Welcome to Chucksville

By Charles Reuben

        “Do not take off your shoes!” yelled the TSA officer. “Do not remove your fluids or your laptop computer. Put your bags in the X-ray machine and walk through the metal detector.”
        I glanced at my boarding pass. “TSA PRE” was printed on top and that’s why I was sent to this nigh empty line — a veritable oasis in the midst of utter chaos. A computer had picked me to experience an “expedited, more efficient security screening.”
        “What have I done to receive such royal treatment?” I asked an agent sarcastically.
        My comment was not well-received: He pulled me out of line and drew a wand between my fingers.
       “What are you doing?” I asked.
       “. . . Looking for bomb-making residue.”
       The results were negative and I was sent back in line.
       “This fast-track lane is part of a program we’ve just introduced to the public,” the officer explained. “If you like it you can apply and if we accept you, you’ll be able to get through airport security much faster than normal.”
       Indeed, I breezed through the screening process in record time. I didn’t even have to enter one of those new, acrylic high-tech microwave scanners that are popping up at all the airports. I just strolled through what appeared to be an old-fashioned metal detector.
       Which made me sorry that I went to all the trouble of stripping off my clothes in the public restroom before I entered security. I was wearing only skimpy blue nylon running shorts and my wife beater t-shirt, with ticket and license in hand. Everything else was packed away in my bloated carry-on.

       Now I’m seated on a Southwest Airlines 737, flying high above the desert, on a one hour 20-minute flight to Denver. And from there I will have to jump on another plane that will take me to Fort Lauderdale.
       Getting to the airport this morning was fairly straightforward. I rolled my bags to Central Avenue and hopped on the #66 bus that took me to the Transit Center where I transferred to the #50 bus.
       I made it to the Sunport by 9:40 — plenty of time to visit the meditation room. I plopped down on the kneeling chair and said a little prayer with my hands clasped together in that time-honored Norman Rockwell style. Then I sat down on a hardwood bench and spent a good 10 minutes meditating: I listened to my breathing and focused my thoughts on the divine infinite, like you’re supposed to do if you’re a Buddhist monk.

       When it comes to getting on an airplane and flying at 500 mph at 30,000 feet, any and all deities are welcome into my life.
        I’m not picky about who I’m going to pray to because I need, and I’ll accept, all the celestial help I can get in order to survive that flight. But my patience for spiritual matters runs thin after only a few minutes and I begin to fidget, so I looked around me and checked out the room.
       Nothing had changed since my last visit except for a brand new, unmarked guestbook lying open on the table. It had the same unusual format as the book that preceded it. It asked for people’s driver’s license, car model and a comment. The airport must have bought a case of these somewhat inappropriate books at the dollar store and were steadily working their way to the bottom.
       Which raises the question, what happens to these books once they’re filled? Are they cataloged, archived and placed on a shelf or in a drawer somewhere? Are they heartlessly recycled or worse yet, are they thrown into the garbage and sent to the landfill?
       I have spent many a pleasant hour reading the chapel’s guestbook — marveling at the joys, hopes and sorrows of others: Schadenfreude, for sure. Nervous travelers ask God to cure the sickness of a loved one, to find them a job or to get some peace. They vent their frustration, their gratitude, their sorrow and their joys.
       I picked up a pen and wrote a brief quote from one of my favorite ee cummings poems, “i thank You God for most this amazing day . . . for everything which is natural which is infinite which is yes.”
        I looked out the window as the plane approached Ft. Lauderdale and saw nothing but white. Then we broke through the white and the turbulence became intense. The plane rocked up and down and side to side as we passed through billowy clouds as tall as mountains.
        “It’s going to be a little bumpy getting into Ft. Lauderdale so buckle your seat belts,” said the pilot as he took us in.
       The pilot managed to land the plane safely in Fort Lauderdale a half hour behind schedule and that meant I missed my 8 p.m. train to Miami.
        I let all the other impatient passengers exit the plane before attempting to haul my overstuffed luggage out of the bin. Then I leisurely exited the plane to an airport that was suffering from weather-related delays.
        The gates were jammed with people who were not only occupying every available seat but also every square foot of floor space. It was an unpleasant sight to behold and I couldn’t wait to get out of there.
