Vietnam: Oh Sh@t! D#mn It!

Doesn’t this couple look happy? Aren’t they beautiful? Well, I’m not.


Apparently while Joanie and I have been savoring the sounds, smells (yes, even those) and tastes of Vietnam, the weather gods have been interfering with my son Eli’s arrival in Vietnam. He’s stuck in the Midwest–ice and snow.

After all these years of leading Write, Travel, Transform trips, Eli said he wanted to come along on this one, along with his sister–and of course my partner Karyn and I were thrilled that our two youngest kids would be joining us.

Both Eli and Eliza go to college in Boston. Eliza’s a sophomore and Eli’s midway through a year of grad school. Living in California, we’re always jonesing to see them more, so the idea of traveling with our young adult kids in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia put us in parental heaven.

Eliza flew home to California last week for the holidays and is departing on a flight tonight from SFO with Karyn and some of our workshop participants. But Eli didn’t come home for Christmas. He had the chance to meet his girlfriend’s extended family in Indiana and he wanted to do that. So his plan was to fly out to San Francisco early this morning from Indiana, (or was that supposed to be yesterday morning…after crossing the international date line, it’s so hard to tell!) transfer in Chicago, then get to San Francisco in time to join their 1 AM flight to Taipei.

I’d always been worried about that connection–winter, Chicago, snow, you know? But Eli had 12 hours of wiggle room before making the connection in San Francisco to catch the EVA air flight. He wanted to visit Jenny’s family AND come with us to Vietnam, so that was the plan. I crossed my fingers and tried not to think about it…too much.

I woke up this morning to the news that Eli’s flight had been canceled. Along with a few hundred others. Thousands of stranded travelers. There is no way Eli is making it to tonight’s flight in San Francisco. In fact, once we started texting back and forth this morning, it became clear that he wasn’t going to be able to make it to San Francisco until December 31st, three days from now, which puts him in Hanoi on the 2nd of January (adding in the day you lose in transit).


Note to self: Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out. Let go, Laura. Remember Joanie and her missing passport at the San Francisco airport? Just channel Joanie.

Remember, Eli’s the one having to deal with all of this. All you have do is get up and enjoy another sumptuous breakfast hotel in Hanoi and decide whether you’re going to the Ho Chi Minh museum today.

In the scheme of life, nothing terrible has happened. It’s a missed flight. A change in plans. Eventually, Eli will meet us. And this will just be a good travel story…someday.

Right now, Eli is driving back to Indiana on three hours sleep. When I asked him if I could tell this story on my blog, he said yes. In fact, he offered to supply me with some of the details of just what he’s been through for the past 12 hours.

Here is Eli’s account:

Wake up at 5:00 AM, brush teeth, pack. Leave with Jenny and Mark (Jenny’s dad) for the airport at 5:45. Eat four tangerines in the car.

Arrive at airport at 6:15. It’s tiny — one terminal. The short-term parking was $2/hour. I decide not to check my bag (it’s borderline carry-on/check size). This was a good idea. Jenny and Mark accompanied me in, and waved at me through security. I take four tangerines with me.

Arrive at my gate at 7:15, in time for my 8:45 flight.

Board plane at 8:30 (we’re fifteen minutes late). The flight is half an hour long. Plenty of time to make my 12:15 connection! Look, there’s a text message! My connecting flight is delayed an hour! (it now leaves at 12:24. Cool, makes up for the delay on this end.)

… half an hour later: announcement that they have run out of de-freeze fluid. Meanwhile, my connection has been pushed back to 1:00. I tell Jenny that my flight is delayed. She says if I get stuck they can come collect me again. Eat my four tangerines.

… half an hour later. “We regret to inform you that we won’t be taking off; the rain is coming down and freezing faster than the antifreeze can unfreeze it. We’ll leave in an hour or so”. (Still have time to make my connection: At this rate we’ll leave at 10:00, and get in at 10:30.)

… After sitting around for an hour: Looks like I’m going to miss my connection. Better wait in the enormous rebooking line. Actually, that’s huge. I’ll try calling first. United rep on the phone says I’m totally sunk. It’s not happening. Can’t do it. Earliest I can get you to SF is 2:00 AM. I decide to try the gate attendant.

It’s now around 1:00. I have made it to the front of the line. I have a flight out of SFO at 4:00 PM on American. We’re scheduled to begin boarding at 2:00. All is right in the world. I spend the next hour and a half making an origami flower for the gate attendant.

2:30: Gate attendant comes over. Thanks me for the lovely flower. “But I’m sorry, I don’t have good news.” Goes to intercom: “We will now begin boarding at 3:00; the weather in Chicago is un-landable” (It’s more or less fine where we are, in South Bend). I can still make it. Barely.

3:30: “This flight won’t be leaving until at least 7:00 PM.”

