I could have cried when my boss spoke the words I’d been wanting to hear for weeks. I could have kissed Diane’s toady face. I could have flipped my dress over my head and danced on the desk.
I didn’t do any of that, of course. When Diane said, “You’re ready for your first international business trip, Maxine,” I just smiled and nodded.
“Thank you for the opportunity, Diane.”
Inside, I was screaming. I’m going to Greece! For three days!
Three days would hardly be considered a pit stop by most experienced travelers, but I was not an experienced traveler. I couldn’t count the number of times I’d left the state of Wisconsin, because it had never happened. As a kid, I’d gone to summer camp a couple of times, a few hours outside of Madison, but aside from that my entire life had been stuck in one place. Now, at least for three brief days, I would be a world traveler.
I’d taken the telemarketing job right out of college. I’d wanted the business degree so that I could one day open my own business—a bed and breakfast, like my mom had run—but that wasn’t something I’d felt capable of at twenty-two.
When my first rent check had come, and I’d emptied my bank account to pay for the one-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment, I’d accepted the first job I’d been offered. Anything with a steady paycheck would work. And it was where I’d been for four boring years.
I’d started as a telemarketer, making cold calls to businesses, selling whatever was being promoted at the time. Office equipment, computer software, eco-friendly light fixtures, you name it. After three years, seven months and twenty-six days (but who’s counting, right?), I was promoted to a managerial position. It didn’t come with an official title, but I oversaw a small department of people and was able to sit in on the weekly meetings with corporate.
That was where I’d first heard about the trip to Greece.
“The conference is taking place six weeks from now on the Greek island of Barkas. Three days at a resort. There won’t be much time between meetings, but you might be able to squeeze in a quick sight-seeing tour or two before flying back,” Diane read aloud, deadpan, from the information printed on a sheet of paper. “Volunteers?”
I looked around, waiting for hands to shoot up. I was expecting my coworkers to begin arguing, scrapping for any chance to be the person lucky enough to take an all-expenses paid vacation to Greece.
After a tense few seconds, Marie raised her hand. Marie was nearing retirement age. She had told me the week before that she and her husband had bought an RV, which they planned to tour the country in.
“We’re going to sell the house, ditch our worldly possessions, and spend a few years on the road. When we get tired of that, we’ll rent one of those places down in Florida where they let old people play bridge and bingo till they kick the bucket.”
I’d laughed and thought how I admired her “go with the flow” mentality, but as she raised her hand in the meeting, if my eyes had been capable of shooting lasers, I would have seared her hand off at the wrist.
You’re going to tour the country with your old man in an RV in a few years. Leave the living to us young folks, Marie!
“What’s the schedule for the trip?” Marie asked.
Diane clicked her tongue as her eyes scrolled over the paper in front of her. “Fly out early Friday evening, arrive Barkas Saturday afternoon. There’s a meet and greet that night in the resort’s conference room. Meetings all day Sunday and Monday. Leave Tuesday morning and, with the time difference, arrive back mid-afternoon on Tuesday.”
Shockingly, I heard a few groans from my coworkers.
“I know the schedule is a little packed,” Diane said. “But surely someone’s willing to take one for the team?”
Take one for the team? As if this was some kind of punishment?
I wanted to raise my hand, but it was only my fourth meeting, and I didn’t want to presume too much. Sure, they’d given me a promotion, but being sent halfway across the world to represent the company seemed a little above my pay grade.
Still, if no one else wanted to go, I could make out that it was a real hassle, but I’d do it anyway. Maybe they would appreciate my self-sacrificing nature and promote me again. I mentally chastised myself for letting myself get carried away. I wanted to go on the trip, not get another promotion.
Just as I was gathering the courage to raise my hand, Stephen raised his.
Stephen. Suck-up Stephen, as I liked to call him, had brown-nosed his way to a regional manager position, and he was nothing if not a martyr. Always staying late to make sure reports got in, taking early morning phone calls with overseas clients, working holidays to make a sale. Some people would say he was just a good employee, but I was not one of those people. I would swear on a stack of Bibles that Stephen did these things only to make me look bad.
“If no one else is interested,” he said, shrugging his shoulders, “I’ll go.”
“I would, but my daughter is going to state finals for track that week,” Richard said. He loved to brag about his kids, and I never minded because he seemed so genuinely proud. Everyone paused to be mildly impressed, which left Richard beaming.
“I went to the last conference,” Shelly said. “It doesn’t seem fair that I’d do another one.”
One by one, everyone aside from myself and Stephen excused themselves from the trip. Eventually, all eyes fell on me, the least senior employee in the entire room, and I debated what to say. I could let Stephen go and then die a little bit inside, or I could speak up and fight for the opportunity.
