"You didn't check anything?" Benn asks me as I arrive to the gate. I never check anything, ever since one time, I got my bags back covered in soy sauce. I don't trust it... We were off to la Paz, Bolivia to play the jazz festival there, and I couldn't be more excited. This would be my first trip out of the states to play real jazz, and to do it with some of my best friends? What a gas.
First stop, Miami. All American Airlines flights to South America go through Miami international. This flight was particularly empty as hurricane Irma was due to hit Florida on Saturday. Our original flight was for Saturday, but we moved it to Thursday to avoid all of the potential disaster. I remember the clouds looking so beautiful over the sea.
As we get closer to Miami, night falls and I can see a little thunderstorm off in the distance. Ooo, the storm is brewing. I love feeling that energy, always have. We touch down and turn off airplane mode to find that our flight to Bolivia has just been cancelled... why?? The hurricane isn't here yet. Our best guess was that there just wasn't enough people boarding the flight to make it worth while for them, and that they would have to leave the plane in Bolivia to wait out the hurricane. At any rate, who cares? We were stuck in Miami, fu*k American Airlines!
We didn't realize how bad the situation was until we got off the plane and saw that the entire airport was in complete chaos. Thousands of people stranded just like us. Frustration and fear were in the air. Henry and I were joking that our better halves told us not to go on this trip.. and we should have listened- Woman always know best. We had just flown 3,000 miles straight into what in a few days would be the eye of the hurricane. What were we going to do? Officials were giving us options. Option A: get a hotel around here and wait it out. (No...) Option B: stay in the airport over night and tomorrow at 4pm, the airport will close and police will escort everyone to a shelter to wait out the storm for x amount of days (Hell no!!...)
I had Sophie and my family on group text and they were freaking out! Simon, Sophies younger brother had texted me saying his girl friend Helene just moved to Atlanta and would be happy to house us for the weekend. Forget Bolivia, let's just go north- to Atlanta! Amtrak was all booked up, greyhound was all booked up. We were told that there were no rental cars available. Really? Let's double check that... and good thing we did. Hertz had a whole lot of cars ready to go. The deal was they were to be returned to that location. That's why no one was taking them. We took it. Our little Nissan four door sedan. I went and got the car while Henry, Benn and Yayo went searching for their suitcases in a sea of luggage. After about an hour of searching, American Airlines said they wouldn't release luggage at that time. What?!? The cats had no choice but to leave the airport without their bags! Benn had his flute and clarinet in there (luckily he was carrying his tenor), Henry had his blood pressure pills in there. This was a drag! I was the only one with all my shit. It was already 1am at this time. 663.8 miles up I-75, my phone said it'd take roughly ten hours. The governor said the state of Florida was running out of gas, luckily we stared with a full tank. I was the first to drive, 5 hours straight through the night. Every gas station had a line you wouldn't believe. We found a gas station a little off the beaten path that didn't have too long of a line. Yayo took over just before sunrise for about 5 hours.
The traffic didn't start until Benn took over the driving, around 11am. The entire state of Florida was told to evacuate, and this was the only road going north. We were in bumper to bumper traffic all the way through. Everyone had all of their belongings in the car with them. Going south on the other side were only service vehicles, ambulance, fire trucks. It was the apocalypse. It ended up being another 10 hours to Atlanta, over 20 hours of driving total. We stopped at various convenient stores, meeting people along the way, people fleeing for their safety. We started to plot different ways we could get to Bolivia or if we should scratch it and have the embassy buy us tickets back to LA. As Benn drove, Yayo was in the back seat next to me doing everything he could do to rebook tickets out of Atlanta to Bolivia. Speaking Spanish with Walter, the coordinator of the jazz festival, we were able to confirm that the embassy would book us whole new tickets from Atlanta early the next morning to Bolivia via Cartagena, Columbia and Lima, Peru. We couldn't believe it! We were going to make it after all! Henry had a prescription filled at a Walgreens in a suburb of Atlanta and Benn found the last box of vandoren saxophone reeds at a local music store. We got to Helene's house around 9:30pm and it felt so good! We got pizzas, had a shower, washed our clothes (keep in mind the guys only had what they were wearing). Thank you Helene for taking us in, the trip wouldn't have been possible without her. Two whole days of travel, and the trip hadn't even started yet!!