To park and fly or to go by taxi? – that was the question.
Either I could pay approximately $10 a day for long-term parking near Mineta San Jose International Airport and take a shuttle bus to the terminal or I could call a cab or airport coach – approximately $40 each way for the taxi.
I had booked a 6 a.m. flight to Tampa. With one stopover, I’d be in Florida by 4 p.m., giving me enough time to rent a car and drive to my folks’ house before dark.
Making an early-morning flight reservation has always been a high-risk proposition for me, on several counts. For one thing, 4:30 a.m. comes too soon after midnight, when I normally fall into bed. For another, that’s not my time of day, to put it gently. Premature rising usually causes me to do things like pour the coffee water through the filter instead of through the proper channel, or feed the cat cereal instead of feline food.
Considering that the airlines have the upper hand these days, as travel writer Pauline Frommer attests in a recent New York Times travel section, I recently had no alternative but to travel to Tampa in the dawn’s early light. There just weren’t that many flights available, and the lower fare and shorter trip length made the choice a no-brainer. To assure that I arrived at the airport on time, I called for a cab the night before departure.
Thanks to my brilliant idea to reheat the previous day’s coffee in the microwave so that I couldn’t mess it up, I was packed and dressed in time for the taxi pickup.
I met my half of the bargain. All I had to do was to settle into the backseat of the station wagon and hang on to my boarding pass.
Then I heard a raucous noise on the right side of the cab. The driver turned around and looked alarmed. I was already annoyed with him because the meter totaled $10 by the time we hit Lawrence Expressway, when he should have cut through the neighborhood.
He kept driving, not answering my question about whether anything was wrong. The bumping noise grew louder, though, and as he pulled over, he said he thought something was wrong with the tire. Sure enough, it was flat.
The travel gods were laughing at my hubris. Even with the best-laid plans, travel involves change and flexibility. All kinds of natural disasters or calamities can strike, calling on us to rely on inner resources. At the gym, we stretch to stay limber.
I glanced at the clock, which read 5:11 a.m. Luckily, we had pulled over near the Mineta International Airport sign. Still, it didn’t seem like he could change a tire that quickly.
“I have to get inside this opening,” he said, pointing to a door in the floor right under my feet.
After rummaging around for a while, he informed me that he couldn’t access the tire, because the car needed to be jacked up so that he could reach underneath.
Nasty thoughts occurred to me. This is the sort of thing that happens in rural areas of undeveloped countries, I thought rather snottily. Next, I focused on the cab company. Couldn’t someone have checked the tires before the driver left? Boy, that company’s not getting a good review from me.
The driver got on his cell phone as I ruminated revenge, calling the dispatcher for another cab to get me.
“They’ll be here in just five minutes,” he promised.
Phew. I recalled the beginning of Andrew McCarthy’s book, “A Long Walk Home,” in which his saintly wife laughs when their car breaks down on the way to the airport as they’re preparing to leave Africa. I remind myself that there are no guarantees when you travel, whether you park in the long-term lot or hire a driver. You just have to sit back and enjoy the ride.