Monday, July 23, 2007


Key West vacation, day 1

Sunday, July 22
3:08 p.m.

We’ve made it as far as Miami International Airport, where we will spend an hour and a half waiting for a connecting flight to Key West. It’s been an oddly long day already—the first time in ages I can remember getting up before 11 on a Sunday. Brooklyn is a wasteland at 8 a.m. on the day of rest. We had free rein over Atlantic Avenue all the way out to JFK. The airport was practically deserted, too.

The plane wasn’t, though. It was an American Airlines Airbus A300, which, judging from the rickety CRT television screens mounted in the center ceiling console, could have been among the first to roll out of the Airbus factory 30 years ago. It was packed to the gills.

A300s are larger than most of the planes I’ve flown in lately. Boeing 737s and A320s are single-aisle planes, and because of this, the cramped space is a little more forgivable. This A300 had three rows of seats and two aisles. I had an aisle seat. People kept brushing their asses against the side of my head. If anything, it felt MORE claustrophobic than those smaller planes.

And, after feeling strangely relaxed all morning, leisurely eating the mediocre greasy airport food and breezing through the security checkpoint in all of 2 minutes, finally that familiar feeling returned: I wanted to beat to death half the people within earshot. A girl and her mother occupied the seats across the aisle to my left. She looked to be 14 or 15, and her tight jeans, striped socks and carefully loosened designer sneakers hinted at a healthy mall addiction. But she acted as if she were 6 or 7, draping herself sullenly across her mother’s lap and dangling her legs over the armrest into the aisle, kicking incessantly at my armrest. I wanted to smother her with an airsick bag.

The flight attendant was strangely surly, too. He looked like Vincent D’Onofrio with a tan and a 5 o’clock shadow. As the plane was climbing into the sky, one of the overhead bins popped open two seats away from him. Another passenger and I waved his attention and pointed to the bin. He shrugged the way a tow truck driver might shrug while impounding your car.

And what was our televised entertainment for this two-and-a-half-hour flight? CBS’s morning show plus an episode of “How I Met Your Mother.” Headphones for this scintillating bit of programming were $2 each.

I shouldn’t complain too much, though. The flight left on time and we arrived in Miami early. Of course, then we were stuck on the taxiway because a thunderstorm was approaching and all workers were being called indoors until the lightning threat passed. But even that took less than 10 minutes.

Miami International looks like it was designed by M.C. Escher. It has at least five concourses, all of which are connected by a series of meandering, narrow, windowless corridors that arbitrarily send up and down escalators every 45 seconds. Around each corner are helpful signs that tell you how many more minutes it will take to reach each concourse from where you are now (15 to 20 minutes for us, I estimate). Big posters all over the walls herald the new airport (Being built right behind these walls!). Here’s hoping they figure out some way to make travelers feel less like they’ve fallen down a rabbit hole.

11:17 p.m.
Ah, Key West. What a quaint little town at the very tip of the ragged, spotty Florida Keys. It was dumping rain on the tarmac as we were bused out to the small turboprop that would take us to Key West from Miami. We climbed aboard and I listened to the portly, hibiscus-shirted middle-aged men sitting in the seats ahead of us opine loudly about the town. Then I passed out.

When I woke up, the sun was glistening on the ocean below as we descended on Key West. As the plane turned for final approach, I saw boatyards, elegant sailboats moored in the narrow channels clearly visible as dark patches of blue against the rich turquoise of the shallow seabed, and row after row of metal-roofed single-floor houses. It looked surprisingly low key.

I was enthused when we stepped off the plane and walked into the two-gate terminal. This place had a good, relaxed vibe. That all ended when, after five minutes of watching other people’s luggage whirl around on the carousel, the baggage handler stuck his head through the hatch and told us that was all the luggage there was.

Goddamned American Airlines lost our suitcases.

We waited for 15 minutes for anyone to show up at the American Airlines desk to help us sort things out. Evidently the employees, all two of them, were out helping load the commuter flight going back to Miami. They took a description of our bags, punched it into the system, and said most likely the bags just missed our flight and would arrive on the next plane coming into the airport. I gave my cell number and we went to the hotel. The taxi driver at the terminal took one look at our meager carry-ons and said, “Don’t tell me. They lost your luggage?”

Apparently that’s normal for Key West. It is normal for a fourth of the passengers to arrive on the island without everything they packed for the island.

So, mildly discouraged, we checked into our room and decided to venture out for food, expecting my phone to ring at any time with word of our newly arrived suitcases. We stumbled around Duval Street, the main drag, drank in the rows of high-end restaurants and self-parodic tourist trap chain stores. I tried conch fritters, ate three-fourths of a hamburger the size of my head at an outdoor restaurant and watched a wild chicken peck at the flecks of bacon on the floor before we wandered back toward the hotel.

10:45 p.m. Still no phone call. My battery is almost dead, and the phone charger is—of course—in my fucking suitcase. So we went to the drug store to buy the basic supplies that should have arrived with us on the plane: toothbrushes, toothpaste, sunscreen and contact lens accessories. Total cost to us: $37. We still have no fresh clothes.

I called the 1-800 number for the baggage claim at 11 p.m. No progress on finding our bags, but the electronic ladyvoice on the other end cheerfully informed me that most bags are found within 24 hours. Swell. We reported the bags lost at 6 p.m. Even if those clowns do find them, that still means we’ll waste one day of our vacation without camera, swimsuits, sandals or umbrellas.

The taxi driver told us the airline gives $50 vouchers for the inconvenience. He also said the last time it happened to him, he spent that $50 on getting drunk. This was the most reassuring thing I heard all day.

Tomorrow: Hemingway’s house and the shipwreck museums. In stinky clothes. And without pictures.

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