Airlines Need New Blood

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Airlines, like vampires, need new blood. My airline didn’t hire anyone new for many years. I mean ALOT of years. In that time even our youngest flight attendants grew up. Every day someone else got married, had a kid, or just matured from the hedonistic thrill-seeker and spontaneous lover of life. The fun faction was waning and we became stagnant. That sucked for those of us who still wanted to live it up on the layovers, but it also sucked for the customers.

A fun-loving flight attendant might see that they’re flying with a great crew to somewhere exciting, but when they get to the plane and see their long lost partner-in-crime, she’s showing off her baby bump and ultrasound pictures and you know that another one has bit the dust, rarely to return. You’re happy for them but at the same time in an incredibly selfish way, you’re bummed that their life choices are making your own existence a little more drab.

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Luckily for me, I’ve chilled out as the years have gone on as well. When I got hired at 22 I was up for anything, and nothing bothered me on or off the plane. Going out on a 10-hour layover in Omaha with my equally young and new crew wasn’t even debated. We were ALWAYS doing something, even if that just meant going down to the hotel bar for a bit. We found adventure wherever we could, or at least sniffed out the potential for trouble. We were brand new to life outside our parents shadow and were just gagging for new experiences.

We had to wait six agonizing months before we got our flight benefits that allowed us to jump on a plane on our days off and take off to see the world. I think I waited five days after I got my benefits before I took off to cash in on the main benefit of serving drinks and nagging people about tray tables in the air for a living, for very little pay. My old roommate from college had a job that let him take off for a week in late January so we spun the globe and looked at the possibilities. It was overwhelming. Our options were cut down significantly when he told me he didn’t have a passport. Jamaica it was then!

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Jamaica is Jamaica, but that didn’t matter. I was on a holiday that I paid for all by myself and I could do it again whenever I wanted. I really thought I’d stumbled into the best career in the world and didn’t understand why more people didn’t look into jobs with the airlines. Of course this was before I tried to have a serious relationship or even considered having a family. Oh, and then there was the money thing too. You don’t worry about such things when you’re in your early 20s, nor do you mind living in a 750 square foot 3 bedroom/2 bath apartment with five other people. That changes. Earning $22,000 a year seemed like all the money in the world back then.

For the next couple of years, every American-based airline was hiring in droves. Every time I showed up in Operations at the airport, I saw new eager faces with brand new Travel Pro luggage. I thought it would just go on like this forever. Then 9-11 happened and everything stopped, though experts said the airlines were starting to struggle before that anyways, the attacks just expedited the slowdown. After that, every major airline had layoffs and furloughs. That was the beginning of the end for the party at my airline. It took us nearly 12 years before we got all our furloughed flight attendants back and started hiring again.

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I think when the first new hire crossed the graduation platform in early 2013, the youngest of us “older ones” was 33. So on New Year’s Day in 2013 the youngest flight attendant we had was 33 and the oldest was too old to imagine. During those twelve years everything changed. Like I said, every day someone else grew up. Every day someone else got serious with someone they were dating, or got married, or started a family, or figured out that being a flight attendant forever is a tough thing to do so they’d just quit and start a new career or at least go back to school. The popular stereotype of a wild and free flight attendant adventurer was quickly becoming extinct as far as our passengers could see.

I was bummed about that on a personal level because I was still a free agent. I remembered that the main reason I took this job was to see the world and have adventures. I never married nor do i have any kids. I don’t mind the shit pay so as far as I’m concerned, I’m not one of the bad guys making my airline a tad sad. The only thing that really separates me from me 16 years ago is that I did get fed up of living in a dirty, cramped NYC apartment so I bought a house in the suburbs of Austin, though every now and then I really think of going back for just one more year. I didn’t really mind the mice at all. The winters however…

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But more importantly than what the hiring freeze did to me and my lifestyle, is what it did to my airline. It almost ruined it. We started getting the worse ratings from passengers. We weren’t young, naive, and doing anything to make the customer happy anymore. We were old and jaded and thought we needed to teach the world how to behave on an airplane. Granted, the world needs that lesson, but that doesn’t matter when you’re working in Customer Service. I mean the customer is always right even when the customer is an ignorant asshole. No amount of passive aggressive lessons is going to change that. I used to be so nice to people on the plane but after awhile even the sweetest kids turn into jerks. It’s just not natural to be that nice to people who don’t deserve it every day of your life. I’ve held up better than most of the people I work with, but I’m still a far cry away from how I was in the late 90s.

To be honest the worst flight attendants we have are the ones that feel stuck, liked a caged tiger. They don’t really have any other options for employment. Perhaps they didn’t learn a trade or go to school. Maybe they thought they’d be married and taken care of by now. It was a fun job that turned into a long career. I know many people who would love to go back to school but who can afford to do that when we have very little wiggle room in our finances? Those people grow to hate the everything about the job and their lives and I totally get it. It’s still no reason to take it out on the people that pay your salary though. Just as flight attendants are the face of everything bad that happens to a customer from the time they book their ticket until they land at their destination, the customers are the faces of all the frustrations those flight attendants feel about their existence.

Airlines need that infusion of new blood to keep fresh. Not only are the new ones nice and accommodating, they also remind old flight attendants like me what it was like when we were young. Watching some of these ridiculously young new hires interact with the passengers and putting them above all is just what I needed to put it all in perspective. Listening to them get excited about layovers in places I turn my nose up at was refreshing and humbling. Listening to them talk about all the places they want to fly to on their own time was sentimental. Watching all the youngens getting crazy and making bad decisions was invigorating. Maybe the idea of the wild and free flight attendant isn’t quite dead yet. Maybe I have some potential partners-in-crime out there still.

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I honestly think some of those foreign carriers have it right when they make you quit at a certain age. I would hate it now if tonight my airline said that I have to quit when I hit 40 but if I knew before i got hired that I had a shelf life, I would be fine with it. In fact it would probably do me a world of good. It was force me to think about the future and prepare for life after the airlines. I’m totally not prepared for that right now. If I lost my job tomorrow I don’t know what I’d do next, even though I have a degree. I think I’d also be happier at work if I knew the job had an expiration date. It is what it is and there’s no debate about it. When it’s open ended it can seem like a prison sentence. What makes you pull the cord and escape? I think it’s a great idea to keep the work force fresh. People would make the most of every trip and passengers would get flight attendants are their best. Of course that’s all dependent on flight attendants knowing that’s the situation from the get-go, it’s just not fair to implement an age cut-off after they’ve settled in and built a life surrounding the job.

One thing I noticed about flight attendants who do finally retire is that they are so damn happy about their decision. They say that suicidal people are often “doing much better” in their final days. That’s usually because they’ve made up their mind to end it and that’s comforting. Same with retiring flight attendants. I’ve flown with several people in their last few months and they have been absolute delights to work with. Some were pricks last year, but wonderful on their last trips, probably for the same reasons.

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I’m very happy that my airline isn’t forcing any of us out, but I totally get why they’d want us out in exchange for younger, prettier, happier, more patient people who would be paid less money and need less money to live. We’ve had our new hires on the line for just over a year now and I can already tell a huge difference in the morale of everyone. The passengers seem to like my airline more as well. Our ratings have gone up that’s for sure. Plus it’s alot of fun to watch some of the older pilots try it on with the 21 year olds at the hotel bar.

