The Perfect Storm: A Vacation Travelogue (Part 4)

I’m famished. We’re having dinner at the hotel. We’re the only ones sitting at a table rather than the bar, so we’ll be eating really soon. We watch two other, large parties arrive, be seated, order, and actually receive their food before ours arrives. Apparently I was mistaken.

waterworks-bar-and-grillThis is how empty the restaurant was when we got there for dinner.

Well, this gives us time to catch up on the Keystone Cops version of our vacation so far. (And we’re not even on the ship yet.) I ask if my phone’s going to be reactivated soon, since it’s still not working. Wayne’s not sure, because,  when he’d been on hold with Xfinity for an hour at the airport while waiting for the shuttle, he accidentally bumped his phone and cut off the call. There wasn’t time to start over in the lengthy phone queue. So, still no phone for me. But we’re now together, and we have his phone, and there’s not usually phone service out in the middle of the ocean anyway. I’m not concerned. Yet.

We discuss our stateroom upgrade to a suite. We’ll have more closet space (which we never need). We’ll also have a larger balcony (which only I use), with three deck chairs (there are only two of us), plus a full whirlpool tub (which neither of us is going to use), and VIP check-in so we don’t have to snake through the line with 2,000+ other people. Okay, now you’re speaking my language!

The only negative I can see (for now), besides the added cost (which is on his credit card, not mine), is that all those travel documents and luggage tags I’d printed for our original stateroom are no good. I check the hotel’s website on my phone (which is still a tiny internet device, at least) and see that they do have a business center. No problem. I’ll simply get the PDF from Wayne onto my laptop and head down there in the morning to print out new documents. I’ve brought a small roll of tape to tape the tags to our suitcases. I’m proud of myself that I’ve thought of everything.

Only I haven’t really thought of everything. Why have I chosen now to stop running worst-case scenarios? They’re everywhere.

With the VIP check-in, we’re allowed to board the ship earlier than the unwashed masses, so we get up early and repack the few things we’ve taken out of our suitcases. I haven’t taken anything out of mine since I cleverly packed the carry-on with things I’d need before getting on the ship. I’m proud of myself that I really have thought of everything. Yeah. Right.

As Wayne’s stuffing things back into his oversized duffel bag, including his massive winter coat since we’re in Florida now, I grab my small laptop and head downstairs to the business center. We’re hoping to make the 11 a.m. shuttle to the port, but it won’t take long to print out two luggage tags and then tape them to the suitcase handles. In theory.

Wayne takes an earlier shuttle an hour and a half before we have to leave, going to a Walgreen’s nearby where he buys two sleeves of Diet Coke to take onto the ship with us, plus an Ace bandage for my wrist. I’ve slept on it wrong and can barely move it. This is going to make dealing with luggage so much more pleasant. (/sarcasm)

I carefully wheel my luggage onto the elevator and head down to the lobby. I find the business center and see there is no one there. What luck! Then I understand why no one is there. A sheet of paper taped to the printer reads: “Printer Out of Order. We hope to have it working soon.” The ironic thing is that the sign was clearly printed with a printer.

Unsure what they mean by “soon,” I dash to the front desk to ask about the printer. No problem, they say. They can print it for me in the office. But they can only do it if I email it to them. They tell me the email address and I scoot off to a chair in the lobby and email it.

Wayne shows up with the soda and the Ace bandage and heads back upstairs for his luggage. I wrap my wrist and then check with the front desk. They haven’t received my email. I’m suddenly glad I have a half million email addresses, and I re-send the attachment from a different email address. Wayne shows up in the lobby with all his luggage just as the front desk tells me they still have not gotten the email. I sit back down and try a third email address, as Wayne is telling me the shuttle has arrived. No pressure, Linda!

img_6930_c171ff6d-2f14-43ba-bbf18c23f593a547_d21b571a-8bd7-4753-9367a9b8fd34c6a7Imagine a bajillion people scurrying around, hoping to get on the shuttle, and me off in the corner with my laptop re-sending the same attachment a bajillion times.

As I’m sending the attachment from a fourth email address—and wondering if my old AOL email address from the 1990s might still work—Wayne tells me he’s called Carnival and that they say it’s no problem to have no luggage tags. We can simply tell the porter at the, uh, port (Where else would a porter be? That’s a rhetorical question, so don’t start commenting with other places a porter might be) what our ship name and new stateroom number are and he can make up tags for us right there.

