Gordon is suffering from withdrawal symptoms. We are waiting outside Miami Airport for the shuttle bus to take us to the airport hotel. We have been waiting for 30 minutes now. It is 10pm, windy humid and dark. Gordon is missing the comforts of business class and the ministrations of the delightful Tippi. He is also a little dehydrated after all that champagne. He is tired as am I, so when the shuttle finally appears it is not a moment too soon. We step into the road and flag it down. The shuttle driver sees us, swerves the bus to the left to avoid hitting us and keeps on driving.
It is not a good omen.
We are leaving on a cruise tomorrow. It is a 12 day cruise around the eastern Caribbean which we have done a couple of times before, so I am not expecting much in the way of material for my blog, but so far we are exceeding all expectations. We are traveling with two friends who are always good for a few stories, but they are our friends so I must tread carefully. We arrive separately. Our friends prefer to arrive early and settle into their luxurious hotel, while we prefer to arrive late so that we spend as little time as possible in our budget hotel.
Our friends like the very best, as do I. But our friends are prepared to pay for the very best, while I am traveling with Gordon, so you know what that means. We prefer, or I should say Gordon demands, that if we are staying just one night then all we need is a comfy bed, a clean room and a clean bathroom. The budget hotels have upped their game in the last few years and most of them do a good job providing just that.
We have to take a cab to the hotel, which it turns out is conveniently placed at the end of the runway. Directly at the end of the runway. It is a surprisingly small hotel, just four stories high. The receptionist who is so young he should be in bed, greets us with the news that we have been upgraded to a suite on the fourth floor. It sounds a lot better than it is. It is twice the size of a normal room, but with the same amount of furniture, just spread out a bit further. All it means is that it’s a longer walk to the bathroom. The room looks empty. I like minimalism, but I like a little more of it than the Holiday Inn Express is offering.
As we close the door to our room, there is an almighty roar, and the entire hotel vibrates. Startled, we run to the window to see what is happening. The view is blocked by an enormous aeroplane wing seemingly just feet away. The body of the plane is immediately over our heads, its undercarriage leaving marks on the hotel roof as it passes overhead. Now we know why the hotel is only four floors high. We check the internet to see when flights in and out of Miami stop for the night and are greeted with news that they don’t. In fact they continue throughout the night with planes seemingly taking off every few minutes. Between 11pm and 7am, thirty eight flights passed directly over our bedroom. I know because I counted them! Counting sheep may send you to sleep but counting planes most certainly does not. It is a long, long night
Meanwhile we spot an email from our friends. They have, for the first time ever, decided that our philosophy of economising on a hotel when you are just there for one night might be worth exploring. So in a fit of unheard thriftiness they have booked a Marriott Courtyard which is two steps up from the Holiday Inn Express but several huge steps down from what they are used to.
The email from them is just one short sentence long. It simply states. “Yuk. I am not good at economizing!”
The next morning, with the sound of planes still roaring in our ears, tired and just a little grumpy we make our way to the cruise ship terminal. These are the days of the coronavirus, so we are expecting the boarding process to take a little longer. What we are not expecting is to see all 1200 passengers crammed into the arrivals hall. There is a row of security posts, each with a luggage scanner as well as a body scanner. But only three of them are open, and even those are not operational. Three huge lines snake back from the security stations, across the terminal and out on to the street.
When the line moves it does so very slowly.
The same can be said for the security guards
There are only eight of them. They are understaffed and overworked. Or they would be if they actually worked. Instead their energy, what little they have, is focused on making our lives miserable And this they are good at. They have complete control over how long we stand in line, when we move forward and when we don’t, and they are loving it. And if we complain they can make the situation so much worse.
As we inch forward we try and let go of our frustration and take in our fellow passengers. It is not a good idea. We have now been standing for more than an hour and clearly we are reaching a point where many of our fellow travelers are unable to stand any more. Some remain upright by leaning heavily on their canes and walkers, others give up their place in line and search for a chair to collapse on. A few are so large that they need two chairs. And then there are those confined to wheelchairs. We count 17 of them. They have been wheeled in and parked along one wall and then left. They have been there as long as we have and no one is checking on them. They have been parked and forgotten. Some look anxious and are waving for help, others appear to have given up and look so frail and tired that we wonder if they are left over from the last cruise.
Maybe taking a 12 day cruise is a little optimistic for some.
It is rather depressing. It reminds me of a scene in a movie where the camera pans round the communal living room of an old people’s home. The residents drooling from the corner of their mouths, stare vacantly into space, and the staff is nowhere to be seen.
Gordon and I look at each other.
“Terminal Tours” I say, as the line moves two steps forwards.