       I switched on my iPhone and called Bonnie, who had arrived in Miami from Chicago several days before with her son Deven and his friend, Quincy. I explained that I was running late. “If I were you, I’d jump in a cab,” she said.
       Disregarding her sage advice I found my way to the Tri-Rail Shuttle bus stop. There were three other people waiting there, as well, and we were all trying to get to Miami.
       Had we all been a little smarter we would not have gotten in that van. There were dozens of cab drivers waiting at the airlines in Fort Lauderdale and, had we combined our resources, we could have cut a deal with one of them and gotten to Miami quickly and cheaply. But we were all strangers. We didn’t know or trust each other.
       Instead, we got on that stupid shuttle bus that took us on a long trip to the middle of nowhere — the Tri-Rail train depot. It had turned cold and rainy and it would be two long hours before the last train of the evening would arrive. Things were turning from bad to worse.
       “Is there anybody here who wants to split the cost of a cab ride to Miami?” I timidly asked.
       The response was tepid but at least I had broken the ice and we began to chat amongst ourselves.
       Across the aisle from me sat Maria Garcia who hailed from Colombia. She was a student, studying set design for the theater.
       Maria said Columbia was a beautiful country and I asked her if it was overrun by cocaine smugglers. She reciprocated by probing into my history and, discovering that I hailed from Albuquerque, wanted to know if Albuquerque was overrun with meth labs, an idea she picked up from the series “Breaking Bad.” We then had a lively conversation that centered on how the press and the entertainment industry had succeeded in stereotyping our home towns.
       Also on the bus was Pearl, a tall, elegantly poised black lady, who was a self-proclaimed “Go-fer” for an off-broadway show called On Kentucky Avenue.
       “My official title is production manager but I do everything. I help to build sets, run to get coffee, assist with costumes — you name it, I do it.”
       Pearl was leaving for Cuba the next day on an educational conference and although she was running late, she was glad that she had made it this far.
       Because her plane had also been delayed, she had missed an important meeting in Miami as well as an opportunity to sample its nightlife. When we finally arrived at the desolate Tri-Rail depot, she talked about what it’s like to be part of a Broadway show.
       “You spend all this time building these intricate and elaborate sets and when the show is over, you have to tear them down in one night.”
      “Yes,” said Maria, “I often grab a piece of a set as a souvenir. My room is packed with little pieces of all the sets that I have worked on. I have no idea what I’m going to do with them all. The situation is getting out of hand.”
       “Is there anybody here who isn’t in the theater?” I asked.
       “I’m not,” said Ivan from the Dominican Republic. After completing the required course to become a doctor in his native land, he was ready to take the tests that would certify him as a doctor within the United States. Ivan was an athletic, brown-skinned young man who radiated confidence, health and ambition. His father was a doctor, his mother a chemical engineer and he was determined to make something of himself. I asked him about his travels and he told me that in his 22 years of life, he had never crossed the 80 miles of ocean separating the Dominican Republic from Cuba, even though it was legal for him to do so. But he had visited Miami many times.
       We eventually arrived at the Tri-Rail station and we each paid $5 to buy one-way tickets to Miami from a vending machine. As the sun began to set, we found ourselves a bench beneath a fluorescent light and waited for the train to arrive.
       Time, which had previously moved at a rapid clip, suddenly slowed to a maddening crawl and it hung heavily upon all of us. It seemed like an eternity before the Tri-Rail would arrive and nothing we could do seemed to help it move along. We made phone calls, we texted, we made pleasant conversation, we waited patiently in silence but we were all bored to death.
       Suddenly Maria got the idea of asking a lone cab driver who was waiting in the parking lot whether he would just take us all to a Metro Station, where we could catch a local Miami commuter train. His name was Daniel and he was from the Caribbean and his English wasn’t very good and our Spanish sucked. We wanted to get to Miami as cheaply and as quickly as possible and Daniel wanted to make as much money as he possibly could off of us.
       Daniel said he would take us wherever we wanted to go in Miami if we each paid him $25. The four of us convened and decided that $100 was asking too much. Furthermore, we were still smarting over the four non-refundable tickets that we had hastily bought after arriving at the platform. Daniel wouldn’t budge on his price so he ended up sitting in his cab in that lonely parking lot while we continued to sit on our bench at the fog-drenched depot.
