Oh the People you’ll meet..

Funny how you randomly meet people, eh? You are sitting quietly – doing nothing much, and then for some reason someone says something – and you end up in a conversation.

I just spent several hours talking about this, that and the other with Tommy – but as usual – I’m ahead of myself. Let’s start at the very beginning.

I’ve just finished spending a week on the lovely island of St. Croix. Many years ago now I lucked into buying a small condo here, which meet my every objective – it was comfortable, not up too many stairs, and it has a simply magnificent view – nothing between me and the ocean but 40’ of sand and 2 palm trees. It’s heaven. But it also got hit by Hurricane Maria – and I felt obligated to go down and check it out personally. To find out what the island is like now – read my earlier blog. But this blog starts upon leaving the island.

Getting to and from the island, which normally at this time of the year is simple, has become a bit of a challenge. While the airport on St. Croix is open, and mostly in good shape, the airports that feed into the island are in worse shape, and that has complicated matters. Plus the recovery process has actually increased the number of folks arriving and departing from the island – there’s a large (over 2000 passenger) cruise ship docked semi-permanently in Fredericksted, there are the countless FEMA, Corp of Engineers, Red Cross and related personal who have come to aid in the recovery – and there are the folks that have simply decided that living without electricity for 6 weeks is enough – and they want off the island.

All this means that flights are packed, and the airline folks are working with limited technology – power is still on and off, and WIFI that is more hopeful then in fact!

But despite the challenges – I arrived at the airport in good time this afternoon, processed thru check-in, the long wait for border patrol, and finally sat down in the waiting area for my flight to finally board. I ate a decent dinner from the cute snack bar (great Jamaican Patties), and boarded the flight. I’d even settled into my seat and said hi to my seat mates. But then nothing happened. No announcements, no nothing. So we all waited, and waited. Suddenly the pilot is addressing us – explaining that a bird hit the plane during the landing – and the plane has to be checked out before it can take off. Nothing major – it will be just a moment.

A few minutes later he’s back – this time explaining that the bird made a direct hit on the nose cone – which is where all the radar is located, and the equipment need to check the plane isn’t on the island. In fact, it’s not even in Miami. It’s in New York, and they must fly it down. And without this specialized equipment to check that the radar is ok – the plane can not fly. We must de-board and wait for further information.

What follows is pretty much what one would expect of about 200 folks with plans and places to go who suddenly discover that their plans are going to have to change – and change fast.

We all de-board, and cluster around the poor gate agents. The three lovely local ladies are fielding questions – to which they effectively have no answers. Should we leave the airport and wait till tomorrow? Will we be rebooked on the plane tomorrow? Will American find places for us to spend the night if we can’t get off the island?

Quick answers – finding places to stay on the island isn’t going to happen. Too many of the hotels are closed – there’s no options. The pilot gets on the microphone and says – the best option is for American to find us another plane and get us off the island. Otherwise, we are stuck here overnight – the part to check the nose cone can’t make it to the island until tomorrow – at best. However, once in Miami – we’ll be able to figure out what to do with you. But I’m done here – it’s in the hands of the airport folks. With that, he leaves. And we are left sitting in the rather basic waiting area of the St. Croix airport, with no idea what is going to happen.

Exactly Where does our now ‘disappeared’ pilot think American is planning on finding a plane?

I’m no fool – I’m on the phone to American – please rebook me – I won’t make my flight to Louisville, KY tonight – make reservations for the first flight out of Miami tomorrow morning please.

Meanwhile, some people start to leave – but then the airport manager grabs the microphone to announce – STOP – don’t leave. American has found a plane in San Juan and it’s on it’s way here. You’ll board at 8:00 PM – and spend the night in Miami. There are hotels there – and American will put you up.

Ok – now we at least know what is going on – so we must sit and wait for the new plane to get here. Thank goodness I already have my flight arranged for tomorrow. I just don’t trust American (or any airline for that matter) to make those arrangements in a timely fashion. Nah – they will wait, and I’ll be stuck with lousy options.

While I’m waiting for the replacement jet to arrive, I call the hotel I’d organized for tonight – only to find out that I’d actually organized it for Monday night. Well, that’s a relief. Guess I knew something would go wrong… (nah – it was a lucky oops – that’s all).

All this organized, there is nothing to do but sit and wait. So I sit. Behind me are two guys talking about the shuttle from their cruise ship. I’m intrigued – and turn to chat.

Tommy – the young man closest to me – is a Stand Up Comedian. (No seriously – check him out at TommyDrake.com – he’s famous!) He works the cruise ship circuit for Carnival – 3 days on one boat, then 2 days on another boat, a few days off – and repeat. His friend runs the Guest Services function – and at first our conversation revolves around issues related to Guest Services.

Some of the issues are exactly the same as what I face – guests who have an issue, say insects or a broken DVD player, and simply don’t tell you. Or worse – only tell you via the guest book – or an on-line review. What gives – let me know what your issue is, and I’ll fix it. Why would it be a good idea to keep this stuff a secret? But then our conversation gets interesting. Like my guests – their guests are on holiday – and sometimes, that’s an invitation to behave badly. Traveling in multi-generation groups is particularly challenging – as we all know, and apparently getting on a cruise ship (or staying in a condo) doesn’t solve them!

On to happier topics, the guys go on to explain how the cruise system works – their boat is based out of San Juan, and they were on the most Southernly part of their trip when the hurricanes ran roughshod over the islands. This caused the ship to divert – landing most of the guests in Miami rather than San Juan. Naturally – some guests were really upset over this unexpected change of plans. Then they took several trips out of ports in Florida before FEMA hired the boat to provide housing for their staff in St. Croix. So now they are semi-permanently docked in Fredericksted, and providing ‘hotel’ rooms for FEMA, Red Cross, Corp of Engineers, etc. They are also providing entertainment – Hence the Comedian. There are over 500 Comedians who work for Carnival – rotating around ships so that the shows stay fresh for the guests.

And there’s a morgue on ship. With 2000 guests, 1000 crew – it’s a small city, and in a small city people die. And statistically because of the age issue (more cruisers are more older), deaths are more likely. Apparently, the per diem on a cruise ship competes with the per diem in a fancy full care facility – and it looks and smells a lot nicer! So there are folks who literally live on board ship. Maybe changing ships occasionally – or visiting family for a week or so – but effectively they are spending their retirement in a full care, luxury environment, with wait staff that know their names, porters who cater for their every needs – and nightly entertainment. Sounds like it might get a bit boring, but I can totally see why this solution would be super appealing.

Several topic shifts later, and we’re talking about being a Stand-up Comedian. Turns out that Tommy was the opening act for some major performers – including Cher. And he’s met Beth Middler among others. Must be an interesting life, eh? He tells me about after hour parties – for Cher they included bowling and going to the movies – but of course you don’t just go to the movies – you rent the entire theatre. I ask about private jets – but Tommy tells me that actually most of their travel – for the 3 years he was with Cher – were by bus. Very very fancy buses with lots of tiny bedrooms for the staff, but buses just the same.

We continue to chat – he talks about how he has to generate new material frequently – and can never be too overtly political today. Best topics are things we can all appreciate – like the issue of families divided along political lines. Some jokes have long lives, other jokes (like ones about the Hurricanes) were ‘old’ within a few weeks. Interesting, and not even close to anything I’ve ever talked about with anyone else. We chat about his ‘blog’, originally started long before the word ‘blog’ came along – it’s really his on-line journal. You can check out here: http://www.tommydrake.com/blog

Our time together has simply flown by – and the gate agents suddenly announce that our airplane as arrived from San Juan and boarding will begin immediately.

I say a fond goodbye to my fellow travellers – it’s been a fascinating 3 hours – but now it’s time to head on to Miami.

Frankly – I can’t wait!

Signing off to head on another adventure – The Soup Lady

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