The boy in Brazil

by Todd Habiger
todd.habiger@theleaven.org

In my last blog, I told of my misadventures in Peru during my 1995 trip there for The Leaven documenting Catholic missionary activities with freelance photographer Doug Hesse.

The second leg of our journey took us to Brazil. It was in Brazil that Doug and I were to split up. Doug would be leaving to visit a group of Atchison monks at their monastery in Mineiros, Brazil. Meanwhile, I was to meet up with Bishop Herbert Hermes, OSB, and explore his Prelacy of Cristalandia.

The plan was for the monks to meet us at the airport, pick up Doug and take him to Mineiros. As for me, I was supposed to hop on a bus and get off at Cristalandia.

The only problem was, the bus wasn’t scheduled to stop in Cristalandia. I was somehow to tell the bus driver I wanted off there despite the fact that I didn’t know a word of Portuguese, the language of Brazil. Seemed like a pretty poor plan to me, but being young and naïve, I didn’t have the guts to say to those who planned this aspect of the trip, “Are you out of your mind?”

Thankfully, Bishop Hermes decided to come pick me up. I’m pretty sure he saved me from forever being trapped on that bus.

The trip to the bishop’s house turned out to be a two-day affair. We stopped at a monastery along the way to spend the night. The one thing I remember was going to bed and watching the floor “move” because there were so many little bugs on it. It was probably a coincidence that I felt itchy all night.

Bishop Hermes gave me the grand tour of his prelacy. The only issue we had was with his French-made pickup. It decided to act up the day we headed out on our grand tour. It wouldn’t start without a good push and pop of the clutch.

Guess who’s job it was to push? Yep, mine.

Despite the truck issues, all went well until the day I left to head home. This trip had been meticulously planned so that I would arrive home on the date of my third wedding anniversary. After two weeks away, I was excited to get back to my wife Lori.

The first issue came after lunch. As we finished up, the bishop said he thought that we would go back to the monastery where we spent the night and take a nap. He would then take me to the airport.

Earlier he told me that the airport was two hours away. Looking at my watch I saw that my plane departed in about two hours. I said to the bishop, “Do you really think we have time for that?” He seemed irritated when I asked this but said we could head to the airport right away.

Somewhere along the way to the airport, I noticed that we increased our speed from 70 mph to about 90 mph. When we stopped at a river to wait for a ferry to take us across, the bishop admitted that he got the times wrong and we were now behind schedule.

After the ferry took us across the river, we were off again at unsafe speeds. When we pulled into the town where the airport was, the bishop pulled into a gas station to ask for directions.

I looked at my watch. I had five minutes to make my flight.

The bishop got directions, got into the pickup, and promptly killed it. Remember how I said earlier that I had to push the truck to get it to start? Well, I jumped out of the truck like a shot and started pushing.

By some miracle we made it to the airport in time and I was off to Brasilia and my connecting flight. Little did I realize that this wouldn’t be my last close call.

In Brasilia I had a two-hour layover. I immediately got in line for my connecting flight. An hour and a half later, I was at the front of the line. The ticket taker looked at my ticket and said in her best English, “Must pay airport tax.” I asked her where to did this. She gestured, I thought, to the line one over.

The trouble was, that line was twice as long as the one I spent an hour and a half in. After about 15 minutes at the back of that line, I realized I was never going to make my flight unless I did something drastic. So, I cut to the front of the line. The girl in this line told me I needed to be in the line that I just came from. Confused, I immediately cut back to the front of that line. The ticket taker once again said, “Must pay airport tax.”

I said that the girl in that line said that wasn’t where I needed to be. The ticket taker shook her head and pointed me off in the same direction she had before, but seemed to indicate that I needed to go further.

So off I went in search of where to pay this airport tax. After five minutes of looking, I started to panic. My plane was going to depart in five minutes. So I rushed back to the front of my original line and asked the girl if I could just pay her the airport tax. She glared at me and again said, a little grumpily this time, “Must pay airport tax.”

And I lost it.

I started shouting.

“Where? Where do I pay this airport tax? I’ve been all over this airport. My plane is getting ready to leave and I’m not on it because I can’t figure out where to pay this airport tax.”

I finally got through to her, because she leaped out from behind her counter, grabbed my hand and dragged me to the place where I was supposed to pay the airport tax. It was tucked away into a place I would have never found it.

I paid the tax and got my ticket punched. As I boarded the plane, they shut the door behind me and took off within the minute. I was sweating, stressed out and worried what my next connecting flight in Rio would bring.

Arriving in Rio, I realized I again had a two-hour layover. But after my previous experience I wasn’t taking that time for granted. Thankfully, I was flying American Airlines into Miami. I made it through check-in in no time at all. God bless American.

I sat down, relaxed and waited to board the plane. Unfortunately, the departure time for my plane came and went. After a half hour had passed, an announcement was made that there was a problem with the plane and they were looking for other options for us.

After four hours, we finally boarded a plane bound for Miami. Suddenly, my long layover in Miami didn’t look like it was going to be that long. When we landed in Miami, I had 10 minutes to get through customs and to my connecting flight.

I got though customs quicker than I thought and looked for my connecting flight. I was on the other side of the airport. So I sprinted. Up escalators. Down escalators. Across the airport. I sprinted into my terminal, ticket in hand, out of breath saying, “Did I make it? Did I make it?”

The ticket taker looked at my ticket and pointed out the window and said sadly, “I’m sorry son, she just pulled out.”

And there it went. I was probably only a minute late.

Dejected, I set about trying all over again to get home for my anniversary. It was 5 a.m. At 6 a.m. I called Lori, almost in tears, telling her my sad story. I had found a flight home but I wouldn’t get there until 6 p.m. So much for spending the day together.

From Miami I went to Chicago. In Chicago they overbooked the flight, so they bribed people to get off and take a later flight. Thanks to the overbooking, we left 15 minutes behind schedule.

I was never so happy to land in Kansas City. All I could think about was getting off the plane and falling into the arms of my beautiful wife. As I saw people in front of me get off the plane and hug loved ones, I was so excited. I walked off the plane into the airport, looked around and saw — nothing. Lori wasn’t there.

I just stood there. What the heck? Now what was I going to do? I went into the restroom, splashed some water on my face and tried to figure out what to do next. As I left the restroom, I looked in the distance and saw Lori walking, her face in a magazine, munching on a snack.

I walked down to her, and when she finally looked up, she said with shocked surprise, “Oh, hi.”

Two weeks away and I get an “Oh, hi.”

Now, in her defense, the airport had marked my flight as delayed so she had no idea if it would land in two minutes or two hours, so she left and grabbed a snack and something to entertain herself. The, “Oh,hi,” was more out of embarrassment than anything else.

I was finally home.

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