July 26, 2021

Stranded in Ft. Lauderdale

It's been over a year since I posted, and so much has happened in that year. Much of it has to do with my mom's health — she's currently in the hospital facing a major battle. I don't want to talk much about it, but I slept half of the day away and can't sleep now, so I am going to do some writing to keep myself busy. 

So, last month, I went to Turks and Caicos. It was a trip that had been postponed twice, mostly due to the lovely pandemic we've been dealing with for the last year and a half. The weeks leading up it were tough for me at home, but I made it. The trip was fine. It wasn't exactly what I wanted it to be when I planned it, but that couldn't really be helped, and I'm positive I'll go back one day. I did have a good time. Got a stamp on my passport and all of that.  

The trip home didn't go as smoothly. I've never flown anything but Delta in my life, and there was a Delta flight straight home to Atlanta from the Providenciales airport at 3 pm on the day I left. There was also a Jet Blue flight about an hour later that would take me to Fort Lauderdale. It was cheaper. And for some reason, I got the bright idea that I'd add a little road trip to my itinerary and drive home from there. I'd probably stop and spend the night in the Jacksonville area since I know it so well. It was going to be my 24 hours or so to have some alone time that I never get to have and prepare myself for everything I had going on when I returned home — taking care of my mom, starting classes at UGA again, adding 22 chickens to the little farm I'm trying to build, getting back to work, expanding my garden, working on the duck pen I'm building, working on the pool, etc. 

If I could go back in time, I'd just take that damn Delta flight.  

Getting out of Turks and Caicos was fine. Several people had issues, including the friend who accompanied me on the trip. I did not. Everything went so smoothly. I should have known better. I arrived at Ft. Lauderdale, went through customs, got my bags, walked forever, and finally found a place to sit down so I could take a breather. I called my mom to let her know I was back on US soil. I grabbed a Diet Coke. I looked up how to get to the rental car place. For some reason, I thought I could walk to it, but you had to take a bus. I had no interest in taking the bus. I don't like taking the bus. When I went to UGA the first time around, friends would make fun of me because I'd literally walk miles to classes every day because I didn't want to take buses. But I finally worked up the nerve and energy to walk to the bus stop — in the rain, might I add — and get on so I could start my next adventure. I had it all planned out so well. 

I got to the car rental center, and the company I used, which was the only company I could find with availability, was the furthest away, so I had to walk another mile it seemed, and then I had to stand in line and listen to some guy talk about how the COVID vaccine paralyzed his wife. When I finally made it to the counter, I was so excited to be getting out of there. There's some depressing about that airport. I can't really explain it, but every friend I've talked to who has been there knew exactly what I was talking about. I had no idea that I wasn't going anywhere until the next day.  

"M'am, I'm afraid we can't honor your reservation."   


"Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah."  

"Huh? Please, no."  

"The only way to get around it is to do this and that and this and that." 

"Okay, fine. Do it. Whatever it takes. I'll pay whatever. I just want to go home."  

"Then you have to do this and this and this and this and this."  

"Huh? That doesn't even make sense."  

That's basically how my conversation with the guy behind the counter went. I still can't figure out exactly what went wrong. I'd contacted the car rental place three times the week before to make sure the reservation was legit. But apparently, their policies changed in that short timeframe. Something to do with a pandemic-induced car shortage, a reduction in one-way car rentals, me booking with a debit card instead of a credit card, and me not having a return flight ticket to Ft. Lauderdale. It was all so convoluted. And his solution was to buy a bunch of plane tickets and trick another car rental company. No.  

I'll admit, I lost it. I went into the nearest bathroom and sat in a stall and cried. I'm not a person who does a lot of crying, but this did me in. The few weeks leading up to the trip were very emotional, and I just felt so defeated. I texted my parents to let them know what was going on. I asked my aunt who travels to that area often if she could come up with anything. I remembered there was one more Delta flight back to Atlanta that night, and I could probably just make it if I hurried, but it was all booked up. The next one was at 8 am. It was almost booked, and the price had skyrocketed since I'd last looked. I ended up paying almost three times what I would have paid for the car to get the next to the last seat on that flight.      

By this time, it was around 8 pm. I had 12 hours to kill. There was no sense in trying to get a hotel. I'll just spend the night at the airport. People do it all the time. I've been in the Atlanta airport in the middle of the night, and it's buzzing and busy, and it'll be fine. I'll blend in with everyone. Grab some food. Play on my phone.  

Ft. Lauderdale is no Atlanta. 

First, I realized that the car rental center was a long way from the terminal where Delta flights come and go. I wasn't getting back on that bus, so I decided I'd get something to eat as I hadn't had anything since breakfast. It's 8 pm on  Saturday night, so I would think the restaurants in a decently-sized airport would be open. I would be wrong. Everything I encountered was closed. Starbucks, Burger King. I couldn't even find the Chilis that was on the map. I finally walked to Terminal One and saw a couple of vending machines, got some M&Ms and water, and found a quiet little corner with four benches tucked away from most of the foot traffic. Big mistake.   

