For Any Inconvenience

Friday before last, my flight from Key West to Miami was delayed.  I wasn’t aware of it for some time.  After I cleared security and got into the departure waiting area, there were no signs displaying flight status and no staff to be seen, only an empty tarmac that seemed innocuous at first but grew more ominous as time passed.  After a while, overheard two other passengers talking about how my flight would be leaving over an hour behind schedule.

Under different circumstances, this would have been fine.  I didn’t have to be in San Francisco at any set time.  However, the delay was going to eat up most if not all of my layover in Miami before catching my connecting flight.

Time ticked away.  Meanwhile, another plane bound for Miami arrived, offloaded, boarded, and left.  Those of us with tight itineraries pleaded with the ticket agent to get on the flight, but to no avail.  “Everyone has connections,” she said, as if that explained and justified everything.

By the time my and we were ready for takeoff, it was running close to an hour and a half behind schedule.  I remained hopeful that I would somehow be able to make my connection.  Maybe the flight to SFO was delayed as well.  Maybe the arrival and departure gets were right next to each other.  Maybe the propeller aircraft I was on was capable of hitting mach 1.

No such luck on any front.  When I arrived in Miami, it was three minutes before my San Francisco flight was scheduled to leave.  To make it in time, I had to get from Concourse D to Concourse E.  That sounds adjacent enough but required a quarter-mile dash with carry-on luggage followed by a ride on the airport’s Sky Train.  When I got there, I was ten minutes late and the plane had already left.

The woman at the desk told me there would be no more flights to San Francisco that evening.  I was given a boarding pass for the next morning’s flight plus vouchers for meals and a room at a nearby Holiday Inn.  It could have been worse.  Legally, I don’t think they were required to give me anything.  Congress supposedly passed a passenger’s bill of rights but after the airline lobby had its say, the legislation was no doubt transformed into reams of legalese that could be summarized in layman’s terms as simply “tough shit.”

The room was fine but the ten-dollar meal allowance was a little insulting, as it had not been adjusted for inflation since the release of the movie “Airplane!”  If I ordered a burger, the cheapest item on the hotel-restaurant menu, my voucher would cover the cost with five cents to spare if:

  • I didn’t get cheese with it.
  • My beverage was tap water.
  • I refused to pay sales tax.

Suffice it to say I was not living large on American Airlines’ dime.  After dinner, I went back to my room to watch CNN and get some sleep before my five a.m. wake-up call.  This must be the business travelers live, eating bland but adequate food and sleeping in bland but adequate hotel rooms.  Just the way employers prefer it, I reckon.  No good can come to a company from booking a sales rep into a hotel that doubles as a whorehouse.

When I got my five a.m. call, I didn’t dawdle.  I quickly showered, hopped the shuttle to the airport, and made it through security.  There was no way I was going to miss another flight.  It didn’t even matter that I was going to have to sit scrunched between two people for the next six hours.  I was just glad to be on the move, enjoying the miles that disappeared behind me far more than the ones that lay ahead.

Asperger’s in Paradise

It is my last day in Key West.  Checkout time was at eleven and I’m spending a few hours amusing myself at the hotel bar before it’s time to catch a cab to the airport.  From there, it’s a short hop to Miami followed by a five-hour flight to San Francisco.  At least I’ll have a window seat on the way back.  I can look out the window at the lights of towns in Texas and feel grateful that I don’t live in any of them.

This has been a good vacation and I hope to come back some day.  One thing that made my stay so pleasant was that I didn’t really have to do anything.  There were few sites I felt obliged to visit, didn’t want to try to get laid, and nap time came whenever I damn well felt like it.  I guess it means I’m getting old.  I’m OK with that.

Actually, my activities did extend beyond getting liquored up at the hotel bar followed by a trip to my room to sleep it off.  If you read about the entry about my trip to the cemetery, you already know that I did manage to get out and walk around a bit.

There was the trip to the old Customs House, which has become both an art gallery and historical museum.  My favorite exhibit was the ambulance-driver uniform Ernest Hemingway wore when the mortar hit him during World War I.  The sign next to it directed my attention to the stain on the trousers though I forget if it resulted from blood from his wound or if he got really scared and shat himself.

I also visited the Hemingway House, which did little to clear up the stained-pants mystery but provided insight into Papa’s personal life when he was married to wife number whatever.  The walls were adorned with pictures of him crouching next to animals he shot or standing with marlins hanging by their tails.  He apparently liked to hunt and fish.  Who knew?

To be honest, all I was interested in seeing was his typewriter and the feral mutant cats that lived on the premises.  The typewriter was in the upstairs of the back unit and the six-toed felines lounged and roamed where it suited them at the moment.  The cats are fed and cared for by the people who manage the property.  It struck me as an enviable existence, much better than their ancestors had to endure when Hemingway would get drunk and lumber into the backyard stark naked with a shotgun, determined to bag himself a lion.

Most of my time was spent wandering to and fro, lost in thought as my bare legs donated blood to the local mosquito population.  Since I was alone, I was under no obligation to engage in witty banter with anyone.  When I felt the need to amuse myself, I thought up something involving poop.  I’m not a tough crowd.

Last night was the most social time I had during my stay.  I managed to join in an ongoing conversation by agreeing with something someone had said, which is pretty tactful for me.  My shyness often keeps me silent until I’m well into my cups, at which point I blurt out something like “This hot weather sure does make the slime build up around my balls!”  Such an outburst would be tolerated at the Argus where the bartenders and regulars know me well enough to just roll their eyes and get on with it.  Here at the hotel bar it would not be so well received.

