The Trip Begins

This entry is part 2 of 14 in the series Father and Son Cruise

I don’t think I ever woke up so fast. I was immediately in a cold sweat, hands shaking.


“The guy is here to take you to the airport!” Kris repeated. “He was out there sleeping in his car! Scared me to death!”

Last I knew, I had a full day and another night before it was time to leave. Had I slept through somehow? No, not possible…

“What day is it?” I asked.

“Thursday, I think” Kris answered, none too surely.

“Yeah, it must be Thursday” I said, trying to be assertive.

“Are you supposed to fly down a day early for something?”

“No. I’m sure I fly on the same day as the cruise leaves.” I doubted my own statement, and rummaged through the piles of stuff waiting to be packed. I found the paperwork, but my eyes couldn’t focus well enough to check the dates.

“Here. When do I fly to Miami?” I asked, handing the papers to Kris while I searched for my glasses.

“Friday, October 25. American Airlines.” Kris’s answer instantly put me at ease.

“He’s here a day early.” The confidence in my voice was now genuine.

Kris ran downstairs to awaken the driver while I pulled on some clothes. She was back before I found my slippers, and handed me a business card. It said “Big John”.

“He said he was sorry – no problem. The dispatcher must have made a mistake. He’ll be back tomorrow. He said he’s been here since 4:30…in case he got lost”

My heart was finally slowing down. Kris gave me a peck and headed off for work. The clock read 5:45 a.m., and there was no way I’d get back to sleep. I went down for the paper, poured some coffee and sat down to unwind. I hadn’t been in a position where I needed to unwind at that time of the day since I posted the last chapter of the Galaxy story.

The remainder of the day was uneventful, and I spent the evening packing. I was very careful not to bring too much, and managed to fit everything into a garment bag and a small suitcase. And a carry-on bag. And a backpack. A few things would have to go into my pockets. Perfect.

I spent a bit of time on the computer wrapping up loose ends. As an afterthought, I printed out the entire CruiseCritic thread for the Mercury cruise, intending to read it on the plane. A party was planned for 4:00 p.m. on Friday, hosted by Babette (ocngypz). I felt like I had gotten to know many dozens of people on the boards, but there weren’t any really familiar names among my shipmates. I planned to memorize them all.

I didn’t get into bed until after 2 a.m., and the alarm at 4:30 was an unpleasant interruption to my fitful sleep. Showered and dressed, I reached for one of my prescription bottles.

Now it is time for a confession. I hate to fly. If there were an infrequent flyers’ club, I would be among those with the fewest miles. I didn’t always hate it so much. I trace the real turnaround to a day when I spent hours in a plane on the tarmac at the Kansas City airport waiting for severe weather to clear at our destination — Tulsa, Oklahoma. When we took off, it was immediately apparent that while it might be clear in Tulsa, the path from Kansas City was one roiling mass of thunderstorms and tornados. No roller coaster ride could have prepared me for that flight. I know what lightning looks like from the inside. Ever since then, the prospect of getting on a plane triggers a level of anxiety that I know is irrational, but which I cannot turn off. Without help that is…

When I described the problem to my doctor, he offered a pharmaceutical solution. This is another item for the “Mr. X Files”. When I fly, I take Xanax. It seems to turn off the anxiety circuits almost completely. It also turns off short-term memory. While I am able to conduct myself in a normal manner, I remember very little about what happens during the 4-6 hours of the drug’s most effective period. On the way to San Diego one time, I read an entire book, enjoying it immensely. I was able to read it again months later as if for the first time. Very strange, but well worth it. It takes a long time to drive to places like San Diego and Miami.

I took the little pill and went downstairs. Big John was waiting in the driveway, so Kris and I said and touched our goodbyes before I carted the luggage down to the car. The waiting Lincoln Towncar was a decided step up from the van I had arranged. John – “Big” is a much more fitting name – loaded up the bags and made sure I was comfortably situated in the back seat.

We had a nice chat on the ride, which took exactly an hour at that time of day. The closer we got to Boston the less I remember of our talk, but I had concluded early on that “Big” was a heck of a nice guy. I was dropped at the entrance to the terminal, and John pointed to the spot where he would be waiting for me upon my return. He was very reassuring, saying that the dispatcher monitored the progress of flights and had the drivers at the airport before the planes were even unloaded.