       Then Maria got a phone call. Her boss was waiting for her in a restaurant at Coral Cables, near Miami, and was willing to pay the entire cab bill to get her to the restaurant. She offered to let us all come along for the ride, for free.
       So we all finally piled into the cab and Daniel got on I-95 and sped us toward Miami. I was amazed at how far it was from Fort Lauderdale to Miami. The cab ride seemed to be taking forever.
       Suddenly he pulled off at a Metrorail Station and dropped us all off at the depot. So this is how it’s going to end, I thought. This wasn’t quite what we all expected. We had thought the cab driver was going to drop each of us off at our individual destinations but this was not going to be the case.
       I turned to Pearl, who had already given Maria $10 to give to the cab driver as a tip (I had given her $5), and said “it’s all good.”
       “Yes,” she confirmed, “it’s all good.”
       We approached the Metro station as Daniel drove away and then the three of us faced a bank of ticket machines. Thankfully, a friendly Miami policeman was nearby and offered to help us. And not just help us but to walk us through every intricacy of getting on the train, from buying the ticket to getting on the right platform. I don’t think I have seen such a level of dedicated and considerate service.
       A big problem that I noticed, both on the Metrorail and on the Tri-Rail was the horrible signage, both on platforms, the ticket machines and on the train itself. I was appalled by how difficult it was to figure out: 1) where I was, and 2) where I was going in south Florida.
       Railroad platforms are notorious for bad signs. At the Tri-Rail station in Ft. Lauderdale, one side of the track is south-bound and the other is north-bound and it’s almost impossible to figure out which is which.
       The Metrorail is much like the subway system in Washington DC because both make certain that you have bought a ticket. And not only are you charged for the distance that you will travel when you enter the station, but you are also required to insert your ticket in a turnstile after you arrive at your destination, otherwise you can’t exit the station.
       Pearl climbed on a train bound for the Miami airport and I stuck to Ivan like glue on the southbound train heading toward Brickell, in the downtown area.
       I felt very comfortable travelling with Ivan on a near-empty train bound for downtown Miami at 11 p.m. on a Saturday night. The other people who were occupying my compartment scared me.
       We eventually reached the Brickell Station and I said goodbye to Ivan, left the train and descended to street level by the elevator.
       I should have called Bonnie immediately because, unbeknownst to me, she was no more than 50 feet away. She was waiting at the bottom of the stairs, and since I was exiting by the elevator we completely missed each other.
       And so I walked right by her and it was only when I had rolled my bags a few blocks away and was deeply engrossed in a conversation with a Miami policeman that I heard my cellphone ring and vibrate. I excused myself, answered it, and heard Bonnie’s voice ask urgently “where are you?”
       I had walked directly into the heart of the downtown party district and was surrounded by young people who were having the time of their life. I had no clue of my position in time and space, even though I seemed to be at a major downtown intersection.
       I walked a block further, all the time chatting with Bonnie, until I found a street sign and reported my coordinates.
       “Stay where you are and don’t move a muscle,” she said. I followed her orders, marveling at all the well-dressed young people, wondering where my youth had gone, when I saw Bonnie walk up the street, elegantly dressed and wearing her trademark scarf and a new boyish haircut.
       I had strayed a good distance from the hotel, which was only a couple hundred feet from the Metrorail, and I felt horrible, not only because Bonnie had gone out of her way to meet me but also because my carelessness in not calling her when I arrived in Brickell had inadvertently exposed her to the dangers of the street. Well, fortunately there were no mishaps and all was well.
       We joyously greeted each other and she led me to the Hampton Inn, a high-end ($450/night ), 16-story hotel in the heart of the downtown Miami. The rooms were so expensive because a music festival had booked up every hotel in the city.
       Bonnie’s hotel room was located on the top floor so we had a nice view of the city. It was surrounded by buildings that rose even higher and they mesmerized me.
       I could look through their windows, view their interiors and sometimes see people moving about. These city dwellers felt no need to close their drapes.
       Then it occurred to me that although I was watching, I was probably also being watched by somebody else. And, since I was only a temporary resident, I was probably a greater source of amusement to them than they were to me. So I eventually grew weary of playing this voyeuristic game and turned my attention to what was going on inside the room.
       Deven, Bonnie’s 16-year-old son and his friend, Quincy, soon arrived home from the second of a three-day music festival called “Ultra.”
