No way to Key West on a phony ticket

Photo by Marc-Antoine Déry on Unsplash

In the summer of 1961, I was serving on the diesel submarine U.S.S. Sailfish, out of New London, Connecticut. I had applied to attend the basic sonar school for enlisted personnel in Key West, Florida. When my orders came through, I was given only a few days to get to Key West. The Navy did not always allow enough travel time. Likewise, it often did not, or could not, assist with travel arrangements. Though my class did not start until Wednesday, I was ordered to be there on Monday so I could move into a barracks and check in at various locations on the Key West Naval Base.

I needed to make reservations quickly. I have always been thrifty (not cheap). Foolishly, I thought I might save money by going through a small, independent travel agency in New London. After finding such an agency, I asked for the cheapest flights possible from New York to Key West. I booked two Sunday flights, the first on Saturn from New York to Miami, and the second on American from Miami to Key West. I was really proud that I had saved a lot of money.

The Saturn flight was the first disappointment. At an old section of La Guardia airport, Saturn personnel required us passengers to wait in the hot sun for approximately an hour. The boarding process was a nightmare. We had no reserved seats, and were crowded around the foot of the stairway instead of being placed in line. By the time everyone found a seat, someone joked, “I should have walked to Miami. It would have been faster.” After all this, the flight was unpleasant. Though our old Super Constellation was a relatively large plane, it did not fly smoothly. Its four gasoline engines were so noisy they shook the entire plane.

The second flight was even worse because it did not happen. When I tried to check in at the American counter in the Miami airport, I learned that not only was the flight number invalid, American did not even fly into Key West. Worse yet, American could not transfer my ticket to any other airline. Either the travel agency had made an error or I had been scammed. Planning to ask for a refund when I could return to New London, I kept the ticket and receipt. Meanwhile I still needed to get to Key West.

I took a Greyhound bus from Miami to Key West. I was getting tired because it had already been a long day. However, I was unable sleep during the bus trip. The only high point in the whole trip occurred when the bus driver stopped for a break at a restaurant on one of the Florida keys. I tasted key lime pie for the first time. Yummy!

I finally arrived at Key West at approximately 4:00 AM on Monday, and then took a cab to the Naval Base. I needed to carry my sea bag (duffel bag) approximately one half mile to the barracks because the cab driver was not allowed onto the base. Though exhausted, I didn’t dare try sleeping until after I had checked at the training center. While checking in, I asked whether I could sleep during the day because I had already been awake almost 24 hours. Someone gave me permission to sleep. However before I could return to my barracks, some ‘kind soul’ discovered an opening in the sonar class starting that day so I wouldn’t need to wait until Wednesday. Such a ‘fine end’ to a ‘delightfully pleasant’ trip.

After the first long day, the sonar class was a pleasant experience. However, when I returned to New London approximately two months later, the travel agency had gone out of business.