On the first bench, a lady was sprawled across it, sleeping. On the one across from her, a guy was sitting there charging his phone. He looked okay — not someone I'd want to approach if I didn't have to, but okay. On the third one, a lady was sitting in her pajamas, looking miserable, and the fourth one just across from her was empty. I opted for the empty one. My plan was to sit down, figure out where I needed to go, eat my M&Ms, and get there quickly.  As soon as I sat down, the lady in her pajamas started coughing. Not like an "I swallowed my water wrong" kind of cough, but like a nasty, sick, congested, "I'm miserable and probably have COVID" kind of cough. It took me a minute to remember we are still kind of pandemic-y after a week of lounging around in paradise and not thinking twice about it. I got up and moved to the bench with the guy charging his phone and washed myself down with hand sanitizer. 

About five minutes after I moved to that seat, this other guy who does not look like someone I want anything to do with walks up to us. He asks the guy charging his phone, in some kind of slang terms, if he wants to buy drugs. The guy is like "huh?" He asks him again. "Naw, man. I don't mess with that stuff. Go on." He says. After that, drug selling guy looks at me and says "You?" I shake my head, but he sits down next to me anyway. I picked up my phone, pretended to make a call, and then pretended to ask the person on the other end where they were at the airport. "Oh, you're over there. I thought you were coming here. Well, I'm going to have to get up and go over to where you are then. I'll see you in a second." I guess I didn't want to hurt the drug dealer guy's feelings if I just got up right after he sat down?   

So, I walked to the other end of the terminal and down to the lowest floor. I found some more seats where a few people were just hanging out, and they all looked decent enough, so I sat there. I knew I actually needed to be in another terminal for my flight, and I was trying to figure out exactly how I could get there because, for some reason, the two buildings do not connect indoors? As a matter of fact, most of the buildings in this stinking airport don't connect at all in any way. I was so tired from walking so much already too, but I was not getting back on a bus either. As I'm sitting there, flights are coming, and I realize most of the people I'm sitting with are merely waiting for other people to arrive so they can take them home. The place empties out pretty quickly. 

As I'm sitting there, alone now, a guy approaches me. I don't pay much attention to him, but he has some sort of badge around his neck, and I stupidly assumed he's an airport employee. He starts asking me if I'm okay because I don't look okay. I tell him what's happened — the whole ordeal about the rental car and how I'm not sure how to get to the right terminal.  He tells me that I can walk to it, but it's gonna take me a little while, and it's all outside. And then he tells me he thinks I need a friend and his name is such and such and he would be glad to be my friend. At this point, an alarm goes off and I look at his badge and realize he is not an airport employee and the name he gives me doesn't match the name on the badge and OMG why do strange men keep approaching me I just want to go home?  

Suddenly, I make up a story about how I am about to meet my friend at the other terminal and I better get going. Apparently, I'm trying to avoid hurting weirdos' feelings on this night. Anyway, I grab my bags that I'm really sick of hauling around — I've been on the go for about 13-14 hours at this point — and start my journey towards the next terminal. 

The walk to the next terminal is indeed outside. It's not as long as I thought it would be, but it wasn't a quick little jaunt either. And earlier, the sidewalk had been filled with cops and security people, but at this hour, most of them were gone, and it was filled with homeless people, people waiting for transportation, and people asking me to get into their cars and they'd take me where I wanted to go. Meanwhile, there are signs everywhere telling me not to get into cars with anyone who is not clearly a taxi. I guess that's an issue there. It's also dark. It's nasty. And the heat and humidity were awful. But I finally made it to my terminal. 

As soon as I got inside, I saw that there were maybe four people sitting around. One guy was brushing his teeth in the water fountain. He was wearing no shoes and had made one of the sets of seats into a bed, complete with pillows and sheets. One guy went up to a hand sanitizing wipe station and just started pulling out all the wipes and throwing them onto the floor. One guy was sitting off to himself, charging his laptop. He looked okay, but he was also taking up a whole roll of seats with his stuff. Then I saw a girl wearing a Georgia State shirt and decided she was my people. I sat across from her. She wouldn't sell me drugs or make unwanted advances. No. But she would leave about 10 minutes after I sat down because the person she was waiting for arrived and was ready to go. Of course. 

At this point, the place was practically empty except for the rogue employee who walked through. Apparently, Ft. Lauderdale doesn't see many overnight flights. For some reason, I started googling the airport around this time. I guess I was looking for some kind of hope that I would not be sitting by myself all night with Guy Who Apparently Lives at the Airport and Crazy Guy Who Throws Wipes All Over the Floor. I completely forgot that there had been a shooting at this airport a few years ago. That knowledge added to the whole creepy vibe of the place. Instead of shutting Google down, I clicked on an article about the shooting. I clicked on a video from the shooting. I realized I was literally sitting in the exact spot in the exact terminal where the shooting took place. Like, it literally happened right where I was. Literally. Not dozens of feet away. Not across the room. Right where I was sitting.  I got up and moved. 

