The woman holding the microphone at the check-in counter is bravely attempting to smile. The passengers standing in clumps near Gate D43 are not.
“Our departure time has changed. A weather system in San Francisco is stalling all flights,” she says.
We groan. She smiles some more. Can’t argue with the weather. The good news? I’m not squished in coach endlessly circling SFO.
The bads news? I’ve got two-plus hours to kill in Terminal D at Miami International Airport. It’s 7 a.m. Is anything even open?
D is Miami’s new spiffed-up North Terminal concourse with high ceilings, shiny floors, and the finally-operating Level 5 Skytrain that transports passengers to various stops on this elongated span of 60 gates. It has the look of a spanking new shopping mall, with more than 75 venues where you can eat or shop. I could almost forget I’m in an airport, except for that pesky carry-on bag I’m dragging behind me.
First stop: Café Versailles for a hot cup of bliss, otherwise known as a cortadito. Imagine a double shot of espresso with steamed milk — no foam — with sugar. I’m tempted to try some Cuban pastries (guava plain, guava with cheese), ham croquettes, or savory empanadas, but it’s too early to think about food.
Many shops and restaurants have South Florida themes, hawking beachware, sunglasses, sandals, guayaberas (men’s shirts), cigars, mojitos, margaritas, ropa vieja (shredded beef), and the like, while taking the identity concept one step further with satellite spinoffs of independently-owned Miami and Miami Beach businesses.
(Yes, they are two distinct towns with different mayors and city councils, all grouped under the umbrella of Miami-Dade County with its own mayor and city council. You think Boston politics are tricky? But I digress.)
Large directories posted throughout the terminal are helpful, and a user-friendly website locates businesses by name, terminal and concourse, or airline through lists or an interactive map. (The Web logo is an image of an orange slice with a bar code and text: “100% Pure Miami Shopping.”) This website is free on the limited-access airport Wi-Fi.
I forgo the maps and the Web, and decide to meander. I spy an outpost of Books and Books (D25), my favorite indie bookstore from Coral Gables, the pop-artsy Shop Britto (D30), with brightly-patterned tchotchkes by Miami-based entrepreneur Romero Britto, and the Ice Box Cafe (D8), a fab Lincoln Road bake shop and eatery, before stopping at The Shoppes at Ocean Drive — yes, shoppes not shops — a 10,000-square-foot arena that’s like a department store, sans escalators, in the middle of the concourse (D17).
The onslaught of merchandise and bright lights in the Shoppes draws me in. I wander among displays: a gourmet food market with giant chocolate chip cookies in crinkly cellophane bags next to Martha Stewart’s “Cookies” cookbooks; a black chandelier hovering above orange and white rattan hats; Gucci sunglasses arranged in rows like jewels on glass-enclosed wood tables near Adidas, Nike, and Puma sportswear; a wall of candy dispensers visually in sync with purple, pink, and blue stuffed Uglydolls.
Like fresh Florida stone crabs? They’re all packed and ready to go, as are chocolate alligators and Key Lime cookies. On an undulating panel high above the floor, a changing series of backlighted images touts the South Beach life, including high-fashion covers of Ocean Drive magazine.
A few other shoppers roam the aisles in an early-morning daze. At Mixx, an “accessories bar” with beads, bangles, handbags, hats, and beachy dresses, I learn they open for business at 5 a.m.
“Do people really shop at that hour?”
“Oh, yes,” said sales associate Liz Yanet. “A woman was trying on clothes at 5:30. It’s crazy.”
Know what else is crazy? Almost missing your flight because you are shopping.
I check on my flight and I see that we are boarding. The weather cleared out west and we are back on track, with only a one-hour delay.
Now I’m wishing for more time on the ground to purchase food for the flight. I’m certain there’s something tasty out there, somewhere, in the world of Terminal D.
MIA DIRECTORY:For where to shop, eat, and drink, visit www.shopmiamiairport.com.