The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. But what’s the worst that could happen?
Quite possibly a foolish question for a British Muslim travelling to America on a solo trip.
In the week leading up to my departure, I read in the news about a British Muslim teacher, Juhel Miah being removed from a flight bound for America simply on the grounds of his being a Muslim. Like me, he had no nationality other than British. Would this mean that I too would be prevented from visiting my family in the U.S. despite having explored the vast beauty of the country’s landscape at least a dozen times thus far in life?
Calls from the newly appointed resident of the White House to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. only exacerbated my concerns, such that I even facetiously toyed with the idea of wearing necklaces with emblems of world religions like the character, Beni Gabor from The Mummy movie. How a US Customs officer became Imhotep, (the ancient Egyptian polymath) in my overactive imagination, I cannot explain but rest assured I did not wear any excess religious jewellery in travelling, not least because I’m less than superbly fond of a customs security frisking.
As a seasoned long distance traveller, to say I was worried about travelling for the first time in my life would have been an understatement. So to find on the morning of my departure that it would not be Imhotep but Storm Doris that would stand between me and Disneyworld, Florida was a surprising turn of events. I’ve never known a Doris before because I was born many (many many many) decades after 1939 but I always imagined a Doris to be a cute old lady name. Driving across the M62, wipers on maximum speed, buckets of tail-spray from trucks hitting me hard in the windshield, I soon realised Doris was less a cute old lady and more an emotionally spent woman pregnant with quadruplets.
Arriving at Manchester airport I was bombarded by well wishing family and friends sending me links to news articles saying Storm Doris was causing widespread travel disruptions, especially for flight paths across the Atlantic.
If it wasn’t going to be Imhotep the U.S. Customs officer, it would be Doris the English storm who’d stop me from reaching my fairytale Disney destination. Somehow Imhotep no longer seemed an obstacle in the face of natural elements and in a rare moment of profundity I realised that only God can stop something from happening. Nothing is in my control, not even the hypothetical scenarios that had played out in my head had considered a natural catastrophe.
Marching up to the check-in desk, with eyes wide and searching for a green light, for a nod of approval, a reassuring welcome, I asked the check-in desk staff at Virgin Atlantic if the flights were on schedule. Green light! Save of course for a two-hour staycation (delay) on the Mancunian tarmac, which I didn’t really notice because I was keenly observing panda winks (sleeping).
And now here I am, no strip searches, no storms, no Imhotep and no Doris stopping me, sitting in Foxtail Coffee Co in Orlando, savouring my smooth French pressed Guatemalan coffee.
This is happily my third but sadly my final visit to Foxtail before my departure back home to Doris and friends. If you want decent coffee in Orlando, look no further than this quirky independent joint. Apart from struggling to find seating, the coffee is first class and the baristas offer helpful suggestions to overly friendly, inquisitive out-of-towners like me. The Guatemalan blend has undertones of dark chocolate and works really nicely with a slow French press.
Coffee recommendations aside, reflecting on my visit, I take away one key sentiment, that even though Florida was a key culprit in being a swing state that led to the election of the most divisive President the country has ever seen, the people I came across were nothing but kind-hearted, generous and welcoming. I’ve never been one for following the curve, the sheep or the crowd mainly because I know from experience that appearances are often deceiving and we’d be better served in life giving people more benefit of the doubt. Civilians, common man are too often given a bad reputation, coloured by the misbehaviour of a few of their fellow countrymen and never has this been truer than for Americans (something Muslims and Americans have in common so it would seem). And so, I have no qualms putting it out there that I love Americans. Before anyone begs to differ, I’d hasten to add that this was probably my 15th trip to the U.S. and I’ve visited about 14 states, so I’m not speaking from some Disney induced delirium, though I’ll confess I’m probably still on a Cinnabon sugar-high.
From the complete stranger at Disneyworld who offered her fast pass to us in the line for the safari at Animal Kingdom, thereby saving us a 140 minute wait, to the U.S. Customs officers who smiled at me reassuringly, thanking me for my patience and cooperation, I leave with a plethora of memories where the goodness of the American people far outweighed the bad. I believe this is true for all people, it’s just a shame that we live in a world of a silent majority and a loud minority that put a stain of shame upon us all at times.
Last but certainly not least, here is a round-up of my must-see, do, feel, hear, taste! In no particular order:
1) Disneyland – make sure you make use of the three ride fast passes and plan ahead. If you’re pressed for time and can only allocate one day, I’d recommend you make sure to do the Kilimanjaro Safari (recently renamed Harambe), Expedition Everest, Kali River Rapids (make sure to pack a rain mac unless you’re confident that you can rock the wet sewer rat look well) at Animal Kingdom, lunch at Epcot in one of the world themed restaurants that tickles your fancy and end the day in Magic Kingdom with The Little Mermaid, Thunder Mountain, Splash Mountain rides and don’t miss the spectacular fireworks display at 8pm. Oh and if you leave without trying a funnel cake, we can’t be friends.
2) Cocoa Beach, Orlando. Try to go when there’s a seafood festival. All I have to say is crab cakes.
3) Lake Eola – Sunday’s Farmers market is a must visit. A run around the lake followed by an indulgence of the farmers markets finest offerings isn’t too shabby a way to spend ones day of rest.
4) Winter Park – Sweet Fifi serves Thai rolled ice-cream. I mean if you’re over the soft serve varieties, try it out. Still doesn’t beat Italian gelato for me but what’s a neophile if she’s not trying something new every so often?
5) Roy’s – hands down the best entreé I’ve ever ordered in my life. Snapper fish. You’re welcome. The peanut butter soufflé isn’t too bad either. Just take my advice and wear loose pants.
6) Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure – as far as theme parks go, this is the one not to miss. Do IOA first then end in Universal. Don’t miss Harry Potter world and associated rides, the Hulk ride and Dragon Challenge, The Mummy (yes, Imhotep was there), the new King Kong and the Spiderman rides. Also don’t leave without eating a churro, it’s just rude.
7) Foxtail Coffee Co – Guatemalan slow French press.
And with that, it’s now time for me to head to the airport for my return flight home.
Thank you, America, it’s been an absolute treasure. You were like an unexpected balm that soothed my soul. Special thanks to the Marge to my Herb – my wonderful cousin who was the architect of many laughs and the birth of a new love for Biscuits. One Biscuit in particular, of the feline variety: