Tuesday, March 26, 2013

On Traveler's Remorse

Traveler’s Remorse. That’s what a friend calls those moments of temporary regret that occur when you are dithering about what to pack and what to leave behind and also when you are doing everything you can to get to a destination or get home and are stalled at every turn.

Most often, the trip in the middle is outstanding, whether or not you crammed everything you thought you might need into a tiny carry-on bag and regardless of how long it takes to get out of town and get back home. That certainly was the case with my recent trip – a cruise along the west coasts of Costa Rica and Nicaragua on the Star Flyer, a four-masted sailing ship.

You may read all about it when my travel story runs in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, but here I need to vent about my journeys to and from the good part.

Booked on a red-eye flight from San Francisco to Miami, I had a plan. “Take two Dramamine and drink a beer,” counseled friends who frequently take overnight flights. Okay, I thought. I can do that. I did. Couldn’t sleep a wink. The next day, I spent five hours in the Miami airport stoned on Dramamine.

The flight to Costa Rica was uneventful, and I reassured myself that though I was tired and crabby, soon I would be on an amazing 350-foot luxury vessel and could relax. “Soon” wasn’t quite right. Before being transported to the ship, we passengers waited about 90 minutes in a hotel conference room, sipping tropical juices and fighting over cookie crumbs. Then we drove for two hours to the port.

At check-in for the Star Flyer, I had to laugh when they took my photo for my ship’s ID card. I couldn’t imagine that I looked my best. Of course, I couldn’t imagine what a customs agent would mistake me for on my way home, either – but I’ll get to that later.

The time on the ship was lovely. On Day Two, I told the captain I had already achieved a state of relaxation somewhere below lazy and just above comatose. On Day Seven, disembarking went smoothly. The drive to the airport was pleasant enough, as I was awake to enjoy the scenery. I was annoyed when the airport security officer confiscated my best cuticle scissors, scissors the TSA had allowed me to take to Costa Rica, but I cheered up when I learned I could get a free hat if I bought two t-shirts in the huge airport gift shop.

Just before we started boarding the plane to Miami, the agent at the gate said we would board 10 minutes late because she wanted to give everyone time to use the restroom. Apparently three of the four lavatories on the plane were out of service. That situation made it less upsetting when security officers just beyond the gate made everyone turn in bottles of water and soda, even unopened ones.

Going through customs in Miami, I had a bit of a shock. The agent did not ask about fruits or animal products, as I had expected. He asked if I were a Catholic nun. “What?” I said, startled. When I travel, I dress like a modern-day Tom Sawyer – denim capri pants with cuffs rolled up (I am short), a t-shirt and a sweatshirt. It works, and when I saw a young woman in the same outfit, wearing a Mizzou t-shirt, we laughed about our choices in clothing.

“I asked if you were a nun,” the agent said. “You look just like one.”

No offense to nuns I know and love, but immediately, I wanted to show this man my tattoo, spout some Yiddish and finish off with something mildly profane. But you don’t mess with customs agents, so I just stammered that I was not a nun. He replied, “Happy St. Patrick’s Day anyway, Miss Corrigan!”

Once in the terminal, I stopped at Starbucks for a smoothie, which was to serve as supper. The clerk took my money and made the drink. As I walked away, she called out, “We never have any bananas this late – sorry the smoothie is so thin.”

I was scheduled to spend the night at the hotel in the Miami airport. I found it – and it was closed. The terminal director on duty told me there was a bomb scare, so the hotel was evacuated and closed for an indeterminate amount of time. Well behind the police tape, I climbed into a six-seater Homeland Security golf cart and become fast friends with a couple from Perth. We howled when we noticed the sign on the dashboard: “CHECK EMREGENCY BRAKE.” Clearly, no one checked the spelling.

After two hours, the hotel reopened at last. The next morning, my flight to Dallas left 35 minutes late, completely wiping out my 35-minute layover before my flight from Dallas to San Francisco. When we landed in Terminal C, I walked all the way to the gate in Terminal D anyway, where I was told I was too late and set up with a seat on the next plane home. Of course, that plane was scheduled to depart from Terminal C.

Of course I did get home, safe and sound, and it only took four days to lose that wonderful gentle rocking sensation that you experience on a ship. When I told my friend Denise about my encounter with the religious customs agent, she had an idea:

“Girlfriend, we gotta rouge up your look!”