February 22, 2016. Monday
Four days earlier I exited the New Jersey Turnpike, on my way to New York City from Delaware, to return a call to my director. She wanted to swap trips with me and the trade was most welcome. We don’t travel as much as most of the people in my department but we do travel and I tend to enjoy seeing new places.
“Chris, I need to go to British Columbia in your place. The [new system] module is a disaster and since I have been working with the development team, I feel I should be the one going to Canada for damage control. I was scheduled to attend the Thunderbird Casino kickoff meeting in Oklahoma next week. I need you to go there instead.”
This was good news for me. Several top brass from my company were scheduled to attend the Oklahoma meeting and I have been scoring some points with our project managers recently, doing more business assessments and presentations. I’ve been doing this stuff forever but my current employer has no idea that it is one of my strongest skills. I was happy to go to Oklahoma in my director’s place and I have seen enough of Kamloops, British Columbia.
“Sure, I’ll go to Oklahoma! Brittany requested me originally. In Monday and out Wednesday. Easy peasy. Have fun in Canada.”
I booked a last minute flight on American Airlines and since I have status I was assigned premium seats in the front of coach (my company will not pay for anything higher). My flights between Dallas and Oklahoma were automatically added to the first class upgrade list for free. Not a bad way to travel, if I may say. I was looking forward to lunch at Pappadeaux’s in DFW airport and dinner at Chuy’s Tex Mex, which I noticed was next door to our hotel in Norman, OK.
Sunday night, the evening before my flight, I got a notice that a package delivery had been attempted at my house on Saturday. They were trying to deliver a Suzuki Melodica that I ordered from Japan. These harmonica-sounding keyboard/wind instruments cost about $80 on Amazon and ship directly from Japan at no extra shipping costs. They don’t really sell these in the states and I have wanted one since watching Stephen Colbert’s band leader, John Batiste, play one each night on the new Late Show. This model melodica is rated very high and $80 seemed like a steal. The delivery estimate was not for another two weeks. They tried to deliver it Saturday and I was not expecting it this early. Sure enough, there was a slip on my door from the US Postal Service. It’s not the kind of parcel I wanted to leave at the post office for three more days.
My scheduled flight through Dallas to Oklahoma City left Vegas at 11:10 AM. I got up decently early and decided to drive to the post office to pick up my Melodica with a quick detour to the gas station, because I’m too stupid to fill my tank on my day off. In my silly brain, I imagined a five minute line to get my parcel and then going my merry way. I got to the post office and stood there for 45 minutes watching the miraculous efficiency of the USPS. I calculated, based on previous experience being late to the airport, the exact cut off point when I would have to abandon my quest for the melodica and catch my flight. 10am was my final cutoff. I got the parcel and was out the door by 9:50. I really had to pee, but the USPS doesn’t have a restroom. I decided to hold it until the airport.
I parked my car at the long term parking, as usual, which gets me into the terminal quickly. There is one men’s room near my security gate and I power walked to it trying not to let the tinkle leak down my leg. RESTROOM CLOSED! Somumabitches!! Crap. I’ll have to hold it until the terminal. I marched up the TSA-Pre security with my carry on luggage in tow, my ID out, and my digital boarding pass ready. There was a slight line at expedited security but not bad. I had 25 minutes before my flight left. No problemo. When it was my turn, Capt. Dunsky Q. Dipshit of the TSA made one attempt to scan my phone and then said, “You need to go down to ticketing and get a paper ticket. This isn’t scanning.”
“Can you try it one more time?”
“Sir. Please step out of line and go to ticketing for a paper ticket.”
“Just try again.”
“Sir! You WILL step out of the line!!”
“Goddamn! Sonofabitch! Peckerhead! Shitnose! Assface! Scumbag! Nickledick! Pissbrain!”
I muttered every compound profanity my father ever taught me as I marched to the men’s room, trying not to piss my pants. As frustrated as I was, a good pee is still a good pee. I placed my hand on the urinal wall and savored a long leaning piss, momentarily disconnecting myself from time and space.
