By Cindy Loose
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 2, 2007
From her apartment in Greenbelt, Almentia McKan vacillates between solemn wonder at the kindness of strangers and giddy excitement about being able to take her dream trip after all.
McKan is the 78-year-old woman whose story about missing her Alaska cruise was featured in last week's Coming and Going column. In brief, a missed airline connection left McKan stranded in the Seattle airport on her way to meet a Princess cruise in Anchorage. After traveling from 6 a.m. until midnight, and still a flight away from meeting her ship a day late, she was too tired, sick and confused to continue.
McKan accepted that her failure to buy travel insurance meant that she forfeited the cruise. She asked CoGo for help getting airfare refunds that were sent to Princess, so she could take "some little trip." Princess refused.
Last week, about four dozen readers e-mailed CoGo offering help. "How can we contribute to making this poor woman's dream trip happen?" "To whom could I make a contribution to help this woman realize her dream?" "I would love to make a contribution. That dear woman deserves to go to Alaska."
Then the issue hit the blogosphere. More than 200 people posted comments at Reddit, a site where people post items they find interesting. Some wanted to know if there was a way to contribute. One woman wrote: "I have $9 in my account right now, but after I get paid I could spare $20. But where would I send it?"
Chris Harrell of Waxahachie, Tex., responded by setting up a fund at Fundable.com, a site that takes a small cut for organizing fundraisers. He quickly amassed pledges of more than $700. But that money won't be collected, because by Wednesday, McKan was already set.
The first e-mail The Post received was from Dave Wood, a Centreville man who owns 17 Domino's pizza outlets. Wood said he immediately thought of his elderly parents and how they would react in similar circumstances. He and his wife, Nancy, wanted to foot the entire bill for McKan.
An Annapolis couple decided to help send a companion with McKan. "I just couldn't get the story out of my head," said the Annapolis woman, who wishes to remain anonymous. "My husband and I talked and decided, 'We have the resources to help; let's do something.' "
"I just can't believe it. It's just the best Christmas present ever," said McKan, who already has put out the Christmas decorations in her apartment, where she lives alone, surrounded by pictures of her two children, grandchild and dozens of other relatives. "I knew I could never afford to take this trip again, and it was a great surprise."
A soft-spoken woman who spends her days visiting senior centers, McKan said she can't explain her fascination with Alaska, except that she has always wanted to see a glacier. She said she plans to ask along a former neighbor who for 45 years lived on the same street in Southeast Washington as she did. Asked if they see each other at church, McKan responded, "Oh, goodness, no. She's Baptist and I'm Catholic."
McKan's daughter, LaVerne McKan Tucker, began reading to her mother e-mails from people who wanted to help. Reading one from a woman who said she couldn't contribute much because a gasket had just blown on her 1991 Plymouth, Tucker said to a reporter, "This is something she [McKan] is going to remember the rest of her life."
"She's got that right," McKan said.
Hearing an e-mail expressing dismay that she hadn't bought travel insurance, McKan explained, "I didn't have another $125," causing her daughter to remind her mother that she should have let her know her plans and needs.
McKan's name was not used in last Sunday's account because the May incident was still painful, and her daughter didn't want her to have to "keep rehashing" it. Now, however, talking about the trip will be a joy, so people may ask away.
McKan said she wants to send thank-you cards to everyone who e-mailed The Post to offer help. Instead, since McKan has only e-mail addresses and no computer, Tucker plans to e-mail everyone on behalf of her mother. She has already started drafting a response, which explains that since the cost of the trip has already been covered, her mother is declining further offers, "keeping instead your warm wishes and generosity." She is printing out the e-mails and putting them "in a scrapbook for my mother to cherish." McKan will take pictures while in Alaska, and Tucker will e-mail copies to the strangers they now consider friends.
Wood and the Annapolis couple are coordinating their efforts to find an appropriate replacement for the Princess cruise. Wood said they're using a reputable travel agent, planning nonstop flights that will get her to the cruise the day before departure, and buying travel insurance.