Airports I have slept in: Anchorage. Atlanta. Managua. Manchester, UK. Cincinnati. Houston. Cincinnati. Miami. Seattle. Heathrow. Liberia, CR. Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Anchorage was the worst – I was stuck there for thirty six hours, camped out next to a large taxidermied bear and sitting stand by on flights full of pasty faced tourists while nursing what would later be diagnosed as mono. Manchester was shitty, too. After waiting five hours for a connecting flight I was treated to an eight hour delay doled out two hours by two hours so I could never leave the damn airport. And it was the brightest airport in the frickin’ universe with the worst, most expensive crappy watered down British coffee.
I never plan to sleep in airports. This is just what happens when you fly the seriously cheap-ass skies. Bad Priceline tickets, itineraries cobbled together out of two or three different airlines, frequent usage of uber-budget airlines.
In the theme of being the Greyhound Bus of the skies, to make every trip as ghetto as possible, Spirit Airlines flies out of Santiago at 3.30 in the morning. What this means is after I get the absolute last bus out of Sosua and get to Santiago it will still only be 8.30 at night. I have two choices – I can wander around Santiago with all my crap or I can sleep in the airport. If I sleep at the airport I have the bonus of being able to hand over my Haiti-reeking bag to bag check immediately. If I don’t sleep at the airport, I run the risk of getting mugged (though the bag should be a serious deterrent) or not being able to get a cab later and missing my flight entirely.
Chez airport it is then.
I’ll spare you all the details of sleeping in said airport except to say the universe hates me: the Spirit airlines counter is closed until 2 AM, thus I am forced to nap on a linoleum floor next to my reeking bag. The food court is full of people with children playing very loud video games, I am an object of intense fascination – it’s hard to sleep with a group of sixteen year old boys staring at you. I finally give up and drink more bad coffee, watch soccer, and look at the departures board. My flight is sinking further and further down. Delayed. 3.45. 4 AM. 4.20. 4.45. I check in and hand the bag to the counterwoman who wraps it in a large garbage bag like it’s a dead body. It smells like one. I go through the customs check out line and the woman looks at my passport.
I try to explain that she needs to flip the page, that there’s an exit stamp and then another stamp from when I re-entered but she won’t hand me back my passport to show her. Estuve in Haiti, I tell her. Mira, por favor. Otra pagina.
Impuesto, she tells me. Tax.
Mira – otra pagina.
I’m trying to snatch my passport back to show her, she’s holding it like she’s playing keep away with a six year old and repeating ‘impuesto impuesto impuesto’ over and over again. There are signs all over the airport about how they don’t accept bribes so I doubt that’s what she’s looking for. Either she gets some sort of commission on exit duties or she’s really, really stupid. I don’t know. I don’t care. I’m not paying a goddamn tax. ‘Jefe, por favor’. Get the boss. Screw this noise.
An older fat man comes over and she hands him my passport without saying a word. He flips it to the next page, points at the Haitian entry and exit stamps and hands it back to her. She shrugs and stamps me out of the country. This little drama has cost me time and now I have to dash to the gate as the departure screen is showing my flight as boarding. At the gate they heard us all down a little corridor, into a waiting room and………no plane. There’s no frickin’ plane. Just a bunch of people milling around in a space the size of a large supply closet staring out at an empty jetway. After twenty minutes the plane shows up. Through our little cattle enclosure we watch the people stream off and then they herd us all on. Eh, it’s a short flight. Who needs a safety check? Just put this thing in the air.
And they do. And then we are taking off and I am actually getting two hours worth of plane sleep. And then we are landing in Florida and waiting in another eternal customs line. There’s only two customs officers and probably a hundred people in line. To the side I can see two other officers, the special search line, just standing there empty. I know I’m headed there anyway; I should just be allowed to walk over. Instead I stand in line, half asleep on my feet. When I get up to the counter the man looks at my exit entry stamps, frowns, wrinkles his forehead.
Can we all sing this together?
“Miss, can you please step to the side?”.
I know the drill. By the time I get over to them I’ve already got my bag open, my belt off. They’re friendly, quick and neat in dismembering my bag and patting me down. Neither of them seem particularly excited to dig into my bag but I wouldn’t be either. They make it quick, no drug dog, usher me through and then I’m at the Dunkin Donuts kiosk like a drowning woman being shown to an oxygen bar. I can get to the crewhouse I’m staying in and go to bed and I really need to but a combination of my New Englandness and weeks of terrible coffee has made me compulsive. Give me the goddamn coffee.
That cup of coffee was like Christmas, the Easter bunny, sex and winning the lotto all at once. Forget military might, iPhones, dependable infrastructure – there is one thing that makes America the greatest country on the planet. And it is called Dunkin’ Donuts. I sit outside with my reeking bag smoking a cigarette and drinking my coffee and holy fuck it’s good to be home.
By the time I get out of the airport my phone has been turned back on and is dancing through all of its various vibrate notifications with messages. When I get to the crewhouse the clerk, a pointy, fussy man who looks like he just stepped off a yacht, looks at my bag and wrinkles his nose.
Where are you coming from?
The Dominican Republic and Haiti.
Apparently there’s a policy that anyone coming in from third world countries has to wash all their clothes before they can leave them in their room. Something about preventing bugs. I try to explain that I don’t think there’s a bug on earth that could withstand the smell of my bag but no go. No sleep. No shower. Laundry. He hands me a cup of quarters and points me towards a washer and dryer in the courtyard. It’s not that I’m not grateful for the chance to do laundry but I’ve just been up for over 30 hours, my head is buzzing and pinging from lack of sleep and coffee and I really want a shower. On my way to the machines I stumble over a loose brick and immediately blood starts pouring from my toe. Like horror movie pouring. It pools in my flip flop and leaves tracks where I’ve stepped. I limp back to the office for a band aid and the pointy man looks at me disapprovingly. I definitely can’t go inside bleeding like that, I’ll track it all over the place. He hands me a first aid kit and points me towards a bathroom near the pool and issues me a stern warning about staying outside until the blood is under control.
When I rinse my toe off I see the gash – there’s a big flap of skin cut out from the top of my toe. Fanfuckingtastic. I limp back to the office and ask for crazy glue. We used it in surgeries in Nicaragua all the time and this is first world crazy glue so I’m sure it’s even better. If I have to wait for this to stop bleeding on it’s own I’m going to turn into a piece of leather by the pool. Sleep deprivation is a good anesthetic. I clean it the best I can, glue the flap most of the way down and wait for my clothes to dry.
Welcome back to the US. Next stop, Colorado.
**Photo notes -#1) self portrait of feet, Santiago airport food court, 3 AM. #2) Exhibit A- note the Haitian entry stamp directly under the Dominican departure stamp – does anyone else see a problem here? #3) There might be a god and he might love me.