West Palm Beach, 2006
I am going to West Palm Beach on business. It’s January in Baltimore, so a trip to Florida sounds mighty nice.
The night before the trip I start to feel a little off. The next morning I am death on toast. I question my ability to get out of bed, much less to the airport and on a plane. I call the airline and book myself on a later flight, go back to bed, and pray for deliverance.
I have a meeting and a presentation that I don’t feel like I can cancel. I get up a few hours later and haul my germs to urgent care. Here I am given antibiotics. With meds, I am ready to face the trip.
My re-booking has scored me the last seat on the plane. Middle seat, back row, next to a mother and a baby. The mother apologizes to me for having to sit next to a baby. I apologize to her because I don’t want to give her kid Ebola. I spend most of the flight coughing into my coat.
We land in Florida and I step out into the swampy warmth. I claim my bags, which are extra heavy this time because of the presentation: Winter coat, laptop bag, purse, suitcase, LCD projector. I lug it all to the rental car lot. The attendant points to a row of cars and says, “Pick whichever one you want. Keys are in the ignition.” My fever is rendering me slow and thickheaded, and I am grateful that I will soon be sitting in an air-conditioned car.
A white Saturn is calling my name. I load everything into the car. Winter coat, laptop bag, purse, suitcase, LCD projector. As I’m shifting the car into reverse, I see something in my peripheral vision that makes me hit the brakes.
Ants. The entire car is crawling with ants. I jam the car into park and pluck my belongings out with lightning speed. Winter coat, laptop bag, purse, suitcase, LCD projector. I load everything into a new car (that I inspect thoroughly), and drive to the exit booth. The attendant takes my paperwork and gives it the lazy-eyed once-over. “I thought you’d want to know,” I tell him, “that white Saturn back there is chock full of ants.” He doesn’t bother to look up. “Uh huh.” He hands the paper back to me and I pull away. I briefly consider writing a letter to Alamo Rental Car about the ants, but figure that I’m lucky it wasn’t an alligator.
I have popped some DayQuil and am feeling a little more human. During a meeting with the franchisee, I spot an occasional ant climbing up my pants. I casually flick each to the carpet when no one’s looking.
The DayQuil is wearing off, and all I want to do is crawl into my hotel bed and die. The kind franchisee, however, wants to take me out to dinner to thank me for the visit. I don’t feel like I can say no, so I suck it up. Lovely Italian restaurant. I’m so sick I can’t taste anything and am hunched over the table like Quasimodo. The only thing keeping me from passing out under the table is raw willpower.
The franchisee asks where I’m staying. I tell him which Marriot, and he counters with a different offer. “Stay at the other Marriott! It’s closer, nicer, and more comfortable.” The chance to be in bed even 15 minutes sooner is tantalizing. I follow him to the new Marriott (he leads in his car so I won’t get lost). He waves goodbye, I park and unload. Winter coat, laptop bag, purse, suitcase, LCD projector and haul it all to the front desk. Hotel is sold out. Return like a pack mule to the rental car.
I follow the GPS to the Marriott where I have a reservation, thankful to be 10 minutes from sweet relief. I unpack the car. Winter coat, laptop bag, purse, suitcase, LCD projector.
At the front desk, I am told that there is no reservation for me. I am crestfallen and delirious. The attendant digs a bit, and tells me that I’m at the Marriott across the street. My gaze follows her pointed finger to the window, where sure enough, there is a third Marriott. I repack the car. Winter coat, laptop bag, purse, suitcase, LCD projector.
By the third hotel, I have finally smartened up and leave my crap in the car. I stagger in, wondering if they’ll let me sleep in the bushes if they can’t find my reservation. The desk lady welcomes me with a smile and hands me my room keys. I would kiss her if it weren’t for the ants and the lung rot I am carrying. I get to the room, flick a few ants off my suitcase, and fall face-first onto the bed. Time for sleep.
While changing into pajamas, I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror. I have an angry-looking rash all over my chest, neck, and back. I know that the urgent care office is long since closed for the night, and I have no desire to venture back into the Florida night in search of a 24-hour clinic. I figure that since I’m not having trouble breathing, I’ll probably live through the night. I decide to risk it and call urgent care in the morning.
In the morning the rash is still with me. I call my urgent care and explain that I look like an Easter egg. The nurse, in a concerned voice, says, “Stop taking the antibiotic. Are you close to an emergency room?” I am stumped. The nurse fills the silence, “Or a CVS or something. Are you close to a place that sells Benadryl?”
I’m unsure how my condition has gone from ER to drug store so fast, but I like the sound of “Walgreens” better than “hospital.” I swing by the store on my way to the presentation, successfully thwarting an anaphylactic seizure. After the presentation I head out on the highway to Orlando, where I will meet my cousin for dinner.
The toll road looks the fastest, and I want to get away from West Palm Beach before the ants find me again. When I reach the end of the toll road, I see large signs looming over the tollbooths: Cash Only, $11. I have $7. I pull up to the booth and smile at the attendant. “What do I do if I don’t have the cash? Is there really nothing else you can take?” She does not smile back. Two weeks later, I receive a ticket in the mail from the state of Florida for 20 bucks.