44 Songs for a Kick Ass Bubblebath Date

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  1. Deerhunter- He Would Have Laughed
  2. Deerhunter- Twilight at Carbon Lake
  3. Silversun Pickups- Lazy Eye
  4. Adorable- Homeboy
  5. Spiritualized- Ladies and Gentlemen We’re Floating in Space
  6. Spiritualized- Shine a Light on Me
  7. Spaceman 3- Just to see you Smile
  8. Daniel Johnston- True Love will find you in the End
  9. The Cure- Lullaby
  10. Slowdive- Blue Skied an’ Clear
  11. Blur- Tender
  12. Brian Jonestown Massacre- I Love You
  13. James- Pressure’s On
  14. Joy Division- Disorder
  15. Joy Division- Love will Tear us Apart
  16. Pulp- Babies
  17. Yo La Tengo- You can have it All
  18. Raveonettes- Recharge and Revolt
  19. Dandy Warhols- Fast Driving Rave Up
  20. Morrissey- Late Night Maudlin Street
  21. Stone Roses- I Wanna be Adored
  22. Surfer Blood- Slow Jabroni
  23. Chapterhouse- Mesmerize
  24. Echo and the Bunnymen- The Killing Moon
  25. Smashing Pumpkins- Never Let me Down Again
  26. The Magnetic Fields- Asleep and Dreaming
  27. Massive Attack- Teardrop
  28. Primal Scream- Higher Than the Sun
  29. BRMC- Open Invitation
  30. Elliot Smith- Needle in the Hay
  31. Julee Cruse- Falling
  32. Neon Indian- Should’ve Taken Acid with You
  33. The Ocean Blue- Ballerina Out of Control
  34. Pixies- Wave of Mutilation (UK Surf)
  35. Ride- Vapour Trail
  36. Tricky- Christiansands
  37. Interpol- NYC
  38. Jesus and Mary Chain- Just Like Honey
  39. Sonic Youth- Disappearer
  40. Vampire Weekend- Diplomat’s Son
  41. The Verve- A Northern Soul
  42. The Smiths- Please Please Please Let me get what I Want
  43. Velvet Underground- Heroin
  44. Bauhaus- Bela Lugosi’s Dead

Unknown-1I’m hoping I don’t die anytime soon, but if one of these songs is playing when it happens, that’ll take the sting out of it a little bit.

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Interview with a New Hire

Unknown-4Time will tell if it’s a good or bad thing if people out there in the real world listen to my words and use them to help make life altering decisions. One of my young readers, Jaysen, tells me that I helped him make up his mind to pursue a job in the airlines. I’m not sure if he’s stroking my ego or being sincere, but nonetheless, he got hired as a flight attendant and as luck would have it, he now works for my airline!

I haven’t had the honor of flying with him just yet but I have introduced him around the JFK base and also to some of my friends back home in Austin when he had a long layover there a couple of months ago. He just completed his required 6-month probationary period and now he’s officially a stewardess like me, but younger with fewer laugh lines and more hair. Here is what an ordinary guy has to say about the flight attendant position/lifestyle after six months on the job… 

imagesHow old are you and why did this profession appeal to you in the first place? I doubt a high school guidance counselor suggested it to you, right?

I’m twenty-eight years old and a musician. That’s what has put money in the bank some way or another up to this point. One day I was doing some stock trading (a hobby) and came across a news article that said our airline was hiring. I love to travel and was in between music gigs at the time, so I thought, “Why not?” I applied for the job on a whim, never thinking it would actually happen.

I got a notification that I was selected for a phone interview and then after the phone interview was chosen to go to headquarters to interview in person. That went extremely well, but I still wasn’t sure if the job really fit with my music career. I got online and started doing more research about the job and that’s when I came across your blog. The blog led me to buy your book and after reading it, I knew that this was something I had to try. It’s such a flexible job that I’m able to work on my music just as much as before, and now I have great travel and health benefits.

I’m curious to see how you use this job in your music career. There are many possibilities for you.

To be honest, when I started this blog and wrote the book, I never dreamed that a stranger would be interested in what I had to say. I really thought I was just doing something to make my friends laugh. God bless the internets. Which of the clichés about passengers, pilots, flight attendants have stood up?

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Passengers – It seems that anytime anything goes wrong, most of the passengers assume that we have much more control over the situation than we actually do.

“They made me check my bag before I came through security.”

“I didn’t book my ticket a month ago to sit here with mechanical problems.”

“This weather isn’t that bad. Can’t we get out of here before the really bad stuff hits?”

It’s funny that sometimes when we have delays, some of the passengers get notified on their smartphones before the crew even finds out. That being said, there really is very little we can do in most of these situations besides lend a listening ear and agree that the situation is less than ideal. As you say in your book, nothing defuses a bad situation faster than agreeing with the person. (Nice plug, thanks)

It’s frequent that I have people complaining to me as they are boarding, saying that someone along the way was “extremely rude to them.” I always look them in the eye, smile, and say, “I am so sorry that you were treated that way. But now you’re with me, and I’ll be kind to you!” That usually gets some sort of smile out of them and gets the flight started on the right foot.

Pilots – Ego.

Flight attendants – I would have to say the gossip. There’s an old saying about spreading information: “Tel-e-phone, tell a flight attendant.” And it really is so true. Something small happens before you leave on a trip — say someone has a small fender bender in the airport parking lot. By the time you return three days later, the whole base knows about it and “some guy drove his car through the side of the airport and three people were killed.” And since flight attendants are constantly traveling, you’ll even start to hear the blown up story at other bases as well!

UnknownVery true about the gossip mill and our propensity for exaggeration. We’re a dramatic bunch for sure. I’m not sure if Ego is a bad thing for pilots, but it’s definitely true. What was the most surprising thing you’ve encountered on the job?

It’s astonishing how many passengers play Candy Crush! We’re talking like 1 in every 5 people is busting chocolate bars at some point during the flight (this sometimes includes flight attendants). This goes for just about any trend out there. The plane is an amazing place to see what is trending and what trends are fading out.

Also, I’ve been surprised at what makes people applaud after we land. There have been flights where everyone is laughing and happy and some great interactions have taken place between the crew and the passengers inflight but it is dead silent when we land. On other flights, people are mad and complaining about the temperature, we run out of the most popular drink options, the plane comes down hard and bumpy on the landing, and people start cheering! Am I missing something here?

images-3I love the Dominican passengers for that reason. Things can get heated and voices raised, but it’s still all good at the end of the day. Love me the DR flights. And yeah, you always know the hippest new games and books because you’ll see them all over the place. What is your least favorite part of being a flight attendant? 

Honestly, my least favorite part of the job is having to see people at their worst. I like to think of the plane as a magical, giant tube that shows peoples’ true colors. Some people manage to be so incredibly gracious and kind, even when we have delays or things go wrong. One day we had two mechanical delays on the same flight and a couple missed their flight to South Korea AND their wedding the next day! Yet, they were the two kindest and most understanding people on the plane. Others, though, fall apart over the smallest things and lash out — sometimes for seemingly no reason at all. One first class passenger flipped out on us once, because there was a bag in the overhead bin above her seat. Mind you there was still plenty of room for her luggage — the issue was that there was any bag other than hers in the 6 foot long overhead bin. I don’t know what it is about being on the plane that drives people to that sort of behavior. Maybe it’s the music that plays during boarding that sounds like a Japanese funeral. Or maybe they are on their way to a funeral themselves. I try to take a step back when people are rude or hateful and give them the benefit of the doubt. Many will come around when you treat them with kindness. Others don’t, but at least I’ve tried.

Wow. Those people missing the wedding deserve sainthood. That’s amazing. I find people on domestic flights seem to get more bent out of shape about stupid things than international passengers. Not sure why. What were you not prepared for when you started this profession?

I didn’t realize how hard flying is on your body! One or two flights won’t do much, but when you spend 80-120 hours in the sky a month, it’s very easy to get dehydrated and fatigued. Once you get dehydrated, being on the plane is miserable! I honestly think that staying hydrated is honestly the hardest part of the job. That being the case, I drink 1-2 liters of coconut water between trips and several liters of water a day on the plane. Even that sometimes is not enough.

images-4Also, it’s a very physical job. They told us this in training, but I think several of us were thinking, “Yeah, yeah, yeah…what’s so physical about serving people drinks?” Boy, did I ever have a shock when I got “on the line” and started pushing the 300 pound drink cart up the incline of the aisle!

True. And being a nice guy I’m sure you help weak and elderly people with their overhead bin items, even though you’re not supposed to. I do that all the time, it’s really the only exercise I get. It’s also surprising how much walking you do during a flight. It doesn’t seem like you do that much but I know some people who have worn pedometers and it was shocking. Do you think you’ll be doing this in a year? 5 years? 20 years?

In a year? Definitely.

5 years? Probably.

20 years? Never say never.

