Tag Archives: air hostess

Airlines Need New Blood

Image

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.

Image

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!

Image

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.

Image

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…

Image

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.

Image

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.

Image

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

Unknown

  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.

images-5

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?

images-2

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.

UAE/Oman Cruise

DSC_0260I like cruises and I like the Middle East but I didn’t know how the two would combine. It didn’t seem like they’d mesh well together, that you should just focus on one or the other.

DSC_0288Well I was wrong to worry. The two complemented each other perfectly. It really was the best of both worlds. Along with good food, easy accommodation, a variety of entertainment, and a good price, we got to see alot of shit as well. There was a tour of the world’s tallest building, gorgeous beaches, dolphins, Omani fiords, camels, coffee with Bedouins, 4x4s over sand dunes, many mosques, and confusing graffiti.

IMG_7618Any time I go on vacation I want to come back with some photos. Even if I have the time of my life on a trip, if I don’t have some quality pics to go along with it, I see it as a bit of a bummer.

DSC_0264It was impossible to leave the Emirates/Oman without great pictures, all you had to do was open your eyes. Even Amanda had some breathtaking pictures, all taken with her phone.

Along with a collection of photos, we had a collection of quotes. I think they work best if you read them completely out of context.

“I’d eat a snake while looking at a snake.”

“I’d rather think about ninjas than Jesus Christ. “

“I wonder how many times you’re going to bleed on this trip.”

“Beak down, ass up…that’s the way we like to shit.”

“Why do you have to hurt me anytime you want anything?!??”

“I want to know the weight of the Burj Khalifa in Mentos.”
“Or bibles.”

“My shovel was my best friend.”

Waiter – “you want to be sexy all the time?”

“I would mourn your death, we’ve discussed this enough times.”

“I’m on a dhow/you’re going down.”

“If you didn’t want to get yelled at by strangers, you should have just stayed in your sun chair.”

I’m currently pricing Around the World cruises.

DSC_0220It really is a slippery slope though. You take a trip like this and all you can think about is where else in the world you want to hit next. It becomes an obsession. It’s like adrenaline junkies always looking for the next fix. It just keeps getting worse. The more places I go, the more I want to visit. Discovering things like how the Middle East isn’t scary and is completely bad ass doesn’t help matters.

As of now I have big trips I am positive I’ll take as soon as possible, but even if I knock them out as quickly as possible, It’ll take four years to do them all, unless I win the lottery. Southeast Asia, Nepal, Greece/Croatia, China, Machu Picchu, and Antarctica are a few. I think Nepal is the Fall is next.

world-according-to-americansSometimes I think that I’d be better off if I never left my hometown and had no idea how amazing the rest of the world is. It’d certainly save me alot of money if I bought into the propaganda and truly believed that America is the only worthwhile country in the world. That’s what we were taught growing up, maybe they were just trying to save me money.

Straight Guy Lesson #24- What to do with a Ghost Room

imagesI’m sitting alone (sort of) in room 516 of the Arora Hotel in Manchester, not sure what to do next. It’s that awkward silence between two people you may have experienced when you were in high school and just experienced premature ejaculation. Or if you were in your upper 30s and experienced premature ejaculation. Either way, not good.

I’ve spent most of my layover in this room. This trip is sandwiched between two Caribbean/Central American trips that are and will be again, pretty draining, especially because the crew meets up every night on the trip to drink until at least 3am. Sometimes the night ends falling asleep in sandy beds in Mexico, sometimes with me accidentally entering Jose’s room in Caracas because the front desk guy swears that I don’t know what room I’m in. Sometimes it ends up with me peeing in the bidet because of lack of concentration. Actually those were all in one trip.

So on this layover I decided to take it easy. No jaunting off to Liverpool to visit my friends. No taking a train to Wales just to say I’ve been to Wales. I hooked up my iPad to the tv and have been watching Netflix while playing Words with Friends and watching status updates fly by on Facebook. I was pleasantly surprised with Hostel 3, it wasn’t bad at all. I wish I had someone to discuss it with.

I finally turned off the tv at midnight even though I knew I wasn’t tired at all. I just couldn’t watch another episode of Portlandia or Sunny. I got out a book and threw down all the pillows onto the bed to give myself a comfortable place to read.

Before I even cracked the book open, the television went back on. I instinctively checked to make sure I wasn’t lying on the remote but it was still on the nightstand. It took about seven seconds for me to remember the haunted hotel conversation I had a couple of months ago with my crew leaving this same hotel. I couldn’t remember if this hotel was one of the haunted ones or not, but I’m thinking that maybe it was.

I’m not afraid of ghosts and I’m not entirely sure they exist, but I would never say that they definitely don’t exist. I looked around the room and turned the tv back off. I opened the book and then thought better of it. I looked over at the tv and said aloud, “We can watch television if you want to, just let me know.”

