Vacation Update

Posted by Arlo on Jun 12, 2004 under Life of Arlo

I’m on a plane right now, bound for Seattle (then Orlando, Philadelphia, Norfolk, and Nags Head – should stop moving in just over 24 hours). Considering the week I’ve had, this has been the first chance I’ve been able to even consider writing an update.

In the last couple days, I finally got the opportunity to talk to Oksana. She sounded… tired. I must admit, I expected to hear signs of emotional stress in her voice, but I have a feeling that she’s just too overwhelmed to react anymore. As I wrote earlier, a week ago today she arrived in Irkutsk to the worst possible news. Since then, she and her brother have been working non-stop to make all the necessary arrangements for their mother’s funeral.

Oksana had sent me an e-mail in which she mentioned that she would call as soon as she got back to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatski on the 9th. It was a pleasant surprise, therefore, when I received her call a day early – I had forgotten to factor in the whole international dateline thing.

If I have my dates straight, Nadia’s funeral was held on the 10th and Oksana said that it went as well as could be expected. There were about 30 friends and family in attendance and… that’s about the extent of what I know. I never know how to handle conversations about death, even with my own wife, it seems. I didn’t press her for information, and she didn’t talk much about it.

Oksana hadn’t yet read all the e-mails I’d sent her keeping her informed on the Juneau side of things, so we spent a fair amount of time discussing our immediate future. I desperately wanted her to be able to join me for at least the last part of our planned vacation, and had been working overtime trying to figure out how that would be possible. As Oksana was leaving for Russia, there was no time (nor, understandably, any inclination on her part) to think about it, let alone make concrete plans on her nebulous return date.

Fortunately, despite the terrible time we had making reservations, making change to them turned out to be somewhat easier. I started by calling her boss, Karla (Steve and Karla are co-owners of the Mendenhall Auto Center), with the intent of sheepishly asking a favor. By using their airline miles to purchase her ticket, they had already been far more generous than we could have asked and yet, after informing her of the bad news, I wanted to ask her if Oksana could come back to work a few days later. Oksana’s return ticket was for the 23rd, and the unspoken assumption was that she would be back at work the next day. I was calling to ask if she could spend the last four days of our vacation with my family and I in Florida.

It wasn’t even as though I had a solid plan yet, either. The only thing I knew for sure was that Oksana wouldn’t need her USAirways flight from Orlando to Norfolk. I searched their web site in vain for a phone number before submitting an online cancellation request. When that hadn’t gone through in 48 hours, I searched harder and eventually found their hidden telephone directory. My first call didn’t seem promising – they wanted $100 to change the ticket and told me I could only apply the remaining balance ($146) to another USAirways ticket. Luckily, that person couldn’t make the cancellation for me, but instead gave me the toll-free number for reservations. Once I got them on the line, it was a different story… It turned out that in all the confusion figuring out how to get back and forth between Orlando and Norfolk, Oksana had bought a refundable ticket. Score one for the wife – the entire balance for her ticket was eventually charged back to our credit card.

If only USAirways was the end of it. I had problems with Alaska Airlines, too. On the phone, after I had explained our complicated situation, they told me all sorts of things that didn’t make any sense. For instance, having Oksana fly on only the return leg would constitute a change to a one-way ticket and would result in a $50 charge. Also, if she didn’t use the ticket at all, we could pay the $50 after the fact for a full mileage refund. In trying to establish if Oksana could abandon her current Alaska Airlines flight plans after getting to Boston, I just became more uncertain than ever. But with at least a dubious assurance that we could get our miles back sometime after the vacation was over, I was inclined to let it slide until other things had a chance to fall into place.

In brief, I recounted much of this on the phone with Karla. I wanted to be up front with her because our plans were far from firm. (For all I knew – with Oksana back in Kamchatka just on the other side of the Bering Sea – she could have been planning to buy a new return ticket through Anchorage, rather than fly nearly all the way around the world again.) Karla almost dashed what little hope I had when she told me how much Oksana had been missed at work – the dangers of making yourself indispensable, I suppose. She was quick to amend, though, that under the circumstances Oksana coming home to an empty house wouldn’t be in anyone’s best interest. I thanked her profusely and promised to send her an e-mail as soon as we had our plans ironed out – whatever they may be.

That night, I called Oksana and broached the subject of her making the effort to get to Daytona Beach for just the last three days of the family reunion. Once it was clear that it was okay with Karla, I was relieved to discover that she was more than amenable to the idea. Until that moment, I still didn’t have a solid feel for her emotional state and I was worried that she would see the situation as too much effort for not enough reward. I’m so glad my fears were unfounded.

I still had a lot of work to do to make it happen, though. The next morning I got online and started tracking down Oksana’s itinerary and used Travelocity to see if it would be reasonably easy to get a her a one-way flight from Boston to Daytona Beach. It turned out not to be too bad – Delta has a direct flight for $104 that will bring her as close as Orlando. (By the way, I looked into purchasing the same ticket as “refundable” and the price jumped to $650!) God knows that she’ll be exhausted after almost two days of travel, and if she’s not up for the subsequent hour and a half drive to Daytona Beach, I’m more than willing to simply find a hotel there for the night.

So, although I’m feeling depressed as I travel solo across the country, I’m at least a little bit excited again about my – our – vacation. I want to see and (try to) comfort my wife so bad that it hurts inside, and now, finally, I have a specific time and place where I can do that.

There’s still almost two weeks to go before that can happen, though. Oksana still has a lot of work ahead of her: There’s the traditional 9th day memorial (wake?) to host for her mother’s remembrance this Saturday, a mountain of paperwork for her and her brother to complete, and she’s also decided to chaperone her niece to the American embassy in Vladivostok this week– if all goes well, Lena will be spending about six weeks with us this summer!

As we start our descent towards SeaTac, I realize I left out the part about Oksana’s Alaska Airlines ticket. She had faxed me her mother’s death certificate last night and before my flight I was planning to use it as leverage to have them waive the $50 change ticket fee. Lucky for me, they made the adjustments – for free – to her ticket on my word alone. That’s a good thing, because I’m not sure what they would have made out of the Cyrillic fine print.

I’ve got a 3-hour layover in Seattle and I suspect that I’ll use that time to find a decent place to sit, proofread the sentences above, pay for some wireless Internet access, and post this online.

Oh, and before I forget: A big thank you goes out to all of you who have contacted me in person, on the phone, via e-mail, or through this web log with their condolences. I know you probably would have much rather given them to Oksana directly, but rest assured that I’ve tried to convey each and every one to her.

Update: Okay, ran out of time there, in SeaTac. Spent too much of it trying to arrange a first class upgrade and chatting with my boss who just happened to be on the same flight down from Juneau. I’ve got time in Orlando, hopefully they’ve got wireless.

Update: No wireless in Orlando. I guess maybe in Philadelphia, but I’m not going to have much time there…

Update: Philadelphia has a nice airport, and it’s wired, too. I got almost all the way through the registration process before I lost the signal. Sigh. Ooo! Ooo! Got it back!