I think I would’ve said “Probably not” when I first started and thought about the 5-year mark. Twenty years would be a resounding “Hell NO” but I guess I should rethink that since I’m in year 16 now. What in my book was dead wrong or dead right?

“Straight Guy in the Queer Skies” is pure literary gold! So much so that I think it should replace our in-flight manual that the FAA requires us to carry. Everything in the book is dead-on (and no, Brian is not paying me to say this)! There are a couple of things that have really resonated, though.

First of all, nobody tells you how they want their coffee!

They just say, “Coffee.”

And then you say, “How do you take your coffee?”

And they say, “Regular.”

And you say, “What does regular mean?”

And they say, “You know, regular!”

And you say, “Do you like milk and sugar?”

And they say, “Milk, no sugar.”

And you make the coffee and hand it to the person and they say, “Where’s the sugar?”

Unknown-1This sort of interaction takes place multiple times each flight.

Another point that consistently rings true is how each route you fly has its own unique set of passengers that come with their standard sets of preferences and behaviors. This is true to the extent that on most routes one can predict which drinks and food items will be the most popular before the people even board the plane. Most flights touching Dallas will have some Dr. Pepper drinkers, whereas on flights going to New York, you get several people asking for “seltzah.” It becomes predictable and even funny after awhile. Besides, Miami. If flights were Uno cards, the route between New York and Miami would be the wild card. Anything can happen on those flights. Anything!

images-5Case-in-point: One evening, I had a family board a Miami flight and sit in first class. There was a mother, a father, and two young girls. I noticed during boarding that one of the girls didn’t look like she was feeling well. Her dad said that her stomach had been bothering her, so I got her some cool ginger ale to try and help settle her queasiness. (Spoiler Alert: she had the stomach flu.) We take off and are about 10 minutes into the flight when the other little girl begins projectile vomiting EVERYWHERE — onto her seat, her mom’s seat, the back of the seat in front of her, and all over the floor around them. It was honestly fascinating that such a small girl could have so much vomit stored in her body! (Spoiler Alert: she had the stomach flu, also.) We were still ascending, so the vomit began running under the girl’s seat right into one of our highest priority passengers’ brand new Coach hand bag. While I’m down on my hands and knees wearing vomit-covered gloves, cleaning up the mess, one of the other first class passengers taps me on the shoulder and demands to know why he has not been served his dinner yet! That’s the sort of behavior that’s typical of those flights.

Oh yeah, not just Wild but Wild Draw Four on Miami-NYC flights. Strangely enough I have not had a projectile vomiter on a flight yet (knocking wood.) Was there a time in your probationary period when you wanted to go off on a passenger or coworker but didn’t because you could get fired? And thanks again for the unsolicited plug- Straight Guy in the Queer Skies can be purchased here.

In the grand scheme of things, difficult passengers have been easy to handle because if they throw hate your way, you never have to see them again. That being the case, it’s not that hard to be diplomatic and “kill em’ with kindness.” It’s the occasional “difficult” flight attendant that can be challenging, because you might have to work with the person for several days. You just have to take a deep breath and keep on keepin’ on.

Unknown-2On one particular flight, I walked up to my gate to get on the plane and was quickly greeted by another flight attendant on my crew. The first words out of her mouth were “Hi, I’m (insert name) and you must be Jaysen. I see that you’re new and that being the case, you probably haven’t ever worked this position before so there are two options: I can switch positions with you and you can work in the back (I was working first class), or I can come up and work on the other side of the meal cart with you and teach you how to do it. I had been working for several months already and had done this position before, so I remember thinking, “Or option three: You can do your job and I can do mine.” Maybe this lady was really trying to be helpful, but my gut said that she was unhappy with her position and really just wanted to switch. But I’m always up for learning something new, so I told her that I had worked the position before, but if she liked, she could come up and work the meal cart with me and maybe give me some pointers along the way since she had been doing it quite awhile longer than I. Long story short, this translated into us working the meal cart together while she loudly criticized my serving techniques in front of the passengers. And it was all trivial things that she criticized that didn’t affect the service one bit. It got to the point that customers were concerned and were asking me quietly later if that harsh lady was my supervisor. I don’t know if people felt sorry for me or if the contrast in customer service techniques worked in my favor, but I had multiple customers that day ask for my name and say that they wanted to write a good letter to the company about me. That was also the day I realized how much sitcom potential this job has.

images-6Yeah, it’s rare that a coworker will selflessly offer to help you by changing positions. Nine times out of ten they want to have your position and are masking their intentions under the guise of helping you out. Good for you for standing your ground. I’ve seen more bullying on the plane than I did in Junior High School. I’m also shocked that an intelligent show hasn’t been created about the flight attendant lifestyle or even about a crash pad in itself. Someone needs to get on that. Vince Gilligan? I’m looking in your direction! How has the job affected your relationship with your girlfriend?

images-7Being based 2,000 miles away with a random schedule has not been easy, but being able to see each other for pennies on the dollar helps a lot. She has been very supportive of me taking this job, even though it means we don’t get to see each other as much as we would like to. Our company allows employees to register one person as a flying companion that has the same travel benefits that we do. I registered her, but kept it a secret for awhile. She’s working toward a pHD and recently graduated with her Master’s degree. As her graduation gift, I surprised her with the news that she was registered as my travel companion. Now I can go see her when I’m off and she has the ability to come see me or meet me someplace when she’s got down time. Win-win.

It’s totally do-able to sustain a long distance relationship in this biz, the biggest obstacle is trust I think. Do your coworkers believe you when you tell them you’re straight? Do any of them think that in a years time you won’t be? I still have a few friends that think year 16 is the one when I come out.

Unknown-1Most of my coworkers seem to believe that I’m straight — at least to my face. I’ve only had one lady say that she assumed I was gay until I told her otherwise, but she said she assumes that about every guy she works with (nice save). I usually make some comment about my girlfriend during the trip and most of the old timers’ ears perk up at that and start asking me questions about my relationship. Some of them even ask for relationship advice. Most of the senior male flight attendants I’ve flown with have been gay, but I’ve been shocked by the number of straight new hires I’ve come across — some that even have wives and kids and like to talk football! Either I’ve come across a good amount of the rare exceptions in the past six months or quite a few straight guys are starting to figure out what a hidden gem this job is.

Yeah that’s going to continue. Six days ago a lady said the same thing to me about assuming I was gay because of the uniform. It’s fun to mess with people. When she asked if I was gay, I said, “Only on layovers.” That confused her and delighted my Purser. Does your dad admit that he has a son that’s a flight attendant?

You know, it’s awesome how supportive my dad has been of this whole choice. I think at the end of the day, he’s just glad that I am doing something I enjoy. He’s always concerned that I’m not making enough money as a new hire to support myself in New York, so he checks up on me from time to time  to make sure I’m doing alright. When I graduated from flight attendant training, my parents drove in to celebrate with me. My dad picked me up from my hotel to take me to the ceremony and when I walked out in my uniform, he got this big smile on his face. He told me how proud of me he was and said he didn’t really care what kind of uniform I wore — it was just really cool to see me in a uniform. Given my dad’s military background, that meant a great deal to me.

images-8Since they have amazing flight benefits too, you should take them somewhere. Paris or Rome or Tokyo maybe. Have you taken advantage of your flight benefits yet?

I’ve used them some, but I was cautious of doing much traveling on probation, because if for some reason I hadn’t been able to get on the flight back to work in time, I could have been fired. I have used my benefits to commute home quite a few times, though, and my girlfriend and I flew to London for a week last summer. Now that I’m off probation, watch out world — here I come!

Where are the best and lamest places you’ve had a layover in?

My best layovers have been in San Francisco and Austin. My lamest…any layover where we’ve stayed a few feet from the airport.

When you get old like me you’ll sometimes cherish those boring layovers where you’re forced to stay in and relax. SOMEtimes. Have you witnessed any cheating wives or husbands? 

