A Travel Nightmare

July 21st, 2010 by Melina

Courtesy of. . . Me

The year was 1983. The destination: a very small, overly picturesque village on Crete’s southern coast. The travelers: me, the 5 year old, and my mother. The reason: My father’s side of the family lives there (and my father flew before we did). And, my father was producing a Joan Baez concert in Heraklion.

That summer was totally fantastic. The trip there? Not so much.

Here. I’ll tell you what happened.

My mother is the best planner I know, and she did everything in her power to prepare me for the trip. I remember sitting on her lap, facing her, while she explained that sometimes airplanes tip ever so slightly when they make turns, but it doesn’t mean there’s a problem. I was worried about my ability to ask my relatives for a drink of water, so we worked on my Greek vocabulary. She’s the best.

Apparently, the trip from San Francisco to Rome was uneventful enough. I pretty much minded my own business and drew a lot of pictures. The TWA (talk about ancient history) flight attendants had glitter on their cheeks, which I loved, and one of them really wanted me to eat at least a few bites of chicken, which I didn’t love.

Then we landed in Rome, where what would have simply been a difficult trip under any circumstances turned into a story that’s still told all these years later.

I don’t know what was happening in Rome in 1983. My mother doesn’t remember anything other than “it was a political situation.” So I don’t know why there were soldiers marching in perfect unison up and down the hallways of the airport.

I also don’t know why I was absolutely convinced they were after my mother. It might have had something to do with the machine guns they had over their shoulders. And those guns, especially to a puny 5 year old, were humungous.

Here’s some kid logic for you: They were going to arrest my mother, even though “I promise, my Mommy didn’t do anything wrong!” and leave me all alone. I was going to wander the airport all by myself for the rest of my life (in this scenario, I wasn’t going to age. I was always going to be 5, kind of like how Big Bird will always be 6).

Here begins the tantrum portion of our story.

Ask my mother why she didn’t take me away from the soldiers, and she’ll tell you the soldiers were everywhere.

Fast forward a few excruciating hours, to the Athens airport. Now, in 1983, pre the fabulous Olympic Games makeover, the Athens Airport was pretty icky (and that’s putting it nicely). To make things even harder, travelers had to take a bus or taxi from the international terminal to the domestic terminal. And we had to get to our flight to Crete.

So, my mother dragged me through the baggage claim, through customs, and outside into the heat. She found a taxi.


I wasn’t a New Yorker then. I didn’t know what a taxi was. My mother hadn’t gone over this with me. All I knew was that Mommy, all of my teachers, the police and even Ronald McDonald said to never, ever get into a stranger’s car. (There were a ton of kidnappings in the Bay Area in the early 80’s, and kids were overly trained to stay safe.)

So why on earth my mother was trying to shove me into a stranger’s car was beyond me, especially since the soldiers in Rome were still after her, even though, and I promise, she didn’t do anything wrong.

Now, you’d think she’d be able to shove me into the taxi, right?


Remember Norma Rae, and that scene where Sally field refuses to get into the police car? (If not, click here and go to the :30 mark.) Yeah. I kind of did something like that.

But really, can you blame me? The driver was this scary Greek guy who was probably smoking and getting annoyed with us.

Yes, we missed our flight to Crete. Luckily, there are a lot of flights to Crete and we probably would’ve missed ours anyway.

I think I’ll keep telling myself that.

The rest of the summer was a great success, by the way. You may have seen some of the photos. I asked for drinks of water beautifully. The Joan Baez concert got rained out and had to be postponed to the following night, which I was kind of bummed about, but check out how I spent that evening instead. Pretty cool, huh?

And yes. I feel really guilty for making that trip so rough. I’ve since apologized to my mother. I’ve also reminded her that it could’ve been worse. A few years later, I was back in the Athens Airport with my step mother and two year old half brother. I puked all over baggage carousel. While it was moving.

Really, you can’t take me anywhere.

Why am I telling you this story? A few reasons.

First of all, I’ve been bitten by the travel bug. I used to travel a lot. I’m totally addicted to the travel channel, am obsessed with Globe Trekker, and the heroine of my third book is the host of a travel show.

Secondly, back in June, Jennifer Weiner had a bad experience on a plane while she was traveling with her two year old. Some bitch in front of her made it even more unpleasant. She put out a call for child related travel horror stories. I was going to send her mine, but with the end of the school year and my mother’s hip surgery there was just no way. But you can read the winning stories here. (You have to scroll down. For some reason, I can’t link to specific posts. Sorry.)

Well, that’s all I’ve got. Wish me luck on my upcoming trip to Orlando for RWA 2010!

Anybody got any travel nightmares to share? That’s what the comments are for!

See ya!

Posted in Classic Mel

7 Responses

  1. Karen Pinco

    A return trip nightmare. My honeymoon. Summer of 1996. We went to Spain. All was well. On the return trip, we were 1 hr out over the Atlantic when the plane turned sharply. Wha Wha Wha in Spanish. I tapped on a shoulder in front for a translation. “Something’s wrong with the engine.” We land back in Madrid to fire engines, evacuate the plane. Turns out it was just the air conditioning which is tied to the engine. Still, we had to get back on that plane – nothing else was available for over a month due to the Olympics in Atlanta, GA.
    We landed in JFK. No gate. Sat on the plane another hour. Finally, we get to a taxi. The highway is closing at midnight and its 11:45. Taxi driver drove over the median and took back roads to get us back to our NY apt.

  2. Melina

    @ Karen Pinco:

    Oh, how miserable. Glad you found an expert NYC taxi driver (and glad you lived to tell the tale).

  3. Cynthia

    I’ve been relatively lucky with no major issues. I usually find myself sprinting the length of the airport to make connections. The heavier the carry-on, the longer the distance and the short the time to do it in.

    I did have to change planes due to technical issues in Dallas (hate, hate, hate that airport). First it was a quick fix and we stayed on the plane, then it was a longer fix and we deplaned, then we switched planes and had to move to another gate. No wonder half my luggage arrived a day later.

    My Aunt got grounded in . . . Chicago I think, because of weather and NO ONE in the family could find her. The hotel she was told she was being put in by the airline, well by the time she was shuttled there the hotel was full. It took a couple of hours before she could finally get ahold a my Uncle to let him know where she was and what flight she was suppose to leave on in the am.

    Oh, and my Grandmother was mugged in the Paris airport. Yes, in the airport. Had to stay over a day so she could get a new passport. Thankfully the tour guide stayed behind with her to help.

  4. Pamela Cayne

    What a wonderful, sad, bittersweet and very touching story–I can’t wait to read one of your books! You’re such a natural storyteller!

    (And once again, I’m asking if you’re going to warn your roommates about your travel peculiarities–just a heads up about your nightmares and tendancy to freak out and/or throw up, you know…) ;-)

  5. Karen Pinco

    I feel obliged to speak in Melina’s defense. She was the ideal roommate last year at RWA. ‘course we were both exhausted and consuming a touch too much wine that we pretty much just passed out:)

  6. Melina

    Aw, Thanks for having my back Karen!

    I remember now. I was in the middle of moving. No wonder I was so tired. Did I really move less than 10 hours after I got back from DC?

    Oh, and that night we were both trying to read and forcing ourselves to stay awake. Remember that?

  7. » Blog Archive » Hi From Athens!

    […] It wasn’t until the plane touched down, I saw an ad for frappe, and got through customs that I sort of accepted that I was here. I bought a cheap cell phone, figured out the Metro, which is easy and beautiful, thanks to the Olympics, and got to my hotel in Athens. It was a trek, but I can’t tell you how much easier it is to fly to Greece now than it was when I was a kid. […]

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