        It was 11 p.m. and we were all exhausted. The boys got the kingsize bed while I was assigned the fold out sleeper. Bonnie crashed on an air mattress by the front door that she had bought at Walgreens for $20. It had an ingenious little motor that inflated it to the size of a twin bed in a matter of minutes. Bonnie would not take the sofa bed, no matter how much I insisted. Soon we were all fast asleep.
        That fold-out bed was one of the nicest I had ever seen in a hotel. Most are simply afterthoughts by the management but this sofa bed was genuinely comfortable and gave me a good night’s rest.

       Sunday morning arrived and the room was flooded with sunlight. The boys slept late, until 9 a.m., but Bonnie and I were up by 8 and eager to get on with the day.
       We finally managed to get the boys out of bed, dressed and down to the lobby where we all enjoyed a generous breakfast. I constructed two elaborate sandwiches that I would eat later as a snack. They were bulging with a vast variety of meats, cheeses and sliced tomatoes on whole wheat toasted bread, slathered with real butter, mayonnaise and mustard.
       The Hampton Inn at Brikell goes the extra mile on behalf of the environment. Lodgers were reminded to reuse, recycle and find creative uses for our garbage. Posters were mounted inside elevator doors and we’d see them every time the doors closed in front of us. The hotel houses a 35,000 gallon cistern that harvests rain water for watering the plants as well as the washing of pool decks and driveways.
        The toilets are ultra-low-flow and allow the user a choice between flushing for #1 (a small button) or #2 (a large button). The toilets do leave behind a bit of residue for “#2.” Still, they must save an astronomical amount of water.
       The Hampton has low flow spigots on its bathroom faucets. They can be frustrating for those who are accustomed to using large volumes of water when brushing their teeth, and fugetaboutit if you want to stick your face under the faucet for a swig of water (because some inconsiderate teenage boy had abducted the bathroom’s glassware into their sleeping quarters).
        But of all the things that I saw at the Hampton, which is designed to help save the world, the best thing was the “TaterWare” that was used in the breakfast buffet.
       GMO free & bio-based, TaterWare produces some of the most ingenious and eco-friendly disposable plates and bowls on the market. Made from potato starch, these 100% compostable dinnerware can endure the most intense abuse imaginable and yet they will readily disintegrate upon reaching the landfill.

       The plan for Sunday morning was to attend services at the First Presbyterian Church of Miami. We got there by using the Metromover (or the People Mover, as Bonnie calls it), an electrically-powered elevated train that runs on rubber wheels in a 4.4-mile loop around Miami’s business district, much like the elevated train in Chicago.
       Aside from running on rubber wheels, the train differs from the El in that the train consists of only one or two cars and it doesn’t have a driver. It is remotely controlled (one hopes) and cameras are everywhere.
       Another major difference between the Metromover and other transportation systems is that it is free. Anybody can climb aboard at any time, for any reason, and be transported to wherever it goes. This inspired me to think about whether it might make sense for other public transportation systems to be free, as well.
        Public transportation loses money (with the exception of San Francisco’s antique trolley cars) and, since its goal is to decrease pollution, get cars off the streets and stimulate the economy, one has to wonder whether that mission could be accomplished by simply making the system free for everybody.
        In the July 27, 2014 online edition of Salon.com, Henry Grabar notes, ". . . a transit agency might well spend more money selling tickets (machines, printing, secure money boxes, employees) than it earns. The dozens of small American towns that have free transit service usually aren’t forfeiting much revenue by doing so."
       I asked Bonnie if she thought the Windy City would ever let people ride public transit for free and she said, “Oh no, that would never happen in Chicago. Rahm Emanuel [the mayor] isn’t going to give up that revenue or risk losing votes from the transit union. No way.”
        Bonnie and I arrived at the First Presbyterian Church, an elegant stone structure that stood amidst the surrounding towering glass and steel edifices. This was truly a sanctuary from the city and we were warmly greeted by modestly-clad young ladies who stood at the doors, handing out a program with a color photo of the church on its cover. We found a seat near the back.
       “This program has everything you will need for the service,” said Pastor Chris Atwood, as he began the service.
       Pastor Chris is a young man, with a chock of blond hair and the stocky body of a linebacker.
       He welcomed us to his church but said he had just gotten off a cruise ship where he had contracted a stomach bug, “so my sermon may not be as long as usual,” he said, and the congregation laughed.