Unknown-3Yes, but not so much flight attendants / pilots, as passengers. There have been a few times when I’ve seen passengers “with a ring on it” getting a bit too friendly with the person sitting next to them. You know it’s not the person’s spouse because you have a front row seat to the whole show — the “let me help you lift your bag”, the introduction of names and what each person does, and then the hours of jovial conversation that follow. The worst case of this I’ve seen was on a transcon flight to LA awhile back. This guy and lady end up seated next to each other in business class, both wearing wedding rings. The quality of their conversation was growing friendlier in direct correlation to the number of drinks they were consuming, and we noticed they were beginning to get a bit touchy/feely with each other. Long story short, another passenger comes up to the purser of the flight saying that he has just witnessed two people sneak into the lavatory together. The purser banged on the door, telling them she knew they were in there and that they needed to come out. The door slowly opened, the “couple” quietly slinked back to their seats, and we didn’t hear much from them the rest of the flight.

images-9Someone recorded their shame on their smart phone right? Is it on YouTube? Classy. Have you had any medical situations or emergency landings?

Since I started the job, things have been pretty low-key in the emergency department (knock on something — there’s not much wood inside an airplane). However, in training we’re required to assist on some flights to get a feel for the job, before we’re on the plane working the positions by ourselves. Around the time I did my first assistance trip, the movie “Flight” had just come out, with Denzel Washington playing an inebriated pilot. That day, a passenger told one of the flight attendants during boarding that she suspected she smelled alcohol on the Captain’s breath when she talked to him in the terminal. The flight attendant had to call in the report and the flight was delayed for an hour while management came down to the plane and breathalyzed the pilot in question. Luckily, it was a good natured Captain who passed with flying colors and laughed it off. In fact, he kept calling back jokingly, asking if we could get him something to drink. After we finally took off and got up to cruising altitude, a passenger stood up and passed out in the aisle. Once she had regained consciousness and we had helped her be seated again, we hit some pretty turbulent air and the majority of the last pick-up service was collecting used sick bags. Welcome to the glamorous world of flying!

Gross. You deal with much more puking than I do, thank God. Do you like the general public more or less after these six months as a flight attendant? 

My view of the general public hasn’t really changed. I guess if anything it’s just been more reinforced. I gave up hope in humanity as a whole, a long time ago. But I still hold out hope for people at an individual level and I think anyone can affect change around them. For example: A few months ago, I was working a flight that started as the flight from hell. There had been weather that day, so many flights were delayed or cancelled. As people were filtering onto the plane, everyone was mad and complaining about their connection situations and how late we were. One group of nine people were absolutely livid because they were connecting from an international flight and two people in their group didn’t clear customs in time to make it on our flight. The other flight attendant and I made up our minds from the get-go to just smile and have fun. One by one, we talked to people, smiling, laughing and joking, and one person at a time, the lightheartedness began to spread (a few comped drinks to those most inconvenienced didn’t hurt, either). We were genuinely kind to people, but then I sat back and watched as the people we were kind to started being kind to the people around them, and then those people were kind to the people around them. It was a chain reaction from the front of the plane to the back. By the end of the flight, passengers were mingling with people sitting in rows other than their own, and one could periodically hear outbursts of laughter all throughout the cabin. When we landed, the entire plane applauded. It took very little effort to turn that flight around — once we started it, the people did it on their own. Anyone can do that anywhere — the issue is that most people don’t take the time to try.

So what happens on the plane should be implemented into society to save all of mankind? You might be on to something. What is the best part of the job? 

They say that this job is not just a job, but a lifestyle, and it is so true. For some new hires, that is a deterrent, but honestly, it’s my favorite part of the job. If you’re resourceful with the travel benefits and scheduling flexibility, this job allows you to live in a way that would be nearly impossible otherwise. There are flight attendants that live all over the world, doing incredible things. They commute into their base when it’s time for work, and after they’re finished, they commute back to wherever it was they came from. It’s such a flexible job that for the most part, it allows you to be where you want to be, when you want to be there, doing whatever it is you want to be doing.

Very true. For me it’s a very easy means to a fantastic end. Have you had to sell out even a little bit for your airline job? 

images-10There have been some tradeoffs for sure. I’m most comfortable barefoot, in a t-shirt and cut-offs, doing something outdoors. Now I have a job in which I wear a suit and tie everyday inside a giant metal container. Also, I’m a big supporter of local economy and small businesses, and most airlines are obviously large corporations. I work for “the man,” but it truly is one of the coolest jobs I ever could have asked for.

We most certainly work for a big heartless corporation. We, like most flight attendants, are nothing more than employee numbers and very replaceable  Some people hate feeling so insignificant but I kinda like it. There are advantages of being a part of a massive operation and being able to fly namelessly under the radar. The travel and health benefits are fantastic for starters. Do the senior flight attendants treat you well or are they annoyed at how new and inexperienced you are?

98% of the senior flight attendants I’ve flown with have treated me with nothing but kindness and respect and have been more than helpful in teaching me the ropes of my new job. The other 2%…well, maybe they were just having an off day.

Those 2% have off days every day. They’re just called “days” after awhile. We all have a mental list of coworkers we never want to work in the same cabin in. Are your new hire friends more professional or the seasoned veterans? 

images-11I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly on both sides of the coin. The new hires are fresh out of several weeks of intense training, so most of them are pretty by-the-book and they do a great job with the people. It’s just that we’re still learning and a bit unsure about how to handle some of the irregular situations that come up from time to time. Some new hires handle this uncertainty with cockiness which doesn’t get them very far. Others handle it with humility and respect for the senior flight attendants, and they are well accepted and very effective.

A great deal of the veterans are very professional, and while not always by the book or adhering to uniform regulation, they have amazing experiences over the years that have taught them how to give the passengers what they want and deal with the crazy situations that crop up sometimes. This job can be strenuous and it seems like it’s easy to get burnt out being on the go so much. Also, since 9/11, things have gotten far less glamorous for travelers and flight attendants alike. That being said, I have a high respect for the senior flight attendants that still do their job well after so many years of flying. The ones who are burnt out and don’t want to be there crop up from time to time, but I’ve come across far more senior flight attendants who do a fantastic job than those who don’t.

imagesFor me, the new people have been very VERY strong when it comes to looking the part. You guys are put together and look immaculate. The rest of us are shabby and more comfortable. However when dealing with the passengers I think there’s only so much you can teach people in a classroom. The new hires seem very robotic when dealing with passengers’ concerns. They do the right thing but don’t always sound sincere. They may also use 1000 words to address a concern but a seasoned veteran will deal with the same problem, getting a better result, in 50 words. I guess it just comes from seeing it all and dealing with it many times over. Some of the new hires tend to freak out about little things. I had one the other day that wasted fifteen minutes running around the plane looking for a Coke when we all knew we only had Pepsi left. When the search ended in predicted vain, the girl put on her “devastated” face and apologized for not being able to give the guy a Coke. She tearfully asked if Pepsi would be ok and prepared to get slapped across the face. He said “Of course it’s ok” and that was that, not a problem at all. So rather than nip it in the bud and fess up about the lack of Coke and ask if Pepsi was alright, she ran around, bothered every cabin, and made her cart partner work much harder. Being scared to death of giving a passenger any kind of bad news is definitely a new hire thing. I was like that 16 years ago.

I guess that’s it for now. I really hope Jaysen enjoys his career at our airline. It seems like he is so far. I will feel slightly responsible if he ends up hating the job and wasting the best years of his life. If you have any questions for Jaysen that we didn’t address, send me an email and we’ll answer them post haste.  easley.brian@gmail.com

My Critique of Friendship Nepal Tour Company

2Amanda, Kenny, John, and I elected to use Friendship for their 15-day “Best of Nepal” tour. Here is their itinerary and my thoughts on each day.

Day 1: Arrive Kathmandu

We will arrive at Tribhuwan International Airport, Kathmandu. You will be welcomed and transferred to your hotel for an overnight stay.

After spending the past two days in sunny Dubai, landing in dark, foggy Kathmandu was a shock. Our friendly tour guide Ramish was there to meet us, thank God. My first impressions… I wasn’t ready for 15 days in Nepal.

