Leave it to the uncivilized frontier of central Florida to throw a serious wrench into our travel plans.
We are veterans of air, bus and train travel in some of the world’s edgiest of places, having negotiated the quirky schedules and logistical challenges of the likes of India, China, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand and a good chunk of Europe. We have successfully found our way where we didn’t speak the language and were confused by cultural nuances and dramatically unfamiliar turf. Yet we found ourselves lost and just about out of time and luck only miles from Disney World and Cape Canaveral.
On our way from Orlando to Atlanta and then on to Ecuador, we’d gone to the wrong airport, blithely following signs for Orlando Sanford International airport instead of plain old Orlando International Airport. Why Orlando would require two international airports is beyond me. Why they’d name them so similarly (and fail to point out the difference in roadway signage) is downright baffling. Regardless, there we were, standing in the rental car depot, 35-40 miles from our port of exit to Ecuador, without a car or directions and with only two hours to spare until departure, hearing to the dreaded words that travelers hate to hear the most:
“Honey, you’re at the wrong airport.”
The agent suggested that we hot-foot it back to where we left the car, jump back in and “scoot” over to the right airport, wherever that might be. Hustling around the corner of the depot in the blistering mid-day Florida sun, we got a glimpse of the car drop lane: too late. Our car had already been taken for cleaning for the next renter.
Ignoring the fact that we’d left our rental at the wrong airport, we hailed a cab, tossed our bags in the back and pleaded with the driver to step on it. Hauling his massive 6-foot, 2-inch (both ways) frame into the minivan, he responded by launching into a series of stories about the rude passengers he’d had over his 20-year driving career as he crawled towards the exit. I can rollerblade faster than he was driving, but he changed his tone and dramatically picked up the speed when the subject turned to his college football career.
I learned more about the travails of a Division II defensive nose tackle in the 1980s than I’d care to forget or share, but my strategy of asking the guy an endless stream of admiring questions about his gridiron career served its purpose. The odometer hovered north of 80 as he knifed through traffic, regaled me with his tales of bench-pressing more than 450 pounds and then revealed the excruciatingly painful details of the big-game hit that destroyed his right knee and ended his career.
But no worries. He got us to the right airport on time and in better shape than his knee, which you will be sad to learn still enjoys only 90-95% normal mobility.
We sprinted into the terminal and arrived before a Delta agent, huffing and puffing after tugging our bags through the enormous airport to check in for our flight. He asked for our passports and itineraries.
“I’ll need your mobile phone so I can see details of your exiting flight from Ecuador,” he said in an officious tone that I think is part of gate agent basic training.
I responded that we’d booked a flight (true) but had not yet received confirmation (also true, but I didn’t bother sharing the fact that earlier that morning we’d received notice that our exit flight was actually no longer available.) I handed him my phone with the email record of the unconfirmed flight. Gabi did what she normally does when things get weird in such situations, muttering helpful reminders like “It’s fine” and “We have a flight” as if to convert fiction into fact by the sheer force of her will.
No such luck.
“This won’t work,” he responded, handing me back my phone. “You will be denied entry into Ecuador unless you can provide a confirmed exit flight.”
We babbled and double talked our way through the check-in process (the guy was probably happy to just get rid of us) and hustled off through security and onward to our gate. Along the way, I spied a Delta service counter a few feet from our departure gate, and with 30 minutes to spare we booked an exit flight and tucked our confirmed flight records into our passports, high-fived the gate agent and headed on our way.
I had no time to call Dollar rent-a-car and tell them that my ride was at the wrong airport, so I expect there will be a farewell gift in the form of a hefty airport drop charge when I check my credit card bill online.
The whole thing now strikes me as funny, but at the time it seemed as though we were destined to spend a night at a cheap hotel in the middle of a Florida swamp. What’s even funnier than the experience, though, is the fact that we’d decided to rent a car after learning that the shuttle service was ridiculously expensive. Seventy-five bucks (for two) for a ride from New Smyrna Beach to the correct Orlando airport now looks like a bargain after dropping $100 on our wacky taxi ride.
Serves us right for setting out on our own in the wilds of central Florida.