       The service was not unlike most religious affairs that I have attended in the past: Lots of archaic language, standing, sitting, listening, responding and repeating things that made little if any sense to me.
       Pastor Chris invited all the children in the congregation to gather with him on the carpeted altar. They all sat down and got comfy while the rest of us watched.
       “Do you know what this is?” Pastor Chris asked the five diminutives lined up next to him.
       “It’s a Bible!” said one boy enthusiastically.
       “That’s right! But it’s not just any Bible. It’s the Bible my grandmother gave me when I was a boy. See, it has my name on the cover.”
       The children oohed and aahed while Pastor Chris opened the book.
       “And look here! Do you see what I have done to my Bible?”
       “You’ve made marks in it!” shouted a girl.
       “Yes, but I didn’t just scribble in it. I have underlined parts of the Bible. And do you know why I did that?”
       “Because you were bad,” said the boy.
       “No!” shouted the girl. “Pastor Chris isn’t bad!”
       “Why would I underline parts of my Bible?” Pastor Chris persisted.
       “Because you wanted to remember something in it!” guessed the boy.
       “That’s right! And throughout history famous men and women have made notes and underlined parts of their Bibles and their favorite books because they wanted to remember something that was important to them.”
       Pastor Chris then explained the importance of underlining and taking notes in one’s books and I swear I could feel a shudder run through the parents. They must have been thinking about what their little angels might do to their Bibles and their other precious books once they returned home from the church.
       Later, the service for us adults was based on the Death of Lazarus, John 11: 1-16. Pastor Chris picked apart the complicated passage and tried to clarify its meaning in words we all could understand, like, “I don’t know about you but I would be scared to death if I saw Jesus raise somebody from the dead.”
       It seemed like a pretty long sermon to me (but a good one) and I began to wonder how long it would have been had he not gotten the norovirus or whatever he caught from that cruise ship.
       As the service came to a close Bonnie and I surreptitiously slipped out the door before everybody else exited en massse. I felt an exhilarating sense of freedom and relief after leaving that confined space. I marveled at the glittering and towering skyscrapers standing behind me on this windy, Sunday morning,
       Many of those buildings grew out of the ground at angles to each other, and that makes this city different than others and so much more strikingly beautiful. Bonnie and I made our way back to the hotel, gathered the boys and then we headed out to lunch.
       We ate at “Su Viche, Sushi & Ceviche,” a Peruvian restaurant located a few blocks from the hotel.
       I had the “Arroz Humedo — a Peruvian style risotto with tender chicken breast sautéed in a perfectly blended Peruvian pepper cream sauce with rice and tomatoes finished with parmesan cheese. Topped with a citrus marinated red onion slaw called salsa criolla.”
       That’s verbatim from the menu and I don’t know what I was eating but it was very tasty and there was a lot of it. The price was right, too. Only $10.95 which, as I later discovered, was a bargain compared to the food prices I would see from here on in. I washed my meal down with a Cusquena beer, from Peru, which went down easy and was “different.” I find it’s always a good thing to sample beers from other countries, even if they do come in a twist-off bottle, as this one did.
        The waiter used a bottle opener to open a twist-top bottle which I found odd. A bottle opener can make the threads at the neck of the bottle splinter, creating tiny fragments of glass to break off into the bottle (it happened to me once so don’t say it’s not possible). Why take a chance just to make the presentation of beer look fancier?
       After lunch we returned to the hotel, gathered our things and headed out to the third and last day of the three-day Ultra festival that was located at Bay Front Park at Bayside, where the cruise ships launch. Although Bonnie and I didn’t have tickets, we were going to escort the boys to the show, then leave.

Deven’s $50 wallet had been stolen during the festival. It contained $80 in cash, a bank card, his driver’s license and his $500 ticket to the Ultra Festival.

       The boys had been glowing over the good times they'd had during the first two days of the festival, but there had been one major glitch: Deven’s $50 wallet had been stolen during the festival. It contained $80 in cash, a bank card, his driver’s license and his $500 ticket to the Ultra Festival.
        Bonnie was able to replace Deven’s ticket for the show because she had saved the receipt that was issued to her when she bought it. The promoters were able to cancel his old ticket and issue him a brand new one, on the spot. They were also very supportive to Bonnie who was distressed by the loss of her son’s wallet.