At this point I give up. I tell Jenny to please come get me. I get an Amtrak ticket for midnight. It will get me within an hour’s drive of them at 1:45 AM, at which point they’ll pick me up.

I spend another two hours in line to get my flight changed again — I can’t just change it online, because my flight isn’t officially cancelled.

5:30: Call and get my Eva air flight changed.

6:30: Realize I haven’t eaten anything except tangerines all day. Go get real food.

7:00: Realize that the Amtrak station isn’t in the airport, it’s three miles away. Mark says he’ll get me a cab. I do not have to walk three miles in the snow. And, I didn’t need to spend another hour in a different line to get my checked bag, unlike those poor f**kers who check bags.

And that was approximately my day…Eli

Now he’s on his way back to South Bend.

Will he make it in time to get on our boat cruise on Ha Long Bay? We leave early the morning of the 2nd, so probably not. I have no idea what we can do to help him at this end, but I have a new project to work on–getting Eli to us.

I guess he’s going to get to know Jenny’s relatives a lot better than he thought. But we will miss him in Hanoi!

Pray to the travel Gods for us.

7 thoughts on “Vietnam: Oh Sh@t! D#mn It!”

  1. Oh, the headaches of traveling over the winter holidays!!! I hope he has enough time in Vietnam to get over the jet lag before he has to go home!

    1. The benefit of traveling at 22 is flexibility. He’ll be fine. Hopefully the rescheduled flight (three days later) will not be delayed or canceled! I’m praying!

  2. Oh NO!!! Poor Eli — and his poor moms! What a royal bummer.

    At least Eli is getting to fully appreciate the solid-gold character of Jen’s midwestern kinfolk, no?

    Meanwhile this seems to be the week for travel snafus. My son Jordan was supposed to fly this past Sunday from Boston to Buenos Aires with four of his buddies, for a ten-day holiday. By Sunday evening they got as far as Atlanta, where they were to catch the overnight flight to BA, but when he handed over the document he needed to enter Argentina, for which he had paid an online agency $200, it was lacking the necessary bar code. All his buddies’ documents had bar codes; his did not. Purely the fault of the online agency, which had emailed him the wrong receipt. But the airline wouldn’t let him fly. As it was Sunday night, the agency was closed. At least the airline got him a hotel room at the airport. Monday morning he called the agency and read them the riot act, and they promptly emailed him the correct form, whereupon the airline said OK, but there were no seats left on that day’s direct flight, the best they could do was to send him to Chile instead, and thence to BA. One can imagine his response. Happily, they wait-listed him on the direct flight, and he did manage to get onto it, albeit surrounded by some 20 zealous Mormons who attempted, all night long, to convert him to their loony beliefs. He texted me his relief on arrival at BA this morning — still in the baggy gray sweatpants and Hiro (sake) t-shirt he’d been wearing for three days — only minutes later to text again with the news that his bag had not arrived with him. Eventually the airline located it — still in Atlanta. They promise to deliver it to the lads’ AirB&B apartment by tomorrow afternoon. The joys of modern travel, huh?

    I SO HOPE Eli gets to you in time for that boat ride. I know he would love that, and you would love having him there. Fingers crossed!

    Meanwhile all is well here. Michael is finally feeling human and well again, some nine days after the brachytherapy. And the crowd of his kinfolk has thinned to just his beloved mom, with whom we are very close; she’ll stay with us through next weekend. Our balmy weather has given way to sleet and snow and freezing drizzle, but we are indoors, cosy and warm. Huge hugs and love to Karyn and Eliza, and of course to you — can’t wait to bask in your glorious descriptions of your adventure!

    1. Oh my, Jordy’s adventure. I guess this is part of travel, isn’t it?

      Glad to hear the good news on the home front. I hope I’m providing a little entertainment and a virtual vacation for the two of you!

  3. Here I go again, looking for that silver lining. I’m confident that the spunky Eli will eventually get to where you are. In the meantime, think of all the great raw material you and he are accumulating for some good stories to come. While right now, it is all just a royal pain in the butt for everyone, this episode will become a much-loved, oft-told story in the future. Just like our own long ago trip on the Orient Express where we were trapped all night standing in the WC of the Post Office car as the train limped through Yugoslavia in a blizzard.

    None of which, of course, dilutes my sympathy for what you are enduring. I’m taking a deep breath for you.


    1. I’m good now. I’ve let go of it and just hope his next scheduled flight isn’t detained. We have to wait and see. He’s getting more time with Jenny’s relatives and well…we’re enjoying Hanoi, a city it looks like he is going to miss entirely.

  4. Ahhh…Travel stories…

    I read a Christmastime travel story at the Porter Library Writers group last Saturday. At the break and afterwards three people wanted to share their story with me!
    I think the only reason you might not have a travel story to tell is if you never travel!

    I hope Eli’s has a good ending and you all have some good time together in Vietnam!

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