The drive to the hotel in the nice, “touristy” Thamel part of town did little to ease the nervousness. We decided to roam the streets and grab a drink and found Jatra. After a kick ass meal and beers for $5, we felt a little better, even though Jatra was ranked 205 out of 209 things to do in Kathmandu by Trip Advisor. The hotel was meager accommodation to say the least. Eddie Murphy would have loved it in Coming to America when finding a Queen. We questioned the tour company and what we were in for but later we realized that our place was actually on the higher end of places to stay. The options were just that terrible. It was like Locked Up Abroad Caracas style. We wouldn’t see clean sheets until we got back to New York.

Day 2: Kathmandu – Nagarkot

 After a welcome breakfast we will take you on a half-day sightseeing tour in Kathmandu Valley. Here we will visit Pashupatinath Temple, one of the most important Hindu temples in Nepal. We will keep walking to see the magnificent Buddha (also known as Boudhanath), the largest Stupa in Nepal. Afterwards we take a ride on to Bhaktapur, a truly fascinating town. We will visit Bhaktapur’s Dubar Square, which features a unique Victorian illustration style within the temples. We will take a route connecting to Nagarkot, and once here we will stay overnight at a hotel.

4Pashupatinath was one of the highlights of the trip and the very first thing we did. We experienced the entire spectrum of human emotions in a matter of seconds. First we got to watch monkeys frolic but then a funeral procession passed and we watch many bodies prepped and cremated along the riverside. Frail toothless homeless women begged for pennies while joyous children played with whatever they could find, mostly rocks and trash.

The little hotel near Nagarkot was up in the mountains, though they call them “hills.” We were above the clouds in any case. It was gorgeous. You’d pay around $1500 a night for the same set up and view in Hawaii. Our hotel was about $40. Nepal was growing on us. We agreed Heisenberg should have hid out here.

Day 3: Nagarkot – Kathmandu

 After breakfast we will return to Kathmandu to enjoy a full day sightseeing at Kathmandu Durbar Square. Whilst here we will visit the place of the Malla, and the Shah Kings of Nepal. We also visit Kumari Temple – house of the virgin goddess – and the Swoyambhunath, a stupa on the top of hill. From here you can overlook unforgettable scenery of Kathmandu. For the perfect end to the day we will visit Patan city, the second largest town in the valley. Whilst here we will stay overnight at a hotel.

20This is was probably my least favorite day. The dust, pollution, and insanity of Kathmandu was grating. The temples and stupas were all starting to blend into one and I felt a little over it. Being in the house of the living Goddess was cool but we didn’t get to see the little virgin, she was hiding I guess. The monkey temple was fun but I preferred the monkeys from the day before better. Amanda got screamed out by her second and third monkeys today.

36Patan was like walking back into another era. It was flooded by Chinese tourists but still an amazing place. Being on the rooftops of the buildings where all the local kids were flying homemade kites was one of my favorite moments of the trip. Then we went back to Kathmandu and went to the very highly rated Fire and Ice pizzeria(#16 in Trip Advisor for Kathmandu.) Some people on the review page even said it was the best pizza in the world outside of Italy. They specifically called out NYC pizza and trashed it. We had to see for ourselves after that. Result… it was mediocre and NYC pizza has nothing to worry about in the pecking order for best pizza in the world outside of Italy.

Day 4: Kathmandu – Chitwan

 After breakfast we will travel over beautiful land from Kathmandu to Chitwan National Park. Whilst here you will enjoy truly remarkable scenery and you will get the chance to embrace the unique wildlife of the area. We will stay overnight at a hotel in Chitwan.

16The drive was long and annoying. Yeah, it was beautiful driving along the river but the highway system leaves alot to be desired. You can’t lose focus for a single second if you’re driving in Nepal. Everyone is trying to pass each other, no one stays on the correct side of the road, people are in the road, cows are in the road, sleeping dogs are in the middle of the road. Shockingly we only saw three accidents and one dead dog. We thanked God that Friendship tour provided us with a comfy van with a very skilled driver. We traveled in relative comfort.

We got to Chitwan national park and then to our hotel, which was heavenly. It felt like we were an a tropical island with all the greenery, butterflies, and palm trees. Of course monkey fights on our roof kept us up at night. Within an hour of getting to the hotel we were on our arranged evening walk which included visiting elephants and watching crocodiles. We had a great meal on the beach as the sun set.

Day 5: Chitwan

 After breakfast in the Hotel we will enjoy a full day of safari activities in Royal Chitwan national Park. Here guests can embrace nature and catch glimpses of rare creatures, such as rhinoceroses, Chitwan’s royal Bengal tigers, leopards and monkeys. We strongly recommend you bring a camera, preferably with a telephoto lens. We will retire to the hotel at the end of our day.

120Pick up was very early. We had an iffy canoe ride in an infested river and then a hot humid walk through the jungle, trying our best to avoid the leeches. We were on the look out for tigers and rhinos. We got to see a lazy male rhino chilling in a pond. That was amazing. There was an optional elephant bath for 300 rupees ($3.) I declined but took pics of Amanda and Kenny doing it.

112Later in the day we had an elephant ride deeper into the park in hopes of seeing more animals. We found a baby rhino with her mom and some boars. No tigers. The elephant ride was very uncomfortable and none of us were impressed with the way the elephants were treated. The hour on the elephant was the only hour of the trip I wanted to have back and erase from my memory. Seeing the rhinos was the silver lining. Back at the hotel that night it felt like a hostel. We had a group of European friends we drank and swapped stories with. We all have new Facebook friends.

Day 6: Chitwan - Lumbini

After breakfast we travel overland to the Lumbini, the birthplace of Lord Buddha and a place of holy pilgrimage. Lumbini has been included as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.  Upon arrival at Lumbini we transfer you to the hotel, check-in and then we go walking through the Sacred Lumbini Garden. This remarkable place is the Buddha’s birthplace and converges on the Ashoka pillar. Here we will visit the Maya Devi Temple with its bas-relief sculpture. We will stay here overnight at a Hotel.

134Lumbini is a pretty boring place. It was very cool to see the birthplace of Buddha, but I’m not sure if it warrants a huge diversion to the Indian border just to make it happen. They really need to think about moving the site to somewhere more accessible for all us non Buddhists. I was happy to have a slow day because it made me realize just how jam-packed every other day had been. We had seen alot of good stuff and we’d only been in the country less than a week. Lumbini put it all in perspective.

Day 7: Lumbini – Pokhara 

After breakfast we drive to Pokhara. Here we will enjoy a half-day sightseeing in Pokhara city, the most popular destination in Nepal after Kathmandu. We spend the morning enjoying a trip along the bank of Phewa Lake, where you can admire a stunning view of the Fish Tail’s Peak reflected in the silver surface of the water. You can also see the wonderful Annapurna panorama, which forms a superb backdrop to Pokhara from the lake. Aside from Phewa Lake, we will visit the Seti River gorge. Here we will see Mahendra Gufa, one of the highlights of the trip and a place that used to be well known for its stalactites. We will stay overnight at a hotel here, and enjoy an evening walk around Lakeside Market.

144This was the drive from hell. I was three breaths away from getting car sick going on and down and back and forth. We didn’t travel that far in terms of kilometers but we drove for six hours with only one short break. We were also without our faithful leader Ramish for the Chitwan part of the trip. We missed him terribly. The driver was still with us, obviously, but his English wasn’t nearly as good as Ramish’s. We were to meet back up with him in Pokhara and that moment couldn’t come soon enough.

At the foothills of the Himalayas is Pokhara. It’s a major city but feels much kinder than Kathmandu. It’s a travelers’ mecca. People about to enter the mountains are there to get one last good sleep and supplies, those coming out of their treks are indulging in massages and “fancy” toilets.

130We stayed in the same gorgeous hotel before and after our 5-day trek into the mountains. I felt like our first night there we were kids and the second night we were hardened adults. We took advantage of Pokhara and got everything we could possibly need for 5 days in the mountains. I got a new backpack, a camping towel, a sleeping bag, and a flashlight that could also be strapped to my head. I would need that later. The guide books said you can get all the supplies you need for very cheap in Pokhara but that you should get your hiking boots in the States. That was the only thing you couldn’t get on the cheap. We also loaded up on toilet paper, most certainly the smartest purchase we made all week/year/ever.

