However you take it, flying Caribbean Airlines (CAL) is a trip. It is, however, a “trip” in the sense of what one of my friends callously said to me when my foot hit an obstacle in my path and I pitched forward eventually falling flatly on my butt. “Have a good trip,” he said.
I have never been on a CAL flight where there was no glitch, blooper or bump but I continue to be a perennial optimist—something like the shareholders of the Trinidad Cement Company—give me a bag of horse manure and I will examine it microscopically in the very faint hope that there is a horse hidden inside it, not necessarily one of the Trojan variety, but one that I might be able to ride without unnecessary roughness. One thing about CAL is that it has you coming and going.
I was heading to Barbados last Monday and was looking forward to the trip. Having lived there for several years, and also having fathered two children during that time, I know that it is a place where everything works— too well at times.
My last place of abode was at Groves, St George, Barbados, an area of beauty that overlooks the green plains beneath and from which Bridgetown is a mere rumour. With so many sugar-growing areas around, there is a facility called the Sugar Cane Breeding Station on whose premises I lived.
After two children in rapid succession, we departed, fled really, the precincts of that wonderful place.
Well, instead of a monkey wench in the works we started our journey on CAL with the usual monkey wrench.
The appointed boarding time having passed, and no word from the six females assembled talkatively behind the desk at the gate in the departure lounge, I realised that CAL was having a typical morning. Then when the flight was called, I saw a grumpy pilot appear and I realised why the flight was late.
We handed in our tickets and went, we thought, along the jetway to the plane except that we reached a dead end—this was a small plane and none of the six ladies had thought of telling us to take the stairway down to the ground floor where a bus awaited us.
We got seats on the bus but some of the other passengers, including the pilot, had to stand. They were then told they had to get off the bus and wait for another one.
So when we took off and I saw a flight attendant running towards the flight deck with a cup of coffee, I was sure which pilot it was intended for and I even guessed what had happened the night before to cause him to be late and for us to be delayed.
When we arrived at the airport, one Trini, one Guyanese and two teenage Bajans, all in a bunch, we explained to the Immigration officer that we were escorting our son to Cave Hill to start four years of what we optimistically term “study”.
He asked for our letter of admission and other documents required by foreigners but he gracefully retreated when I told him my son was a native son of the limestone. He was nice even when explaining to my children that they had to redo the form because while black and blue pens are permissible, purple writing is not.
Cave Hill registration was hectic, challenging, confused and confusing. We didn’t just miss the orientation but we lost ours completely.
I understand that the registration process is a university tradition, a cross between hazing and initiation, essentially a rite of power and passage as well, if you count the many corridors we traversed. Even if we didn’t register with the university, it certainly registered on us.
In the melee and sometimes scrum, despite being stumped by all the rigmarole and runaround, I had help from Floyd Reifer, the head of cricket and the interestingly-named Marquita Griffith of the Social Sciences Department.
They are Bajans in the old-school sense—willing to help, gracious and going the extra mile or two.
I reached the airport to take my CAL flight to Trinidad full of the milk of human kindness and ready to add it to some coffee and cinnamon to make a capuccinno. Even at five in the morning, there was a line of about twenty people, proceeding slowly.
I noticed an airport guard standing by looking for somebody to frisk or hassle. Examining the people ahead of me, I was sure that I would be the one chosen, mainly because I stood out like a sore thumb or a Guyanese or a person of East-Indian descent. I really did not want that to happen. I was leaving with really good memories of Barbadian people and institutions heaped on all the good times over the years and I did not want them spoiled.
But as sure as God made little apples, and fat, bald, short, old men of East Indian descent, she pulled me aside and proceeded to search. It was a clear case of racial profiling at its worst. But then I consoled myself. The only other place that had happened to me was also with CAL, but in Trinidad.