Some have heard me declare, "I have to get out of the office more often." Being desk-bound these days, it's amazing what has happened around the county when I hit the open road. I'm reminded there's a big world outside the office windows.
A vacation removed me for a week. That's why there was no column in last week's edition. As promised, I'll give a review of that five-day fling aboard Royal Caribbean's ship Enchantment of the Seas. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience shared with granddaughter Kate, who graduates from Middle Township High School in June, and her family. The flight home was fraught with woes.
First, the good part. The ship sailed from Port Canaveral, Fla. It was a far cry from the relatively tiny gray minesweeper on which I cruised the Pacific from California to Vietnam.
This time, I didn't stand watch in radio, didn't have a guy sleeping above and below me in uncomfortable racks, and had my own bathroom.
The food was superior and abundant; the crew was excellent and friendly, although somehow hard to understand, being from nations around the globe. The loudspeaker reminded me of a train station, no one could understand anything that was spoken. For that, I was grateful since I thought I was losing my hearing.
I can't sleep much past 5 a.m., alarm or not. That meant most days I got to enjoy the sunrise over the sea, always a thrilling sight.
We visited Coco Cay, a private island that offered ample opportunity for flopping onto a lounge chair and getting sunburned or tanned. I did neither.
Careful Al wore a Croc Dundee hat to protect his head and wrapped a beach towel over his shoulders and arms to prevent sunburn. He felt like a nomad roaming the scorching desert sands, but at least he didn't burn.
Next stop, Nassau, Bahamas, an old town filled with small vehicles, some with steering wheels on left, others on the right. There were diamond stores upon diamond stores, people offering amazing "deals" on virtually everything, offers to braid your hair, (mine was too short), and a marketplace filled with knick-knacks, the Bahamian version of an indoor yard sale.
Among that jumble of humanity there were some talented carvers chipping away at hunks of wood. They created fish and other creatures and would bargain for a sale. I left those great deals in Nassau.
Hoping for a weekend at home before returning to the press of county affairs, I got to the Orlando airport Friday about 10 a.m. for my 2:15 p.m. flight. Was I glad to be there, bags checked and through TSA security. Then, I glanced at a text on my phone. My heart stopped. My flight to PHL was canceled.
I tried to book another flight then and there. All the seats were taken. (At this point I was hoping the alarm would ring and it would end this nightmare.)
My usually low blood pressure was up, as I could feel my head throbbing. The next flight with a seat was 5:57 a.m. Saturday. My mind in a fog, I couldn't think how many hours that was, only that it meant sleeping and eating in the airport.
I was homeless, clueless, shocked, depressed, angry, befuddled and, in general, not my normal self. This was the first time I had a flight canceled. It was for weather reasons that pelted the Northeast.
Hungry, I sought sustenance: a bag of peanuts and a bag of pretzels. That should provide enough fodder for the day and night, I reasoned.
Then, as if to confuse me further, American Airlines supplied conflicting data on its app. It stated the pre-dawn flight would depart from Gate 22, Terminal B. For those who never experienced that airport, there are terminals A and B.
Terminal A has low numbers to 29. American flies from Terminal B, with gates 30-59.
I inquired of an American Airlines person, and was assured the app was correct, Flight 1893 would leave from Gate 22. With loads of time to kill, and in a bid to regain my composure, I sauntered to Terminal A's Gate 22. There, an Avianca Airlines employee kindly explained to me that this was Gate 22, and American Airlines did not fly from this gate. I know she thought I was slightly out of my mind, which was correct at that moment. I showed her the American Airlines app on my phone. She looked puzzled. I thanked her and rambled away uttering nasty words to myself.
Once I returned to the main terminal, I went to Terminal B, and inquired again of the American Airlines employee about the mismatch. She checked and assured me Gate 22 was the right one.
I pondered my immediate future. I imagined a headline in the Orlando Sentinel: Homeless Herald Editor Found Sleeping in Airport. Oh, the shame I'd face at home, but with knowledge of what it was like to have no place to lay one's head.
I saw the sign for Hyatt Regency. My wallet shivered in fear, but the prospect of a real bed offered much more than stretched across three hard seats or on the airport floor.
Like a vagrant with just the clothes on my back (everything else was stowed in my checked luggage), and clutching my green Cabela's canvas bag, I entered the elegant lobby. The clerk told me the price of the room. "Al, there is no option. Say yes," my brain informed. So I did. Asked if I belonged to AAA, I said yes, and that dropped the price somewhat.
I felt like a cowboy off a dusty cattle drive and probably looked like one. The room had amenities galore, and I slept like a log. I also had a decent meal in a ritzy restaurant, it sure topped peanuts and pretzels.
The wake-up call at 3 a.m. for my 5:57 flight at Gate 25, now, got me rolling early. I went through security again and arrived early at Gate 25 in Terminal A. Sure enough, there was the notice of American Airlines flight to PHL, on time.
We boarded, and the Airbus rolled in reverse about 50 yards from the gate and stopped. The pilot came on and informed us there was a computer problem with the gadget that controlled the rudder. Maintenance had to be called; fixed it, and we were airborne at 7:30 a.m.
About 250 miles from PHL air traffic control ordered a slowdown. I glanced to the woman beside me and sheepishly asked, "What else can go wrong?" Fortunately, nothing did. Even my bags arrived with me in the City of Brotherly Love.