Our search for the famed “special” lassis ended in Pokhara. Not that we found one, we just gave up the search at that point because we didn’t think the drug would be out of our system by the time we got back to work. Fail.

Day 8: Pokhara – Birethanti – Ulleri

 We will begin the day with a drive from Pokhara to Nayapoll. Here we will enjoy beautiful and unique sights during a 5-hour trek to Ulleri. Once here you can take in the scenery and enjoy a fantastic overnight stay in a teahouse/lodge.

174Things got real when the van dropped us off at the base of the mountain with hundreds of other trekkers. Some would be gone for just three days, some for months. We felt like novices only doing five days but we were certainly more hard-core than some of the people we saw. For every two people in our group, we had one porter. We were a group of four so we had two porters along with Ramish to navigate the Himalayas. The porters were his cousin and a friend. They were 200 pounds soaking wet and put together, but they had two massive back packs strapped to their backs and heads. They did it all with a  smile and many hugs. I had my electronics bag on my back which incidentally was heavier than my big backpack.

Day 1 of the trek was supposed to get us acclimated to the work and altitude. It was alot of walking but on pretty level ground. Of course we thought it was hard, but it was nothing compared to what we were in for.

180Our first dealings with the teahouses was a good one. In these tiny Tibetan villages they have bunkhouses with the most meager of accommodations. Our room had a single light bulb and two ratty twin beds. That was it. We were instructed to buy sleeping bags in Pokhara and we all did it. It made the beds a little more comfortable. Dinner at the teahouses was the same menu we saw for every meal in the mountains. I cycled thru spring rolls, lo mein, dal baht, and cheese pizza. I noticed on the menu that you could get a room at the teahouse for $2.50. With the fixed Nepali meal going for $4 and a room being $2.50, you could live in the Himalayas for months on what we spent at the 360 bar in Dubai the night before we got to Nepal. And these were tourists prices!

Day 9: Ulleri – Ghorepani

We will trek from Ulleri to Ghorepani to reach a height of 2850m. Upon reaching Ghorepani we will enjoy another overnight stay in a teahouse/lodge.

259It stopped feeling like a holiday on Day 2 of the trek. It was an arduous climb, mostly up, and often through mud. The hiking boots I bought at the outlet mall were amazing and totally necessary.

The scenery was gorgeous but you had to remind yourself to enjoy it because it was very easy to get in a trance and just stare down at the ground, trying to find a safe next step. I wasn’t the fastest one and I wasn’t the slowest one so I was in a good position. I made many stops to take pictures and never let anyone rush me. I had been making fun of the wusses with walking sticks but by the end of the day I found a suitable stick which would be my best friend for the rest of the trip. I named him Stick and he was a lifesaver. By the end we all had sticks.

224The novelty of the teahouses was starting to wear thin. Power outages were frequent and it was a miracle if we stayed awake past 9pm. We hadn’t seen a non-squatting toilet in a long time. It was also getting very cold at night at this elevation. The sleeping bag was a necessity, but for warmth rather than comfort now.

Day 10: Ghorepani- Poon Hill excursion early in the morning – Tadapani

We will travel from Ghorepani to Poon Hill and on to Tadapani. Guests can enjoy spectacular views of the area early in the morning. We will reach 2670m and enjoy another overnight stay in a teahouse/lodge.

200In order to get up to Poon Hill for the sunrise, that meant waking up at 4:45am and going up steps for an hour, all in the dark. That’s where my headlight came into play. Kenny and John decided to pass on the pre-dawn excursion and rightly so. It was brutal. We had spectacular views of the mountains as the sun came up and then walked straight back down to the teahouse for breakfast.

By the time Kenny and John woke up, I was already in a world of pain. My legs were on fire. I woke up sore and it just got a million times worse. We trekked for six more hours and even though Ramish swore day 2 would be the hardest, day 3 wasn’t a walk in the park. The aches produced by the hellish day 2 were felt for the rest of the holiday.

269The weather continued to be perfect which was much appreciated. We randomly ended up in the same hotel in Lumbini as Kenny’s friends from Chicago and they told us that their trek was cancelled due to bad weather. We didn’t have that problem. The Gods were smiling on us. On day 3 we got to see some monkeys playing around and some yaks.

I was taking an average of 100 photos a day, and that was after deleting the bad ones. I bought the largest memory card at Best Buy and it was quickly becoming full. The views were just insane. The views are what kept us from killing ourselves. I knew I was going to be in over my head as far as the physical challenge but I wasn’t expecting the mental challenges. It was hard and humbling. Most of the time it wasn’t even fun but I knew a month later I would appreciate what we did and years later I would think it was one of the greatest two weeks of my life. I kept focusing on that. I leaned on Stick for most of the day.

Day 11: Tadapani – Ghandrung

We trek for approximately 3-hours from Tadapani to Ghandrung to reach 1950m. Here, we will stop overnight in a teahouse/lodge.

253Three hours was a lie. It was six hours. We all started to get sick around this point. John was first to go. The night before he didn’t even make it to dinner. He struggled through yesterday but somehow made it through. The rest of us got sick after that, but mainly just digestive problems. You can avoid drinking the water, eating ice and produce, but after awhile the bad stuff is going to get into you. You just can’t avoid it. It got us all and it was very comforting knowing that we had multiple rolls of toilet paper. Even our trusty Ramish got “avalanche stomach” as he called it.

The trek turned into a feat of endurance. Later we all admitted that the Tibetan chants we heard from every music store in Pokhara kept us going through the darker days of pain and illness. I’m glad I took so many pictures. Even now I can’t remember what it was like hiking around, I was in a trance, constantly thinking of nothing but the next step and appreciating every “shitty” hotel I’ve ever stayed at in the States.

Our last night in a teahouse was quiet. We had been seeing the same trekkers every day, several times a day but I guess we took a different route back down. Day 4 was almost in solitude except for the goats and donkeys that would force us off the path every few minutes. We saw plenty of locals but not the strangers that seemed like friends we’d been seeing all week. The last night was silent. I could barely walk and none of us trusted a fart.

Day 12: Ghandrung – Birethanti – Pokhara

We will trek for approximately 4 hours trek then drive for 2-hours to reach 960m. We will stay overnight in a teahouse/lodge.

178Day 5 felt like the last day of the Tour de France when even though you’re technically still racing, it’s all for show. The race is over and you just enjoy the view as you coast into Paris. That was our last walk back to the drop off point. The trek was only 50 kilometers but 97% of it was up or down at an incredibly slow pace. I wish I would’ve done the stairs on my layovers the weeks before this trip. That would’ve been the best training I could’ve done.

It was a little startling to see cars and people but it we were ready for it. I’m shocked we didn’t break down in tears when we saw the driver waiting for us. It was the hardest five days of my life but I was beginning to appreciate it, sort of. At least it was over.

We got back to our wonderful hotel in Pokhara and spent the rest of the day at a local cave and then trolling the streets for last second souvenirs. I found 42 Hitchcock movies as well as both seasons of AH Presents for a low price of $28. I snatched it up. The also had all 20+ seasons of the Simpsons for $10 but I simply had no room. I purposely brought clothes in my closet that I didn’t want anymore and every day of the trip I left behind something, but that didn’t free up as much space as I thought it would.

For our welcome back meal we checked out the highest rated Italian restaurant according to Trip Advisor, the Caffe Concerto. It was amazing and this time we accepted the reviews’ use of hyperbole. It was the perfect meal to come back to civilization to. We certainly deserved it.

Day 13: Pokhara – Kathmandu (6 hours drive or 25 minutes flight)

After breakfast we will drive or fly to Kathmandu. Once here we will stay overnight at a Hotel.

80We were up bright and early and exhausted. Every muscle ached and sitting in a car for over six hours didn’t seem like a bad thing. We were pretty quiet the entire way home, all in our own worlds. Our stomachs were still in knots but nothing embarrassing happened. We talked Ramish into stopping by one of the massive foot bridges over the river we’d seen a week ago. Walking over a “shaky bridge” was high on our list of things to do. Ramish obliged. God bless that man.

