoke that caught in the back of my throat and made me cough. I had no idea what I was supposed to be looking for but when I spotted the cap on the oil reservoir I shouted, “Oil!”
I slipped on my way to the back of the car (lovely ladder in my stocking, ugh!) and frantically rummaged around in the boot, looking for the black pouch Jon insisted on giving me after he helped me buy my first car.
“Keep this with you at all times, McGarr,” I distinctly remembered him saying.
I’d never opened the pouch before but inside, I found a bunch of cables, a chamois cloth, an ice scraper and a container of oil.
“Cheers Jon,” I shouted, stepping precariously to the bonnet.
Thanks to some tedious instructions from Jon one Sunday afternoon a long time ago, I clicked open the oil reservoir and waited as the tank greedily drank down the entire contents. By the time I got back into my car, I was absolutely drenched. I waited a few seconds before turning the key in the ignition.
“Yes!” I squealed, observing that the engine light was no longer illuminated.
I drove much too fast to the crew car park, dragged my suitcase out of the boot and legged it to the awaiting bus. Once we were out of the parking lot, I discretely changed my stocking then I brushed my hair enough that it dried a little and slapped on a fresh coat of lipstick. To see me stepping off the bus, one would assume I had all the time in the world but inside, I was experiencing sheer, utter panic.
“Four kilos over,” is not what I wanted to hear when I dropped off my suitcase.
“Can you just keep it for a minute, please. I think I’m too late for check-in.”
Stan the suitcase man bobbed his head in agreement and I swiftly made my way up the stairs, to Crewing.
The woman behind the desk continued to scribble something as I stood, pleading my case on why it was imperative I remain on the trip.
“Basically,” she said, staring at me, with her hands on her ample hips. “You’re too late. I already called somebody out on QRS.”
Those three letters were music to my ears and I wasted no time dashing back downstairs to the payphones.
“Pick up, pick up,” I muttered, my heart racing.
“Good morning, Excelsior…”
“Is that you, Bajet?”
“Yes, who is calling, please?”
“It’s Karen Mc…”
“Oh but of course, I did not recogni…”
“Bajet, sorry, do you know who just got called out for the Antigua trip?”
“Oh, but yes,” she laughed. “He is standing in front of me.”
“Brilliant! Can you put him on the phone, please? Hurry! Please,” I uttered as I heard a slight rustling sound followed by a gruff, “Hullo?”
“Hi, ehm, listen, ehm, I just checked in late for the Antigua trip that I requested months ago with some friends, my bloody car, anyway, sorry, is there any way that…”
“Do what? You asking me to turn me nose up for a fourteen-day trip?”
“I know, I’m sure you can’t believe your luck but the thing is…”
“Luck? You must be kidding, I’m about to slit me wrists.”
“Nah. It’s the missus’ birfday tomorra and I don’t get brownie points for being away.”
I was so shocked I couldn’t speak. “Besides,” he continued, “I can’t imagine any fink worse than being stuck on an island with no footie on the ole custard and jelly.”
“The what? Oh yeah, of course, the telly. Ehm, can you wait there and I’ll ring you right back.”
I didn’t wait for his reply.
Upstairs (this time I ran and someone yelled, “No running in uniform!”) I went, back to surly Shirley at the crew desk.
“You again,” she snarled.
“Yes, yes, listen, ehm, Shirley.” I pronounced her name as sweetly as I could. “I rang the QRS guy you called out and he agreed to let me stay on the trip…”
She took a step back. “Who died and made you the Queen?”
Had I not been so stressed, I would’ve laughed at her expression but time was of the essence.
“I really need this trip.”
She glared at me. “Then you should’ve made more of an effort to show up on time.”
“Please. Please”, I pleaded, in a tone that’d induce some serious eye rolling from me if it wasn’t actually me speaking!
Shirley shook her head and my stomach lurched. “Be off with you, then,” she said, waving her hand dismissively. “I’ll have crew transport outside in two minutes. Go!”
“Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” I shouted, over my shoulder.
“No running in uniform!”
Back downstairs at the luggage check-in area, my heart in overdrive, I pointed to my suitcase.
“That’s mine right there. I just need to fill in the crew label before you take it.”
“It’s still four kilos over,” Stan stated.
I glanced outside and saw a bus pulling up. I scribbled ANU on the crew label, along with the flight number, just as the bus driver came into the building.
“Antigua?” he yelled.
“That’s me!” I said, catching Stan’s eye.
“Off you go,” he smiled. “I’ll sort it out.”
“Thank you sooooo much!”
I boarded the aircraft with the last of the passengers and was met at the door by Seamus, the Cabin Service Director (aka my boss.)
“You’re not Kevin Hanley,” he said, pushing his wire rimmed glasses farther down his nose.
“No, I’m Karen McGarr,” I announced, as calmly as I could muster. “I was on the original roster.”
You’re late, Miss McGarr.”
“Yes,” I nodded. “I’m very sorry.”
“We’ll discuss this later,” he said, trying not to smile. “For your penance, you’re working down the back.”
I thought I was going to burst with excitement and relief as I made my way down the aisle, wedged between the tardy passengers, being greeted by Laney as she manned the door.
“You made it!” she mouthed, scrunching up her shoulders and shaking her fists in a gesture of glee.
Of course I did!