The ticketing/check in line looked like a scene from Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. I am able to use the Priority/First Class check-in line but it was still incredibly long and being serviced by one person. The gate agent could not find single thing wrong with my digital boarding pass nor could she find any reason why I could not be let through security at the time. Naturally, I missed the flight. The best thing she could do was connect me through Phoenix to Dallas to Oklahoma City, but I was placed on stand by the entire way.
I am a fairly easy going guy and I try never to get pissy with people in the service industry, especially airline folks, since they put up with so much bullshit from people. I mentioned to the gate agent that I was looking forward to sitting at Sammy’s Wood-fired Pizza and having a nice chicken caesar. My original flight did not give me enough time to eat. She appreciated that I found the bright side and wished me luck on all my connections.
Past security, I had a lovely lunch and got to my gate just as my name was cleared for the flight. Whew! One down. I was placed in the back of the plane but in an exit row with a ton of leg room. Nice! The doors closed, we push back from the gate, and that is when I heard the retching.
“Huey! Huuuueeeey! Hyooooo….BLAALAALARG!!”
A woman screamed. I looked behind me to see a tall man had just target vomited on the woman’s head in front of him. He started heaving again.
“Huey! Huey! Huey! ROBOCOPBUGSBUNNYTACOBELLBUYMYBUICK!”
This time he managed to open a puke bag at the last second. A caustic bouquet of putrid Cinnabon and Starbucks began to waft through the cabin. I started to fear a regurgithon-style domino effect once people reacted to the smell. The plane lurched forward and stopped at the gate. Linda Blair’s twin brother was let off the plane as well as his victim with her glistening barf hat. That may have been the first time that the smell of burning jet fuel entering the cabin was a welcome event. The scent of vomit was effectively buried by fumes. The puke incident held us up for only 15 minutes and we were on our way. But my fun had just begun.
I had very little time in Phoenix and I went directly to my new gate. I was given a decent seat and was on my way to Dallas. Two down! That flight was uneventful. I read and relaxed. At the Dallas airport I went to Pappadeaux’s, a Cajun food chain, ate shrimp, and drank large fru-fru frozen cocktail. I texted the project manager at the client site so she could arrange for someone to pick me up when I landed three hours later than planned. It is a 30 minute flight to Oklahoma City from Dallas and the end of my long travel day felt within my reach. Boarding was delayed and then delayed again. I was looking forward to getting into my hotel bed and sleeping. More delays. I kept texting my new arrival time to my co-workers and they gave up and told me to take a cab.
I was the last person to get on the flight. I got a middle seat, last row, and I was very happy to have made all three stand by lists. When I got to my seat, the college-aged girl next to me on the aisle seemed a bit out of it. I incorrectly assumed that she was just nervous to fly. I noticed she had been given three airplane blankets. Another young lady two seats up handed her sunglasses and said, “I’ll get them back from you when we get to Oklahoma. They should help.” The girl put on the glasses and then turned to me.
“I am sorry for being such a pain.”
“A pain? Did I miss something? I just arrived. Is there something the matter?”
“I am epileptic. My medication is checked in my bag and I can’t get to it. I’m having a few tremors and they are making me nervous. That woman is a nursing student and she was kind enough to lend me her sunglasses. Darkness helps. Thankfully, the flight is just thirty minutes.”
The plane started to push back from the gate. I wanted her to feel comfortable so tried to put her at ease. “Well, you’re no trouble at all. Let me know if there is anything I should know or if there is anything I can do to help.”
We were making eye contact while we spoke and as I finished my sentence her eyes rattled and her face contorted. She let out a guttural scream from the bottom of her lungs and she fell, face first into my chest and neck. Her whole body writhed. Thinking fast, I used several of the blankets to make pillows so she didn’t bash her head into mine. I wrapped another blanket around her arms to softly restrain her flailing. The nursing student got up and turned around in her seat and made eye contact with me. “Make sure your arm rest is up so she doesn’t crack a rib.”
I had left the arm rest up already. I nodded and gave her a very attentive look as if to welcome more instructions. “Let her ride it out and just keep her from harming herself.” Way ahead of you! A river of drool poured from her mouth and down the blanket I had used to cradle her against my shoulder and chest. I experienced a very random and vain appreciation for those extra blankets. The passengers, now aware an event was occuring in the back, turned around to see me cradling a violently seizing woman. I had a strong urge to yell, “Hey! What’s shakin’ motherfuckers??” Thankfully, good taste prevailed.
