My family’s journey back to Indonesia was roughly uneventful. Save for the sparsely populated airports because of the pandemic, it wasn’t any different from the usual intercontinental flight. Pandemic-related procedures after landing were also quite painless. We prepared all documents before our departure. My wife and I made sure of that. So we went from booth after booth with relative ease. Luggage pickup was a bit of a wait, but it wasn’t burdensome. Being that our stuff came from Buffalo, NY, that was to be expected.
After we collected all our luggage, it was time to head for our pickup.
Next up was customs. We were lugging around five enormous suitcases and a couple of smaller bags. We looked like a prime target for a customs check. But thanks to papers from the consulate, it was a breeze.
That added to the string of good fortune, which made me feel rather invincible.
After customs, we had to walk through a hallway until we reach an exit on our left. Beyond that exit, I saw a lone army officer sitting down. He had the same look on his face as the US National Guard officers that handed disembarking passengers forms at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport. Since I already gave my forms to inspectors much earlier, I assumed he will usher us to our pickup. So I courteously greeted him and signalled that I have a booking on hand. To my slight surprise, he politely told us to keep going. So I thanked him and walked on.
After walking several steps, we arrived at an area that had many seats and several booths. Police officers manned two of them. They would ask to see proof of your hotel booking. Being certain that somebody would come from the hotel, I asked my family to sit and wait. While my phone was not working, they assured me before the flight that there would be someone from the hotel.
In the meantime, I looked around and saw some people holding signs. I scanned each of them, hoping to find the words “Jupiter Hotel” printed on one board. After less than a minute, I couldn’t find any. In fact, none of them was from any of the hotels that I inquired about before booking!
What we saw were a bunch of white people with surfboards, one chubby kid talking to his parents who couldn’t bring him home because of quarantine restrictions, and a bunch of travellers who were ostensibly waiting to be picked up. Seeing that there were armed guards, I thought it wise to keep waiting.
Not long after, somebody wearing a formal batik shirt came. In my hopefulness, I sighed a relief. But I got happy too early, as the guy came to pick up the surfers. They were going to a hotel with more stars than the one we booked. So we continued to wait.
Through some eavesdropping and careful observation, I discerned that the other passengers Who were still there were actually going to the same hotel.
There’s six of us, each with at least 2 pieces of luggage. Now I remember specifically telling the hotel people we were going to bring five large suitcases. I also asked whether there would be other guests coming in, and they said yes. Now seeing that the Jupiter is a four-star hotel. I assumed they had prepared something.
A batik-wearing official from the airport came up to me and asked which hotel I booked. To which I answered, “The Jupiter Hotel.” “The one at Protocol Road?” he asked. To clarify, I said yes. He then opened Wazzup and showed me the contact details of a guy named Goofy. With a smile, I said, “Thanks, but no, thank you. I can’t call without an internet connection. My sim card is foreign.” In hindsight, it was an unnecessarily smug thing to say. He shrugged and went on his way.
Then I heard someone call out, “Jupiter, Old Town!” I turned my head round to find the source of that voice. A well-dressed lady walked into the waiting area. “She might be our pickup!” I thought. But I hesitated to answer. For one, I’m sure that the Jupiter is in South Town, not Old Town. So I kept my cool and looked to see who might answer. Not long, a little bloke stood up. He showed her a print-out of his hotel booking. She looked at the piece of paper and confirmed it. “Right you are, Sir,” she said. “Let me take you to the car.” So he took his suitcases and went along with her.
Before they got to the exit booth, a tall, angry-looking man approached them. “Are you from the Jupiter Hotel in South Town?” he asked. “No, Sir, I’m from the one in Old Town,” she answered. His eyebrows furled. Seeing this, the lady said, “Don’t worry, Sir. A colleague of mine from South Town will be right with you.”
The man’s eyebrows furled even further. “I already tried to call him. He didn’t answer. Can’t you do anything?”
With a straight face, she apologised, “I’m sorry, Sir. That hotel is under different management.” And with that, off they went.
The man sighed.
I sighed as well.
Nobody wants to be marooned. So he called the hotel. I thought it was sensible. Sadly, no answer. And then he did the next thing sensible thing: he called the hotel manager. It was a relief that she answered. Sadly, it was short-lived one because she told him to wait.
I understood she couldn’t do much at that point because she already sent out a guy. Sending another one wouldn’t do much good. She could also call Levi and tell him off. But there’s no guarantee if she will, or if that will expedite things.