I half expected it to go back on but, of course, it didn’t. I read the introduction to the book, which it seems will be about a travel writer who’s sick and tired about writing about what his publishers want him to write about, so he wrote this book to tell his best tales.

I had to reread almost every sentence though. I couldn’t concentrate. I kept thinking about the television and why a ghost would want to watch it. Is he bored? (I assumed it was a boy ghost but I didn’t degrade him by calling him Casper) Is there something on that he wants me to see? Will this change my life? Will it be for the better? Will this get him out of this weird place between worlds?

I’m usually very aware of weird occurences like this and if I feel like there’s something to discover, I’ll try to figure it out. On the surface weirder things have happened to me and I haven’t batted an eye. It really doesn’t matter what exactly happened, it’s all about the feeling you get that you need to pay attention to. My spidey-sense was tingling and I really felt like the universe was trying to tell me something. But what?

Try as I did to continue reading, something wouldn’t let me let it go. I felt like I had just gone silent in the middle of a conversation with a friend. He wouldn’t be offended if I went quiet but it certainly wasn’t polite or what he wanted.

I put the book away, sat up in bed and said again, “I really don’t mind watching the tv if you want. Pick something.”

Of course nothing happened. I went into the bathroom to brush my teeth. I was planning on trying to sleep.

While I was brushing I heard voices. It didn’t take me long to realize that the bathroom speaker was sending out sounds. I had been listening to music through this speaker earlier in the night when I had my shower. I had it up pretty loud. Whatever is playing on the television can be heard through that speaker in the bathroom. Because my iPad was hooked up to the tv, I was playing my music on my iPad via the tv and through the speaker in the bathroom. I love technology.

My iPad was put away. This was just the tv. It was a US crime drama. It still is a US crime drama. I think Law and Order. DUN DUN!

So this is where I’m at right now. I really do think there’s a ghost in this room and for some reason it wants me/us to watch television. I don’t know what to do at all. I feel like I’m betraying it right now by ignoring the tv and typing away on my iPad that I had to take back out of my backpack.

I’m not as freaked out as I thought I’d be, it just seems really surreal. I just don’t know the etiquette here. Am I supposed to just watch the show? Can I change the channel? Do I need to make comments? When this episode is over can I turn off the tv? Will the ghost turn it off when he’s had his fill? I really don’t want to piss him off but at some point I do need to get some sleep.

I understand that I not once, but twice vocalized that it was ok for us to watch tv so I guess I brought this upon myself. I hope it’s at least refreshing for the ghost to have me be accommodating and not freaking out and screaming like most people would. That would hurt my feelings if I were a ghost. I don’t want to make him angry or depressed. Then again, I don’t want him to think I’m his new BFF and that we can do this every time I’m in Manchester. I hope this is a one-night-stand.

Road Trip- The Retrospective

imagesI landed in Los Angeles Sunday morning. I’m glad I sprung for First Class because I’d just landed in New York at 6am from the Rio trip I was working. The flight to LA left at 7:30am. I slept all the way to LA and got in before noon. Amanda had started the drive without me. She made it from San Francisco to Los Angeles the day before and was staying with her friend in Culver City. I missed out on Day 1, which apparently included alot of rainbows.

Even though I was well rested and we could’ve hit the ground running, we decided to spend the day in rainy LA eating the Shakey’s buffet among three different Latino birthday parties.

images-2Amanda went to sleep early, mostly because of her heavy-duty cold medicine, maybe because of the wine too. We found her lying suspiciously on our hostess’s bedroom floor and put her straight to bed. Later we found out that she hadn’t really passed out, she was lying there playing with the cats and then just sort of dozed off.

images-6We both slept on the floor by accident that night. I woke up on the floor because the air mattress I was on had slowly deflated through the night. I woke up with my backbone on the ground and the sides of the air mattress up in the air like a taco.

Unknown-3We had a kick ass breakfast at Green Peas and then hit the road for Day 2 in a very un-socal drizzle. We set the Tom Tom on a soothing Aussie voice and instructed him (Tozza) to direct Amanda’s Cabrio to Las Vegas. The drive from LA to Vegas is pretty boring, but it was fun to think about all the legendary trips people have taken over the years on these roads- both real and on-screen. We made several Swingers and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas references, especially near Barstow when I started texting the opening lines of Fear and Loathing to everyone I’ve ever seen the movie with. After a half hour of that I just posted it on my Facebook wall.

1The little silver German car was stuffed with Amanda’s final belongings and my suitcase as well as a cooler full of random snacks and drinks (none of the radiator cheese sandwich elements.) We had everything where it needed to be. We always had direct access to the food, a camera, our phones, and our jackets. Everything else was a chore to get to. My lap was nicknamed Best Buy because of all the electronics on it at any given time.

