Triple Cheeseburgers in Paradise
When Brits think Florida, they think Disney World. But it's also a family reunion capital, the home of McTiki, and where I met a redneck oracle.
The trip to Orlando had been hellish. And not just in the way that 8 hours spent watching last summer’s blockbusters in a flying tin can always is.
A lifetime (surely?) ago, a kind stewardess had interrupted a friendly conversation between me and my seat-mate, a guy who looked like a real-life Peter Griffin.
She had mistakenly assumed that we were lifelong buddies celebrating some sort of once in a lifetime reunion and started doubling up our free drinks every time she passed. Neither of us corrected her.
What had been a great idea at the time seemed less so as I joined the queue (or line, as I better start calling it) for immigration that snaked around the hall like we were waiting for the hottest ride at Walt Disney World.
I could feel the beginnings of a hangover developing, even though the time difference meant that most locals would be sitting down to their lunches.
Image via traveling around on Flickr.
We’d moved a grand total of a few inches when an announcement came over the tannoy that four of the five available lines were now exclusively for the use of American (and Canadian, the voice added begrudgingly) citizens.
Why? Because they could, I guess.
Perhaps because they feared that the incoming Americans would complain the loudest. Judging from the hushed grumbles of my fellow Brits, they weren’t wrong.
I watched Peter Griffin, my new best friend turned new mortal enemy, saunter to the front of the immigration hall. About an hour later, I would discover that I had been eligible to use one of the electronic passport machines available the whole time.
Never mind, I thought. At least my suitcase will be waiting for me when I get to baggage claim. It wasn’t. Delays on the tarmac meant that our plane hadn’t even been unloaded yet. When I finally arrived at the carousel I re-joined my frustrated seat-mate, who was now sweating profusely. All was well again.
We huddled around the carousel waiting for the telltale siren to tell us that our bags were on the way. Mine was the last to appear. Well, actually it was second last. But poetic license and all that.
I stepped out into the steamy Florida heat and waited for my hotel shuttle to arrive. I checked the clock on my phone, which let me know that I’d now been awake for 19 hours. Half an hour passed before I realised that I was waiting for my shuttle in the wrong place.
Eventually I clambered aboard the shuttle, nodding sleepily at the driver, after loading my suitcase into the back. Three immaculately dressed Black ladies stepped up the stairs behind me, immediately saying to the driver that “we still waiting for four more, you ain’t leaving just yet, are ya?”
“Don’t worry ladies, we’re in no hurry,” he replied. Of course we’re not, I thought.
With absolutely no urgency, the remaining four arrived in their Sunday best and climbed aboard. They proceeded to introduce each other, and it quickly became clear that some of them had never met before. It turned out that they were on their way to an extended family reunion.
With introductions in full swing, the ladies turned to me and leaned in slightly. “Well?” their expressions seemed to say, as if it was perfectly plausible that a lanky white Brit wearing sweats and beat up Vans would be headed to the same event.
“Umm, I’m Art.” I said. “And, clearly, I’m not on the way to the reunion.”
“Well, sweetie,” one of the ladies replied. “You may not be on the way to the reunion, but we’re glad to have you on this bus with us.” And in that moment, I was glad to be on it with them.
That feeling didn’t last long; when I arrived at my hotel I sat down on my bed, eyes bleary with tiredness, and sobbed.
The only place within walking distance of my tired airport hotel was a McDonald’s that was themed like a tiki bar and, inexplicably, had a tiny little bandstand outside.
Image via Yeri Peña on Google Maps.
I ordered a Coke, which came in a bucket, and a triple cheeseburger. A culinary delight that wouldn’t debut in the UK for another four years. Hunger satiated, I went back to my room and turned on a college baseball game.
I had broken down earlier because, in my jet lagged state, I had forgotten that the first night of a vacation does not necessarily set the tone for an entire trip. I was frustrated that things were not going like clockwork, as my young mind (mis)remembered them when my parents were in charge of planning them.
Stoicism has never been my strong point.
At that moment, it felt as though I had spent hundreds (to become thousands) of dollars for the privilege of an extra patty on my cheeseburger.
I climbed into bed at 9pm and felt like a new man when I woke up at 6:30am.
I made my way downstairs to the breakfast buffet, where a single man was picking at his plate. He was wearing a camo trucker cap and a wifebeater that revealed an upper arm full of USMC iconography.
“Mornin’!” he yelled genially.
“How are you doing,” I replied, in the British way (no question mark, no response required) as I loaded up a styrofoam plate with waffles and those hotel turkey sausage patties that are better than they have any right being.
“I’m doing awesome, sir, how about you?” he said.
“I’m good, thanks,” I said, settling down into a chair.
“See this man here? He’s going to change everything,” the man said, as if I had just made an argument to the contrary. He was viogorously gesturing with his fork towards a TV playing silently in the corner, which bore the slogan:
TRUMP, PENCE, MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN! 2016
“He’s got my vote,” the guy said, looking around as if there was an audience even though it was still just the two of us. “He’s a business guy, and that will help guys like me. I’ve got a ton of businesses.”
I wondered what sort of business empire sees a guy tackling a mountain of scrambled eggs at 6:30am in a budget airport hotel but, before I got the chance to ask, the guy had already moved onto how Alabama was primed to win it all this year under Saban.
As it turns out, he was right about that too — Alabama would narrowly edge out Clemson to win the National Championship in January 2016. Maybe I should have asked this guy for some lottery numbers.
Instead I settled for some small talk that required very little input from me. It ended with him welcoming me to his country like an official envoy, an oddly formal gesture for someone who otherwise seemed like such a roughneck.
But let me clear. This is not a publication about Donald Trump. Enough of those have been written already, and I have little desire to add to that milieu.
Still, I would be remiss not to point out the context in which much of what I’ll write here takes place just before, and during, Trump’s presidency. Although this man wasn’t wrong about 45 “changing everything”, this comes before all that.
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