We needed to leave for the airport in an hour, and it seemed we were ready to go. I warily sat down, turned on the television and feigned relaxation from the trip we’d been planning for six months.
The phone rang. My mom.
“We have a major problem. A major problem.”
“They won’t let Dad on the plane.”
My father’s passport would expire in two months; Iceland requires visitors to have at least three month of padding on their passports. Mom said they’d called the U.S. Embassy in Reykjavik to confirm this, and they’d answered, no, he may not come into the country on a passport that expires in two months.
“What do I do? I can’t just leave him here. That would be horrible.”
Yes, that would be horrible. Jeremy and I leaped into action. He got online and called the regional passport office in Chicago (my folks are in St. Louis) and sat on hold repeatedly. I talked to my mom and tried to figure out what to do. Could he run up to Chicago to renew his passport? Could he catch a flight tomorrow? I called our travel agent. I called Mom back. I paced uselessly and exhaled audibly.
Suddenly, it was time for us to leave for the Denver airport (“Are we still even going?”). On the way there, Mom called.
“I left him. We had to, or we would miss our flight. It was awful.”
I pictured my mom and my little brothers heading away from the ticketing desks, waving goodbye to my father, who stood there with his luggage, maybe fishing for the car keys in his pockets. We’d have 10 days on a fabulous trip to Iceland — already paid for — and he’d have 10 days alone in their suburban St. Louis home.
I hung up and turned to Jeremy. “This sucks.”
Dad was going to try to figure out his passport problem and catch a flight in the next day or two. We were staying in Reykjavik for three nights, so if he could get there soon, he’d only miss a little bit of the trip. After that, though, we’d rented a car to drive ourselves south along the coast, and it would be much tougher (and more expensive) for him to catch up with us.
Jeremy and I boarded a flight to Minneapolis, where we would meet up with my mom and brothers for the flight to Reykjavik. We had high winds on the Front Range that day, but somehow our plane didn’t drop out of the sky during the take off into 50 mile-per-hour winds — it just felt like it would. By the time we dragged ourselves into the international terminal at Minneapolis, which, by the way, there are absolutely no signs for in the main terminal, I was crabby and morose.
“Ah, the infamous Fields family is here. I’ve heard a lot about you,” said a chipper blonde woman behind the IcelandAir counter.
“I don’t know how your mom is holding it together,” said another woman, who was checking us in. “I’d be sobbing.”
Apparently our travel woes had preceded us.
“Yeah,” I said, “She’s pretty amazing.” Then I said something off-handed about hoping my dad could make it in the next day or two.
“Oh, don’t worry,” chipper blonde said, “We’ve got him on my flight tomorrow.”
What? My Charlie Brown rain cloud lifted instantly. Chipper blonde had made a few phone calls and somehow eliminated my father’s passport problems.
“How did you do that?”
“It’s magic,” she said, throwing her hands into the air mysteriously.
Boarding passes in hand, we breezed through security to embrace my two brothers and my mother, who looked like she badly needed a stiff drink. I was in better spirits, but she still wasn’t convinced that Dad would get through two sets of ticketing agents — not to mention passport control in Reykjavik — free and clear.
We flew out of Minneapolis at 7:30 p.m. and landed in Reykjavik at 7 a.m. It was gray and misty, just like I expected it to be, and as we rode on the shuttle from the airport to our downtown hotel, we saw a black volcanic landscape everywhere our tired eyes rested. It was amazing, but I was too tired to feel elated. After breakfast and a short nap at Hotel Fron, we ventured out for coffee and a walk around the city center.
My brothers, ages 11 and 13, had never ventured outside of the U.S. So a stop in a foreign grocery store just down from the hotel was a trip for them. They searched for cookies they thought they’d like and Dr. Pepper. (Mom tried to order one of them a root beer one night at dinner, which is a drink they just don’t seem to have in Iceland, so this was quite confusing to our server. She did succeed in ordering Shirley Temples for the boys, minus the cherry, with minimal instruction.) Jon sought out potato chips that resembled those at home. Mom sought toothpaste; Dad had hers. Matt sought any form of sugar that looked edible to his picky sensibilities.
That night we ate pasta and pizza at Little Italy, which was close to the hotel, and got a taste of Icelandic dinner prices. This was a fairly causal restaurant, but prices were around $30 to $40 each. We went to bed exhausted, full of expensive Icelandic Italian food, and wondering whether Dad would arrive in the morning. Little did we know, but Dad was having a nice meal of his own.