All this time, Wayne has been begging the shuttle driver to hang on, we’ll be right there.

No pressure, Linda! I’m now shutting down my laptop and trying to stuff it back into the carry-on so the irritated folks already on the shuttle will not lynch us on the way to the port.

I sit on the overcrowded shuttle (about ten or twelve passengers in a short bus, each with a week’s worth of luggage—you do the math, I’m feeling too claustrophobic at the moment), trying to remember my Lamaze breathing techniques to slow my heart rate and lower my blood pressure. I’m pretty sure it’s not working.

The shuttle arrives safely at the port and we all stand up to get off … only to find out the driver has parked in the wrong spot. We all sit back down and watch patiently as she maneuvers the shuttle around and then backs it into a different spot a little farther away from the port. Everything is unloaded and we track down a porter, bribe him—I mean, tip him—heavily, and he makes up two luggage tags for us on the spot.

Now we can relax and enjoy our vacation. We bypass the lengthening line of regular cruise-goers and head for the VIP check-in … along with a million other people. Clearly they have redefined “VIP check-in” since the last time we were blessed with it. We just keep rolling our carry-ons wherever people are pointing, hoping that we’ll eventually see a really big boat and get on it.

brill-day1-2This is what we’d hoped the terminal would look like for VIP check-in…

I keep reminding myself we’re on vacation. The worst is behind us.

Right?

Next installment: Rub-a-dub dub, three rings ’round the tub…

 

The Perfect Storm: A Vacation Travelogue (Part 3)

Saturday afternoon: I’m now on the Amtrak Thruway bus from Orlando to Tampa, a two-hour trip in a lovely bus with air conditioning, Wi-Fi, comfy seats, and even a few tables.

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I decide to forgo the 11-inch laptop (too bulky) and even the Amazon Fire tablet (still too bulky) in my carry-on bag and use my non-phone phone as a tiny tablet during the bus ride. How convenient is this! I haven’t used my phone to check email in ages, but it should still be easier than lugging out the other two devices for such a short trip.

As I’m swiping my fingers around trying to type a coherent email on this tiny screen, I realize that my phone never would have slid so far down between that seat cushion and the frame if I hadn’t decided a day earlier to take off the bulky red plastic case. It had made sense at the time because the slimmer non-cased phone would fit in the small cross-body bag I had packed for port days on the ship.

But if I’d left the case on, the bright red plastic would have been easily seen when the attendant and I first looked for the phone when I boarded. Without its case, the phone was slim enough to slip all the way down near the floor, and the metal and black phone blended in perfectly with the metal seat frame. The perfect storm had continued.

In the next two hours on the bus, I check Facebook, Twitter, and other social media, and I keep writing emails—to Wayne, to my mom, to my friends—telling them all happily that I’ve found the phone and that all should be well once Wayne unsuspends the account. I keep checking to see if the phone is working, but by the time we reach Tampa in late afternoon, my phone is still just a miniature internet device and cannot text or call anyone.

That’s no big deal, though, because I’ll be meeting Wayne soon when he lands, gets the airport shuttle, and picks me up here at the Tampa station. There is no free Wi-Fi here, so I buy 24 hours of Wi-Fi for $5. I wonder why no one has answered any of my emails from the bus ride, only to see all of them sitting in the mail program’s Outbox, unsent. One of the settings must be wrong, or I’ve changed the password and now have forgotten what I’ve changed it to.

Wayne’s somewhere between Pittsburgh and Tampa, and I have no clue whether he’s able to read my emails—the ones I’m sending from the tablet now. Once he lands, I start getting emails from him. Little do I know they’re arriving in the wrong order. Usually, this isn’t a big deal. Usually.

Meanwhile, this station is about to close for the night.

I email this to Wayne: “Right now I’m on the back side of the station because there is nowhere to sit out front. The guard inside will let me know when I can no longer sit here.”

Wayne: “Did you ever think to ask to use someone’s phone?”

By the time I see this email, the station has closed and I’m standing out front in the dark, alone with all my luggage and two other men I don’t know. There are several random cabs in front of me, also with men inside. A six-foot-four hulk of a man like Wayne will never understand why a five-foot-two middle-aged woman with all her worldly possessions will not ask a random male stranger if she can use his phone. Plus, who was I supposed to call? After all, I was merely standing here waiting for Wayne and the hotel shuttle to pick me up.

