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Monday, April 30, 2012

The Long Way Home - An Epic Tale of Travel


After an idyllic three days (five if you count two travel days. I do not - that would be optimist-math, which is even more difficult and unrealistic to process than algebra) in the Caribbean (St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands), the last thing in the world I wanted to think about was the 13-hour trip back to Phoenix. Whether someone in the travel department resented the fact that I was going in the first place, or The Travel Gods were simply harrumphing their way through another day of random delay, arbitrary mishaps and epic blunders, my daughter and I had somehow been managed to be booked for a three-stage, thirteen hour travel-extravaganza that included two layovers of nearly 5-hours, and turned what had been an 8-hour trip to the islands into this beleaguered journey home.

The only redeeming factor on the drawn-out trek from the Islands to the American Southwest was the fact that the stewardess (flight attendant, whatever - blah, blah, blah...) looked like Jackie Brown - the lead character in the Quentin Tarentino film of the same name, who was portrayed by the lovely and voluptuous Pam Grier, who had fueled many a teenage boyhood fantasy back in the day. An exotic second-fiddle only to the beloved Raquel Welch, in this teenage boy's book.

That's right - Jackie Brown was my stewardess.

Aside from having Jackie Brown as our stewardess and the subsequent meandering of the Tarantino soundtrack through my brain, which was a pleasant diversion, I have always found that the waiting and the rushing, the Patience-Yin to the Panic-Yang - can be a bit tiresome. Case in point:

The tiresomeishness grows ten-fold when one is forced to sit on the tarmac for three hours while mechanics and electricians and other flight-industry-repair super-heroes attempt to get to the bottom of the troublesome "Error" message that is somehow binding up the works. Now, I am no expert, but I assume that these are not to be ignored and appreciate the workers' due diligence on the matter.

Go workers.

There is still a little seed of doubt, however, about the ability of the craft to carry me through the heavens safely. Error lights can be tricky. The fact that the second leg of the trip (Miami to Dallas) was scheduled simply to rocket me through the sky only to wait for three hours at the Dallas airport for the third leg of the trip did provide some solace. That said, I must admit that I would have preferred hunkering down in the comfort of a dark saloon for the wait to enjoy some fried food and a cold beverage rather than shoehorned into the window seat next to a spindly, overly-curious old woman whose head bobs and cranes like a chicken every few seconds as she searches the area for new, pertinent information. You could practically hear her clucking in her seat. "buck, buck buck... BWAAAACK! buck, buck buck..."

Directly in front of me is a precocious toddler on her mother's lap, who alternately bangs her head on the window, or brays along with the other toddlers like a wild pack of rhesus monkeys with urinary tract infections. When she grows bored with these two venerable pastimes, she stares at me with cold, dead eyes through the space between the window and seat and makes pig-noises and tries to grab my knee with her chubby little fingers. My "mean face" does not intimidate her.

Bless her heart.

Three hours after boarding, we are "go" for a launch in rainy Miami. I have neglected to mention that I have needed to urinate since the middle of the last flight. With all of the rushing between flights (with me nearly blowing out a hammy while energetically scampering through the crowded terminal like a fat, white, grumpy OJ Simpson), then the mood of tense unrest once The Long Wait had begun, I felt better served to stay put and diligently update my Facebook status and imagine fanciful ways to murder the spindly old woman with the croaking baritone voice. Once she crossed over from being simply nosy and annoying to nosy, annoying, angry and self-righteous - and had blatantly stolen a portion of my soul in the process - a variety of colorful scenarios ran through my mind in vivid detail, which took my mind off the need to urinate, if only for a pleasant while. However, not knowing it would be three hours on the tarmac had escalated this crisis to Defcon 4 - Code Yellow.