3This was our shortest day on the road so we had plenty of time to stop and smell the roses. There just wasn’t much to smell. Plus it was still overcast and nasty outside. It was right about Barstow when the skies finally began to clear up. By the time we saw the sign for Calico, the silver mining ghost town, it was downright pretty outside.

4I’ve always wanted to see a ghost town so I was stoked. We pulled off without even discussing it. We paid a shit load of money to see something that wasn’t there, which seemed weird. The abandoned town had been rebuilt to how it had been back in the day, but that isn’t what I wanted to see at all. I wanted the buildings to be old and neglected. I didn’t want the fire house to be new, sturdy, and decorated with Christmas lights. I didn’t want the jail to be a Starbucks. It just figures that in a town that hasn’t had a resident in 50 years, Starbucks is still thriving.

5Even though there was plenty of disappointment in Calico, it was still a good stop. It was cool to get a glimpse of how the mining town operated when it was fully functional. I was just hoping for better photographs of neglect and desolation, not new buildings with bus loads of Chinese tourists standing around.

6We grabbed a cold fountain soda from the young girl dressed in time-appropriate clothes who had just started studying Psych in college. While we sipped on our $3 drinks we checked out the hotels in Vegas. I didn’t care where we stayed but Amanda wanted something slightly nice. At some point I wanted us to stay at a proper interstate motel because that’s a huge part of the road trip experience but it was definitely a good idea to take advantage of the low season in Las Vegas. Early December is a great time to find a bargain. We opted for the MGM Grand, made the booking, and then got back on the road.

Before we knew it we were in Las Vegas and minutes after we had checked in and jumped on the bed, we were being invited to the Mystere Cirque du Soleil show by my friend Kitty who works for the show. She told us to show up ten minutes before showtime and she’d get us in and give us a tour of the stage afterwards. That was fantastic news, we were definitely excited. Amanda had never even seen a Cirque show before.

We had just enough time for a buffet so we did an internet search for the best ones in Vegas. Of course every website said something different but most were consistently raving about The Cosmopolitan. It was on the way to Treasure Island so that worked out perfectly. After tomato basil soup, creamy garlic soup, pickles, custom-made mac-n-cheese, thai rice, green beans, espresso dusted cheese, french onion pizza, margarita pizza, molton chocolate cake with caramel sauce, blood orange sorbet, and a ginger cake, we were ready to waddle over to the show. That was just what I had mind you, Amanda had an equally shameful/wonderful feeding.

8We’re slowed by the Bellagio water show but got to Treasure Island just in time for the performance. The show was amazing and of course Kitty had it so that we were two of the people that got fucked with by the MC during the pre-show. I should’ve been suspicious of that damn spotlight on us!

10After the show she took us behind the scenes and below the stage and showed us every single piece of costume and equipment used in the production. That was remarkable. The space was confined but they sure made the most of it. We even got to see the secret entrance for the celebs. We also got round red nerf noses.

9We had talked about going to Frankie’s Tiki Room but we needed to get up early so we just had one quick drink at one of the casino bars and then called it a night. We were out of the room by 10:30am, losing money in the casino by 10:45am, on the road by 11am, and eating a horrible Taco Bell breakfast by 11:30am.

12Amanda had driven us all the way to Las Vegas but I got the wheel on Day 3. We were going to go down to Arizona where we’d catch I-40 and then take that all the way to Oklahoma City or at least as far as Amarillo if we decided to go to Dallas instead of OKC. The weather was perfect and the scenery was rustic to say the least. I was a bit more used to the landscape than Amanda. It must have looked like the surface of the moon to the Jersey girl. She kept asking how people could live out here with nothing to do. I understood much more than I let on. You develop an amazing imagination.

14There wasn’t much to see between Vegas and Albuquerque as far as interesting stops, at least not while the sun was out. We got to the meteor crater near Winslow AZ right at 5pm, just in time for every employee to tell us that they’d be closing at 5:30pm sharp and that the bathrooms would be closed at 5:20pm. Even with that drilled into our heads we still ended up getting scolded for trying to pee too late. Again, we paid alot of money to see nothing, but we still enjoyed it.

15The sun was setting in gorgeous colors by the time we headed back to the interstate, yet we still had five hours of driving to go. The car’s Low Fuel light had been blinking which freaked Amanda out like I’ve never seen her freaked. It looked like it came on with ⅛  of the tank left which I thought was plenty to get to the next town but I could tell she wasn’t comfortable at all. To keep the peace I pulled into space station-gas station right at the interstate. We grabbed some caffeine and started with the most boring part of our journey. There was nothing to look at except for 18 wheelers and stars, and we got millions of both. There were also a million billboards advertising all sorts of jerky.

Unknown-4Amanda found an app that told about roadside attractions and trivial facts about the path we were taking. Because our route ran almost on top of Route 66, there were lots of interesting and random things to see and learn. We both had our iPods so we were never short on good music to listen to, though the noise of a rag top convertible going 85 mph makes a lot of noise.

