“No Honey, not Spain -- South Beach”

23 Mar 2004|Darrel Rhea

I am a black belt traveler. Faster than a speeding taxi, able to leap airports in a single bound, I can recover from any curves the jet maintenance gods/weather gods/traffic gods/alarm clock gods can throw at me. I’ll get there before you and get a better seat too. With my cell phone and wireless toys in my pocket, and the best travel agent on the planet (Leslie Courts), I fear no evil.

But I’m currently in scramble mode. I’m supposed to be winging it to Barcelona right now, sipping Lufthansa’s best champagne, but I wasn’t able to get on my flight. So I find myself doing an evening of culture-watching amongst the crumbling pastel art deco hotels in South Beach, Florida.

If you want to get an update on youth culture, there is no better place than South Beach during a warm Spring Break evening. I am surrounded by massive quantities of young sunburned flesh, awash in hormones, alcohol, aftershave and perfume. These kids don’t dress for style, they undress for style. Given the epidemic of obesity in youth today, there is more to see than ever. Everyone is having a great time, swarming in packs, loudly negotiating decisions on where to eat, party, and who to pick up.

I observe from my wireless balcony perch in Starbucks, as if watching courtship behavior of gorillas in the mist.

I must confess: my current “travel challenge” is self-inflicted. Worse, it is a mistake only a rookie would make. I was pretty smug, strutting with that confident gait one gets when you have an upgrade to “the front of the bus,” standing in the short, sweet line reserved for those “superior and privileged” international travelers.

The Lufthansa agent was a breath-taking beauty with a smile that said she was genuinely happy to serve me. Then she froze and asked with Germanic efficiency, “Mr. Rhea, are you aware your travel paparzzz are …not in order?” She held my well-worn passport at arms length, like it was SARs-infected contraband. Unimpressed with its exotic stamps from around the globe, she sneered, “Dis haz bin terminated, …expired.”

All those intense border-crossing scenes from WWII movies came to mind. I expected her to call security, blow a loud whistle, and alert the German Shepards.

Nothing can take the wind out of your sails like the realization that you are, well, A FOOL. For those of you who are not frequent international travelers, screwing up with your passport is the worst sin you can make. Do not pass go, buddy. And if you are not careful, go straight to jail. Crossing boarders with illegal drugs might be forgiven, but crossing without a passport?…Freeze, sucka!

This burning insight about my new-found (some might say recurring) incompetence was made worse by the fact that I have been badgering my son, Randy, to renew his passport before his coming trip. Yes, I will soon be dining on crow du jour.

This current travel gauntlet requires I get a US passport renewed within 3 hours tomorrow from a regional center of the federal government (you must have an appointment to get past the armed guards in the federal building, and the only way to get one is through the automated phone system. It says…“The next …available appointment …is …April…17th.” Doah!),

The other challenge is to get another flight when they are all sold out. (“No problem Mr. Rhea, we could fit you in next week on, yes, Thursday.” Doah!)

Well, my travel kung-fu is strong (and made even stronger with the motivation to not look like a turkey to those many people I made commitments to in Europe). And thanks to cell phones, the internet, a great taxi-race-driver named Destine, and most of all, lovely Leslie, I ‘m going to make it with a better seat than before, another travel story, and my inflated self-perception intact.

Shhhh, here comes a magnicent pair of male gorillas…crikee!

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