“Federal and state laws (should) be changed to no longer make it a crime to possess marijuana for private use.”
― Richard M. Nixon
That evening Cecilia went to Expedia.com in search of an airline fare for the trip from Miami to Grand Cayman Island. She found that the Cayman Air flight left the next morning at 11:20 am. The fare was $331, not bad since there was less than one day between booking and departure. She took out her American Express credit card and copied the number into the appropriate spaces. The flight was booked with an open return.
Then she checked on flights from Grand Cayman to Cuba. That was a bit trickier, since there wasn’t a lot of advertising of these flights. But finally she found a Cayman Airways flight to Cuba that left at 1:30. Cecilia looked at the printout for her arrival time in Cayman. It was 5 minutes after her departure time. Wow! Must be a supersonic airplane. Then she thought a moment, and realized that Grand Cayman must be on central time – but is that possible? She googled Cayman Island time and found to her chagrin that Grand Cayman was on eastern standard time. Miami was on eastern daylight time which was one hour ahead. But wait! That put her on the island in plenty of time to book the flight!
“Gee, this is going to be easier than I thought,” mused Cecilia. But when she tried to book the flight via Expedia, she found that Havana was not an available destination. Even typing in Havana or Cuba or Jose Marti airport did not result in any information.
“Well, I should have guessed that would happen.” Cecilia determined that since flights left Grand Cayman every day for Havana, it would be a simple matter of purchasing a ticket when she got there. Just in case, Cecilia reserved a room at a hotel called Treasure Island Resort on 7 mile beach, the tourist area on the southwest corner of the island. At $134 a night, it was the cheapest around.
“Who needs luxury when it’s only for one night and I’m leaving for Cuba the next day?” Cecilia chuckled to herself. That should be enough adventure for this trip.”
By 9:30 the next day, Cecilia was at Miami International Airport going through the airport screening process with her backpack and a small carry-on bag. The Cayman Airways flight left on time and by the time she’d finished her peanuts and ginger ale, the 737 was flying low over the center of the island, and then making a sharp, arc-turn onto the runway at Owen Roberts airport. As the passengers descended the steps onto the tarmac, a marimba band started playing next to the entryway for customs. The building itself was 50’s style architecture, apparently some island designer’s idea of a Swiss chalet. A half dozen or so passengers were in line ahead of her, waiting to clear customs.
Cecilia thought to herself ‘If we can quickly get through this, I’ll have just enough time to catch my flight to Cuba.”
The first two passengers went through the gauntlet with no luggage search: they were apparently island residents. The next couple of passengers endured a cursory search, but the line was moving quickly. Encouraged, Cecilia saw there was a family immediately in front of her with what appeared to be a mother, grandmother and two teen-aged daughters. The teenagers were both dressed in black outfits with tall, black boots and dark, smudged eyeliner around their eyes. They both looked bored and less than thrilled about traveling with their elders. The mother made it through with no bags examined. Then it was the younger of the two girls’ turn. The dark-blue uniformed woman took one look at the teenager and demanded she open all her bags for a thorough search.
“Oh, great,” thought Cecilia, “this is going to get messy.”
The woman from customs sorted through the contents of the bag in a manner that was less than tidy. She picked up what appeared to be a cosmetic bag, pointed to some kind of insignia on the bag, and demanded of the teen-aged girl, “And what may I ask is this?”
The girl replied, “it’s my makeup bag.”
“No, young lady, I mean THIS!” She pointed again at what appeared to be a leaf on the bag.
The girl replied, a bit louder this time, “I don’t know – it just came with the bag! My mother bought it for me.”
The customs agent gave the mother a surprised look, then frowned. She said, “No, miss, this is a marijuana plant, and this bag and all its contents must be confiscated. This island don’t allow any drugs or drug paraphernalia.”
At this point, the teenager looked at her mother and wailed “Mom! Please tell her that is not drug … anything!”
The mother stepped up and said to the customs agent, “The bag is made of hemp. The insignia is the hemp plant – it’s all natural…I got it in the Keys.”
The mention of the Florida Keys apparently confirmed the customs woman’s worst fears. “No, this is paraphernalia and I must confiscate it.”
By now, the line stretched all the way back out the door past the marimba band. The teenager was on the verge of hysteria, and the mother was trying to stay calm but wasn’t having much success in her effort. Cecilia glanced at her watch and saw that she was not likely to have sufficient time to purchase a ticket for the flight to Cuba, scheduled to leave in fifteen minutes. Meanwhile, the great drug bust in front of her was still going on. By now, the customs clerk was joined by three others. They were huddled in the corner, discussing what to do.
Finally the supervisor brought over a large pair of shears, and solemnly handed them to the customs woman. With great pomp and ceremony, she snipped off the offending insignia, holding it with two fingers as though it were radioactive. She put the offending symbol into a zip lock bag and threw it in the trashcan behind her. Then she tossed everything back in the suitcase and pushed it down the ramp. “Next!”, she bawled loudly.
Cecilia handed over her backpack and suitcase, but apparently the excitement of the previous encounter exhausted the customs woman, and she waved Cecilia through. She showed her passport to the next agent, and then went to the main area of the building. She saw the information kiosk, and asked about the flight to Cuba. The clerk checked what appeared to be an old Commodore computer. Ever so slowly the screen filled with information from the bottom up.
The clerk checked the screen carefully, and then turned to Cecilia. “I’m sorry, miss, but that flight is full for today. All thirty seats are taken. Can I book you a seat on tomorrow’s flight? There are still eight seats left.”
Disappointed, Cecilia said yes, she’d like a seat on that plane. She gave the clerk her American Express card and paid the $360 fare.
After confirming the card was good, the clerk handed her a keypunch card that would serve as her ticket, and pointed at a stack of cards on the corner of the kiosk. “Those are the travel cards for Cuba. Fill one out as you’ll need to have that done before you board the plane.”
Cecilia nodded, picked up the card and slipped it in her backpack. All of a sudden she felt very tired, and wondered if she were doing the right thing. She also felt she’d returned to the 20th century, with the old building, old equipment and slow pace of the island. And since she was next going to Cuba, she thought it likely that she would remain in the previous century for at least the next few days.