Aloha! My 30th birthday on 11/11/11

The Hawaiian vacation that almost didn’t happen

Shamontiel L. Vaughn
Oct 18 · 3 min read
Walking along the path near the University of Hawaii Maui College (Photo credit: Shamontiel L. Vaughn)

I knew that turning 30 was one of those milestone years. And I’d never get another 11/11/11 birthday. To have both be on the same day meant I could celebrate them together, so I’d been brainstorming on what to do for awhile. And the thought of traveling to Maui just kept coming to mind.

But on my last day of being 29, I never expected to be sitting on the floor of Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) angrily texting away on my phone. This was not what I had in mind for my birthday of any age. However, here I was stuck in LAX for five hours, all because my connecting flight to Maui had left already.

As a native Chicagoan whose home airport, O’Hare International Airport, looks like one great big mall with airplanes outside, I couldn’t have been more bummed out to find out LAX left much to be desired when it comes to shopping. But this was Los Angeles. Maybe I’d see a celebrity that would be worth it. I was no longer an entertainment reporter by that time, but still, I could probably talk the entertainment department into publishing this imaginary interview I planned to get.

Instead I gazed around at a bunch of grumpy people coming from Chicago who all looked unimpressed with each other. And none of these jokers were famous.

Photo credit: Gabi/Flickr

The stores had already closed for the evening. With my phone charged and half-heartedly eating dinner, I got comfortable in the waiting area — waiting on the big day. (Technically, my birthday had already started if I honored Central Time.) The seats were that kind of hard plastic that school classrooms are notorious for, and my luggage was long gone. So I leaned against the wall, feeling like turning 30 was going to suck.

But a few hours later when I dragged my way to the gate, all set to get on my new flight with Hawaiian Airlines, the news was worse. There was trouble with my seat. Someone had reserved my original seat number. At that point, I just wanted to go home. This trip to Maui was turning into a total bust, but I’d already been informed that I couldn’t get a refund.

So when two stewardesses started talking and arrangements had to be made to find me a new seat, I stood there stoney-eyed. Then one stewardess turned to me and asked me quietly would I mind sitting in a new seat. And the smile I’d been waiting to cross my face five hours ago finally reappeared.

On 11/11/11, I boarded the flight and snuggled into my free maroon blanket — in plane seat 11. Aloha!

Sitting with fishermen across the street from West Maui Mountains (Photo credit: Shamontiel L. Vaughn)

That plane ride in seat 11 was when I created my new bucket list item. Every five years, I would return to Hawaii until I visited all of the islands. Click here to find out about my second Hawaiian vacation, this time to Honolulu.

Shamontiel L. Vaughn

Written by

14-year journalist; freelance writer/editor (Upwork); Wag! dog walker; Rover dog sitter; Unity Toastmasters member and 4x officer; Visit

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