A dream of a vacation takes flight Trip: Three women's plans to bask in the sun were jeopardized by a pilots strike. President Clinton's action saved the day.


WASHINGTON -- President Clinton blocked an American Airline pilots strike this morning ...

There's another way to tell this story.

Once upon a time -- last October, to be exact -- Patricia Dodd's fairy-tale begins with an invitation: Want to go to a tropical island?

How exciting. Marilyn Beach has invited Dodd and another friend, Barbara Jones, to enjoy a vacation at Beach's timeshare property in the Dominican Republic. The three friends will have the week of their lives.

Dodd declines. It sounds expensive; work is demanding; this probably isn't the best time. Then her daughter intervenes: Mom, you'll never have this opportunity again. Do it!

"She finally talked me into it," Dodd says.

For the first time in her life, Dodd is going to a tropical island. Temperatures that average a toasty 85 degrees. An ocean the color of turquoise. Sand so fine it appears to have been sifted through God's favorite strainer.

"Pat is just really excited," Beach says. "She is like a little kid going on her first trip to Disney World."

Beach and her husband owned a timeshare in the Bahamas with another married couple. But Beach's husband died a few years ago, and the other couple suggested that she take some friends this year.

So Beach trades her timeshare for one in the Dominican Republic -- she has never been there -- and invites Jones and Dodd.

L "The golf courses are supposed to be wonderful," Beach says.

The three women have much in common. They are 50ish, single, golf and tennis lovers and best friends. Beach is a part-time dental assistant, Jones works part-time for Roland Park Florist and Dodd is executive director of the Crohn's Colitis Foundation. Beach and Dodd live in Timonium, Jones in Towson.

They made the travel arrangements through another friend, B. J. Cook, the assistant manager of Roland Park Travel. They will leave at 3 p.m., Feb. 15 -- Saturday -- on American Airlines Flight 959. And they will spend every day until then imagining what a great time they will have.

Beach distributes brochures detailing the lavish hotel amenities they can expect. They plan the week -- explore on Sunday, golf on Monday and so on. Dodd even locates a new Taylor Made Bubble Buster golf club.

"Let me tell you," she says, "I'm ready."

But we know fairy-tales aren't this tidy. There are complications, twists, and that one dark moment when it appears all is lost.

For the three friends, that moment comes about three weeks ago, at Michael's restaurant in Timonium, when Cook, the travel agent, makes an announcement. Beach remembers her words:

"I've got some bad news," she says. "There is a possibility that American Airlines pilots could go out on strike. I hope it won't happen, but it could."

Beach also remembers her reaction:

"You've got to be kidding."

But she remains optimistic. Surely the two sides will reach an agreement. What were those figures she read? That American is the nation's largest domestic carrier, that a strike could cost $200 million, that it would force the layoffs of 90,000 airline workers and strand thousands of passengers?

There is no alternative. American is the only carrier to the Dominican Republic. If the flight is canceled, Beach will lose her timeshare, worth at least $2,000. And Dodd will lose her dream vacation.

"I have never snorkeled before," she says. "I have never done these Caribbean things. I've never seen the light blue ocean."

Dodd fully realizes the future of American civilization does not rest on her playing golf in the Dominican Republic, no matter how green the fairways. There undoubtedly are other people with more pressing trips to make, whose lives will be affected much more negatively if American's pilots strike. But still, a fairy-tale is a fairy-tale.

"I truly believe things happen for a reason," she says. "If it doesn't happen, it wasn't supposed to."

As Friday's deadline looms, Cook works feverishly to book an earlier flight for the three women. But the combination of Valentine's Day and the three-day Presidents Day weekend has created one of the airline industry's busiest times of the year. Everything's booked. It doesn't look good, she tells her friends.

All over the nation, travel agents are pulling their hair out and travelers are biting their fingernails.

In Timonium, Dodd sets out everything for the trip in a guest room -- her summer clothes, golf clubs, tennis racket and suntan lotion. She keeps the door closed. "I can't look at them," she says.

She refuses to pack. Under no circumstance is Patricia Dodd going to unpack her suitcase unless it is in a room close to an ocean with light blue water.

Jones leaves a week early to visit friends in Miami. She will meet Dodd and Beach there, then fly with them to the Dominican Republic -- if the planes are flying.

Beach holds out hope. She expects President Clinton to stop the strike. But her son-in-law tells her to forget it.

All they can do is wait for Friday's midnight deadline. Beach watches CNN in her living room; Dodd watches in bed.

The deadline comes with no agreement reached. A representative from the pilots union calls various cities to see if the strike call will be accepted. When the roll call reaches Washington, where her flight is supposed to depart, Dodd begins crying.

"I've waited all my life to go on a trip like this and now it's not going to happen," she says.

But Beach still believes. "Come on, Clinton," she tells herself. "Do something."

Five minutes later, a spokesman for President Clinton announces that the president has imposed a 60-day "cooling off" period. There will be no strike. Not yet.

"I did not vote for him," Beach says. "He was not my choice for president. But he has certainly left a little appreciation in my heart for him."

She calls Dodd.

"Pack your suitcase," she says.

Fast forward to Saturday morning. Beach has packed her belongings into a suitcase that weighs as much as a Yugo. Her golf clubs rest by the door. Dodd comes by with her luggage and clubs. Cook will arrive soon to take them to National Airport.

"It's like you're exhausted mentally before you go, worrying about this," Beach says. "As soon as I get there, I'm going to get a rum punch for each hand."

Dodd no longer looks like a kid making her first trip to Disney World. She looks like a kid who has spent a month on the longest roller coaster ride at Disney World.

"I need a vacation," she says.

At last report, American Flight 959 departed on schedule, the water at Puerto Plata was light blue and three best friends were well on their way toward writing a happy ending.

Pub Date: 2/17/97

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