At this point, my mom calls me and asks how I am. I told her I was fine, but I was not feeling it.  At all. Maybe it wasn't as bad as I thought it was, but I was so physically and mentally exhausted. I just wanted to get home. To see my dog. To sleep in my bed. To be away from creeps. A friend texted me some podcasts to listen to keep me company. Of course, when I went to get my headphones out of my purse, I realized I left them on the nightstand in Turks and Caicos. Of course.  

It's around 11 pm by now. I finally had a realization. At the opposite end of the room I'm in, there's some sort of security checkpoint. It's where the airport employees check in and out for work. There are a couple of older women in security uniforms sitting there running it. They look bored but they look safe. I walk up and ask them if I can sit with them. One of them shrugs and says sure. 

After about an hour or so, the other one keeps walking wide circles around me, giving me the side-eye. Finally, she approaches. "What exactly are you doing here?" she asks, her Caribbean accent thick and suspicious. "Are you waiting on someone?" No, I'm not, but I explain to her exactly what happened.  Her attitude changes from airport security lady to mother figure, and she takes pity on me. "Stay right here with us," she says. "Try to get some rest. We'll keep an eye on you." She shows me where all the cameras are and asks about my flight details. When I share them, she tells me exactly how to get to where I need to go and what time I should get there. I loved that woman that night. She checked on me every half hour or so. And she went to lunch, she reminded me where to go and when. I felt like a 12-year-old, but you just have no idea how tired I was. It was a long day in a long month in what's been a long year so far. Defeated is the only word I can think to describe it. 

When the time rolls around to head to where I need to go to catch my flight, I do, but there isn't a Delta employee in sight at the counter. We stand for two hours, waiting. The flight is full. People are mad. They are loud. "We're going to miss the flight," they complain. A security guard who passes through assures us that the flight is not going to leave with all of us not on it. Finally, the employees show up. They check us in with great speed. They put us through security with great speed. Until I get there. Of course. 

Apparently, the detector goes off, highlighting at least four parts of my body as suspicious, ranging from my head to my crotch. The security guard let me know I'm about to receive the ultimate patdown and asks if I want a private room. That just seems like more wasted time and walking. "Just do it, " I say. I don't care anymore. And she does. For a long time. I've never had a patdown like that. But I actually felt worse for her because I was so nasty and sweaty at this point, and I'm sure I smelled just peachy.  For what it's worth, the same thing happened to the girl behind me, so I think their system was malfunctioning, but whatever. 

The plane boards pretty quickly, which is fabulous because there's nowhere to sit after I get through security. And thankfully, I paid the extra $50 for Delta Comfort, so I got to go first and sit in front. I'm pretty sure I fell asleep for part of the flight. The girl next to me probably enjoyed me snoring and smelling exactly like I'd spent almost 24 hours sitting on plastic seats in a hot airport, but I didn't care. 

When we arrived in Atlanta, I wanted to kiss the ground. Instead, I had to walk another 2.4 miles - (I measured it - this whole incident gave me the highest number of steps I've ever gotten in the history of counting my steps) - to get my checked bag. And that includes riding the moving sidewalks and the Plane Train for part of the journey. And then I had to get an Uber. Apparently, there's a specific place to get an Uber at the airport. I've never done it before, but I followed the signs and ended up in the exact wrong place. I finally just sat down on a bench. I was hot. I was tired. I was hungry. I was thirsty. I was lightheaded. I was over it. I asked someone who sat down next to me if they knew where the Uber pickup place was, and they did not speak English. I called my mom and told her I was just going to sit there because if I had to move another inch I would likely pass out. She told me to go back inside and get something to eat or drink, but I just didn't have it in me. I wanted to get home. I texted my cousin who lives near the airport and told him I'd pay him to come get me, but he was asleep and didn't respond.   

So, I walked back to the baggage claim area and followed the signs again. I then realized my mistake. I was supposed to downstairs and then go out, not go out and halfway around the world. So, I did. And there was a short walkway and then I was back out on the sidewalk and there were signs that said "Uber" and "Lyft" and I wanted to kiss the ground again. I pulled out my phone, scheduled a ride, and waited about five more minutes before some guy drove up to get me. He wasn't very friendly. At all. And his idea of "cool," per my request, was rolling the front windows down while he weaved in and out of traffic on I-285 on a 90-degree day. He listened to the most awful talk radio that went against all of my political beliefs. But I didn't care. When he pulled into the driveway, I wanted to kiss him...and the ground again. 

I came in, ordered some Chinese food, changed out of my nasty sweaty clothes, and fell asleep for about three hours. Thankfully, my dad offered to feed all my animals for one extra day because I just couldn't move another muscle. I dreamed about being stuck in an airport for exactly two weeks after I got home. 

I know worse things have, do, and will happen, but that whole experience was just awful. Much of it had to do with the state I was already in from dealing with other stuff, I'm sure, but I maintain that that airport is one of the worst I've ever visited, and I have no interest in ever going back. As a matter of fact, I just Googled "worst airports in the United States" and Ft. Lauderdale was on every single list. I feel validated. And if I ever go to South Florida again, I'll drive.