Trip to St. Thomas via …

How many of your Spring Break trips have given you a deeper appreciation of Dante’s Inferno and the Book of Revelation? None? Read on and learn.

Let’s start with a note on our sedulous preparation for the trip to St. Thomas. One attraction of St. Thomas is that they require all visitors to test negative for COVID before entering the island. Nancy and I duly went to our local DC testing site. Desiring, like the Saxon yeomen of yore, a second string to our bow, we had a test the next day at a private site that promised faster response. The faster response arrived, we sent the results to the Virgin Islands, and received a response with a QR code to permit our admission, and thought no more of the DC test. We used some of the Southwest Airlines credits that had piled up from COVID-cancelled trips, and booked through San Juan, with the last leg on Silver/Seaborne, a small regional airline, for a short hop to St. Thomas.

And “Thorough” is the motto of our trip preparation. We as always allowed plenty of time for any glitches involved getting to the airport, getting through security, and, here, in changing airlines. I may be feckless, but Nancy is a marvel of care and organization. Nancy checks everything, I mean everything except the individual stockholders of the airline. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful will come of the story I am about to relate.

All went swimmingly. We got the A boarding group. We rose at 5:00 a.m. to drive to Baltimore-Washington International with plenty of time to navigate TSA and eat a leisurely breakfast. We arrived in San Juan after an uneventful four-hour flight, and managed the airline transfer with time to spare. We checked the flight board (On Time) and had lunch. We checked the board again, and I spoke to the gate agent: Thorough. All was well. Later, when other travelers divined that their separate flight to Tortola had been cancelled, I checked with the gate agent who assured me that all was well with the St. Thomas flight. Thorough. I checked again 15 minutes before our departure time. Still on time. Thorough. When the 4:05 departure time arrived with no plane in sight, I again spoke to the gate agent. He blandly observed that there would be no more flights to St. Thomas that night. “The plane won’t start.” I immediately rebooked for a 7:55 a.m. flight while Nancy checked with other airlines. No luck.

I might interject at this point that it seems that that Silver/Seaborne is owned by a private equity firm. This is the one thing we had not checked. I know virtually nothing about private equity firms. They seem to have a reputation for an aversion to customer service as part of a wider hostility toward the public or, more charitably, a lack of interest in the public good.

Back to our fellow would-be passengers. Acerbic comments flew wild and hot about the absence of any email or text notification of the cancellation, and no announcement at the gate. The harried gate agent assured everyone that the airline would put us up at local hotels, and that a minion of the private equity firm was working on it.

While waiting to learn where we’d be staying, I checked the Marriott website to be sure of a decent hotel. Thorough. The only single night option in all Marriott-affiliated properties in Puerto Rico was the Ritz Carlton, which had a room for $2,699 for the night.

As we hammered plowshares into swords, the gate agent announced that he had hotel rooms for us. Nancy and I grabbed the proffered taxi voucher and hopped in a cab headed for the Embassy Suites Resort at Dorado del Mar. Sweet! We arrived at the hotel 45 minutes later, at about 10:00, to find that there was no reservation. Nor were there reservations for the crowd of our fellow passengers similarly sent to the hotel, or at any other hotel in Dorado del Mar.

Nancy and I slunk back to the taxi, our driver having stuck around, perhaps because this wasn’t his first Silver/Seaborne rodeo. He drove us back to the airport, and advised us to try the lobby of the San Juan Airport Hotel, which is connected to the airport. It isn’t a fancy hotel, but it has a restaurant where we got some food and saw a cheering sign against a curious backdrop of fake boxwood.

Our spirits momentarily bolstered, we stumbled to the hotel’s tiny lobby, which had a few cushioned chairs. These were pearls of great price, as the San Juan Airport proper has not one cushioned place to sit, much less any place to lie down.

I hasten to note that I love Puerto Rico. Nancy and I went there most recently to give them some post-hurricane trade. The island is beautiful, packed with history and friendly people, and a place for wonderful meals. Just search “San Juan” on this Blog. And I don’t blame the gate agent for the hotel fiasco. Even if it had been his idea rather than a ploy of his Satanic hedge fund employers — or an incompetent reservation service — I wouldn’t blame him. The crowd was getting ugly, and personal survival understandably is paramount.

Nancy and I lucked out at the hotel. A tall, handsome young man who had taken the best seat in the hotel lobby – a love seat, took pity on Nancy for being tied to a bedraggled old man, and gave up the love seat. We remained there for 4 or 5 hours, interrupted from time to time by a manager who made certain that no one was sleeping, much as they do in a hospital. Nancy catnapped, and I sat and read or walked and walked. A commercial gate abutted the hotel, and it had an oversized commercial bay for my promenades, and a long conveyor belt on which several stranded families with children had camped out.

We abandoned the hotel in anticipation of the 4:00 a.m. opening of the TSA gate, and made it through with only the loss of my shaving cream and Nancy’s sunscreen. The sight inside the airport was not pretty. (This is the Book of Revelation part.) The terminal over-nighters, their numbers buoyed by delayed departures from storm ridden mainland cities, looked a bit like zombies, and some smelled almost as bad as I. Three quick cups of good coffee at Gustos Coffee Company steeled me for the ordeal ahead, and I walked around for three hours looking in vain for some healthy food for Nancy, all the time hopeful Spirit/Seaborne would be able to start the plane. My hopes soared with the appearance of a pilot, or at least someone in a pilot’s uniform. The plane did start, it arrived at San Juan, and it took us to St. Thomas.

You may recall that Dante’s Inferno describes eight levels of Hell. We were only at level five (anger), edging toward seven (violence). I next had to drive across the island, driving on the left in a large van with the steering wheel on the left over narrow, winding, shoulderless roads after being awake for over 28 hours. Fortunately, I was following my intrepid son-in-law Michael Boyd, who had timely arrived on Saturday and managed to borrow a car. (Long story.)

At this point, the mountain of sympathy you’ve built up is about to evaporate.

Nancy and I had used some of our Marriott Vacation Club points for an apartment for us, Liza, Michael, Ella, and Lily at the Ritz Carlton Cub. There we were were greeted by Liza and our loving grandchildren amid posh surroundings. Nancy took a nap. I procured a razor and shaving cream, showered and shaved, had a beer, and then explored the 30-acre beachfront property, which also contained a large hotel, and various restaurants. We all had lunch by the pool, sat in the sun or swam, and generally wallowed in luxury. For dinner we went to a house rented by (or for) our next-door neighbors (you’ve met the Hammons at their annual cookout) for a delicious meal. Just before 11:00 p.m., 42 hours after our journey began and having walked seven miles Saturday and over 10 miles on Sunday in the San Juan Airport, I retired to a bed as soft as a cloud.

So the wonderful lessons from this tale?

Always fly direct: never change planes.

Check the ownership of any means of conveyance you may use: avoid hedge funds.

Have a wonderful place to stay at journey’s end.

Oh, and Nancy found our DC COVID test results in her junk mail folder. I searched my junk mail folder and found my results (negative), as well as a number of promising investment opportunities abroad, hundreds of valuable prizes simply by clicking on the link, and a surprising number of invitations from young women who, despite our lack of previous acquaintance, seemed particularly frank and forthcoming. Remarkable.


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