Airports. At one point in my life, I practically lived in them as a flight attendant. I even found comfort in the seemingly effortless expediency that can only come with many years of efficiency experts and engineers working out how to get millions of people from point A to point B at near teleportation speeds without mass chaos.
I marveled at the fact that these productivity professionals had worked out how to time things perfectly so that by the time passengers made it from the aircraft to baggage claim, their bags were already ringing around the Rosey on the conveyor belt waiting for them, as if they had scarcely left their owners’ hands. It’s a seamless, modern dance production involving hundreds of thousands of people, in which each individual rarely (if ever) recognizes they’re even participating in the recital. Well, at least that has been my experience with airports in “the real world” anyway…
The last time I was at an airport, I was working my way toward a lovely afternoon buzz while awaiting the arrival of my best friend. However, I was at my rock’s airport, which is much more akin to a local dive bar, minus the bar and with the added bonus of daily airport shuttles carrying loads of cumbersome, over-caffeinated tourists willing to cash in a month’s salary for just a small piece of our Paradise Pie. So, maybe it’s not as much like a bar as I like to think.
Whatever the case, I noticed the dance production at the airport here is less of an organized waltz and more of a drunken cha-cha. And in order to make it more enjoyable (arguably, bearable) for our jittery stateside (and abroad) visitors, the airport has a “welcome station” that provides complimentary shots of our locally distilled rum to arriving passengers. This shot of rum could possibly be the island’s version of popping a Xany on your way to your in-law’s for the holidays. The difference though is that this rum shot is quite a bit sneakier in that the unassuming tourists don’t actually know that their (lack of) patience is about to be tested, beginning with the not-so-merry-go-round that is the baggage carousel. Ultimately, I imagine the rum station’s goal is to help distract passengers from the fact that their bags are probably going to take an hour to come off the plane, if they’ve even made it to their final destination at all. In the end, however, this may be slightly counterproductive. When you think about it, that’s an awful lot of pressure to put on one little ‘ole ounce of flavored rum, isn’t it? I mean, inevitably, that tiny little dose of liquid relaxation quickly wanes…
And I think that tipping point is right about when I began to see the caffeinated cracks forming on the tourists’ faces as they started rolling their eyes, tapping their fidgety feet, sweating profusely through their festive Hawaiian shirts, fanning their flushed faces with the ironic monthly publication St. Croix This Week, and complaining about the lack of air-conditioning. I even saw a couple of distressed passengers attempting to sneak a peek through the black rubber curtain when there appeared to be a lengthy break between bags, as if they might find the Wizard of Oz waiting for them with another complimentary beverage and their long-lost luggage.
An island girl well accustomed to waiting (and waiting some more), I just assumed it must be happy hour on the tarmac and decided it would be the perfect opportunity for me to pop the bottle of bubbly I had on ice in the car to properly welcome my friend back home. You see, that’s one of the perks of living here: I already know this airport is BYOB, and it’s not merely a suggestion but a basic necessity. In fact, maybe that’s why island time exists! The more time things take, the more time we have to relax and enjoy an adult beverage… or three.
Following the happy hour luggage break, we were quite delighted to discover that my bestie was one of the lucky ones that day, and she wouldn’t need to return the following day to collected her fashionably late baggage. This gave us one more reason to toast before leaving the bar – er, I mean, the airport.
The airport experience is definitely a face first immersion into what island life is all about: slowing everything down to a drunken crawl, aka “island time”, and relishing it. Some tourists think they know all about it from their pre-vacay Googling and travel blog research. The thing is though, it really is more of a philosophical concept that they romanticize right up until they’re standing next to the slowest conveyor belt on the face of the planet in the sweltering midday tropical heat with only a single ounce of alcohol in their system, waiting for their bags to come off an aircraft that they may or may not have actually been on.
So, please take a little tip from me, traveling friends: Make sure to ask your flight attendant (to whom you’ve been incredibly patient and kind already) for an extra mini bottle or two before you hop off that plane in a mad dash for your luggage that won’t be there waiting for you. You’ll thank me, and you’ll enjoy watching the island airport cha-cha the way we locals do.
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