I: Costa Rica
I’m staying at a Barceló hotel with my mom and grandmother and it’s the morning of my graduation. We’re up early considering we’ve been slaving away at my apartment for the past week, trying to sell my belongings, clean the two-bedroom to perfection to get the security deposit back, as well as tying up loose strings. I have an appointment in a couple of hours at my favorite beauty salon where everyone knows my name.
I groggily pull on a turquoise button-down formal shirt, the only one that my mom packed for me, and stay in my black leggings that I slept in. Without brushing my teeth or bothering to change from glasses to contacts, I hobble down to the hotel’s restaurant on crutches alongside my family. On the way, various staff greet us, including the bellboy (man?) who has been politely hitting on me since the day we arrived, the friendly employees at the front desk, and a rather disagreeable and flustered waitress with short hair and a temper.
The breakfast buffet emits an inviting aroma and the hotel, bright yet professional, is full of happy morning people, families, a group of travelers from a destination I cannot identify, and couples ready to start the day. My mom offers to help by holding the plate while I choose my food; I decide upon an apple-filled pastry, a fruit parfait, and an apple yogurt. Later I go back for fresh-squeezed orange juice and fluffy cinnamon pancakes that the cook makes right in front of me.
After indulging and feeling full, we leave our ceramic dishes and cloth napkins on the table to go attend to the day’s duties, without realizing exactly how blessed we are to have a fresh meal, be attended by real people and be able to relax and chat as we start the day.
II: Charlotte, North Carolina
It has been an incredibly long day. We’ve been up since around seven with our million bags packed, un-showered, and groggier than ever. My eyes are still puffy from the long goodbyes last night and I’m slightly pissed that we have to go wait and do nothing at the airport for five hours.
In slow motion we go from the warm, inviting, accommodating hotel, to my beloved apartment where the amicable driver carries our 5 overweight suitcases down my two flights of stairs and is still smiling when we return to the van. We are dropped at the airport, hand the dude a nice tip, and are hustled by greedy workers who want their share for pushing me in a wheel chair. They dump us at the check-in counter, which won’t be open for another two hours, and get an attitude when we tell the two guys to split a twenty.
Finally we get to the gate and I get a 6-dollar Cinnabon roll. We are boarded on the plane and I get to sit next to a 10-year old whose shirt says “Los Jiménez somos tuanis”, and he proceeds to stare at me during the rest of the trip. I order an eight-dollar fruit and cheese plate that only has one passable cheese on it, and I wonder where the fruit came from and why the strawberry is so plump and red. I also order a “nap sack” with a fleece blanket, eye mask, earplugs and a blow-up neck pillow and think to myself that this stuff used to be free on the airlines.
We touch down way too late, run through the airport like O.J. Simpson, and think we’re almost going to make it. But we don’t, and are put up in the Windgate by Wyndham Hotel. To cut to the chase, they don’t give us a handicap room or complimentary toothbrushes, but indicate that the buffet breakfast is from 6am on. We sleep nice on the puffy mattresses in the air-conditioned room, and wake up five hours later with the same clothes as the day and night before. Un-showered and without anything to primp our greasy hair, we stroll into the breakfast area at the hotel.
This time we’re talking Styrofoam plates and packaged cereals, no greeting by friendly hotel staff, just serve-yourself American goodness. Here we toast our own bagels and cream cheese them up ourselves. The pastries were probably once processed in China, not made fresh that same morning. Who knows where the scrambled eggs came from, because there’s nobody serving them and no kitchen in sight. The bright illumination of the breakfast room and the cold metal tables are a stark contrast in comparison to the tastefully decorated carpeted restaurant with natural lighting and tablecloths.
We eat; yet we are not satisfied. We engage in little small talk, mainly about the news that shows a plane that split in two on the big-screen TV. There aren’t much options for my gluten free mom, and the hotel isn’t exactly accommodating. We throw away our Styrofoam waste, feeling sugared-out and full of carbs. Then we push in our metal chairs and go back to the room for our bags. Welcome back to America.