TDLR: Traveling alone can be exciting, frightening, and all-in-all a curious adventure.
I went to conduct research in Miami, Florida as part of my job. I wasn’t worried the work that had to be done, but how I was going to get there. I’d only flown alone once for a job interview in San Francisco 2-3 years ago. I was doubly nervous since I missed the Amtrak train twice before.
Two flights and one layover. It’s gonna be easy, I thought. I can do this.
Maybe. On my first flight I was lucky enough to have the seat next to me open while all the other passengers had to squish against each other. I was also lucky enough to sit near a screaming wailing baby who didn’t like the last 15 mins of the ride. Still, better than a screaming wailing baby for 55 minutes. I grabbed some food during layover. So far so good.
Btw, I didn’t know gate numbers for domestic flights could change. You can see where this is going. I waited at the wrong gate for my second flight. The gate had went from A11 to A18. When I picked up something was off, I rushed to A18. A green screen flashed ‘FINAL BOARDING CALL.’ I caught a front desk lady just as she walked in who was oddly out of breath. She said the plane had already left. I went to the help desk and was put on standby, not knowing if I’d have a seat on the next flight. Would I have to stay overnight at the airport?
Soon after I rebooked, a couple that looked about late 40’s ran up to A18. Their tanned skin looked like cooked lobster that had been left to rot in the sun for some time. It was like watching a rollercoaster go all the way up and then straight down. At first they were ecstatic they caught the plane while it was still boarding, but their appreciation quickly turned into anger when the employee told them the plane already departed. The woman was furious and demanded loudly to be let on the plane. The man tried the ‘come on, man, just let us’ line on the employees. It didn’t work.
Luckily, all three of us were able to get seats on the next flight an hour and a half later. The first thing I thought after getting off the plane: too hot and wet. Hello, Miami.
I got less than four hours of sleep, headed to work, and started exploring the city in the afternoon. Someone recommended I check out Wynwood Walls if I was interested in art. Apparently artists from all around the world were invited to paint the area just last week. I noticed many Miami cops patrolling the area.
Coming from a place where it’s been below zero for weeks, I thought Miami’s winter would be no problem. I took out my hoodie from my bag in Illinois last minute.
The wind was what killed me. I walked towards a ‘park’ that was really more of an outdoor area for a few apartment complexes. The more I walked, the less people I saw.
I called for an Uber to take me to Baymarket, which I thought would 1.) sell jackets and 2.) be a buzzing tourist spot aka more people. The Uber driver insisted I go to Miami Beach, where all the shops and restaurants were, instead of Baymarket. I originally said no, but then I felt uncomfortable as he kept insisting to change my destination.
Long story short, the driver made me feel extremely uncomfortable and unsafe. He kept turning all the way around in his seat to look at me, even while driving. He asked me about my job, martial status, blamed my boyfriend for not accompanying me, suggested to fly back with me, my last name, who I lived with, whether I liked to drink, and lastly, for my age (in that order). He advised me not to get in strangers’ cars… except I was in an Uber? He didn’t laugh.
Am I going to die? I thought. Nearing the destination, he wasn’t going to let me off the car, but I insisted he drop me off right then and there.
“God bless you,” he said.
I was paranoid for the rest of the night. At least I can see the beach, I thought.
I couldn’t find a jacket at Zara. I got myself a hoodie from H&M, but by the time I stepped out of the store, the sun had set.
My battery was also running under 25% and I forgot to bring my phone charger. I walked along Ocean Avenue but everywhere seemed too upscale for someone wearing backpack.
In the end I decided I didn’t care about dress code, and decided on Safron Grill just to make up my mind. I thought it would be a sit down restaurant, but instead I walked into a small hole in the wall. I ordered the Doner Gyro Platter for $11.99, a mix of beef and lamb with salad, flatbread, rice, and yogurt dip. Some of the meat was hard and dry, while others were juicy. The staff was friendly and service was quick. But who knew I’d travel to an island just for gyro!
Back at the hotel, I realized I didn’t buy any bottled water. I got on the elevator from the 5th floor. The elevator stopped at the 4th, and I scooted over in anticipation of seeing tourists, parents with kids, or a young couple. I prepped for a quick exchange of smiles and then avoiding eye contact.
Two men above 6 feet came into the elevator, their faces too similar to be anything other than father and son. Both had curly grey hair, except one was lighter in shade than the other. The son might’ve been in his 30’s. The father’s back was already hunched over, scuffling into the elevator. He wore a large brown cardigan.
“You drivin’?” the father asked me.
“What?” I said.
“Then how’d you get here?”
“What do you mean?” I said. “… Uber?”
“He means who’s driving the elevator,” the son said to me. “He does this to a lot of people. Don’t do that, Dad.”
“Well, I enjoy it.”
The father chuckled two distinctive ‘heh heh’s.
“If you don’t mind, could I drive?” he said as he wobbled to the elevator buttons.
“Go right on ahead,” I said.
“I’ll drive for free,” he said.
“Hey, that’s even better than Uber,” I said.
Again with the self-satisfied chuckle and he pressed the button for first floor, which was already lit. The son seemed embarrassed the entire time, hiding his face behind his hand. When we reached the lobby, the son was the first to step out.
“After you, dear,” said the father.
“Thank you,” I said.
That short elevator ride down lifted my spirits like pulling a rubber band back with your index fingers and then watching it fly into the air.
On my way home at the airport, there was a stretcher across from where I was. This lady was clearly in distress, sobbing and making a scene.
“How could he! He told me he liked me!”
The two medics said something to her and she refused to listen, saying she had to talk to ‘him.’ I thought she needed therapy more than she needed medics. I wondered if she got horribly dumped… by her boyfriend? Fiancé? Maybe she was a stalker. The last sounded most exciting.
I didn’t miss any planes on the way back. I got to hear two babies cry simultaneously and then sat next to someone who smelled like pot four an hour and a half. Someone farted silently and it smelled of pistachios.