Before liftoff, one of the lovely flight attendants informed us over the loudspeaker that we were going to “Florida, the hurricane capital of the world!” She giggled after she said this, as if it were meant to be a joke. Pure hilarity. Maybe that would have been mildly humorous LAST year, before one of the deadliest hurricanes in world history hit New Orleans, and before another bad one hit the very state we were flying into just two weeks beforehand. And maybe she could have mentioned the word “hurricane,” if she felt so inclined, AFTER we had landed, and had escaped the wrath of any potential gale-force winds and flying trailer homes. Actually, she did get on the loudspeaker again after we landed, saying, “We made it to Fort Lauderdale!” Laughter followed this statement as well, as if she was trying to say, “Can you BELIEVE we made it?!”
And so began our Florida experience.
We landed in Fort Lauderdale, and had to make the trip to Jupiter, where my cousin Amy was getting married to her fiancé, Andrew. Gathering the entire family for occasions involving alcohol is a glorious situation in and of itself, but having such an occasion double as a mini-vacation was cause for much anticipation. We did not anticipate however, that Florida, in general, was not anticipating us.
The questionable service provided by the inhabitants of Florida pretty much manifests itself the second you step off the plane. There should be a giant sign in the airport that says, “Welcome to Florida. Out of Order.” I flew in with my wife and parents, and my mom had arranged for a car service to pick us up at the airport to take us to Jupiter. We assumed that the word “service” within the phrase “car service” implied that the car service would be there to pick us up, but we were sadly mistaken. My mom called up the company to inquire as to our driver’s whereabouts, and they informed her that he was stuck in traffic. He should be there in ten minutes though, and we should be on the lookout for a black sedan. This made things much easier for us, considering that only eight out of every ten cars arriving in the airport terminal were black sedans. I ended up asking about five foreigners to roll down their windows so I could inquire whether they “were here to pick up ‘Kenny’,” at which point they would give me a strange look and drive away.
About a half an hour into our wait, a black sedan came speeding through the airport terminal, and the driver was frantically waving a white piece of paper out of his window. From our standpoint, it looked like a white flag, and we wondered if he was surrendering, but we later determined that this paper was intended to inform the crowd who he was there to pick up, even though the letters on the paper where a font size 12, and he was passing everyone at 35 miles per hour. My dad ran over to speak with him, and to see if he was our driver, but unfortunately my dad did not speak the native language of Florida, which is “gibberish.” Then the guy called his boss, and eventually handed his phone to my mom so SHE could speak to his boss, and it was determined that he was, in fact, our driver. We got in the car, drove for about a minute, and then Boris, our driver, turned to me and said, in his Russian accent, “Where is Jupiter?”
We learned many things about Boris within the next few minutes, besides the fact that his navigation system involves him steering with one hand while paging through a Bible-sized book of maps to figure out where he is going with the other. For example, he does not speak English very well. Also, he is from Bulgaria. Thirdly, he has no use for the white dotted lines on the road, which are often referred to as “driving lanes.” Fourthly, “Where is I95?”
We did manage to get going, mainly because my mom called our hotel for directions. Once we did, everyone calmed down, and my dad asked our driver his name, to which he replied, “Borislov.” “Okay, Boris,” my dad said. “NO!” screamed the driver. “My name is Borislov…But my friends call me Boris.” Just because you are in Boris’ car does not automatically make you his friend, as my dad would come to learn. It takes at least a two-hour journey to Jupiter, Florida, with classical music blaring from the tape player, for a true friendship to develop. Our family is now friends with Boris, united by the fact that Boris miraculously got us to our hotel using only his mental sundial, a full tank of gas, and a dream.
We opted for the cheap hotel, the Wellesley Inn. We knew we were sacrificing luxury, but had assumed that we would still be provided the normal amenities, like carpets. Again, we were wrong. When we arrived at our floor, they were still in the process of installing carpet in the hallways. Apparently, the Wellesley was still experiencing some of the effects of the latest hurricane, which, if I recall correctly, was actually called “Hurricane Wellesley,” and which came through Florida and swept up all of our money, which was amazing considering we weren’t even there yet.
All of the carpeted walls of the elevator were also stripped, which made riding the elevator feel like riding a giant plywood box with lights. It would also buzz when it arrived at each floor, alerting the other patrons that the giant plywood box was there, if anyone needed a ride. Oh well. At least they had a pool.
The pool was also victimized by the hurricane. The filter was broken during the storm, which made the pool unfit for swimming, or for looking at. The best way I can describe the pool was that it appeared as though, for the previous week, everyone who worked at the Wellesley peed in it at least once, and then threw a pile of leaves on top. But the service men and women at the hotel were working diligently to fix the problem, by waiting at the front desk for a new filter to arrive in the mail. It never did, but the good news is that on the day we left, we spotted a European couple swimming in the pool, apparently indifferent to its hazards. Crazy Europeans – they’ll swim in anything.
