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.

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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.

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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?

 

The Perfect Storm: A Vacation Travelogue (Part 2)

Friday evening. I’ve made it through the coach-seat, coffee-spilling adventure, and I’ve done the responsible thing and had Wayne suspend the phone service on my lost phone. Nothing to do now except try to enjoy the ride. I’ll be on this train from Philadelphia to Orlando, where tomorrow I’ll get on an Amtrak Thruway bus to my destination in Tampa. There I’ll meet up with Wayne, who is flying down tomorrow afternoon. We’ll stay in a hotel overnight and get on the cruise ship on Sunday. Seems straightforward enough. What could go wrong now?

I settle into my Viewliner roomette, which has one noticeable difference from the Superliner roomettes I traveled in last year: there is a toilet right in the roomette. At first blush, this seems like a marvelous idea: a bathroom all to yourself. At second blush, you realize you’ll really blush if you’re sharing this roomette with a friend—apparently a very close friend, at least by the end of the trip. The toilet is just sitting there next to one of the two facing roomette seats.

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It’s not all weird and awkward, though. The toilet doubles as one of the steps up to the top berth. You know, as long as you remember to put the lid down. (Men, I’m lookin’ at you.) As I think about the logistics of using this toilet, I realize there’s another perk of traveling alone.

I head to the dining car, although I keep forgetting which direction it’s in from my roomette. I’m relieved they have a lit-up sign at the front of the sleeper car that says, “Dining Car This Way.” (I think in small print underneath that it also says, “You Stupid Idiot with No Sense of Direction.”) I’m not afraid of being seated with strangers, because I now have mad dining car skillz since my cross-country train trip in 2017.

I have dinner with a nice couple heading home to North Carolina after a visit to New York City. I’m excited to have a captive audience to show off photos of my new grandson, King Arthur, on my pho— Oh, shit. Never mind, I tell them. I’ve lost my phone and they’ll have to endure me trying to describe him instead. Something gets lost in the translation and I give up.

The good news is that the waiter has already brought my Diet Pepsi and I’ve poured it into the short, squat clear plastic cup and have added the ridiculously long, clear plastic straw. (Clearly we are not in California or we would all be felons because of these straws.)

The other good news is that the waiter is now bringing my delicious, rare steak dinner, cooked to order, served on our table, which has a real tablecloth and real flatware. I do not envy airplane travelers at this moment. I’d show you a picture of the beautiful table and steak dinner, but … yeah, um, no phone.

The bad news is that the waiter does not see the clear cup and the ridiculously long, clear plastic straw … and knocks over the entire Diet Pepsi, which soaks into the real tablecloth before I can finish describing King Arthur’s bald head to my dinner companions. We all say a pleasant “No, thank you” to the dessert and head back to our sleeper cars.

A Viewliner roomette differs in one more way from a Superliner: the upper berth has windows. Everyone on the Amtrak Unlimited forums seems to recommend sleeping in the upper bunk and leaving the bottom set up as seats if you’re alone, especially if you are short and can still sit underneath the lowered bunk. I decide that this is a fun idea and ask the room attendant to make up the upper bunk so I can leave my huge luggage on the other seat overnight.

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It’s reassuring to sleep on a moving train with this convenient “seat belt” attachment so you don’t careen into the toilet below.

dscn1819-1.jpgI took this shot while standing on the (closed) toilet, looking down at the seats and table still set up under my top bunk.

After a night of interrupted sleep from the tossing and turning of the train, and several mountain-climbs up and down from the bunk because of my tiny bladder, I brush my teeth and wash up in the tiny folding sink, which is actually a clever arrangement. No drain in the bowl: the water disappears when you fold the sink up.

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I fold the sink back up and try not to overthink the obvious firing of the engineer who designed this toilet-sink-electrical outlet arrangement …

dscn1822Because what could go wrong?

I’ve got my luggage all ready, I’ve had a marvelous hot breakfast in the dining car, and we’re getting ready to pull into the Orlando station. My room attendant helps me get my gargantuan suitcase down the corridor and near the door at the front of the sleeper car. I’m gathering my purse and carry-on and wool winter coat (which really feels ridiculous down here in Orlando) when I spy something unusual wedged between the seat and the metal frame of the seat. It’s my phone!

We’ve now stopped completely and folks are dashing for the exits. I need to get off here so I call the attendant and tell him my phone’s stuck down near the floor between the cushion and frame. I can’t seem to reach down to get it, so he hits the floor on his knees and thrusts his hand under the seat to poke the phone upward where I can reach it.

They’re announcing a last call for Orlando, so I grab the phone, shove a $20 tip in the attendant’s hand, and jump off the train. (Mind the gap!)

Before I lose the train’s Wi-Fi, I grab my Amazon Fire tablet, open an email and write triumphantly to Wayne, “Uncancel! Found phone!” Well, that’s what I think I’ve typed. I don’t realize at the time that autocorrect has changed it to “Uncancel! Find phone!”

And although Wayne is flying to Tampa in a few hours, he’s still back in Pittsburgh, having no idea what my email means, as he’s driving back from the Xfinity store where he has already bought me a new phone…

…Which has therefore completely bumped my old phone out of their system.

Next installment: Unlimited Texting is useless if your phone ain’t a phone anymore.