Here I sit in the Miami International Airport, at 12:30 pm, waiting for the flight that is scheduled to leave at 1pm. No, they haven’t started boarding yet. Tomorrow (ojalá) I’ll be at the International Book Fair in La Habana, looking on where my good friends Nancy Alonso and Mirta Yáñez launch their beautiful Damas de Social, a full-color coffee table- sized book on Cuban women intellectuals from the first part of the last century. But for now I sit with free WiFi (thanks, MIA) and have plenty of time to write.
It all started yesterday, at 9 am, when my wife and I wrangled my three suitcases, laptop bag and purse into our hybrid Ford Escape, so that she could shuttle me to the Sacramento Airport two hours away. Check bags. Security. Thanking my lucky stars for TSA Pre, even though my best friend scorns me for being elitist. George W. Bush International Airport in Houston.
Next leg of the trip getting me into MIA at 10:40 pm, where less fortunate travelers sprawl across several seats–on top of their luggage and covered with sweatshirts–in an attempt to get some sleep on a layover. But I, anticipating two weeks on the island where I will be two weeks without air conditioning or other creature comforts, I’ve splurged for an exorbitantly priced room at the airport hotel. Swank lobby, scuffed doors to the rooms, tiny but unbelievably quiet given that the window literally looks out onto the tarmac. Bourgeois? You bet. Yet another opportunity to admit my occasional selfishness.
But even with hotel tax, the room is less than what I paid for excess baggage this morning at the Gulfstream Charter counter, money that I don’t at all begrudge, because I’m taking books to the Feria Internacional del Libro en La Habana and gifts to my friends.
So we were supposed to check in at 8 this morning, for the 1 pm flight. Right. Day before yesterday I asked the Marazul travel agent when I really needed to be there. She hemmed and hawed, caught between legalities and practicalities. Finally she said, “They close the ticket counter two hours before the flight. There. I have told you everything you need to know.” I got to the terminal and the interminable line around 9:40, where everything went in slow motion until somebody realized that it was already 11 am, the time that supposedly they would be closing the counter (perhaps 10 % of the passengers had been processed, not including yours truly).
All of a sudden there were two lines, people rushed to the front to check paperwork, then we all returned to the other line to have our luggage weighed and to be exacted our penance. $237 excess baggage, only cash accepted. Welcome to the world we have created with the embargo.
Because even though I travel to Cuba legally, under the general license, as a professor and Cuba specialist on a research trip, I have to take a special charter flight that given the current circumstances basically can charge anything they want, and they do–usually to Cubans returning to visit family and transporting several flat-screen TVs. Not for long, I think… Now that Obama started renewing diplomatic relations with Cuba, after those surprising secret talks, we keep saying (hoping) that Congress can’t be far behind in lifting the whole embargo and making it legal for anyone to make this voyage. Imports and exports will start to flow, and no longer will we who visit the island for professional reasons need to take three times our weight in staples and luxuries to assuage our guilt for being able to live beyond our means on credit.
Now 1:01 pm, evidently we are running late. That’s ok, all to be expected as we transition to Havana time. I’ll hit “publish” and go back to perusing the novel Como era entonces by Lourdes Pasalodos. And waiting. No problem, at this point I’ve got nothing but time.