With St. Patrick’s Day approaching, I started thinking about Irish expressions and where they came from. My father’s family emigrated from Ireland in the 1850s, and I still value my Irish roots.
Where did the expression “luck of the Irish” come from? Historians disagree. Some say it dates to Ireland when Irish luck was mostly bad. More recently, others attribute it to the gold fields of California when Irish luck improved.
I think Irish good fortune is good to carry with you like a four-leaf clover when traveling. I know it has played a role in our travels, especially with an impulsive decision we made on a trip years ago.
We were going sailing in the Virgin Islands with friends on a private yacht. Our flight connections were tight and we were scheduled to meet our friends in Charlotte Amalie. We flew out of San Francisco to Atlanta but our flight down to San Juan was delayed.
All travelers have experienced these long airport delays, so you know the routine. We read our magazines, find scattered sections of the local newspapers in the chairs and finish our books. There is time to eat or drink something from the airport restaurants. We walk around browsing in the shops. By then, we still have time to wait and are bored to death. Cellphones, laptops and iPads had not been invented yet, so we just sat there and watched people.
There were two men waiting with us who had flown down on the same flight from San Francisco. They were sitting across from us at the gate and we started talking. Soon, we knew about each other’s lives, families and professions.
One of them had moved his family and computer business from Hayward, down to the U.S. Virgin Islands for the tax advantage. He had attended Hayward High School, which was across the street from Capwells Department store where I used to work when I was in high school. We were almost family.
Finally, our flight to San Juan was called and we boarded for the next leg of our journey. We arrived late in Puerto Rico fearing that we were going to miss our connecting flight to Charlotte Amalie and miss meeting our friends. Keep in mind that we did not have cellphones in those days and had no way of contacting them. We collected our bags and raced to the building where the connecting flights departed.
As I recall, it was a small building that had seen better days. My strongest memory was standing in a long line behind a large woman dressed in a long skirt, a brightly colored shirt and her head wrapped in a scarf. She was carrying a cage with a rooster inside.
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The ticket agent and the woman were having a loud, unhappy conversation in Spanish. It was not going well. He was upset, she was upset, the rooster was upset. He was flapping his wings and clucking loudly, too. All three were making lots of noise at the same time. Everyone in this small building was watching and listening to the show.
Philip and I started exchanging worried glances back and forth. I guess I could have flown with the rooster but we were getting worried about the delay this scene was causing.
Suddenly, our new best friend from Hayward tapped Philip on the shoulder and asked if we would like to fly down with him. He was going to the same place and his plane was parked outside. We looked at each other and looked at the people in line with their animals. I said something like, “I think this is a good idea.”
Off we went, following this stranger down to lower level pulling our luggage. We didn’t have to do anything. No names were given, no signatures required, no consent given, no next-of-kin names. We didn’t even think about the danger as we walked out to where the plane was parked.
It was a large, twin-engine plane with a huge chain wrapped around the propellers and locked to the ground with heavy locks. As he worked to free the plane, he explained that this was his weekly routine and kept the plane secure. Drug dealers often stole planes to transport their supplies. We put our luggage in the back. Philip sat up front and I was behind them. We fastened our seat belts, the engines roared to life, radio contact was made with the tower, and soon we were racing down the runway.
By this time, it was dark but we could still see the mountains and the ocean. As we left the lights of the airport and city, it became pitch black. We were flying on instruments into a storm with a pilot we had met a few hours earlier. Soon we were surrounded by bolts of lightning, loud thunder and driving rain. There was turbulence and I could tell Philip was nervous and holding on for dear life. Not me, I was foolishly enjoying every minute with no sense of fear. The pilot tried to reassure us that these little storms were common at this time of year. I noticed, “white knuckle” Philip wasn’t buying his story.
After 45 minutes, we were out of the storm and the weather cleared. We had survived, hadn’t been hit by lightning and had missed all the high mountaintops. Philip was now enjoying the trip and feeling very relieved. We landed on time, met our friends and drove to the harbor to spend a wonderful 10 days sailing.
Only later did we realize how foolish we had been to have accepted this airplane ride. If there had been an accident no one would have known what had happened to us. We would have vanished without a trace.
The lesson is that if you want to have the luck of the Irish, you should always travel with a person of Irish descent, especially around St. Patrick’s Day or when a storm is on the horizon.