We returned to the hotel we started our adventure at, the good ol’ Nirvana. As we prepared to leave the country the next day, inbound travelers were arriving. We heard them excitedly chatting about what they thought lay before them. We could have imparted some wisdom but we were way too tired and over it. They’ll find out soon enough. Out last meal was at Trip Advisors’s #7 of 317, Phat Kath. My stomach allowed me to have veggie soup, that was it. It was great soup.

I didn’t tell Amanda about the mouse/rat I found in our room until the next morning. Cheeky bastard.

Day 14: Departure

Departure transfer to the airport to connect to an onward flight.

290Our flight to Dubai wasn’t until 7pm so we had most of the day to kill. There was talk of taking a flight to Everest but we decided against it. Amanda and I checked out the lovely urban park, Garden of Dreams. Walking still hurts and I’m always within a thirteen-second sprint to a bathroom but other than that, I’m pretty happy. While we’re waiting for our driver to come and retrieve us for the airport run, I overhear a tour guide giving his group a briefing in the lobby of the hotel. We were already singing Ramish praises but after hearing this joker, we were worshipping him like a God.

I can’t say enough about how great he was and how seamless the entire trip was. I don’t think we even know how much he did for us because we didn’t have to deal with a single problem. I’m not a big fan for organized tours but as far as Nepal goes, you’re much better off doing it that way, and Friendship was amazing. We tipped them all generously but we still felt like we owed them more. It was embarrassing how much they did for us and how nice they were.

I’m not sure how we decided to go to Nepal but I’m so glad we did. I’m not sure I’ll ever go back but it was one of the best two-weeks I’ve ever had. If anything, I appreciate everything about my life and the conveniences I have in America. It’s also pretty frustrating when you hear the gripes some very privileged people are making about their lives. They have no idea how great they have it.

Book  your Nepali adventure with these guys at Friendship Nepal Tours. It’s cheap and AMAZING. I can’t recommend them enough. Ask for Ramish, but don’t ask him how embarrassing we were.

See more photos here and check out my book!

Stuck in Slough for another 24 Hours

imagesI was supposed to wake up at 4am this morning here in England to fly back to America and last night I had planned accordingly. When we got the call late last night that our flight had cancelled and our new pick up was 36 hours away, it didn’t really change things. I was still tired and ready for bed at 9pm and not having the early wake up call anymore didn’t change my desire for sleep.

So of course I go to bed early and even though I tried to sleep in, I was up at 5am, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. I fought it for an hour and stayed in bed with the lights and tv off, but it was no use. I eventually accepted my reality and got up. I went downstairs for the free coffee and pastries. Never pass up free food in a country where the exchange rate screws you.

images-2At 6:15am I was back in my room, completely wired. I don’t drink coffee often so it hits me harder than crack. Next thing I know I’m looking up the nearest geocaches from my Slough hotel. Turns out there’s one hidden in a playground near by, maybe a ten minute walk away. Perfect!

images-1For those who don’t know what geocaching is, it’s something mainly old people (and children) do to pass the time before they die and “get exercise.” It’s a world-wide treasure hunt for nothing. Here is a video explaining further. It’s actually pretty fun and addicting. I was going to be in search of my 76th geocache with finds in such places as Texas, Sweden, Spain, and Australia. It’s probably the nerdiest thing I do.

I thought finding the geocache sounded like a wholesome thing to do. It was between doing that or going to the gym. In over 15 years of having layovers, I’ve never set foot into any hotel gym so I kinda knew that wasn’t going to happen. Yes, finding that geocache is the most G rated thing I could be doing outside of planting posies so I go for it, though I’m not sure what my obsession is with being well-behaved today.

images-9The park was massive, but very hard to get to. I knew vaguely where it was but there was no obvious way to enter it. It was surrounded by houses and a perimeter fence. Eventually I wind my way through little neighborhood streets and footpaths and get to the gate. The park itself is probably the size of five football fields, side by side, but it’s completely gated off except for the one entrance that a Mazda Miata couldn’t fit through. Very strange park for sure. There was a big playground for little kids, a large grassy area and then a basketball goal. There was also a circular track around the play area for dirt bikes.

UnknownI thought it’d be a quick task. I read the description and it seemed like an easy thing to find. The online clue said something about the hidey spot being “BMX-related,” so when I saw a series of three little plastic bike jumps, I knew it had to be there, probably right under the ramp of the jump. Very easy indeed. In and out.

images-6I was the only the person in the park, I thought, but then I noticed a park employee on a riding lawnmower coming through the entrance. For some reason that really freaked me out. If I had been in a park you could just stroll through on your way to wherever you needed to go, that’d be one thing. But this park was self-contained and if you were inside the park, it was obvious that was your intended destination.

images-4Standing alone in the middle of the see-saw, slide, and merry-go-round just seemed so wrong and my uncomfortableness was not unnoticed by the worker. If I had any kind of accessory, things would’ve been much better: friend, dog, or child.

Instinctively I pulled out my phone and acted like I was texting or playing a game. I’m not sure if I thought that’d make me seem more or less creepy, but at least I had something to focus on while I thought about what to do next. I’m sure the kid wouldn’t have batted an eye if I started poking around the bike jumps for the little fist-sized geocache, but I didn’t want to risk an interrogation in case he had no idea what I was doing. I was still high on coffee and couldn’t maintain. I knew I wouldn’t be able to properly explain myself.

images-10He was mowing the area pretty quickly, but the park was huge so it was going to take at least 20 minutes for him to finish. I didn’t think I could wait it out. I’d go crazy. I figured I looked nervous and definitely looked suspicious. If I were him I’d be positive that I was a pedophile. Who comes to a park alone and just stands around amongst the toys for 4 year olds? New York City has signs in parks like these forbidding adults from being there without a child. It was just wrong, all wrong, but I had a decision to make.

images-8I could either walk away, blowing off the sole reason for leaving my hotel room, and admit defeat, or I could find a way to find the thing. I start slowly walking over to the jumps. My plan was to casually stroll over, sit on one of the knee-high launch ramps and very nonchalantly examine the area for the geocache. Seeing a 38-year-old man sitting on a ramp in a park seemed less creepy than one standing around by the playscape. Why on earth do they not have benches? There wasn’t one in the entire park.

before-chatJust as I’m starting to walk over, a couple of middle-aged guys walk past me and go to the same area. At first I was happy because I wasn’t alone anymore. Then I noticed that they looked homeless and were carrying a case of beer. This was at like 7am and the sun was barely out. They had no problem plopping down in the middle of the little kids’ park though. Before I could adjust my plan, they were sitting right in the middle of the three jumps, facing the playground equipment like it was some sort of stage, and started drinking their beer.

images-3Great, I was worried about being mistaken for a pedo and now I’m sharing a playground with two guys who probably really are diddlers. There’s no way in hell I’m going to go near them and poke around for the geocache now, so there’s nothing left to do but get out and go back to the room. I get out fast, before they invite me to join them. Now I’m back safe and sound in my hotel room. At least the mis-adventure killed about an hour. I just have 22 more to go before I can get out of here.

images-7My crew is all meeting downstairs in the lobby at 2pm to take the shuttle over to Windsor. I’ve been there many times, but it’s honestly the only option of something to do if you’re not going to hang out in the Kiddie-Diddler park, which I am NOT going to be doing again. I don’t want to see what those guys were waiting so excitedly for. They were set up in front of that playground like Phantom was about to start. At least there are food options in Windsor, and a big castle.