My reply: “To do what? I’m trying to avoid a cab fare …”

We’d had several conversations in recent days about making sure my name was also on the hotel reservation, so that I could at least call their shuttle and then sit in their lobby with my things if I arrived too far ahead of Wayne. He had insisted I could call for their shuttle on my own without them knowing I was on the reservation.

“You’re my wife. Of course you’re included.”

I explained to him that protocol and legal issues might not include a wife automatically. I asked him to envision a domestic squabble scenario where an insane estranged wife stalked her husband to his hotel and begged to be let into his room. The hotel would be right to hesitate to let her in, or to let her use the shuttle to get to the hotel in the first place. He never understood what I was trying to say. Engineer-brains aren’t always as logical as one would expect. And writer-brains are way too good at thinking up worst-case scenarios.

So I’m standing out here in the dark waiting for him and that shuttle. It’s about 6:30 p.m., right when Wayne is supposed to land. I email him again, asking when he thinks he’ll be here.

“I won’t be picked up at the airport till 8:00.”

Then I get this email: “I’m trying to activate your old phone. So far, no go. On hold, wait time is minimum 1 hour and 40 minutes. I am at the hotel shuttle door at the airport. What does the shuttle look like?”

Wait … what? I ask him how the heck I would know what the shuttle looks like. In my frustration—as I watch those other men get picked up by relatives or Ubers—I look out at the ONE remaining cab at the curb in front of me.

If you’ve read my book Train of Thought, you’ll know why I dashed to the curb and grabbed that cab. Here I was again, in the dark, outside a closed train station, without a phone or data plan with which to contact a cab or Uber. I needed this cab.

For $10 plus a $5 tip, I get an odd cab ride to the hotel. I say odd because these days anybody can be a cab driver as long as he has a GPS. This guy is staring at that screen so much he almost misses the hotel—which I’m pointing at right in front of us as I yell, “It’s right HERE!”

The sign is the size of New Jersey. But he’s looking at a tiny phone screen the size of, well, a very, very tiny portion of New Jersey.

hotel-howard-johnson-plaza-tampa-downtown-069

I try not to rethink that $5 tip.

At the front desk, I ask if I can hang out in their lobby till my husband arrives from the airport on their shuttle. The concierge immediately brightens and says, “Wayne Parker! Yes! We talked to him. He said your phone’s not working. We’re picking him up at 8:00. How … how … how did you get here?” And he looks out at the curb as the cab pulls away. I explain the cab, the empty station, and the shuttle issue. Another member of the hotel staff appears and is talking about Wayne, too. Seems he’s a pretty popular guy here with the night shift. Huh.

I’m delighted, though, that he’s talked to them on my behalf already because they give me a key to our room (once I’ve put the charges on my credit card, not his—I suspect this was his plan all along). We’re on the 14th floor … and if you’ve ever stayed in a hotel with more than a dozen floors, you’ll know that we weren’t really on the 14th floor. We were on the 13th floor, but superstition prevents them from calling it the 13th floor. Sure enough, in the elevator, there is no button for the 13th floor.

elevator-buttons-1_30935978_ver1.0_1280_720

I relax in our room on the “14th” floor, try not to think of Stephen King movies starring John Cusack, and await Wayne’s arrival about two hours later. I shower and freshen up and feel like our vacation is really beginning now that we’re both in the same city, and then, finally, the same hotel.

When he arrives and I tell him about my adventures with the station and the cab, he asks, “Why didn’t you take the shuttle?” I start my well-worn speech about estranged wives and legal issues when he breaks in to tell me he’d emailed me hours earlier to tell me he’d called the hotel and asked them to send a shuttle to pick me up. So that’s why he asked me what the shuttle looked like!

That email—sent when I was still in the Tampa station—said simply, “Shuttle will be there in 15 to 30 minutes.”

I finally received that email a week later.

His next statement would normally be a delight: “Carnival called me this afternoon right before I left for the airport, asking if I wanted to upgrade to a suite with a larger balcony and VIP check-in.”

I laugh, because we’d spent almost nothing getting down here and are usually thrifty, frugal cruise-goers … until he says, “And I said yes.”

I giggle with delight—a suite and VIP check-in!—and then he adds, “For an extra $600.”

Now this doesn’t feel like such a good idea.
And the perfect storm continues to agree with me.

Next installment: A comedy of errors should be funny, right?