In Search of Cozumel

We left our hotel in Portland at 4:00 a.m. We stood in line to check our bags for almost an hour. Then we combatted Disneyland-like lines snaking around the TSA checkpoint. That put us at our gate at 5:35 a.m. Our flight was supposed to leave at 5:45. No time for breakfast. I thanked God for the coffee I gulped down at 3:45 a.m.

The captain introduced himself and began to speak.

“Folks, we can’t take off for a while. We were all set to push back from the gate, then we got a message that thunderstorms were grounding planes at DFW. I always tell my kids, if you want love, ask your mother. If you want truth, ask me. I’m gonna give you the truth. And the truth is, we’re going to be sitting here for awhile, at least an hour. So relax. I’m going to come around and greet any veterans we have on board. Thank you for your service. Be sure to raise your hands so I can find you.”

We got our breakfast snack  boxes, once we were airborne, for free due to the delay. So the flight that should have been about 6 hours turned into 8, as we couldn’t land right away.

“It’s your captain again. Turns out it’s still storming, and planes got backed up. And now there’s a dog on the runway. Can you see the police cars down below? You can’t make this stuff up.”

The groundings at DFW pushed our flight to Cozumel out later, too. Originally, we had a 45-minute layover. It stretched into over an  hour.

“We can get some lunch,” Jonathon said, checking the status on his phone.

My stomach rumbled for joy.

We got off the plane at 12:30 p.m. Our new flight time was 1:09. We stopped at McDonald’s to get some real food. We stood off to the side, waiting to pick it up.

The airport’s announcing system crackled to life. “Flight 1256 to Cozumel out of Gate D21, last call.”


We dropped our McDonald’s beeper and ran to gate D21. Okay, true confession: subconsciously, I’d always wanted to do that. You see it in old movies. People start running to the gate to make a flight, or to stop someone from taking off and taking your heart with them.

Yeah. Real life isn’t quite so romantic.

“Where is Gate D21?” Jonathon asked. We were both panting a bit.

Leave it to DFW to start numbering backwards once the D gates diverged. It was another quarter mile down. I started to feel the strain of sprinting in sandals. We reached the gate just behind a family of four. We tumbled into our seats. I looked at my watch. It was 12:48. Why so early?

“Well, the gate clock said 1:05,” Jonathon said.

Mystery solved. Somebody needs to synchronize their watches.

So, no lunch. At our cruising altitude of 33,000 feet, Jonathon gnoshed pretzels and cookie cracker thingies. I ate more nuts and berries. Glad of the book Mom got me, I kept distracted. This time I had the window seat. I looked out over the ocean. Fantastical cloud shapes greeted me. Some resembled castles. Some looked like gigantic turtles, casting shadows on the ocean below. Rainbows appeared and disappeared. Some even chased the plane for a while.

We landed in Cozumel and deplaned out the back, onto the tarmac. A wave of humidity broke over us. I immediately felt 10 lbs. heavier. We headed to customs and filled out our forms. We filled out another form to pick up our bags. Then, we located the shuttle to our hotel. After 13 hours of travelling, we made it!

We collapsed in our room. The a/c didn’t work, but we gave it a chance. We cleaned up and looked for a place to eat. Cozumel is on Central Standard Time in the summer. It was already 7 p.m. by then. We strolled down the block, trying to move as little as possible to avoid sweating. Aha! The Hard Rock Café. Something familiar.

A couple of Hispanic kids, clad in matching black T-shirts and holding musical instruments, lurked in the doorway. One boy held a flute I thought, Oh, field trip. I thought nothing of it as we entered the restaurant.

There was an empty table in the cool room. But no chairs.

“You want chairs?” the host asked.

Why yes. We’re funny like that.

He ran upstairs to get them. We thought we might sit up there instead. Upstairs, another wall of heat hit us. It was open air, and half full. Locals sat, chatting and eating. Bon Jovi pulsed through the speakers. I could see the sky darkening. Why not sit up here, on the roof? We picked a spot away from the band. Yes, a junior high band had a concert later that evening. What are the odds? A couple of kids noodled on their instruments. The drummer and bass player laid down some nice grooves. Generally, junior high bands make our teeth grind. Squeals and squawks abound. It’s a painful experience.

“Hey, the drummer is really good,” I said to Jonathon as the boy pounded on the set, warming up. “Let’s stick around and hear them.”

We ate our (very expensive) but delicious meal as the sun sank into the sea. Birds flitted in the trees around us. Stars came out, one by one. Finally, the band seated itself. Almost every wind instrument family made up their number – flutes, clarinets, French horn, saxes. The trombones numbered 6, two of which were girls. The announcer gave their program in Spanish. I recognized Abba, “All About that Bass”, The Beatles, Coldplay, and some others.

Right from the downbeat, they rocked. We were astounded. None of the kids were older than 15. No tentativeness there, they hit the licks right on for “Dancing Queen” and “Michele”, despite some uninspired arrangements. To quote Jonathon: the drummer sat in the pocket and watched the director like a hawk. The trombones were in tune and together. Hard to stay in tune when it’s 80 degrees and 80 percent humidity. They were tight. To quote me: they even had nuance. You don’t get nuance in younger bands. They generally don’t have it in them.

They didn’t play to an appreciative audience, for the most part. Families videotaped their darlings and clapped. Others, bent on downing their burgers, offered polite applause at appropriate intervals. But for us, it was amazing. Such a gift to listen to kids from another country tear up songs, and have a great time doing it. They loved playing, and it showed.

I thought about what it takes to play well with others. You have to have good communication and time together. You also need a good director. Those kids had played together for a good amount of time, and it showed. They anticipated each other’s moves and worked as a team. Performing music is listening, it’s give and take, it’s doing solos and backing up.

Sometimes you need more concentrated time with the person you’re spending the rest of your life with so you can stay on the same page. You relearn the nuanced notes of things spoken and unspoken. Marriage, like music, constantly evolves as it goes on, because the players are never the same two days in a row. What sounds harmonious today might be cacophony tomorrow. We fine tune as we go.

Jonathon and I sauntered back to our hotel  in the velvet evening, glad to have arrived and thankful for the international language of music. It crosses all borders.