The nursing student was let out of her seat and most of the crew approached us. I let everybody know that I would keep a hold of her until she stopped if needed and the nursing student said that would be best. When she finally stopped seizing and opened her eyes the nursing student wrote down the duration and said,”Three minutes and twenty-seven seconds.” Holy crap! It seemed like an hour to me.
The girl was totally disoriented. She had no idea where she was but she had no problem burying her face back into me like a frightened child. I kept her eyes covered with the third blanket and had let go of the blanket I used to restrain her arms. For the next several minutes she was like a three year old child who had been woken from a deep sleep. The nursing student grabbed her wallet and found her emergency medical info to give the paramedics who were on their way as the plane went back to the gate. The flight crew picked up the iPhone that she dropped and had been asking her for the passcode so they could call a family member. She didn’t understand their request. I noticed that her phone was an iPhone 6 Plus like mine. I asked them to hand it to me and I carefully placed her index finger on the fingerprint censor, unlocking the phone. The flight attendant quickly found the word “Mom” in her recently called list and hit dial.
The paramedics came and took her off. The girl became very upset once she was aware of what happened. She was embarrassed and crying and clung to me. The paramedics coaxed her onto their chair and wheeled her off the plane. I felt a sense of relief that she was in good hands and I selfishly realized I could take her aisle seat. That is when everyone started thanking me for everything I did. I’m sitting here coveting this girls empty seat and these people think I am a hero. I was flattered but, honestly, what else was I supposed to do? Douse her with holy water and shout, “The power of Christ compels you!”
The ground crew sorted through all the luggage and found her bag with her medication. The captain informed us that she got her meds and was being taken to the hospital. When our flight took off we were two and a half hours behind schedule. But finally… I was on my way to Oklahoma City.
We landed close to midnight and the little airport was a ghost town. I got my bag and went to the transportation area. Nothing. The rental car companies had closed. I walked outside to where the taxi stand and shuttles pick people up. Nothing. There was one man sitting on a bench in the distance and I saw a cab pull up. I started running towards him.
“Sir! Where did you get that cab?”
“Oh, I called ahead from Chicago and booked this hours ago.”
“You’re not going to Norman are you?”
“No sorry. I’m going downtown.”
“Are you paying cash?”
“If you will let me share your cab, you can pay me the exact fare to your hotel. Then I will take the cab to Norman, pay the cab with my corporate credit card, and I’ll cover both tips.”
An hour later I was checked into my hotel. I showered and was in bed by 1am. Whew.
Two days later on my return home, I found a suitcase that had been abandoned at one of the convenience stores at the Dallas airport. I told the store manager and watched as security showed up with a beagle to sniff out the bag. I don’t frighten easy and I don’t get worked up over terrorism or active shooters. I tend to be carefree and live in the moment. But for just a second, after all the ordeal I experienced two days earlier, I imagined that suitcase exploding. I walked five gates away and sat behind a concrete wall for the next hour. Couldn’t hurt, right?
I have made emergency landings on commercial flights, including landing in Curaçao because the entire island of Aruba lost electricity. I have nearly crashed in a private twin engine plane when the door blew open and the engines suddenly failed. I was almost run over by the old man who killed 70+ people with his car in the Santa Monica farmers market disaster in 2003. On work trips I have been stuck in blizzards, been in earthquakes, I had a rental car slide off the road and get stuck in an embankment, and I have been evacuated from casinos due to flash flooding. I was given an incorrect work visa in The Bahamas and had the casino GM threaten to hold me hostage until my company fixed their tech issues. I fled the country that night in secret. I had police in Durban, South Africa point 9mm sub-machine guns in my face and order me to return to my hotel because I had unknowingly wandered into an urban war zone. I was assigned a bodyguard when my company sent me to the casino in Monterrey, Mexico that had been fire-bombed by drug lords.
And as I am typing this on the plane, coming back from this very exciting trip to Oklahoma, the man next to me has Tourette’s.
I have fun.