Whenever we drive from Boston to Jaffrey, we go by Taco Bell in Rindge. We’re always anxious to get to Gilmore Pond, so we never stop. But each time, I’m reminded of my terrible, awful Florida flight.
It happened a couple of years ago. I was on my way to Puerto Rico on business and scheduled a Florida stopover for a meeting in Fort Lauderdale. Why not kill two birds with one stone? I asked myself. And, just to make life easier, live it up and arrange for one of those drivers you see at the airport holding up a sign with someone else’s name on it.
The idea was to fly to Miami, have the driver take me to Fort Lauderdale in style, check into the hotel, enjoy dinner, and get a good night’s sleep. In the morning, I would go to my meeting, get a ride back to the airport, and continue my trip. Sounds simple enough.
The plane left Boston late, something about weather. So, I would eat dinner late – no big deal, actually quite continental. As we approached Miami, however, the pilot told us we were in a holding pattern. That is not good news. A while later, he announced that the airport was closed and the plane was low on fuel, so we would divert to Tampa, refuel, and by then the Miami airport would reopen. It sounded sensible as he explained it. We landed in Tampa, refueled, and headed east towards Miami. By now it was getting close to 9 at night, and there was no food on the plane.
Still, the planeload of passengers remained patient, almost docile. That’s how it is when you go by plane. The disembodied captain’s voice reassures you, and you believe him.
We landed around 10. It shouldn’t take seven hours to get there from Boston, but these things happen. Still time to pick up the checked bag, eat, get some sleep. Except for a problem: No gate. The captain told us there was a delay, possibly as much as forty-five minutes on the runway. An hour later, with no forward motion, not even a pretzel to eat and nothing to drink, the passengers were getting restless. Flight attendants shrugged, cell phones appeared, frustration filled the aisles.
By midnight a revolution was at hand. The flight crew, as upset and overwrought as we were, approved desperate measures. “Sure, call the Mayor, call Channel 7, whatever it takes.”
At 2 o’clock in the morning, now eleven hours into the trip from hell, we pulled up to the gate and got off the plane. Half crazed, famished and bleery eyed, I headed towards Baggage Claim. As I reached Carousel 4, there was a man holding a sign, and it had my name on it. I had completely forgotten about the driver, but he remembered me. Lawyers aren’t the only ones who charge by the hour.
So, the worst was over, except that it wasn’t. The baggage people had given up and gone home, so there was no action at Carousel 4. We stood there, me dumbstruck and the driver doubling as my therapist and trying to reassure me, “You’re fine, and your bag will be here any minute.”
Except it wasn’t, and at 4 in the morning I decided that unless I ate something I would die at Baggage Claim. The one open airport restaurant, Burger King, had a line that stretched as far as I could see, so we made a command decision. We left the terminal, got into the car, and drove off looking for food. At that hour of the night (or day, by then I wasn’t sure), there aren’t a lot of open restaurants in that neighborhood. Then it appeared, like an oasis in the desert – Taco Bell.
Restored by the best meal I ever had, we went back to Miami International, Concourse C. My suitcase came down the slide around 7 o’clock, and off we went to Fort Lauderdale, the car reeking of enchiladas. We got to the hotel an hour later, I said good-bye to the driver, who said they would bill me later (I didn’t ask the next question), and went inside. The desk clerk asked, “May I help you?” “Yes,” I said, “I’d like to cancel my reservation for last night.”
I washed up, went to my meeting and continued on to Puerto Rico. A few weeks later American Airlines sent me an email apologizing “for any inconvenience we may have caused.”