The tall, angry man had his phone out so loud that even I could hear the conversation from metres away. Though mentally, I thanked him. Some news is better than no news.
And the wait went on for several more minutes until the man dialled Goofy again. This time, the person picked up. The hotel guest was visibly irate. While the curse words were uttered, I reckoned the loudness of his voice could wake up the dead. This time, I couldn’t hear what was said over the phone. From what I could make up, there was an apology, a notification that he was in Shrubville motorway, a promise to arrive within 10 minutes, and some more apologies. Keep in mind that this was coming from one guy. So that there might be only one vehicle picking up six guest and a shit-ton of luggage. But again, some news is better than no news. Additionally, I’ve had a long flight. Thus, I relied on the hotel’s professionalism and hoped for the best… even though they were looking less professional by the minute.
So we all waited for ten minutes. Goofy was a no-show. Naturally, the tall & angry bloke called again. He was even crosser. “Shrubville motorway? Ten more more minutes?” he shouted. “You said you were there ten minutes ago! It shouldn’t take you that long to get here!” The bloke’s right. The airport is in Shruvbille. Once you’re on the motorway, it should only take you only ten minutes to get to the airport (barring traffic or accidents).
Sure enough, ten minutes went by and Goofy finally showed up. While he looked quite spick and span, he looked as if he hadn’t slept. Goofy immediately went up to the bloke who called him. It was as if he instinctively knew who he was talking to. He apologising profusely before even saying hello. As Goofy was about to give a reason for his tardiness, the big bloke stopped him. Only the words, “Last night,” came out of Goofy’s mouth. As the angry bloke told Goofy to get things over with, Goofy did just that. He took all our passports and went up to the counter that’s manned by a policeman. A short while later, an army officer gathered us around and took a photo of us for documentation. After Goofy signed a piece of paper, they let us go.
Things were looking up. But I was still wondering what the pickup vehicle would be.
As we all were following Goofy, I noticed a couple of airport taxi bays. Each with a couple of cabs waiting for passengers. I thought it was odd because I thought each aeroplane passenger would have to be picked up by their hotel for mandatory quarantine.
It hadn’t dawned on me that these cabs were part of the “pickup” until Goofy led all of us to one of the premium taxi bays at the airport terminal. He told us to wait as he went to the airport taxi desk.
There were three black vans parked. I didn’t say a word. On one hand, I was sort of glad that Goody didn’t bring a bus. That would be less comfortable, and we’d have to be in the same vehicle with other passengers. I don’t want to sound snobby here, but I remember paying for a premium pickup service. And travelling with a toddler is an additional concern. So, seeing three vans were a bit of a relief. I figured that’s one van for my family, one van for the cross bloke, and one for this kid. But on the other hand, I got worried that all of my family’s luggage wouldn’t fit in one van.
As they loaded each suitcase into the boot of the vans, my worry became reality. One suitcase had to be placed in another van… it was the van which the angry man was riding in.
After seeing the seating of my wife and son, I went over to the cross man’s van. I apologised he had to travel with one of our suitcases and asked him to kindly watch over it while he’s in the car. He obliged. I thanked him and went back to our van. After fastening seatbelts, we departed for the hotel.
It was a ride like any other. The roads weren’t as busy as usual (we’re in a pandemic, after all). But it made for an interesting conversation with the cabbie.
My wife and I told him about what had happened. The cabbie shrugged. With a hint of a smile, he told us hotel liaisons like Goofy works in roughly 12-hour shifts: a night shift starting from 6 PM and a day shift from 6 AM. When liaisons say that they are “on the way”, it usually means that they were just getting ready after taking a nap at a mosque near the airport. I suddenly remember Goofy saying, “Last night.”
Goofy might have been overworked!
The cabbie went on to say that the Jupiter Hotel at South Town was actually new. It started operating in the third quarter of 2019. “Well, that makes sense”, I thought. Being a new hotel, they might not be up to snuff. Though, it’d be rather unprofessional of them.
After about thirty minutes, we arrived at the hotel. As I got off the van, I found that the van that the angry man rode in had arrived first. Thus, the suitcase that went with him in that van was already lumped with some other luggage that was on that van.
I sighed. After that morning’s experience, sorting out luggage got added to the list of things to do before I can get some rest. But I thought, “At least, we’ve arrived at the hotel.”
Oh, little did I know!