A very kind Arizona highway patrolman pulled us over but let us off with a warning, it’s amazing how having a pretty girl in the car makes those encounters go so much smoother. She didn’t even have to mention that her dad is a retired policeman. That would be the first time we got away with breaking the law on this trip.

UnknownWe needed gas again when we got to Milan, NM and we were both starving. We tried very hard to satisfy two needs at every stop. As luck would have it we were right next to one of those classic truckstop diners called the WOW diner. We feasted much like we did at the Cosmo buffet but for a fourth of the cost as the employees and locals watched the Victoria Secrets fashion show on TV.

It was still two hours to ABQ but we pressed on. Amanda booked us a room at the Radisson even though we really should’ve waited until we stumbled upon a bizarre motel right off the highway, something that you’d see in a horror movie. That may be my one regret with this trip.

I kept the speed down and cursed that the cruise control didn’t work. We get into ABQ and find the hotel with little problem. After some attitude from the front desk lady we get our room. Twelve hours later we’re waking up in a panic because we overslept.

images-4We’d already decided to skip OKC and instead go to Ft. Worth to visit some friends but now we’d be rolling into town after 10pm. So much for that. We grab a Sonic brunch and get back on the road. I’m driving again because Amanda is groggy from her cold medicine, which is the main reason we overslept in the first place. She turned off the alarm and went back to sleep whereas I didn’t even hear the alarm to begin with. I knew she shouldn’t be driving when she offered me her toothpaste whilst asking, “Do you need this toilet paper?”

17Day 4 was supposed to be slightly longer than day 3, but now most of the drive would be at night. It looked like we’d be getting to Cadillac Ranch outside of Amarillo just as the sun would be setting. We get on the road and finally get to see what New Mexico looks like. It was already pitch black when we entered it the night before so this was our first glimpse. It was barren but more mountainous than desert. It was a whole bunch of nothing but I didn’t mind. I like how easy it is to get lost in your thoughts while driving out west. It reminds me of growing up in West Texas.

Every now and then Amanda would ask me random questions like What would I buy if I won the lottery or What would I name a boat if I had one? Those always made for some interesting conversations. We also made way too many bad puns and jokes along the way, like wanting to ask the residents of Gallup how they felt about a variety of issues.

16When we got to Texas we got out of the car and took a photo of Amanda with the the Welcome to Texas sign. Actually I stayed in the car with the engine running because we were running late.

18We make our way to Cadillac Ranch and have a quick photo shoot amongst the kids spray painting the cars. There were empty cans everywhere but we found a couple that had a little left in the tank so we left our mark as well. The second time we broke the law on this road trip and got away with it!

20I love the smell of aerosol paint cans and it shocked me that Amanda doesn’t. She loves the smell of jet fuel but not spray paint. Strange. Funny what you learn about people when you spend so much time together in close proximity.

21After contemplating the 72 ounce steak in Amarillo we get off of the interstate and onto state highway 287 all the way to Ft. Worth. Since we were getting in too late to see our friends we called off the meeting and decided to just power on through and make it to Austin without stopping. We quickly checked with Tozza and he said that even though we didn’t need to go through Ft. Worth anymore, it was still the fastest way to get to Austin. That was about the time I saw the one and only shooting star of the trip. I made a wish.

It was getting to that point where we needed to think about food since places would be closing soon. We didn’t worry since Wichita Falls was less than an hour away. At the very least we’d hit a Denny’s or IHOP if the normal places were closed.

24Wichita Falls came and went and we didn’t see anywhere to eat. All the normal places closed at 9pm and we just never saw an all-night place. We may have been distracted by me taking long-exposure photos while driving and Amanda talking to her mom on the phone. Before we knew it we were out of the city and in the middle of nowhere again.

Our Low Fuel indicator light came on around Bowie. As soon as it came on she wanted to stop but I saw that Bowie was only 12 miles ahead and had better food options than the no name town we were passing. That was the closest thing we had to a fight. She just didn’t trust that we’d make it. I promised that I’d be the one to walk to the gas station if we ran out of gas, but leaving her alone in the car on a lonely country road wasn’t exactly a better situation. It was a tense and silent ten minutes.

images-5To be honest we were further into the danger zone after the meteor crater, I guess she just didn’t realize it at the time. We make it to Bowie and we both let out a sigh of relief. We fill up with gas and head next door to the Armadillo cafe just to find out that they’re closing. Amanda took over driving again so I caught up on all of my Words with Friends games.

Ft. Worth was just up ahead, there would for sure be somewhere to eat there. By the time we get to Ft. Worth and get back on the interstate, we realize we’re on the home stretch. Food didn’t really seem that important anymore. It was less than three hours to home.

