…… I took a deep breath and looked around me.
There were about a dozen other passengers waiting on the tarmac as a tiny propeller plane pulled into view.
I tried to weigh up my options but I was just too tired to concentrate. My logic led me to conclude that everybody here was in a similar circumstance to me. They would all need onward transportation from the airport in Curacao. Hopefully somebody would be able to help me out at the other end. So I followed them blindly on to the aircraft figuring we may as well be stranded in bulk.
As the plane came in to land in Curacao I was more than surprised to discover my luggage was the first off the plane and onto the minuscule conveyor belt in the customs hall. Wearily I dragged my bag into the street where a couple were loading their bags into the back of a minivan on an otherwise deserted road.
“Excuse me” I asked the driver. Is this the only taxi?
“Oh yes” he replied almost laughing. “Its 1am. I am the only one crazy enough to still be awake at this time. This is my last job of the night.”
I looked at the couple. They too looked tired but their faces were warm and friendly so I thought I might as well ask.
“Hello. I’m so sorry to bother you” (Brits become so very much more British in a crisis) Would it be possible for me to share your taxi to my hotel please? It isn’t far.”
They paused. Looked at each other… spoke to the driver in Dutch… who answered them in Dutch and they smiled and nodded.
“Thank you thank you thank you” I blurted and they giggled.
The hotel was indeed a short distance from the airport and the property, brightly painted and pristine looked very new.
I dragged my wares into reception and attempted to explain my predicament to the gentleman night manager.
I knew I was making very little sense. I was flapping and waffling and gesticulating… about cancellations and flights and runways and airports…
He stood there and let me finish before he silently walked to the fridge in the hotel lobby shop and took out a cool bottle of water.
“Here” the gentle giant proffered and I immediately fell silent and took a drink.
“I took your call earlier this evening Mrs Parry when you contacted the hotel to cancel the reservation. The airline has been experiencing a lot of problems recently and here in Curacao we are used to the last minute changes this throws our way. So I took the liberty of keeping your room for you… should this eventuality arise. Now, you take a moment to collect yourself and I’ll load the bags on to the golf cart and take you right there. What a long day you must have had”
Stunned for a moment… I hurriedly reached into my bag… rummaging through the used tissues and half eaten packets of Cheetos to find my purse to pay him for the water.
“No no.” he murmured very softly “Its on me”
And he smiled that warm caribbean welcome so synonymous with the Dutch Antilles. He was a huge man…tall and broad and soft with more teeth than an alligator as white as snow. I genuinely wanted to cuddle him right there and then. But I was aware of how incredibly terrible I smelled.
Safely ensconsed in my brand new bed in my brand new hotel room after a cool shower and in some clean PJ’s I led there thinking about my day.
It was literally the kindness of other humans that meant I was here right now and not sleeping on a bench in an airport somewhere.
On days like today, despite all that goes on in the world, I am gratefully reminded of the generosity of human nature.
The contract on the beautiful Celebrity Eclipse was a great one… with my good friend and Cruise Director Eddy at the helm it was always going to be fun. And when I left the ship in Barbados to head to New Orleans to join the Equinox for the Mardi Gras cruise I was feeling as positive as I possibly could considering I had come down with an awful cough and cold during the week. I dosed up on everything available to me and messaged the Cruise Director John on Equinox to let him know how excited I was to be heading their way.
The flight from Barbados to Miami left around 3pm and I was due into Miami airport around 6pm local time.
I went though the usual airport motions… walking for what seemed miles from the arrival gate to immigration and then joining the enormous line in order to wait my turn to be seen.
After what felt like around an hour I was called to the booth to present my documents, all too aware that it was now less than 60 minutes to my connecting flight. The stern faced Gentleman made as little eye contact with me as possible and took what felt like an eon to scan my passport and enter my details. It was then the probing questions began…
Where was I going? What was I doing? Where was my visa?
Again I tried to explain that I had been alerted to the necessity of a visa unbeknownst to me, during my transit through Fort Lauderdale. I tried to offer him the email on my mobile phone detailing the appointment I had made at the US Embassy in London on the absolute earliest date after my arrival back into the UK… and he brushed my hand aside, thrust a yellow slip of paper at me and pointed to the entry to the booth from whence I had just arrived.
“Wait there” was all he offered and I was not permitted to pass.
I was summonsed by an equally unfriendly looking gentleman and told to join a line of people being ushered away from the crowds towards a different part of the airport. I was told to enter the room and wait for my name to be called.