       Scalpers were gathered near the entrance of Ultra and one of them probably had Deven’s ticket. The unlucky purchaser of this ticket would have a rude awakening after he realized this ticket was worthless and he would be out a couple hundred dollars (the going price of a ticket on the concert’s last day.)
       Although Deven’s concert ticket was reissued, he still didn’t have a driver’s license and he was going to have to deal with that fact when he interacted with airport security in a few days. The anxiety of having to face those TSA agents weight heavily upon his young mind. He should have found the police at the Ultra festival and filed a police report, but that did not occur to him. Later, when the thought occurred to his mom, it was too late and she was not able to file a report online because the Ultra festival was not under the jurisdiction of the Miami police.
       So, this stolen wallet thing was turning into a real mess. Bonnie contacted her travel agent, Stan Sherman of Best Travel in Northbrook, and explained the situation. Bonnie’s dad and “Mr. Sherman” (as she lovingly called him) were the best of friends back in the day, and Bonnie’s mom always told her to use a travel agent when she travels. So, over the years Stan had become like family.
       In this world of the internet most of us don’t use real live travel agents anymore, but Bonnie was glad to know that there was somebody she could call if she had problems and this was definitely one of those days.
        Mr. Sherman said he would look into the situation and see what he could do. Bonnie was beginning to feel that her only hope was that Deven would be cut some slack by the TSA since he was a minor who was travelling with his mom. Well, at least she had gotten the concert ticket replaced and that bank card deactivated. The rest was out of her hands.
       Most of the concert attendees appeared to be affluent young people, in their late teens and early 20s. At $500 a ticket this was a far cry from the free Rainbow gatherings that I used to attend in my day. But some things seemed similar: many of the attendees were scantily dressed and I noticed one girl who did not have a top on at all (but she had painted her breasts).
        Everybody seemed focused on entering the festival. Thousands of people were lined up, orderly and on their best behavior. Even the streets were pretty clean, except for some pamphlets (most likely produced by some rehab center) that were blowing in the wind, screaming out these words in big red lettering, “Are You On Drugs?”
       When I stood upon an elevated concrete ledge and peered over the high fences, I saw a sea of humanity and heard the throbbing pulse of DJs doing whatever it is that those DJs do, in four separate arenas. And even though we dropped the boys off in the dazzling daylight, I could see computerized light shows that defied the afternoon sun. Clearly, the promoters had pulled out all the stops for this concert and at $500 a ticket one could hardly expect less.
       As we approached the festival Deven noticed that a world famous DJ was standing right behind him. He wasted no time in taking a selfie of himself and Waka Flocka. Deven was excited as I suppose I would have been if I suddenly found myself in the company of, say, Eric Clapton.
       We finally arrived at the gate, said goodbye to Quincy and Deven and watched them disappear into a sea of humanity. Then we turned around and headed home, walking against the flow of people, back toward our hotel in Brikell.
       Bonnie wanted to walk all the way home and I asked her why she didn’t want to take the Metromover. She said she had tried to take the Metromover a couple days before and had ended up on the other side of Miami.
       The weather was pleasant and the route we followed back to the hotel was industrial. It wasn’t the sort of place that a pretty woman should be walking alone. We walked along a few major roadways, separated from the traffic by concrete Jersey barriers and passed beside a bunch of lively construction sites.
       Condos and mighty skyscrapers were rising from their foundations. The construction was proceeding in an orderly fashion and it would only be a matter of time before the skyline would be transformed. Skeletal cranes towered hundreds of feet above our heads, flanking one side of our return route, and I turned to Bonnie and said, “My god, the recession must finally be over.” It was a long walk but we eventually arrived at our hotel, safe and sound.
       Bonnie liked Miami and would not have minded living there. Deven, on the other hand, preferred a slower, quieter and more laid back city and campaigned against such a move.
       I had finally gotten a good taste of what Miami has to offer and was feeling pretty good about it. This was a city with a dynamic nightlife, great restaurants, nice places to shop and plenty of things to do. We had barely scratched the surface, but with so little time left (we were heading to Deerfield Beach the next day) we felt it might be nice to just hang out by the pool.
