Dreaming for a vacation

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Bonnie Lee Solari sells dreams.

As the owner and single employee of Bonaventure Travel, Solari will plan the trip of a lifetime for just a small fee.

Solari was ready to own a business when she bought Bonaventure Travel in 2002. She treated her agents right, often buying lunch and treating them to massages. “When I was an employee, I thought that would be great,” she says.

Her first agent left in 2007. Business had been down after airlines stopped paying agents commissions for selling tickets and travelers began using the Internet to plan their vacations. Solari decided not to replace her.

Soon after, the other agents started to leave. When the Great Recession hit, Solari, like many other small business owners, had to make a tough decision. Could she afford to have a payroll?

She still sells dreams in a small office on West 11th Avenue that doesn’t get a lot of foot traffic. Dated posters and old-fashioned pictures hang on the walls. There’s a globe in the back and a marionette that looks to be hanging from the ceiling by cobwebs.

She makes a pot of coffee every morning, not too strong. Sometimes she gets so immersed in what she’s doing, it goes cold in her cup. She dumps it and starts over.

Much is the same with Solari’s life. She’s been a sever, dental hygienist, hospital lab technician, teacher and a yield clerk for an oil company before becoming a travel agent.

She grew up in Eugene, but moved to Oklahoma during her senior year of high school while her parents were going through a divorce. Vulnerable, Solari took up with the first boy who pursued her. They were married at 18, a month before he left for Vietnam. She didn’t want to be just a fiancé if something happened.

He came back a changed man, mentally messed up from the years of war. The marriage lasted six years and produced one child.

Solari soldiered on. Hopping from Oregon to Nevada to California, Solari met her current husband on the job at Douglas Oil Company. She was the yield clerk; he was district sales representative. The only female employee, she was frequently teased about Jeff, who she said wasn’t her type.

He was divorced with two sons nearly the same age as her daughter. They were married in 1978.

He is now 61-year-old real estate agent struggling to find a job. “He doesn’t work well with his hands but has a brilliant mind,” she says.

They have four grandchildren and hope for a few more. They celebrated their first wedding this spring for their older son, who is 35. “It isn’t uncommon to get married at that age in Europe,” she says. Their younger took his bride to the courthouse.

Solari’s day is frequently interrupted by calls, faxes and impromptu visits from her husband. Today, He brings her daughter’s dog and says he’s planning to go to the grocery store.

Her day-to-day life has been the same since her last vacation in 2005, when a hotel chain treated her and 14 agents from the West Coast to an Italian getaway. She can’t afford to shut her doors for a trip today.

The phone rings. On the other end of the line is a client who quickly booked a cruise to take advantage of a promotion, but is now second-guessing the extra $300 for a nicer cruise line. Solari removes her glasses when the conversation gets heated. “Don’t worry,” she says, “it will be worth it.” She explains that the cruise ship stops at a port no other cruise line does.

“I haven’t been there myself, but everything I hear about it is great,” she says. “I’m going to have to get down there to check it out.”

Perhaps someday, Solari will be able to take a dream vacation.

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