My Beloved and I returned this weekend from a stint of practicing medicine (him), and translating (me) in the Third World, and, like so many others who have done this, we suddenly have an awareness of what is blocking humanitarian aid to so much of the suffering planet: The Miami International Airport.
My life remains blissfully free of experience in certain airport-related areas. I have never flown into LA, for example, and have only seen O’Hare from seven miles up, on my way from San Francisco to Pittsburg. But I’ve been in Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas, Detroit, Dulles, LaGuardia, Pittsburg, Newport News, Norfolk, Orlando, Palm Beach, San Francisco, Seattle, and, of course, Roanoke. While the old Pittsburg airport was a pit, it cannot compare to the mindless inconvenience of Miami.
When the hapless traveler lands at MIA, (and let’s just say that is the most apt airport identification ever) she will be 87 miles from the baggage claim. The wheelchair that is supposed to take her to her bags will not be there, so she will be forced to hoof it as fast as possible on a cane.
For some reason, the directions to the baggage claim at MIA involve going down an escalator, up an escalator, down, up, down, up . . . about eight times. She soon has no idea what level she is on; she only follows the signs, which include an unmarked exit that may only be used by Canadians. (True story.) By the time she arrives at the actual baggage claim, a voice in her head advises her to go toward the light.
Shaking that off, she attempts to find the right baggage-return carrel, but they are not labeled. She finally discovers her bag only by finding other members of her group. (Do not travel through MIA alone.) Once she has her bag, she stands around while the sniffer dog makes his way through the luggage.
The sniffer dog will sit down on her husband’s foot and raise a paw. The handler will ask, “Whatcha got, Barney?” Barney will prove incommunicative, and there will be further delay while the handler digs through the bag looking for contraband. Barney, it turns out, is smelling the mysterious bag of mangoes that the traveler and her Beloved threw away that morning. (This bag of mangoes belonged to neither of them; they don’t even like mangoes all that much. It just showed up somehow, like a cricket ball in a Douglas Adams’ novel.)
Satisfied that Barney is smelling only absent fruit, the handler will move on, and the traveler and her Beloved will schlep their stuff across more miles of terminal to Customs, where this entire thing will be repeated.
After Customs, the traveler must drag her bag BACK TO THE AIRLINE and check it in. Yes, she has to leave the secure area, re-check the bag SHE HAS JUST PICKED UP, and stand in more lines. Once the bag is secured for the next flight, the traveler, now seeing that bright light again, must hike to the security gate, which is located in Fort Lauderdale.
The line for that gate snakes across central Florida to Tallahassee. People have pitched tents. Children have been born in that line and there is talk of setting up a school for them. The traveler despairs of making her connection, even though the flight doesn’t leave for four hours. Finally a compassionate gate attendant, seeing the cane, waves the traveler and her Beloved into the priority line, where a suspicious TSA official will ask her what that bulge is. She will reply, with the shred of hauteur she has left, that it is her body, thank you very much. The light will grow brighter.
When she has finally gotten her shoes back on and her Netbook stuffed back into her carryon, she still must face the 87-mile trek BACK TO THE GATE SHE JUST LEFT. She will not remember much of this journey, except the distant voice of her Beloved, pleading with her not to go to the light. When the exhausted pair arrive at their final gate, and not the pearly one, they will get the welcome news that their flight is delayed because, oh yes, a big group of passengers is still stuck in Customs.