My Top 10 Lists

I’ve been meaning to get back to my friend Myron about my favorite songs from certain Brit Pop bands so I decided to turn the response into a blog post along with some other Top 10s. I did these as quickly as possible and immediately I realized I forgot some Must Haves. I didn’t change the initial list though. The 10 are not in order…

MY FAVORITE MOVIES

Donny Darko, Casablanca, Cinema Paradiso, Goodfellas, Midnight Cowboy, My Own Private Idaho, Trainspotting, Dazed & Confused, The Shining, The Basketball Diaries (forgot Heathers, A Clockwork Orange, and Eternal Sunshine…)

Unknown-7 MY FAVORITE TV SHOWS

Twin Peaks, Carnivale, Arrested Development, Dexter, Breaking Bad, 7-Up Series, The Simpsons, Amazing Race, Lost, The Inbetweeners (forgot Cheers, X Files and Family Guy)

images-1MY FAVORITE DEBUT ALBUMS

Smiths, Stone Roses, Adorable, Beastie Boys, Strokes, Surfer Blood, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Spiritualized, Supergrass, Pavement (forgot Oasis)

Unknown-5MY FAVORITE COVERS

Tricky (Black Steel), White Stripes (Jolene), The Vines (Ms. Jackson), Sonic Youth (Superstar), Red Hot Chili Peppers (Higher Ground), Adam Green (What a Waster), Smashing Pumpkins (Never Let me Down Again), Ian Brown (Billie Jean), Lou Reed (This Magic Moment), Oasis (I am the Walrus)

Unknown-8MY FAVORITE DIRECTORS

Kubrick, Lynch, Tarantino, Van Sant, Hitchcock, Coppola, Scorsese, Welles, Fellini, Burton

Unknown-4MY FAVORITE BLUR SONGS

Music is my Radar, Trimm Trabb, Tender, Beetlebum, Coffee & TV, Oily Water, Blue Jeans, Girls & Boys, Bang, To the End

Unknown-2MY FAVORITE SUEDE SONGS

Killing of a Flash Boy, My Insatiable One, Metal Mickey, Animal Nitrate, Introducing the Band, Can’t Get Enough, By the Sea, Together, The Living Dead, My Dark Star

imagesMY FAVORITE SMITHS/MORRISSEY SONGS (12 since there’s two catalogues)

Sister I’m a Poet, Late Night Maudlin Street, Suedehead, Everyday is like Sunday,  Big Mouth Strikes Again, There is a Light that Never Goes Out, Reel around the Fountain, Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now, Last Night I Dreamt that Somebody Loved Me, The More you Ignore Me the Closer I Get, The Teachers are Afraid of the Pupils, We Hate it When our Friends Become Successful

Unknown-9MY FAVORITE PULP SONGS

Babies, Joyriders, Mile End, Love Love, Sorted for Es and Wizz, Like a Friend, Razzmatazz, Common People, Underwear, Something Changed or Love is Blind

Unknown-1

MY FAVORITE OASIS SONGS

Dyer Wanna be a Spaceman, The Importance of Being Idle, Supersonic, Cigarettes and Alcohol, Talk Tonight, Acquiesce, Some Might Say, Morning Glory, Whatever, Slide Away

Unknown-3MY FAVORITE MANCHESTER AREA BANDS

The Smiths, Joy Division, James, Happy Mondays, Charlatans, Oasis, Verve, Stone Roses, Chemical Brothers, The Doves

Unknown-6MY FAVORITE TEXAS BANDS

Black Angels, Tripping Daisy/Polyphonic Spree, Willie Nelson, Spoon, Butthole Surfers, 13th Floor Elevators, Neon Indian, And you will know us by the trail of dead, Reverend Horton Heat, Daniel Johnston

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Why we hate Champions

imagesAll this month it’s been fun going back and forth with the fans of other sports teams about who’s going to win what. There are heartbroken Penguin fans and excited A’s fans. There are confident Brazil fans and nervous Spurs fans.

It always starts off with everyone promoting their team but once it gets down to two teams, us versus you, it gets personal. For the last two weeks the exchanges between Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs teams have gotten more and more nasty. The word “hater” comes up almost hourly.

So why do we all hate Miami, except for those who live in Florida? How does the Dallas Cowboys go from America’s Team to America’s most hated team? Why is it impossible to be ambivalent about the Yankees or Manchester United?

For me, it’s simple. It’s the way the super power went about making their team a super power. Manchester United has an amazing youth academy and more likely than not, their studs come thru their system. Yeah, every summer they’re in the running for the most expensive, sought-after player of the off-season and they usually get said player, but the core of the team is home grown.

Their cross town rivals Manchester City are a world power for a very different reason. They had a billionaire come in, buy the team, and spend hundreds of millions of pounds on the best players on the planet. Almost overnight they went from so-so afterthoughts to perennial contenders.

The Yankees are inbetween. It’s a mixture of both with them. They buy the best free agents but they also have a great farm system and talent scouts. Teams like the Yankees and Lakers are rarely bad for long because the name alone draws big time players.

When offered $30 million a year to play in Missouri or $25 million a year to play in New York, most players will leave money on the table just to be on a bigger stage with a tradition-strong team.

How small market teams remain relevent is a mystery to me. They have to do everything right. The San Antonio Spurs do everything right. Not only do they find the diamonds in the rough (and in foreign leagues), they also find the type of player who will actually want to stay in south Texas after they’re a household name. Do you think Kobe would still be in San Antonio if they’d drafted him out of high school? Yeah right.

Amazingly there is more club loyalty in America, more so than in the European soccer leagues at least. It’s incredibly rare to find a player who spends his entire career with one team over there, unless he’s lucky enough to be with a winner from the get go like Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville with Manchester United.

There aren’t that many Reggie Millers and John Stocktons in Europe, though there are certainly exceptions. Any time a good player follows his team to the lower divisions when they get relegated is commendable, and rare.

So why do I hate Miami and why should the people of southern Florida not be completely happy with the success they’re having? Because some super star players who could’ve gone anywhere decided to team up and make a super power. The big 3 stayed in the East because it was easier than competing with the Lakers, Spurs, and Mavericks. They went to Miami because it’s a big market and a fun city. Yeah Wade was already there but don’t forget how close he came to leaving that summer!

That amazing team fell into the lap of the city of Miami and they could’ve gone anywhere else. We could all be whining about Sacramento right now if that’s where they decided to go.

I don’t blame the players for doing that. It’s a little unfair, but the league rules allow it to happen. At least we have a salary cap unlike European soccer where billionaires can have 15 high paid players on the side. Then again it’s pointless to have a salary cap when the players agree to work for less just to hoard talent on one bench.

On the flip side, what the Heat are doing  doesn’t always work. The Rockets didn’t win with Barkley. The Lakers didn’t win with Malone and Payton. The Heat are young though. they weren’t thinking of one last run for a title, they were thinking of not four, not five, not six, blah blah blah.

Like I said, I don’t mind the players doing that, what gets on my nerves is the Miami fans who think they deserve all this success. You don’t. You were lucky they picked your city. You should be grateful and not obnoxious. I understand that no true fan will turn their back on their team for doing making some moves you don’t agree with. You stand by your team no matter what. Trust me, my life as a Liverpool fan the last 7 years has been hell because of the moves they make and don’t make. Before then I was proud of everything about that great club.

Lastly, I just don’t like LeBron. It’s not hating great talent. I hate Kobe, but I respect him. I know who he is and what he stands for. He makes a good villain. I love beating him, but I’ll be the first to say he’s the best player in our generation, after Jordan of course.

LeBron just always says exactly the right thing at the right time and his whole life is a cliché. I think he may be a robot. The only time I have heard him say anything that truly expressed something human, was that “not seven titles” debacle. Yeah, that was obnoxious but he has never been more real in his life. I actually don’t mind him doing that at all.

These days, I would love it if showed some emotion, good or bad, at any time in his life. I would love it if he admitted he was overwhelmed, or scared, or not worried about an opponent, or that he hates an opponent. Shaq wasn’t shy about that; Cristiano Ronaldo has enemies.

I’m pretty sure LeBron’s PR person has a bug in his ear at all times. It’s sickening how far away he is from anything controversial now. Tim Duncan may be even further from controversy, but I don’t feel like there’s something weird behind the scenes with Timmy. Anyways…

Some people love dynasties. It makes them feel like everything is right with the world. Thier world makes sense if the Yankees are playing in October and the Lakers are playing in June.

Some people always root for the underdog. I’m definitely an underdog kind of guy but if there is a dominate team out there, I want to be able to like them or hate them for the right reasons. I hate Manchester United, but they run a first class organization and deserve their success. I’d much rather them win the league than a fly-by-night pet project of some Russian billionaire or Sheik. How can you really stand behind a team that you know is successful by chance rather than hard work from everyone in the organization from the top down?