I glanced at Stephen. His lips were pulled tight. I could see how much he wanted to go. How much he wanted me to turn down the opportunity. I took a deep breath and went for it.
“I’d love to go. It sounds like a great learning opportunity for me.”
Diane loved learning opportunities. She had unofficially accepted the role as my telemarketing mentor, so she loved the idea that I looked up to her.
“That’s true,” Diane said to the table.
“Do you think you’re ready for an opportunity like this, Maxine?” Stephen asked.
“I really think I am,” I said, shooting Stephen a smile. “Thanks for your concern.”
Stephen smiled back, and I could tell we were both resisting the urge to strangle the other.
Diane clapped her hands, breaking our staring contest. “I’ll think on it and then get back to you both with my decision.”
A few days later, she had called me into her office to give me the good news. And now, some five weeks after that, I was sitting in the airport, checking for the hundredth time in the last hour that I had my passport and didn’t have any liquid containers over three ounces in my carry-on bag.
I had never been on a plane before—something I’d refrained from mentioning to any of my coworkers—so I had watched countless videos online of what to pack for an international trip and what going through security would be like. I didn’t want there to be any surprises.
The real surprise, however, came when I disembarked the plane in Athens, Greece. Walking through the airport, the energy felt heightened. I couldn’t understand the things people were shouting into their phones and at the airline employees, but I gathered that people were angry.
Signs were posted at each of the desks and on various message boards along the main lobby, but they were written in Greek. I pulled out my phone and powered it back on to open the translation app I’d downloaded in preparation for the trip.
I didn’t end up needing it. As soon as my phone turned on, three email notifications buzzed in at the same time. I opened the one from the airline first.
There has been an unforeseen delay in your flight plan. Due to an air traffic control strike, we can no longer guarantee your departure flight on Tuesday…
The second email was from Diane.
Maxine. Just read about the strike. Not sure how this will impact the conference. Call me when you land.
And the third email was from Diane again.
See forwarded email below. So sorry about this.
The email was from the company hosting the conference. As soon as they’d caught wind of the likely strike, they’d canceled the event.
My heart began to race. What did this mean? Was I trapped here? Did I still have a room at the resort, or would I have to find other accommodations?
I could feel myself working up into a panic. This was the first time I’d left the state of Wisconsin, and now I was in another country with no idea what my plans looked like. I suddenly wished I’d prepped a bit more than simply downloading a few apps. How was I going to figure out what was going on if I couldn’t talk to anyone? I didn’t even know how to ask where the bathroom was.
I took a deep breath and called Diane. The company had paid for international minutes on my cellphone plan, thank goodness.
“Maxine,” she said, her voice business-brusque as always.
“Hi, Diane. What’s going on? What do I do?” I asked, not bothering to hide the panic in my voice. I was alone in a foreign country. I had every right to be a little freaked out.
“Don’t panic,” she said. “Everything is fine.”
Her words did little to soothe my concern, but I took another deep breath, anyway. “Okay.”
“From what little I’ve been able to fine online, the air traffic control workers are on strike, meaning a lot of flights are canceled or postponed. The company hosting the conference decided it would be better to reschedule.”
“What does that mean for me?” I asked.
She hummed for a few seconds. “I guess it means you get a company-paid vacation.”
I let Diane’s words sink in, let some of my panic subside until a bit of excitement began to peek through.
“The conference has been canceled, and we can’t fly you back because of the strikes. The resort is paid for and you will be reimbursed for all your meals, so I suggest you try and enjoy yourself. I’ll have you booked for the next available flight, though I don’t suspect that will be for a few days.”
“Okay,” I said, hardly able to believe my luck.
A paid vacation? In Greece? Who could say they’d been lucky enough to experience that? I could eat amazing food, see all the sights, and kick back by the resort’s pool all day while my coworkers plodded away in Madison. I imagined the annoyance on Stephen’s face when he found out the news, and that added an entirely new layer of enjoyment to my circumstances.
“I’ll make the best of it, then.”
“You do that, Maxine,” Diane said. “Talk to you soon.”
We hung up and I looked around, seeing my surroundings with new eyes. I was in Greece, the sun was shining, and I didn’t have a single commitment. I’d slept for a few hours on the plane to try to counteract the jet lag, so even though I’d left Friday afternoon and it was now noon on Saturday, I felt surprisingly awake.
Grabbing my bags, I strode confidently through the airport towards the bus stop that would drop me off at the ferry I would take to the island. I had three days to do what I pleased in paradise, and I didn’t intend to waste a single minute.