The Wellesley also had a fitness room, which consisted of a treadmill, a chest machine, and a sink. Notice how I did not mention windows. Or people. There was also a bizarre means of acquiring access to the fitness room, which involved getting a key from the front desk, except that the key was attached to a giant rod that was the size of a golf club, and once you were in the fitness room, nobody else could get in, because you’d be inside, with the giant rod key. It was as if the fitness room was a top-secret government facility, and the hotel could simply not afford to have potential terrorists using the treadmill.
One of the other main features of the Wellesley was its vending machine, which was out of order. But it looked very refreshing. And maybe the greatest feature of the Wellesley was its close proximity to the “Burt Reynolds & Friends Museum,” which is, in case you’re wondering, a real thing. Seriously – it was right next-door. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to go in, because, like most things in Florida, it was always closed. But we had hours of fun imagining what was inside, and who, exactly, were the “friends.” I think we settled on Mr. T, Regis Philbin, and Carrot Top, but now we’ll never know for sure.
The Wellesley, to our surprise, did carry towels, however, access to said towels did not come without a price. The price was a tongue-lashing. For example, one day my wife had the audacity to contact the front desk and request additional towels for our room - a room that we were sharing with my sister and her brother. The lady at the front desk yelled at my wife, asking her how many people were in our room, and why we needed more towels. (As a side note, we needed more towels to dry our bodies.) The lady at the front desk had assumed that the four of us were carelessly going through Wellesley towels like toilet paper, maybe even sometimes using the towels AS toilet paper. Possibly, we had a created an entire third bed in the room with our surplus of towels. As a result, my wife was forced to actually go down to the front desk and sign out more towels. Also, several of the towels had yellow stains on them. The towels were also damaged by the hurricane.
If the Wellesley was short on carpet, they made up for it with dumpsters. There was not an exit door in the building that you could walk out of and not be immediately greeted by the smell of hot, rank, scrambled eggs, stemming from a nearby green dumpster that was outlined by a flock of five-foot tall, black birds, which the locals called “turkey buzzards.” The turkey buzzard is the state bird of Florida, because, as legend has it, the founder of Florida – Satan – flew in from Hades on a giant turkey buzzard, eventually settling at the Wellesley Inn, where the turkey buzzard would reproduce at a rapid rate for the next billion years. Currently, there are more turkey buzzards in Jupiter, Florida than human residents, which may serve to explain why there are more dumpsters at the Wellesley Inn than towels.
Believe it or not, it is very difficult to leave the Wellesley Inn. Not emotionally – that part is easy. I mean physically. One day, we tried to go to the beach, which was about a half-mile down the road. We could have walked, but the route to the beach was not very pedestrian-friendly, because, for one thing, it included walking over a giant, concrete bridge that sporadically went up to allow things to pass underneath, like boats, and more turkey buzzards. Anyway, I went to the front desk to request a cab. The lady informed me that it would be a 40-minute wait, unless we wanted a different, more efficient cab, in which case the wait would be three hours. Apparently, the taxicab explosion of the 1950s has not yet made its way down to Florida, where the idea of paying someone else for immediate transportation to local establishments has not caught on. I am pretty sure that there are three (3) taxicabs that service the entire state of Florida, and one of them is in the shop. Fortunately for us, a limo driver who happened to be in the lobby overheard our plight, and offered us a ride. I was relieved that someone from Florida had finally provided a service to our family, and a spontaneous one at that. But it turned out the guy was from Long Island.
Speaking of the beach, we got kicked off the beach the following day because we were not patrons of the hotel that owned that particular sand and part of the ocean. Ironically, the hotel that kicked us off was the same hotel where the wedding was, and some of our more affluent family members were actually staying there. Amazingly, their hotel, just two blocks away, managed to avoid the wrath of “Hurricane Wellesley.” They laughed at us while sipping banana daiquiris at their filter-operated pool, while nine of us had to do the walk of shame to a nearby public beach. We would eventually get the last laugh however, by not tipping the hotel bartenders at the reception, and by grabbing hours devours with our hands instead of the provided toothpicks. I think they got the message.
The wedding itself, and everything leading up to it, was a blast. A great time was had by all. My cousin Amy looked beautiful in her dress, the weather was great, and the family was able to spend some quality time together. In fact, some of the highlights from the bride’s side of the family included:
- several cousins causing a scene at the reception because one of them – 23 years old – got carded
- table chants
- a total of 38 stitches
- someone (possibly me) mistakenly telling a waiter to “f- off”
- the worm
- one (1) towed vehicle
- an organized search party for my cousin john, which ended in the bushes outside the hotel
Despite everything, it was truly a great time. If anything, we were all united by the pitfalls of Florida, and many of us combated it all by drinking a lot, which seemed to work. And when it came time to leave, I realized that, maybe Florida wasn’t so bad after all. In fact, I had tears in my eyes as we packed up our luggage and drove away from the Wellesley Inn.
But that was mostly because it smelled like rotten eggs.