The International Incident

by Tyler Cabot

THE FIRST THING YOU SHOULD KNOW IS THAT I'M perpetually late. The second is that I'm disorganized. Usually my method for getting out of a procrastination- or clutter-induced bind is a late-night scurry and/or an apologetic smile. But some problems are harder to fix. Like arriving at the airport less than two hours before your international flight leaves on one of the busiest travel days of the year—without your passport.

The day was December 24, 2004; the airport was JFK; the destination was Paris. It was 7:08 p.m., and my flight was sched uled to leave at 9:00 P.M. My older sister and I were on the way to the check-in counter when I realized my blunder: My passport was exactly where I'd left it the day before. On my bookshelf. In my studio apartment in New York City. A good sixty-minute cab ride (each way) from where I now sat. In other words, I was in trouble. Embarrassingly stupid, self-loathing trouble.

My first thought was, What would Angus MacGyver do in this situation? No, actually, that's not true. My first thought was to give up, head to the bar, drink away my shame, and catch a flight to Paris the next day. But being the older, responsible sibling that she is, my sister started quizzing me. Did I have any friends in town? Someone who could bring my passport, perhaps? No and no. Everyone had left town for the holidays. Plus, my spare set of keys were at the office.

Wait, no they weren't. Seth had them! I had given him my keys the night before. (He'd agreed to pass them on to an out-of-town friend of mine who was coming to New York in a few days and staying at my apartment while I was gone.) Unfortunately, though, after months of gastrointestinal unpleasantness (you don't want to know), Seth had undergone a colonoscopy a few hours earlier—he'd been sipping his chalky prep the night before when I'd stopped by, lamenting his sorry state. For all I knew, he was languishing in bed, still high on sedatives, watching Alias on DVD. It was a long shot, but I was desperate. I made the call.

Seth was not in bed. He wasn't even home. In fact, he was feeling much better. So much better that he was out eating Chinese food. (It seems the toughest part of a colonoscopy is preparing for it.) Solid citizen that he is, he immediately sprung into action. Here's what happened next:

7:13 P.M.: Seth leaves the restaurant in Chinatown, withdraws one hundred dollars from an ATM to cover cab fare, and heads to his apartment to pick up my keys.

7:20 P.M.: My sister checks in for the flight. I plead my case to the "travel counselor," begging her to hold my seat. She shrugs. It is Christmas Eve. It is a flight to Paris. Maybe.

7:32 P.M.: Seth reaches his apartment to get my keys. He tells the cab driver to wait downstairs.

7:40 P.m.: Seth reaches my apartment.

7:42 P.M.: A man waiting to check in overhears my phone conversation; assures me that traffic from Manhattan wasn't too bad.

7:46 P.M.: Seth leaves my apartment, passport in hand.

7:56 P.M.: I assure the travel counselor that my passport is on the way. I smile.

8:00 P.M.: The flight is officially closed. The travel counselor won't give me a straight answer about whether I still have a seat.

8:10 P.M.: I begin pacing uncontrollably.

8:11 P.M.: I despise myself for being so forgetful. I start making false resolutions that I'm going to change my ways.

8:12 P.M.: A nice couple leaves the check-in area, wishing me luck, assuring me that everything will work out.

8:15 P.M.: I dash outside, grab the passport, and hug Seth as the cab driver offers a victory wave from the car. He had made it to JFK from the East Village in his fastest time ever: twenty-eight minutes.

With passport in hand, I dash to the counter and check in. I get my boarding pass. Deep breath, deep breath. Now to security. Breathe. On to the gate. I see my sister. She's waving and jumping up and down. Breathe, breathe. At last, a few dozen yards more, I'm there. And it's just the two of us. The last two people to board the flight. I give the flight attendant my boarding pass, and it's then that something really weird happens; something at first puzzling, and in the end, something miraculous (at least as far as international travel goes). The attendant tells us that our seat assignments have been changed—my sister and I have both been upgraded to first class.

Why did this happen? Perhaps it was a sympathetic gesture or an early Christmas gift. Maybe she simply liked my smile or had no other seats left on the plane. I'll never know for sure. But between sips of fine red Bordeaux—after I'd finished my chocolate pots de creme, but before falling asleep on my bed-size recliner—I reached two important conclusions: Sometimes being forgetful pays off. And the best MacGyver of all is a good friend.

Tyler Cabot, a member in good standing of Procrastinator's Anonymous, is a magazine editor in New York City. He arrives late to work every day.

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