I have been reading travel articles for years. Travel is not as easy as the travelers make it seem. That is why I am writing this article.
My own personal list of unique experiences date back several years.
My Mexico experiences were highlighted by arriving two months after hurricane Gilbert, actually being in Mexico during two-currency devaluations, the invasion of Panama and the first of the recent rebel uprisings.
Travel within the United States did not aid my travel anxieties. I booked a trip to San Francisco two days before the last earthquake, Los Angeles a week before the Rodney King riots, landed in Reno, Nevada two hours after its first major earthquake in fifty years, stayed at the Lake of the Ozarks the year of the Mississippi River floods, and had reservations at the Royal Orleans Hotel in New Orleans the day after an electrical fire closed it for six months.
At this point I figured that the only thing left for me to experience was the plague. That was taken care of the next year when at Lake Tahoe several parks were closed because the U.S. Park Service had found rodents infected with bubonic bacteria. Oh, I forgot about the brush fires that year.
After this background, I came to the conclusion that there are good and bad things about traveling.
This Christmas my family and I went to Bonaire, a small island between Aruba and Curacao off the coast of Venezuela. We flew United Airlines out of O’Hare with a connecting flight out of Miami. The flight left on time. There was not even a plane on the runway ahead of us. (A good thing.) When we landed in Miami, I looked for our connecting flight on the monitor. It wasn’t listed. (A bad thing.) We were scheduled to fly on ALM Airlines at 5:15 p.m. but the flight would not leave till 8:00 a.m. the next day. After getting our luggage (six large Pullman’s), [TRAVEL HINT! Bring every thing you own so that you don’t have to worry if your house is burglarized when you are gone.], we were given a travel voucher for a local hotel and told to take the free shuttle provided by the hotel. (In the last year have you noticed that there is always one person who goes nuts at the ticket desk when something like this happens?) [TRAVEL HINT! He made the plane the next day but his luggage was lost for several days.] The shuttle bus was a van that held six people. One hundred sixty people divided by six, multiply by twenty minutes between trips equals a bad thing. We took our baggage to a cab where the driver informed us that he wouldn’t take us anywhere for less than twenty-five dollars.
When we got to the hotel only five pieces of luggage made the trip with us. The cab driver assured me that he had loaded all the bags and that we must have left it at the terminal. [TRAVEL HINT! Watch your driver put the bags into the car.] The driver offered to take me back to the airport for twenty dollars and assured me that my bag would still be there. The bag was there and so was another twenty to get me back to the hotel.
The hotel was across the street from the Dade County court complex, which included the county jail. Most of the jail residents make this hotel their first stop after release, as it’s the only place open anywhere near the jail. At least that explained the unusual clientele in the lobby. The room was modestly furnished and had been disinfected so much that my eyes watered. I kept pondering what it would have been like without that particular scent. Trying to make the best of the situation we got into a cab to have dinner at South Beach where the locals "conga" through the streets to Cuban music.
A leisurely dinner, a brief walk, a stop in front of Johnny Versace’s home (I was beginning to think that this was going to be the highlight of the trip); we went back for a night’s sleep. On the way back to the hotel, the cab driver informed us that our hotel was within five blocks of the worst neighborhood in Miami. The front desk informed us that we had to be in front of the hotel at 6:00 a.m. as the airline had chartered a bus to bring us to the airport. At 11:00 p.m., the front desk woke us up to tell us to be in the lobby at 5:00 a.m. Before we went to bed, I told my wife to brace one of the chairs against the door. Instead she came up with idea to delicately balance clothes hangers on the chair. As the hangers were falling to the floor at 1:30 a.m. and I saw the door opening, I threw myself against the door slamming it shut. A voice from the other side apologized saying he was from the hotel and he was checking the rooms. I called to the lobby only to be told the man was in fact from the hotel. I found that you really could sleep with one eye open. I learned that from the two cockroaches dancing on the wall above my daughter’s headboard when I checked her room. The next morning there was no bus, only the shuttle bus. The plane left at 8:40 a.m. not 8:00 a.m. The flight was uneventful except for the pilot counting how many people were going to disembark at Bonaire or Curacao. Bonaire won, so we landed there first.
We stayed at the Plaza Hotel. The hotel, food, weather, and snorkeling was as good as any travel story you might have ever read.
Just remember "Getting there is half the fun."
Editors’ Note: Judge Wojcik consults for several airlines and countries who would rather not be named.