I was utterly bewildered and disorientated. I hadn’t been told where I was or why. Just to take a seat and hand my luggage labels to an American Airlines representative as ‘My bags were not being loaded onto the flight’
I sat and waited. Looking around anxiously trying to discern my surroundings and learn a little from what was happening to the dozens of other people sat around me. Some were called to a booth and sent on their way within minutes… some disappeared in to side rooms… only to reappear moments later and sit again before being recalled and readmitted sometime later. i was unsure of WHAT was going on. All I do know was that I was decidedly under the weather, we were not permitted to use our cellular phones AT ALL, I had now missed my connecting flight, no one had any answers for me other than ‘wait your turn’ but most worryingly I was now the only person sitting in this full room that had been here when i first arrived. Every seat had been vacated and refilled at least once and I was beginning to become increasingly upset. After 90 minutes I approached a booth… and before they could tell me to retake my seat i implored the lady
“PLEASE. Just hear me out”
I explained to her why I thought I had been detained. that I had indeed done EXACTLY what had been asked of me by the immigration official in Fort Lauderdale… offered her the email to peruse and told her that I had missed my connection… that I had NO INTENTIONS of trying to stay in the US at all and that I just needed the opportunity to explain myself to someone.
She reluctantly looked up my case on the computer and answered.
“Most people here have queries on their green cards or resident permits. Because yours is an ESTA violation you;re going to have to wait”
“Violation?????” I retorted… “I’m not violating anything. I’m travelling on the exact same document every other guest entertainer travels on.” I was visibly shaken by her words.
“Let me see what I can find out” and she tap tap tapped away at her computer. And I retook my seat. And I heard nothing from her for an hour.
Two and a half hours after my initial arrival in purgatory I was millimetres away from completely losing my cool. There were no windows in the room… only one way in, one way out, one vending machine and one bathroom and the churning of anxiety had long since begun to spur in my gut.
I have suffered with bouts of anxiousness for a few years now and though I am usually quite able to control it myself and talk myself out of an unnecessary panic.. my first step towards doing that is invariably to go out for air. This was not going to happen.
I reproached the tardy lady
“Two and a half hours.”
That was all I said.
And I just looked at her… now profusely sweating from my brow.. and she raised from her chair and went to speak to a colleague
Some twenty minutes later I was called into a side room where I began to AGAIN explain my circumstances to the fourth official of the day.
After a lengthy process of covering all the information I had so freely and openly shared with every other immigration officer I had encountered that day.
I had lost the will to argue my point. That I was not a mariner. I was not a crew member. I didn’t need a crew visa…. in the end I backed down and said “yes I’m sorry I’ll do that at the earliest possible opportunity” and finally he allowed me to leave.
It was well after 12 am
My bags had apparently already been sent to New Orleans without me. I had no clean clothes, no toothbrush or PJ’s. I was tired, sweaty, stressed and ill. I headed wearily to the American Airlines desk where the last member of staff was closing the counter for the day. I exhaled and started to regale my tale. Before I could even finish she had printed me a voucher for dinner, breakfast, a new flight and a hotel.
“Here honey.” She smiled. “Get some rest. We’ll see you in the morning”
It wasn’t the airlines fault. I was amazed they were prepared to help me like that. I’d had visions of spending the next hour or so on the line to the emergency travel department at head office trying to re arrange everything over again.
“You have no idea how grateful i am” I whimpered. “This is so kind of you”
“I’m the supervisor. It has its perks.” and she winked and closed the desk.
This job has its ups and downs. And I know this amount of travelling and moving about is probably not a lifestyle neither I or my marriage could sustain long term. I often find myself wondering why I put myself through it. And then I think about the people. The people I meet on the ship every week. The passengers, the crew, the officers.
And the taxi drivers, the dutch couple who let me share their cab, the gentle giant in the hotel and the airport staff like the amazing American Airlines lady. And I remember how incredibly fortunate I am. That I am allowed and encouraged to be part of strangers lives every day. That I get an opportunity, by means of sharing my show with them… to ever so minutely, give a little bit of something back.
When I lost my father suddenly in September I was angry at the world for a while.
Why him? Why us? He was only 64 and fit as a fiddle. And like anybody who is grieving, its a process that after only several months I am beginning to try to make sense of.
But then I think of everything my parents did for me, sacrificed for me to get me to this place. Yes I get stuck in airports, lose luggage, miss flights, catch more than the average share of airborne illnesses! But I get to do that ALL OVER THE WORLD because on that very first cruise some 15 years ago now, when I didn’t have the courage to go, my Mum and Dad booked and paid for the cruise so they could be there with me to support me.
So I don’t want to dwell on all the tough stuff. I share it with you cause its mildly amusing and I hope on occasion a little of an insight into what goes on in the crazy world of Guest Entertainers, because believe me, I am but one of hundreds of people treading this life path and experiencing this journey. Literally.
So in the most uplifting and warm hearted way I can possibly express, I dedicate this blog, both parts, (and the first one I have written since he died) to the memory of the most amazing man I ever knew.
Someone very special to me told me “He was your Daddy and therefore he was the first man to ever have your heart”
And I know that because of him and my Mother, I have not only the best chance at life anyone could wish for, but that HE… my Dad… has THE BEST seat in the house now for every single performance.
Dedicated to the Memory of Bernard Curry
5 March 1952- 17 September 2016