I trusted John, but I had reservations about the dispatcher.

I felt badly about the previous day’s mix-up. When I offered a tip, John refused it. “Oh, no thank you sir. Everything is taken care of. You have a safe trip.”

Inside the terminal, I took my itinerary to the counter and hoped that the simple printed copy of a web page reservation would be adequate tender for a plane ticket. It was. My baggage was tagged and tossed aboard a moving conveyor. Boarding pass in hand, I wandered away wondering what to do for the next two hours.

I felt a tap on my shoulder. “Excuse me sir, would you come with me please?”

Turning, I saw that the voice was emerging from the mouth of a uniformed woman. Her badge glinted in the harsh light. Although her question had been polite, I sensed that there was only one correct answer.

“Certainly”, I replied. By the look on her face, I had picked the right response. Mind you, I was at this time incapable of feeling anxious. I know that at any other time, I’d probably be sweating bullets.

The security officer escorted me around the ticket counter and into a space dominated by a huge machine through which the luggage conveyor passed. Two men were standing at a table focusing their attention on my suitcase.

“Is this your suitcase?” they asked.

“Yes” I admitted. Xanax must be a truth serum as well.

“We’re going to have to open it.”

“Of course – whatever you need to do.” I simply will not argue with anything done to ensure the safety of others or myself.

One of the men snipped the cable tie that I had used to secure the suitcase. As they removed the contents, the guard who had accompanied me asked, “Have you been around any fertilizer?”

I thought for a moment or two. Earnestly I offered, “No. I put some grub killer on the lawn in the spring, though.”

Before I could stop the words I realized that I might be taken for a wise guy. Thankfully, everybody laughed. I would have felt relief, but I was so relaxed there was nothing to be relieved of. Entertained and convinced that both I and my luggage were harmless, the men stuffed the suitcase, zipped it up and tossed it back onto the conveyor. Dismissed with apologies from the security people, I expressed my thanks and bid them a good day.

That scene managed to stay with me as one of the more vivid memories. Later I thought about the episode. I concluded that the machine must have been sniffing for nitrates – hence the question about fertilizers. I could only think of one explanation for why my suitcase might trigger a nitrate detector, and it involved the dogs. I thought it better not to think about it.

Otherwise my main recollection of this leg of the journey is that refreshment service was suspended during the flight for safety reasons – it was too ‘bumpy’. I didn’t notice. I read a magazine, and saved it to read again some other time.

Before I knew it, I was lugging my luggage through Miami International Airport looking for the Celebrity representative. Two women were busily chatting at the rear of the baggage claim area. One held a sign reading “Carnival”. I was not looking for a circus. The other woman’s sign read “Royal Caribbean”. Close, but I scanned the room once more. Nothing.

I approached the women. One spotted me and said cheerily, “Carnival?”

“No, thank you.” The other woman looked my way. I said “Celebrity?”

“Right around the corner” she replied, pointing the way.

When I rounded the bend, the Celebrity desk was right in front of me. A number of people were milling about, and a Celebrity employee spotted me coming. “May I help you?” she asked.

“I’m supposed to meet my son. He should have arrived from Philadelphia about an hour ago.”

The woman smiled, turned and pointed just to the left of the reception desk. “Is that him?”

I saw nothing until I looked down. Sitting on the floor was Ryan, lost in a book. He was dressed for winter, which made his Rasta hat look even more out of place. We had gotten both of the boys Rasta hats in Nassau while on the Galaxy trip.

I wandered over and stood very close before Ryan looked up. When he did, he said “Yo, Dad!” I helped him to his feet, we shook hands and then embraced.

“Ready to Cruise?” I asked.

“I dunno. I guess so” came the reply.

I eyed the hat suspiciously. “Did you get a haircut?”

Before I got the answer, the desk personnel announced that the bus to the dock was boarding. Ryan showed me a piece of paper that he was holding and when I realized what it was I thought, “We’re going to miss this bus…”

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