Your Big Picture


John’s van, where I parked it at Athens International Airport.

John’s van, where I parked it at Athens International Airport.

Precision planning is everything.  I made a perfect plan.  It was so perfect it’s going to take a few sentences to spell it out, so bear with me.  [cue heist movie soundtrack]

The mission: get John’s van from Athens, Greece to Salerno, Italy where we were staying on John’s boat. I recruited Alison as my assistant and booked us on flights from Naples (a one hour drive north of Salerno) to Athens. We would fly out in the morning, arrive in Athens mid-day, get the van out of long-term Athens airport parking. Then we would drive seven hours north to Igoumenitsa, Greece, where we would catch the midnight ferry to Brindisi, Italy.  We would sleep on the ferry, arrive around 8:30am and drive six hours to Salerno, arriving in time for lunch.  The thing that makes this plan perfect was that I’d arranged a rental car so Emily could drive us to the airport at 7am and we’d even arranged to get the car the night before in case the rental office opened late.  AND the car could be used to get John and Michelle to their flight to the U.S. the next day and still have the car back in time for it to be a one day rental.  Perfect. [end heist movie soundtrack]

Alison and I headed into Naples International Airport.

Alison and I headed into Naples International Airport.

Emily, Alison and I left right on time and drove the one hour from Salerno to Naples.  I’d already checked Alison and I in online for our flights, so we went straight to security.  We had the electronic QCR boarding passes on our phones. Security was a breeze because we’d packed light.  We’d be back in 24 hours.  Once through security I started to relace my belt and repack my laptop when I got a message from John, “The van keys are here on the counter.”

My mind spun 360.  My plan was perfect.  I’d thought of everything.  Rental car, airfare, ferry reservations, phone charger, passport, cash, change of clothes, laptop, wallet, sunglasses, head lamp, empty water bottle to refill after getting through security, granola bars, book to read.  The only thing I couldn’t do without was the van key, and I’d forgotten it on the boat.

John and I quickly talked through the possibilities:

  • Could Emily race back, pick it up and bring it to us in time?  No.  Physically impossible.

  • Could John get in a cab and bring it to us?  Again, not enough time even if there was a cab immediately available.  (I’d planned our trip so perfectly that our flight was boarding in thirty minutes, taking off in fifty minutes.  So much for perfect.)

  • Could John overnight the key somewhere and I pick it up in Greece?  Maybe.  But then I’d have to find a way to get to wherever the key was delivered, which would have to be somewhere else besides the airport.  It was getting complex and expensive fast.

  • Maybe I could get us on a flight that left later that day?  I needed to go check.

I called Emily to ask her to stop.   She didn’t pick up.  I called again.  John called her.  I called again.  Then I texted, “Please pull-over and call me.”  I proceeded down to the check-in counters to see about flight options.

In the midst of my walking, Emily called me back.  She was balling.  “Why do I have six missed calls from you?  What’s wrong?  Did Lily drown?”

Click.  Everything came into focus.  I’d been blown sideways by my painfully obvious lapse in remembering the most important thing.  But then I was blown sideways again by the obvious fact that once again, I hadn’t remembered the most important thing.  I was dealing with a small, first world problem.  I’d forgotten the van keys and had to scrap my perfect plan.  There was some wasted time and money thanks to me. But my wounded pride was put in its place by Emily’s question.

The big things were in place.  Our children were safe.  Nothing that truly mattered was wrong.  I explained the key situation quickly to Emily and asked, “How are you doing?”

            “Horrible,” she said.  “As soon as I left the airport I took three wrong turns.  Now I’m lost in downtown Naples at rush hour.  I’m completely turned around.  There’s only a quarter tank of gas.  And every time you or John called, it would block the map I was trying to look at to get myself back on the right path.  Why in the world would I have that many missed calls unless something catastrophic was wrong?  Plus I’m driving stick shift for the first time in fifteen years in a car I’m unfamiliar with.”

            “I’m so sorry,” was all I could manage.

            We each took a breath.  

            “How about you pull over somewhere safe and give me thirty minutes.  That will give me time to figure out alternate flights and know if we need to be picked up or if we need to ask you to go get the key.”  She agreed to do that and Alison and I went to work on a perfect plan B.

The best solution was to scrap our airfare and get new tickets for a flight that left the next morning.  I called Emily and asked her to come pick us up, emailed the ferry company, pushed our reservation back and then went to the curb with Alison to wait for Emily. Emily picked us up 20 minutes later. She gotten three miles away but traffic was so bad it took her that long.  Maybe we should have walked to her.

“We have the car for the day,” I said.  “What if we take the scenic route home?”  The emotional blindsiding was over for the moment.  We decided to drive out to Sorrento and then back to Salerno via the Amalfi Coast.         

One of the reasons I’d invited Alison to join me on this trip was because she would be leaving for Japan in a few weeks.  This was one of our last chances for some solo time for the next year and a half. We made it a trio trip for the day and ended up having a delightful lunch on the pier in Sorrento, wound our way down the historic Amalfi Coast, stopping in Amalfi for gelato in the town square and watched the sun set from the wharf.  We got back home after dark.  In the morning we’d drive back to the airport for a second attempt at our perfect plan.

I’d lost track of the big picture.  My mission was to deliver the van from Greece to Italy.  I’d forgotten the key.  I don’t ever want to make that kind of mistake again.  But more importantly for me was that I’d felt like forgetting the key was a real problem.  What really mattered was the safety of my family and making sure they know I love them. 

Rhetorical question: What matters most to you and how do your problems fit into your big picture?

P.S. the next go around, I had the van keys with me.  We caught our flight, and everything went according to plan.  It was an awesome dad/daughter road trip.