The girl’s got class – and a pet alligator

While we escaped New York without being mugged, intimidated, or seriously ripped off, the parting at La Guardia was not so pleasing. The place is being rebuilt and is therefore more a massive building site than an airport. We spent our money on a first class fare to Orlando thinking we would wait in an elegant lounge and load up on free drinks and food. Not. First class domestic Delta gives you no access to the first class lounge unless you have ‘joined’ for $80 or you are travelling on an international flight. This depressing information was relayed by a laconic check-in girl who couldn’t be bothered looking at us but preferred to speak to our luggage. Thus were thrust in with the great unwashed in a dingy concourse offering greasy food, tipping for no service (it is all electronic ordering), bored staff, and dim lighting. When I ordered a sandwich I was given a metal fork and spoon, but a plastic knife. Airport security has determined you can kill somebody with a blunt, round-ended steak knife but not a metal fork or a spoon. Put into life or death struggle I’d take the fork every time.

I can see the in-flight television drama unfold as the bad guy rises from his seat and the hostie yells “he’s got a spoon, but thank God it isn’t a round-ended, saw-toothed steak knife.”

The electronic food ordering system is in the form of a screen sitting in the middle of the table on which you select what you want to eat: fast food at close to fine-dining prices. It also encourages you to play gambling games in case you have any money left after the meal; the bill strongly petitions patrons for an 18% tip. Fearing poisoning, I paid the tip but Michelle didn’t – in protest. My chicken a la conglomeration arrived promptly but her very ordinary burger took the scenic route, bringing with it a silent rebuke from the kitchen.

Delta has slipped further down my list of favourite airlines after changing the departure gate without telling us, having the smallest toilet in the history of aviation and having the least interested cabin crew. One of the stewards sat on his seat for much of the two-and-a-half-hour flight and nodded off a few times. We didn’t crash – for which I suppose we should be grateful.

The young driver who picked us up from Orlando airport to take us to Cape Canaveral asked if we had alligators in Australia. We told her about our fearsome crocodiles but she trumped that with a story about a Florida woman who has a six foot, 15-year-old pet alligator called Rambo who sleeps in her bed, goes out with her on her motor bike, plays with her dog, watches television and is toilet trained. She dresses up Rambo, including sun glasses, to protect him from the elements and slathers on sun screen she fears he might get sunburned. The authorities tried to take the alligator away from Mary Thorn but she fought against it, saying that Rambo could not survive in the wild. They gave her a special permit to keep him, probably on the condition that it doesn’t eat anybody, but they have discouraged other people from keeping alligators as pets. There are plenty to enjoy in the waterways throughout Florida. We were assured that while they will chew up small children or dogs they are scared of adults.

When we opened the door of our room at the Radisson hotel in Cape Canaveral Michelle was aghast for having booked it. I didn’t think it was so bad, but admittedly it is odd. The fittings are flimsy, the shower is over a bath behind the ubiquitous cloying curtain and is just above floor level, the wardrobe door has gone rusty, but the bed is the saving grace. It is huge and comes with a motorised hardener. I don’t know whether that also applies to the male occupants. I certainly hope so.

The NASA Kennedy Space Centre is a remarkable place in that it is a working facility for building rockets and firing them while being a superb theme park for people to come for a look. Rocket firings are relatively frequent especially since private enterprise now uses the range for commercial space shots. The latest status symbol of extreme wealth is not just to have your own plane but your own rocket.

I could hardly believe the size of the Apollo rockets that did most of the moon shots. When they are built in the biggest single storey building in the world the come out on a ‘crawler’ that takes them to a launch pad at a dizzy one mile per hour along a road base track made for the purpose.

The shuttle program, which finished in in 2011, was based on reusing the shuttle plane and the two separate rocket engines that took it into space. The only part discarded was the fuel tank. When the shuttle returned, it had to glide in at a hot 285 mph, the fastest landing speed for a plane ever. Possibly the most exhilarating presentation of the entire centre was standing in a theatre showing the designing and building of the space shuttle, and then finding that the screen was transparent as it raised to reveal ‘Atlantis’ the real thing, suspended in a gigantic room, its cargo door open and the burn scars from re-entering the earth’s atmosphere on its last mission.

The space shuttle Atlantis. The real deal.