       The Hampton Inn has a splendid, open air pool on the sixth floor with an adjoining bar. The pool, like everything at the Hampton was of a compact size, but its design was lovely and modern. We slathered on the on sunscreen and relaxed under the abundant Florida sun. Although it had been misty, rainy and foggy when I first arrived in Ft. Lauderdale, the bilious clouds were breaking up, displaying a blue sky with just a smattering of clouds.
       As the night crept upon us, the staff brought in large, opaque round balls, cylinders and cubes and artfully placed them around the pool side. These modern objets d’art cast a comforting red glow around an illuminated swimming pool that was a crystal clear shade of blue.
       I languished in the pristine waters of the hot tub and marveled at its perfect temperature, around 104 degrees. I alternated between soaking in it and then cooling off in the pool, which was also comfortably heated, but not overly so. My aching muscles were soothed and I was ready for the next part of the journey.

       In order to get from Miami Brickell to Deerfield Beach by public transportation, one must make a maddening series of connections. It seems one must make a maddening series of connections to get anywhere in Florida (without a car).
       We took the Metromover to the Metrarail and then jumped on the Tri-Rail which took us to Deerfield Beach. Since the Tri-Rail doesn’t seem to go anywhere near the water, it made economic sense for the four of us to take a taxi to the Embassy Suites, which doesn’t have a van.
       Embassy Suites hasn’t changed much at all since I was there two years ago. The toilets still use gallons of water to flush, and the water is so soft that it’s hard to tell if you’ve gotten the soap off after you rinse.
       Ron, the bartender was still there. He remembers what you’re drinking and he never forgets a face; nor does Jean, the Caribbean who makes the custom omelets for the morning buffet. He never forgets a face either and seemed genuinely glad to see us again. He is an amazing cook who was always gracious, kind and showed a genuine interest in our lives. This is one fellow who seems to truly like his job.
       By this time I had pretty much bonded with the boys and they seemed to like we well enough. I told them all about my experience with the aerobics dance class I took at the University and they wanted to know the names of the songs that we danced to. I wasn’t quite sure of the name of the bands or even the songs but they were eager to help me figure them out.
       After some careful detective work they discovered that my “final dance song” was called, “Get Lucky,” by the group “Daft Punk” and the song we always started out the day with was a silly song called “Timber” by the American rapper Bulldog.
       If you've never heard “Get Lucky,” well, it’s a treat to listen to and even a better song to dance to. I must have listened to it a hundred times! So here, for those who are not in touch with today's popular music, is the YouTube video (please endure or skip the advertisement):

       We took possession of a lovely suite on the seventh floor, facing the ocean. The boys got the bedroom and Bonnie and I occupied the living room, she on the air mattress and I on the foldout bed. The weather became more temperate with every passing hour.
       “It’s better in the living room because we’ve got a sliding door to the outside. You can’t open the window in the boys’ room,” said Bonnie.
       The seventh floor view of the Atlantic Ocean was breathtaking. Fresh breezes wafted into the room and the sound of the waves lured me to sleep. But at daybreak that delicious sound of undulating waves was broken by the racket of leafblowers and garbage trucks.
       It’s hard to find fault with the Embassy Suites, with its personnel giving 2,000 percent, but it would be nice if they’d replace the sofa beds and finally put them out of their misery. Lord knows they got their money’s worth out of them.
       To put it more concisely, in language that Embassy Suites can understand: On a scale of 1-10, the Hampton Inn scores a 20 with their sofa bed (A+) and Embassy Suites scores a 2.5 (D-).
       The next three days flew by in whirlwind of walks on the beach, boogie boarding on the ocean, free cocktail hours at the bar, great pizza and entertainment at Pizza Bob’s and outstanding seafood at the Whale’s Rib (I went for the $29.95 combo — lobster, scallops, schrimp and assorted other fresh seafood samplings); a nice evening out at Mysner’s Park in Boca Raton: shepherd’s pie, Scotch eggs and a Guiness for dinner at the Dubliner Restaurant followed by ice cream at Sloan’s. (Bonnie ordered the macaroni and cheese and loved it. “I would have ordered the mac and cheese even if it had cost me $25. It’s not about the money. I’m just going through this mac and cheese thing,” she said.)

       One warm, gentle evening Bonnie and I were walking back to the hotel. We thought we were alone but out of the blue someone comes up from behind, slaps me on the shoulder and in a menacing voice yells “give me all your money!”
        Bonnie and I froze. The bejesus had been scared right out of us. We were both carrying large sum of cash and, of course, we feared for our lives. I let out a scream.
       Then, a second later the assailant cried “Gotcha!” and we immediately realized it was Deven, with Quincy by this side. Needless to say, Bonnie and I were not amused but those boys thought it was the funniest thing ever.

       After a few days in Deerfield Beach I headed out to frigid Chicago to help my best friend set up his new plastic molding operation outside the city. I took the Tri-Rail to Ft. Lauderdale to catch my plane to Midway and once again I was appalled by the abysmal signage that greeted me every step of the way.
        Never have I seen such poorly designed ticket machines! The screen height is not built for a normal person; it is built for a dwarf. In order to match the button to what is appearing on the screen, one must scoot down and look up. It’s easy to push the wrong button and I did. Plus, if you’re not careful, you may buy a tap card instead of a paper ticket and that will add another $2.50 to the cost of your fare.
       When I arrived at the depot, I asked if somebody would help me buy a ticket. “Only if you buy me one, too,” said a young black lady. After I told her that I would not, she took revenge by totally misdirecting me, costing me $7.50 for a fare that should have only cost a few dollars. To top it off, it appears nobody even checks tickets on Tri-Rail so I wondered whether I needed to take the trouble of buying a ticket at all.
       On the bright side, the Tri-Rail train itself is a sturdy commuter train made by Bombarier. The tracks are straight and true and the roadbed is comfortable. It’s just the ticketing process and signage that suck.

       Finally, the day or reckoning had arrived and it was time to for Bonnie, Deven and Quincy to fly back to Chicago.
       As Bonnie tells it, when she arrived at airport security in Ft. Lauderdale she came prepared with copies of Deven’s birth certificate and his driver’s permit handy. She approached an officer with her son standing timidly, sheepishly at her side.
       “So you’re the boy’s mom,” said the 35-year-old heavy set black officer severely, decked in her official uniform.
       “I’m his mom. And his wallet was stolen at a music festival in Miami. Here’s some of his identification.” Bonnie handed over copies of Deven’s birth certificate and learner’s permit.” The officer inspected the papers and then she inspected the boy closely.
       “Yes, we heard about you. Your travel agent, a Mr. Stan Sherman, contacted us and explained the situation. But I have some questions to ask first.”
       Bonnie started to get nervous as the officer closely inspected her son. Deven was sweating bullets.
       The TSA agent began a heavy barrage of questions. (“What’s your name? What’s your address? What’s your social security number?”) Deven didn’t know his social security number. Or he couldn’t remember. His mind was a blank. He was terrified. The agent turned to Bonnie.
       “Does Deven have a girlfriend?”
       Deven started to squirm.
       “Yes,” Bonnie stammered. “Her name is Hannah.”
       “Does he love her?”
       “Mom!” Deven protested. “Make her stop!”
       “Yes, and we love her very much,” said Bonnie, collecting herself.
       “Does he treat her right?” she persisted.
       “Yes and she loves him,” Bonnie said defensively, her maternal instincts rising to the surface. She was starting to catch the gist of where all this was going. “No offence but don’t you think you’re a little old for my son?”
       “Wait a minute.” She turned to the other agents. Bonnie thought she was going to get into trouble for sure. How could she accuse the TSA agent of taking a fancy for her son, let alone being old? On the other hand, Deven was an attractive boy, but still! This whole thing was turning surreal so she pinched herself hard to make sure this wasn’t a dream.
       “I have an announcement to make,” the TSA agent yelled to her co-workers. The room grew silent and a hundred pairs of eyes looked up at her, the boy and his mother. In the TSA agent’s mind no teenage boy was an innocent and Deven was going to pay dearly for every heart that he and his golden boy ilk had ever broken, including her own.
       “This is Deven and his wallet was stolen in Miami.” Her voice reverberated throughout the terminal. Then she smiled broadly and said. “Today is Deven’s 17th birthday! Let’s all give him a big round of applause!”
       Deven turned 50 shades of red as the place broke out in thunderous applause and the Happy Birthday song filled the air. He quickly regained his composure and having patiently heard the song out, retrieved his bags and proceeded to the terminal, flanked by his mother and his friend. As he walked past the black security guard, she caught his eye and winked.
        “Gotcha,” she said.

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