Unknown-1The drive from Ft. Worth to Hillsboro to Waco to Temple to Georgetown is a very boring one but at night it isn’t as bad. At least when it’s dark you can’t see the ugly scenery. We rolled into my/our driveway at 1am. We hadn’t planned on driving for 13 hours the last day but it really wasn’t that bad, especially considering the only meal we had was Sonic in Albuquerque. I made a feast when we got inside.

Unknown-2I had trimmed the under-brush of my two trees in the front yard a few weeks ago and never got around to throwing all the branches away. I had the carnage in two huge garbage cans. We took full advantage of Amanda’s convertible to dispose of the dead limbs. We took the top down, crammed the garbage cans into the back seat and drove to a secluded part of the subdivision where we dumped the branches as if we were disposing of a dead body. The third and final time we broke the law and got away with it. And with that, the trip was officially over and we could go to sleep.

All in all the road trip was a phenomenal success. It was good to know that we could stand being around each other for nearly five days straight. The furthest apart we were physically was when I was standing at the gas pump and she was inside in the restroom writing on the wall (they encouraged that, not the fourth time breaking the law.) Other than that, we were always within touching distance and that didn’t seem to get old, so that’s a good sign since now we officially live together.

Zen and the Art of the Road Trip

imagesThe freedom of the open road is a wonderful thing. I used to love taking road trips when I was a teenager. It was the quintessential rite of passage for a teenager in the 90s. I drove from Austin to Los Angeles, Atlanta, Washington DC, New York, Chicago, and most national parks within one hundred miles of any road leading to those cities. I would go out of my way just to cross a border in order to tick another state off my list.

images-2The trips weren’t really that free and easy though, I had everything planned down to the penny we’d be spending on food, gas, and hotels as well as how far we’d be driving each day and how long we could sleep in before hitting the road again. I even calculated when my Prelude would be getting low on gas and where the nearest Texaco would be. That was the fun part for me. So in reality there wasn’t much wiggle room at all and certainly not too much freedom once the trip began. The freedom came in the days when I sat down with my trusty rusty Rand McNally road map and came up with the game plan.

I wouldn’t always take the most direct route, in fact, carefully penciling in spontaneous side trips and excursions was part of the fun. I always give my self an hour for an unexpected photo shoot somewhere en route. I tend to avoid the interstates if there’s something scenic to see on the smaller roads. If I’m driving from San Antonio to El Paso however, I want to be on the highway that allows me to drive the fastest because there is precious little to see between those two places. Next!

Unknown-4I love everything about road trips, even if I’m doing them by myself. As long as I have some music and a cooler full of snacks and drinks, I’m good. The only thing I don’t really like about road trips is when I’m taking one with someone who refuses to speed or needs to stop too often. I’m a huge believer that you should never stop for just one reason. If you need gas, then make it meal time as well. No stop on the road should last more than ten minutes. Nothing is more annoying than having to repass cars and trucks you’ve already passed before. It’s just embarrassing. Those drivers, though going slower than I, are all laughing at me because they know I don’t know how to properly manage my road trip. If at all possible, eat the food while you drive. If I could rig a bathroom in my front seat, I probably would. I’ve often wondered if I could just cut a hole in the floor and install some sort of tube leading to my crotch area.

On one trip through the desert going out to LA, I came up with the idea of a radiator cheese sandwich. I had all the elements for a grilled cheese sandwich in my cooler but no way to melt the cheese. I was in the middle of nowhere and a cold cheese sandwich seemed boring.

UnknownI got the bread, butter, and cheese out and made the sandwich.  I wrapped it up in aluminum foil and opened the hood of the car.  I placed it on the radiator and gently closed the hood, only slightly squashing it.  After a good fifty miles in the midday sun, it would be ready. I headed west on state highway 60 for half an hour. When it was time to take a piss break on a dry cactus I opened the hood to see what kind of mess I made of my engine. Surprisingly it worked out very well. I sat on my car to watch the sunset and ate my sandwich, deliciously melted to perfection, albeit a little soggy.

Unknown-1When I got my flight attendant job that’s how I spent my first vacation. I was so sick of cities and airports. I had two weeks off so my friend and I got in my car and drove from Austin to New Mexico, up into Colorado, over to Utah, back down to Arizona and then back. We hit every park we could find: Mesa Verde, Arches, Bryce, Zion, Grand Canyon, Petrified Forest, White Sands, Big Bend, and even stopped to see the huge meteor crater. After a few days stay in Ruidoso, New Mexico I was ready to get back to civilization and the real world. Mission accomplished!

images-3I haven’t been on a proper road trip since then, and that was in 1999. I’ve driven from New York to Austin a couple of times but that was basically by myself in a moving van. It didn’t really count for some reason, probably because that drive is very boring except thru Pennsylvania Dutch country. It was a drive of necessity rather than pleasure. Getting two speeding tickets in the state of New Jersey didn’t help my outlook on the adventure. I spent the next few days staring at my speedometer and double checking with every speed limit sign.

