Sugar Cake and Aloes: The Travellers’ Diaries
I am no George Jetson. By this, I mean that my hi-tech gadgets and practices date back to circa 2008. There is, however, one invention that would encourage me to change my shameful ways. A travel machine.
I would crank up the chamber Steve Urkel-style, scold chatty onlookers with a “Shhhh! Not while I’m pouring!”, and my carry-on and I would zoom to Thailand in a haze of smoke and neon lights.
You see, my clichéd aspiration of being a globe trotter does not mesh with my periodic fear of the plane careening into the Atlantic, and the inconveniences that have become mainstays of flying. In a quest to determine whether getting to one’s destination is more sugar cake than aloes, I’m looking back at tales of journeys passed.
My first harsh lesson in flying was that airports have little elves known as customs officers, who, like Santa’s devotees, can be either naughty or nice. Jill Filipovic, a feminist blogger, can tell you all about the naughty ones, who are bold in their lack of manners. She opened her suitcase to find a bag search notice with the words “get your freak on girl” scribbled across the side. The TSA official behind the scenes had stumbled upon her sex toy, and felt compelled to cheer on her bedroom activities.
The nice ones can often be found in Trinidad, as they greet you with, “Wey, who all dat rum for girl?” When I explained to him that our home is particularly festive during the holiday season, his playful eyes narrowed, as he retorted, “Stop lyin’, you goin an’ drink all dat by yuhself”.
Of course, some of us tend to bring the aloes moments upon ourselves. I was once at the luggage carousel in New Jersey’s airport, when the lady next to me had to open her hand luggage and reveal a pile of chandelier bush, skin open in a plastic bag. We country folks know that it can obliterate a cold, but relaying that to a customs officer whose sniffer dog just mauled your bag is a shameful and unenviable task. We’d also be wise not to do like a Guyanese traveller who had to explain to a JFK customs officer why he was travelling with a suitcase filled with pumpkins.
Besides the sporadic post-flight irritants, I’d like to think that if I could just make it on the plane with less hassle, this could set a sugar cake-like tone for the rest of the flight.
Piarco, for one, leaves me confused. One of the few airports that cracks open your luggage before you even meet the gate, it will make heat rise up the column of your neck as gloved hands poke around your anchar. “Any aerosols?” you’re likely asked. Because we all know the likelihood of your busting into the belly of the plane, and hijacking its passengers with a spray deodorant. Metal detectors alone, quite frankly, are like throwing dice and praying for a six. Don’t do like I did in one airport, and forget that your underthings have a metal clasp at the hip, lest the person screening you grab hold, and try to figure out its identity.
I must say, though, that some of my sugar-cake moments have been made possible by passengers who are true-to-form, quintessentially Trini.
En route to Miami this year, when I asked the Indian lawyer seated next to me about the type of law he practices, he laughed and stated, “Mostly Indian fightin’ over land”. I was told of another Trini passenger who had a rather reflective conversation with a flight attendant.
“Miss air hostess”! he called out to her, as he was sitting down. “Ah find allyuh like to put me sit down next to de latrine all de time yuh know.”
After she informed him that they do not determine seat placements, he invited her to stay at his house before she flew out. One Outlish reader can still recall the time his family was stranded in Miami, and wandered into Subway for some sandwiches. When his younger brother was asked about the drink he wanted, he told his server, “Yeah, gimmeh a mauby”.
Then, there are the moments, which aren’t so much aloes, as they are awkward.
A few years ago, I was travelling to an island with a friend who operated a lingerie business there. Her three, mammoth bags held merchandise that she had acquired in the US. Well, after the representative’s beady eyes nearly bulged out of his head, he told us that the airline didn’t accept bags of that size. We thus found ourselves on the ground, transferring heaps of bras and panties to our more normal-sized suitcases.
Now, I know that you’re likely thinking that we can get more sugar cake out of flying, if we just commit to not losing our cool and take it all in stride. But it’s hard to do that when you’re told you don’t even have a seat on the airplane.
When my aunt was returning to New York several years ago, she saw an employee telling a gentleman that the flight was overbooked. He pounded the desk repeatedly and cautioned the attendant, “If yuh want a counter to work on here today, allyuh better puh me on dat plane”. When an airline representative informed another couple that the husband did not have a seat on their return flight, the woman shouted, “Well how he reach? Eh? He come on the wings?”
One of my older relatives, who habitually tosses away her mouth’s filter, once told a customs officer, “If it was yuh mother or one ah yuh mother friend, yuh wouldna charge them this much though”.
With my introspection over, I can surmise that my flying experiences have been more sweet than bitter. Yes, I’ve missed flights, waited on tarmacs through painful delays, and had airlines lose my luggage. But I’ve also never had to go to the “back” to be asked a legion of questions. Au contraire, I’ve met incredible people, experienced stunning vistas beyond double paned windows, and laughed my belly full. So do I still want that travel machine? Well, just as Steve often regretted having to hop into the transformation chamber to morph into smooth-talking Stefan Urquelle, I have a nagging suspicion that I too would eventually bemoan such benefits of science.