How to make a 4-hour flight to Antigua in to 12 hours of running around Manhattan?

It was a pretty simple, straightforward plan. Take the bus to Manhattan. Take the NYC Airporter to JFK. Fly out to Antigua. Watch cricket.

I did not account for one thing – the fact that I am an idiot. You must remember this. We will be revisiting it. Soon. Most probably, in the next paragraph.

Instead of booking the bus ticket for July 22, I had “mistakenly” clicked July 29. I’d never even bothered to double-check the date on the ticket, or the receipt, or the email confirmation of the transaction or the itinerary. 0-4. So the good driver of the Megabus spelled it out for me: I-D-I-O-T.

The wonderful Missus Couch turned in to a fierce, cursing trucker and made the 250 miles drive in less than 3.5 hours and got me to JFK. Now, a thought flashed past in my brain, or whatever little of it there is. “Hmm. Do I need a Visa to travel to Antigua?” I didn’t need one for Trinidad and I don’t need one for Jamaica. So, I had assumed that being a Green Card holder, I could travel to any of the Caribbean islands.

It was around 1 AM. The departure terminal was empty except for the guys mopping the floor. Missus Couch had started her long drive back home. There was no airline personnel to help me out with my last minute inquiry. I remember from back in 2007 when I went to Antigua that I needed a visa but I quickly reasoned it out by convincing myself that, that was because I was on student visa.

I approached a member of the floor mopping crew and asked politely when the airline personnel would show up on job. The automatic mopper was so loud it could have easily drowned out a jackhammer. “WHAT?” Realizing the futility of politeness, I yelled and the fella told me not before 3 AM. Oh fuck.

This is when inspiration struck me. I squeezed out the last ounce of energy from my lone brain cell; ponied up the money for Wi-Fi access at the airport to do something I should have done weeks ago. Yep. I needed a visa. Trip screwed.

Quickly I downloaded the application form from the Consular General of Antigua & Barbuda website, went over the documents I needed such as bank statements, letter of employment in the U.S. etc., not knowing whether I’d even be able to get the visa, as it might be too late.

As the check-in lines opened at 3 AM, of course, I was nowhere near it. Happily smoking away to glory on the other side of the terminal. By the time I decided to stand in queue for the check-in lady to give me the heartbreaking news that I wouldn’t be able to travel to Antigua without a visa (Of course, I was hoping that she would take pity on me and let me fly… I supported India in the 90’s, you see.), the line was longer than the Tirupati Mottai queue. Eventually, I got the news and I took it like a man. No emotions. I had been prepping for two hours. The ticket was cancelled.

Do I cancel the other legs of the trip as well? How about the accommodation arrangement in Antigua? How am I going to get back home?

I decided to let it ride, and wanted to see whether I can get a same day visa from the Antigua consulate. But then, the airline lady told me there aren’t any flights to Antigua in the next couple of days, which means, even if I got the visa, I am sure to miss the start of the test and quite possibly the first two days.

I located the Antigua consulate in Midtown Manhattan. Conveniently next to it was a FedEx Kinko’s. I printed out the application and the supporting documents, ignored the snide remark from the guy who took my photograph for the visa on how no matter how many times he takes the picture, the “quality” isn’t gonna improve, parked myself in the Starbucks next door, plotting. If they say they can’t give me same day visa, what are the things I need to say and do to evoke sympathy and pity. I bought a pair of tweezers, kept it my pant pocket as the final go-to move.

It was 10 AM now. Ms. Simon, the receptionist at the consulate was an incredibly warm woman; an elderly lady with salt-and-pepper shaded short hair, which was neatly decorated with a nylon bow. She said they don’t generally do same day visa. I was reaching for the tweezers, when she said, “Oh! You’re going for the cricket? Are you going to be covering it? Hmm. Hold on one second, then.”

“Oh Dear Lord! All these hours and days and years of watching cricket might actually pay off?”

She looked over my documentation and took it to her superior and came back a few minutes later, beaming, with her fingers crossed. She talked about, as a young girl, watching Pakistan play in Trinidad and the mythical nature of the Antigua Recreation Ground, Sir Viv and the decline in quality cricketers coming out of Antigua. “You know, I haven’t kept up with cricket much since I have been working here, but is that boy from India still playing? Good batsman. I remember watching Farookh Engineer and [Kapil] Dev, you know? Good cricketers. It was like a national holiday whenever we had the cricket in Antigua. Times have changed!”

We were chatting cricket for what seemed like an hour when I heard a low thump sound. “That’s your visa being stamped. Enjoy the cricket. Have fun in Antigua.”

I thanked her profusely, ran back to the Starbucks (for the free Wi-Fi) and Kayak-ed for other options of reaching Antigua by noon Tuesday. The itinerary now is: New York JFK – Boston Logan – San Juan Puerto Rico – Beef Island (British Virgin Islands) – Antigua. A slightly roundabout way to get to a place that’s only a 4 hour flight away but doggone it, I am going to be landing in V.C. Bird International Airport slightly past noon on Tuesday (local time).

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