Unknown-2Tomorrow that’s going to change though. As soon as I land back in New York from this Rio trip I’m on, I’m catching a flight out to Los Angeles. My girlfriend has packed up all of her belongings and we’re driving her stuff from San Francisco to Austin. For those who are wondering, the drive is 1760 miles, almost to the mile the same distance from Austin to New York City. If you drove straight it’d take 25 hours. We plan on breaking it up a bit.

images-1Since the girlfriend has to be out of her apartment today, she’s going to start the trip without me. She’s making it down to LA and that’s where I’ll meet her. From there we’re going to spend a day there with our friends and start driving the next morning. Though we don’t have any real obligations or places we HAVE to see, we’re probably going to follow this plan. We’ll make it to Las Vegas the first day (or Grand Canyon) and call it a day after a relatively short drive. We’ll enjoy the evening and start early the next day.

I’m not sure how I feel about doing my first road trip with a Navigator. I’m a purist and would rather just have paper maps but I guess I should get with the times. There’s something special about holding a map and figuring it out though. When you input a destination you go from being the leader to a follower. You aren’t calling the shots anymore. You exit when she tells you to exit and you stay left when she tells you to stay left. I used to pride myself for my map skills, it’s becoming a lost art in my own lifetime. Just being able to fold a map was something to brag about. Now there’s probably an app for that.

images-5There’s talk of spending a night in either Dallas or with my family in Oklahoma City so the halfway point to either of those places would be right around Albuquerque. That would be the logical stopping point for the next night and an appropriate spot since we both love Breaking Bad. Maybe they’re still filming the last episodes and they could use a couple of extras to OD or something. That’d be sweet.

Stopping once between Vegas/Grand Canyon and OKC/Dallas would also mean driving ten hours the second and third days on the road, which is what you really need for a good road trip. If you’re not cramping up and suffering from highway hypnosis then you’re not really on a road trip. If you haven’t drifted into the path of an 18-wheeler at least once, causing him to blare his horn in terror, then you need to get back out there and do it properly.

Unknown-3We’ve already discussed music playlists and games as well as what we want in the all important cooler. I haven’t told her about the existence of radiator cheese sandwiches but I have a feeling I’ll spring that on her somewhere around Barstow. Maybe I’ll slide one onto her radiator when she’s in the bathroom during one of our predetermined gas/potty breaks.

After a night in Dallas or OKC we’ll be on the home stretch to Austin. I could do the drive on I-35 from either of those places in my sleep and I have done so before. There will be nothing interesting to explore for me on that last day but it’ll all be new to her. It’ll be a stretch of highway she’s going to need to learn well. Hint, always take the West split through the metroplex. Going thru Fort Worth is always better than going through Dallas.

images-4I’m looking forward to the trip. I keep forgetting the main purpose is to move her into my house so that we can start living like a normal couple, as much as two flight attendants can live like a normal couple. I guess if we can survive several days on the open road together going through the barren Southwest, then we can handle anything. I just wish gas was still at 1999 prices and Motel 6s still cost $6 a night.

Click here to check out Locations NYC, the ultimate tourist app for exploring New York City and here for my book Straight Guy in the Queer Skies. It will answer any and every question you’ve ever had about the job and lifestyle of flight attendants.

Locations: NYC

I was landing in Austin at sundown, staring out the window and thinking about nothing in particular. That’s when, for some reason, I started thinking about how cool it’d be if there was an app that one could use in NYC that would point out all the random cool places that are out there. Not sure what the trailer parks in southeast Austin have to do with Manhattan but who am I to question the creative process?

When I give first timers my NYC tour I always make sure to point out certain things, like the building on St. Marks that served as the cover to Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti album and Allen Ginsberg’s old apartment building in Alphabet City. I make sure we go to one of my favorite bars ever, Vazac’s Horseshoe bar on 7th and B. Famous scenes from Sex and the City, Crocodile Dundee, and The Godfather 2 were shot right there.

If we’re on the west side I’ll point out the Friends’ apartment and tell them the story about Dylan Thomas and the White Horse Saloon and mention the bathroom graffiti directed towards Jack Kerouac in the same bar. Of course we’d spend alot of time talking about all the history of the Chelsea Hotel on W. 23rd and if Sid really killed Nancy.

In Soho it’s always fun to point out the Sam and Molly’s loft from Ghost, the fake orgasm location from When Harry Met Sally, and the Ghostbuster’s headquarters.

From there my tour includes the subway grate where Marilyn Monroe’s dress blew up in The Seven Year Itch and the intersection where Ratso Rizzo gives his famous, “I’m walkin’ here!” line in Midnight Cowboy. Nearby is the infamous Studio 54’s former location.