I drank multiple martinis but behaved admirably, at least comparatively speaking.  The evening’s award for Most Embarrassing went to a woman sitting next to me who introduced herself as “Maddalurzz.”  Her name wasn’t foreign, only slurred.

“My son may be book smart but he’s a complete dumbshit,” she announced to the bar with motherly love.  She then went on to say how her kid was trying to get into the University of Illinois, which included him having to write a letter to the dean of admission.  This task had somehow been foisted upon her.  Whether she planned to take on the job before or after hitting the bottle, she didn’t say.

I had no practical advice when she lamented having no idea how to write the letter.  You see, I went to San Diego State where the only requirement to get accepted was to spell one’s name correctly on the application form.

Looking back, I could have offered a couple of useful tips.  For instance, using a spell checker might help.  So would rehab.

Tip a Bottle for the Living and a Hat to the Dead

There is something alluring about a cemetery, especially one that has fallen into disrepair.  It merits the term “graveyard” and all the doom and gloom that the word implies.  If the grounds are as well manicured as a miniature golf course, the place might look more marketable in a mortuary brochure but would be sadly lacking in character.

Fortunately for me, the home for Key West’s departed had oodles of charm with its weatherbeaten headstones and overgrowth.  True, it didn’t have the kind of windswept desolation I encountered on Inishmore off the west coast of Ireland, but that’s hardly a fair comparison.  On an island rife with sunshine, pastels, and Jimmy Buffett, you would be hard pressed to come up with a more authentically rustic presentation of the dead.

The cemetery is walking distance from the heart of Old Town yet far enough away from Duval Street to keep disrespectful revelers from using it as a place to piss out their beer and rum drinks.  Just to be on the safe side, they did put up a sign at the entrance admonishing visitors not to dropkick the tombstones or lie down on the graves for photo ops.

They needn’t have worried about me.  I travel alone so there was little risk of me getting caught up in any pack-animal hijinks.  Both the living and the dead could rest easy as far as I was concerned.  I was only there to quietly groove on the fate that awaits all of us.

Now you might think of me as a terribly morbid fellow but I can assure you that it’s simply not true.  I did not dwell on the varying degrees of decomposition among  the interred and  only gave a passing thought to the possibility of claw marks on the inside of a coffin from someone who woke up from a deep coma just a little too late.

What interested me was not so much how they died but what little I could from the dates and sentiments on the headstones.  A good thing too as they don’t make it  habit of putting the cause of death under the person’s name and certainly don’t use it to determine what part of a cemetery one gets buried.  Imagine the indignity of a woman unable to be laid to rest next to her husband in Cancer Corner because she got hit by a train.

What I often saw were generations of families share the same patches of real estate.  As a Jennings, I found this eternal closeness endearing but odd.  It’s common practice in my family to put a healthy distance between oneself and one’s relatives upon reaching adulthood and where we’re put after keeling over is of no concern to kinfolk.

I wandered among the graves of beloved parents and grandparents, veterans of both world wars, and those rendered anonymous by time.  Rustic charm can have its drawbacks, especially in an old graveyard in the hurricane belt.  Decades of wind and rain can wipe the names and dates from headstones, leaving me with no clue as to who they were or when they lived.

Judging from the size of some of the unnamed graves, they probably contained the bodies of children.  It’s depressing to think about kids’ lives cut so short so I didn’t.  Instead, I convinced myself that they were circus midgets killed when being shot from a cannon went horribly wrong or sat on by the sideshow fat lady.

That made me smile but even then I did so with reverence.

Key West Dispatch

It had been a long day and an even longer previous night.  The red eye from SFO to Miami was booked full and I was in an aisle seat in the middle of the main cabin, unable to sleep even when the couple next to me weren’t chuckling at an unfunny Eddie Murphy movie.

The short flight from Miami to Key West was more enjoyable.  I stared out the window and watched the expanse of suburbs with man-made waterfronts give way to the Everglades.  From there, the plane flew out over the Gulf, tracing the highway that connects the Florida Keys.  We landed at small pink airport that exhibited a third-world sensibility when it came to building maintenance.  When I got off the plane, I felt like my vacation had truly started.  If only I were a little less tired.

The room at the hotel wouldn’t be ready for a couple of hours so I decided to hang out at the terrace bar and drink myself crosseyed before I could lie down for an afternoon nap.  There was only one problem with that plan.  You can’t buy alcohol before noon on Sunday in Key West.  I suffered over a Coca Cola for about an hour before switching to a nice and legal bloody Mary.

Later that afternoon, I woke up from my nap and went out to explore.  The temperature was well into the eighties and humid.  Quaint colonial buildings lined Duval Street.  It seemed like every other business was a hotel, gift shop, or bar.  At some point, I would go visit the historical museum and the house where Hemingway used to fuck one of his wives.  For the moment though, I was happy to immerse myself in tourist tackiness.

I had dinner at a place called Mangoes, a semi-fancy eatery with outdoor seating on Duval Street.  There were canvas parasols over each of the tables to protect customers from the rain.  Judging from the crackle of thunder in the sky to the northeast, the rain would be coming soon.

I ordered the grouper.  “An excellent choice, sir,” said the waiter.  I have never gotten used to being called “sir” but appreciated his thumbs up on my choice of grub.

I took a moment to reflect on how I’ve been really fortunate in life so far.  I’m not rich but I make enough to go on vacation and enjoy a fine seafood dinner without having to worry about my expenses.  A lot of people are not so lucky.

I remembered a story I read recently about a charity organization back in San Francisco that feeds the elderly.  They used to provide peanut-butter sandwiches but with the hard economic times, they were unable to offer anything more than dry toast.

That’s the kind of news that really makes one stop and think.  I made a mental note to not fill up on bread.