Once airborne, I waited about twenty minutes before asking the harpy and the long-legged gentleman holding down the aisle seat to excuse me, so I could make my way to the Air-Bathroom. I was spotted en-route by the Potty-Police and asked sternly to return to my seat. I shot the stewardess a withering glance before meekly complying. Shortly afterward, I spied a man from first class emerge from between the Golden Curtains and make his way to the bathroom. I pouted, then raised my hand when the Stewardess came by offering up ear-buds to watch the new, bloated Jay Leno read funny newspaper items for the fifth time in a week. It was a classic ruse to bushwack her with the "if he can go to the bathroom, I should be able to go to the bathroom" argument. She once again reminded me that the seatbelt light was still on and I fired back that this could play hell with my prostate. "And you certainly don't want me to go in my britches," I added. "I have recently eaten asparagus and the resulting biohazard will please no one, I assure you." The skinny harpy and long-legged man nodded. I believe the child in front of me nodded as well, but she was most likely simply mimicking the movements of the others.

"Well, you can get up at your own risk - I certainly can't stop you," she said. I recalled all of the horror stories I had seen on the news about unruly passengers being hog-tied with seat belts and physically restrained by heroic passengers of size and wondered for a moment if I was being baited. "I will take that risk," I said, pleasantly, not wishing to be pistol-whipped by a sky-marshal. "You know," I added. "If you haven't got a healthy prostate, you haven't got anything..." I was referencing "The Princess Bride", but neither the stewardess, the long-legged man, the old biddy or the evil baby caught it - another opportunity to smile lost to apathy. 

An hour later...

I had planned on having a leisurely dinner and cold beverages with Ali during our scheduled three-hour layover in Dallas, but having seen those three hours tortuously devoured by mechanical difficulties, I eagerly awaited the beverage cart. I hadn't eaten since 8:30 that morning in St. Thomas and it was now 9:30pm, St. Thomas time. I could feel myself dwindling away in my seat. "I'll take a Heineken," I said, enthusiastically, when asked. "And a sandwich, please. Turkey, chicken... Whatever - anything but tuna. I hate tuna." "We don't have sandwiches," the stewardess said, a superior smile crossing her lips. She was probably still stinging from the prostate/asparagus argument, I figured. "We have Stackable Lays, cheese, crackers, raisins and mixed nuts." I'm certain she detected the disappointment on my face - I nearly wept. I'm equally certain that she relished it. Meanwhile, the spindly crone was harping away that the pilots should be able to radio ahead and have her flight held at the gate until she arrived. "After all," she said. "It's not my fault that the plane sat on the runway for three hours..." The flight attendant handed me my cheese and crackers and made a swift and hasty getaway. The old lady began her pitch to me, which made no sense at all, because I could do nothing about it and secretly hoped that she missed her flight and had to sleep on the hard dirty floor in a seedy part of the Dallas terminal, near the restrooms.

Having had an assfull of her whining and complaining, I offered up the fact that I was fairly sure that the airline wasn't trying to sabotage her travels. And that perhaps she could give it a rest, so that she could bitch more vigorously once on the ground. That shut her up. Not as efficiently as being beaten to death like a baby seal, as I had earlier imagined, but the momentary silence was a welcome reprieve.Then I tucked into some mixed nuts, which along with the raisins, were included in my cheese and cracker package. Who knew? It greatly reduced the amount of actual cheese and crackers in the package. I am no fan of raisins and generally disdain mixed nuts, but in the dark I tried to convince myself that they were all peanuts. It nearly worked.

Moments later, as I was choking down my imaginary peanuts with the remaining swill in the Heineken can, the old hag opened her carry on bag and produced a savory sandwich, which she nibbled at for the next forty minutes. She smiled and the stewardess smiled. The child in row 22 smiled as well, but again, I think it was more mimicry than anything else. At least I hoped so. I was beginning to get a bit creeped-out by the little hell-spawn.

Crone: 1, Jerry: 0 

To the stewardess: "Scotch on the rocks, please..."

This blog was written long-hand on the back of an itinerary and an envelope while flying on American Airlines flight 544 in the skies over Florida... Or Texas. All events occurred in real-time.

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