Since it’s directly across the street from my ex-girlfriend’s place on W. 69th, I know all about where Meg Ryan’s The Shop around the Corner bookstore from You’ve Got Mail. From there it was a short trip further up the Upper West Side to Tom’s Diner, which served as the facade for Monk’s from the Seinfeld Series.

Everyone knows all about John Lennon’s murder outside his residence at the Dakota, but it surprises me how many people didn’t know that building was also used in Rosemary’s Baby. The dude that was executed for kidnapping and killing the Lindbergh baby helped build the building across the street from the Dakota!

Near my old apartment on the Upper East Side is a bar that I knew served as the bar where Tom Cruise served drinks in Cocktail. Serendipity 3 was very close by on 225 E. 60th Street and Holly Golightly resided around the corner and down the street in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

That’s where my personal tour of trivial things would start and people seemed interested. I was thinking about all of this when I landed in Austin that fateful day and that’s when the plan was hatched. How cool would it be if every semi-interesting spot and hidden gem in Manhattan was all in one place in an app that would tell you when you were walking by one of the spots?

Immediately I started to collect as many books about significant spots in the city as I could, from Black History in New York, to Movie Locations, to books about specific neighborhoods. My girlfriend Amanda and I would take walking tours of places like Chinatown, the Lower East Side and Five Points, take meticulous notes from our young guide, secretly knowing that our ultimate goal was to make his tour obsolete.

I got my friend Colin involved since he has made an app or two and knows how these things get done. Almost overnight we were set up and I just needed to input the locations into the database which would immediately be turned into a pin for our GPS-based map. I love that the map also includes bus and subway stops, that was a nice bonus I wasn’t counting on.

Not only did we get every tv and movie spot as we could, we also found historical spots, like the oldest bar in NYC, the birthplace of the gay rights movement, the first speakeasy in Harlem back in the Prohibition days, where Edgar Allen Poe once lived and hung out, and where the world’s largest cast iron bell resides (Riverside Church).

By the time I had my list, I had over 200 notable spots. Amanda did some research on her own and came up with even more. Colin came up with the brilliant idea of having “haunted” locations so I got to work researching those. Now we’re over 300 locations and there are still some walking tours we plan on taking.

I’ve learned so much about NYC in the last two months, it’s ridiculous. It’s impossible for me to walk down any Manhattan street without wondering if there’s anything significant nearby. I wish to God this app existed when I lived in New York full time and walked the streets every single day.

I have a list of dozens of buildings I want to see again for the first time and haunted places I want to check out. Now I know the locations of: the Cosby Show brownstone, where James Dean lived before he left for LA,  where Humphrey Bogart grew up, where Marilyn Monroe supposedly contemplated jumping out of a window on the Upper East Side, the bar that inspired The Lost Weekend, the original factory for Nabisco, Count Basie’s lounge, where Malcolm X was shot, where the Titanic was supposed to arrive, where Andy Warhol’s factory was, the narrowest building in the city, where the Marx Brothers were brought up, the first skyscraper, where Joey Gallo was shot, where Jack Kerouac met Neal Cassady, where Robert DeNiro contemplated murdering Palatine in Taxi Driver, the apartment from The Apartment, Winkie and Blinkie’s flat in The Basketball Diaries, and just about anything that every happened in a Woody Allen movie.

As of two days ago the app is now available from Apple App Store. As much as I think New Yorkers and tourists will love it as much as I do, I have absolutely no idea how to get the word out on a large scale other than taking out a billboard in Times Square or having Ashton Kutcher tweet about it. And so this is where I’m at.

Top 40 Photo Countdown- 2011

My favorite photos that I took in 2011

Argentina/Uruguay/Brazil…

Texas/Oklahoma…

Las Vegas…

Sweden…

35,000 feet…

 

England…

 

Spain…

Zurich…

 

New York…

Japan…

 

Reading Festival 2012 aka Day-Glo and Camel Toe

Every year at the three-day Reading music festival in England the world gets a glimpse of where fashion is at for the young people. Whatever random trends are going on will be magnified by a million as 87,000 concert goers try to out-do each other in a huge field in the middle of nowhere. Unfortunately, or fortunately, the fads that take root here spread all over the world in just weeks. Be ready.

2012 was no exception, of course. First of all I was very happy to see that the kids have started to abandon the Pete Doherty look. There were still a few Amy Winehouse hair-dos and make up jobs but not enough to annoy me. Thank Christ the Bat for Lashes fantasy fairy unicorn look with mystical hair bands has been completely left behind. It made me feel too old and creepy.

This year we were still onboard with neon face paint. The guys mostly had random smears under their eyes but the girls had elaborate crop circle patterns all over their faces. This was going on last year and I couldn’t notice if this was still warming up or cooling off. Even some of the older patrons would sport a random pink dot on their cheek or forehead.

Of course we had an assortment of band and past-festival shirts. No one dared wear the headliner’s shirt they sold at the official store though quite a few people had the official Reading shirts which included the list of performers on all the stages. Those shirts were very helpful keeping you on track to which bands were playing on the various stages.

Along with music related shirts there were many plain white tees with homemade messages scrawled on the fronts. The best was a mockery of the cliché Spring Break shirt “The Man The Legend” where The Man writing is pointing up to the guy’s head and The Legend is pointing to his junk. I’ve yet to meet a girl who’s been impressed by that shirt, but you still see them all over the place, usually in Cancun on fifteen year old boys. This ginger haired teen with a mohawk had his own take on that infamous shirt. It said The Man with the arrow pointing up at his face but the punchline read The Huge Disappointment. I guarantee that guy got laid. He deserved to at least. I thought it was brilliant.

As always there were many costumes and animal heads. The Mario and Luigi with an extra Luigi team was just lazy. They probably got those outfits off of the clearance rack. Superheroes were aplenty and equally as brainless but the popularity of The Big Bang Theory seemed to legitimize their efforts somewhat.

The more innovated kids were a giant set of crayons, a streak of tigers, a tribe of Indians, the Church lady, and my favorite, a hairy dude that shaved his chest so that it looked like he was wearing a tie. I think I liked him because he actually had enough hair to pull it off. He wasn’t a teenager and that made me feel more at ease.

Lisa and I dressed for the weather rather than to impress. We were about 20 years older than the average festival goer anyways, we didn’t want to draw attention to ourselves any more than we already were. There were some other people our age but they were either super weird or there with their kids. I had on a long sleeve western shirt, jeans, and a gray fleece. We had rain ponchos just in case, we got into those just as The Vaccines were half way through their set.

Most of the fashion we experienced was pretty standard. We saw alot of the 80s reincarnated with a modern twist. What I was not expecting was the new obsession with short shorts that show off the ass but go way up the stomach. High-rise shorts are somewhat in right now but these things just looked wrong, especially if they stepped over you as you were sitting on the ground. A random girl walking by with camel toe is humorous but a fleet of underaged ones jumping over you for hours on end is terrifying.

Maybe it was the acid washing, maybe it was that the girls with the wrong body type were wearing them. It was the most unflattering thing I could think of and the most disproportionate girls were trying to pull it off. They failed miserably. The girls that could pull it off were not partaking in this trend.

It will certainly be one of those defining moments in the kids’ lives when they look back at the photos from this weekend in 2012 and realize that they would indeed wear ANYTHING if their friends would as well.

Lisa and I had the ability to see into the future and could see how it’d all play out for them. If I’d asked them yesterday what they thought about their outfits they would swear up and down that they look amazing but in twenty years they’ll be yelling at their parents for allowing them to leave the house like that.

Lastly, as always, were the Wellies. Every color and pattern known to man were represented. I haven’t owned  rainboots since I was four years old but after the deluge we suffered last night, I think I may invest in a pair. My little canvas shoes were no match for the cold puddles and since the sun had gone down, there was zero chance of them getting dry or even warm. Even though the boots will take up half the space in my suitcase, it will be worth it.

My shoes didn’t dry overnight in my hotel and were still damp when I unpacked my suitcase tonight in New York. Now they’re in my locker at the airport stinking up the place. The mud is flaking and infecting everything else in there. It’s madness all around.

The best part about the huge music festivals besides getting to see a shit ton of bands all at once, is the people watching. It’s like Jane Goodall out there. These kids are away from supervision for an entire weekend and they take full advantage. Their actions speak of this just as much as their clothing. It’s like a PG-13 rated Hedonism.

Some of the bold statements will catch on and some will be laughed at as the massive failures that they are. The stuff that does gather steam can go on to influence the world. Things Lisa and I saw these silly kids wearing four years ago is still mainstream in the second-tier cities in the world. It’s amazing.

Next year I’m going to make this a photo blog entry and interview the most innovative and insane culprits. I’m kicking myself that I didn’t think of doing that this year until we were halfway through the Kasabian show at the end of the night. I can’t wait.

You can order my book by clicking here on this link. If I make enough for a decent camera, next year we’ll have video footage of all the craziness!

Straight Guy Lesson #23- The Mancation

Men have their Guy Trips and ladies will take their Girl Trips and there are connotations and mental images for both.

Yes, in most cases what happens on these trips is  exactly what you thought would happen, though no one will admit to it. They are full of debauchery and regret, but with a tinge of pride. It’s what makes life worth living. Those trips are what you think back on whilst lying on your death-bed, I reckon. I think I will at least. It does come with a price though.

You’ll spend the rest of your life praying your mates will keep their damn mouths shut and not rat you out. If you’re lucky, your entire crew misbehaved so that you know everyone has a secret they’ll want to take to the grave. That’s why husbands aren’t really allowed to take Guy’s Trips and wives don’t get away with Girl’s Trips after the “I Dos.” Everyone knows what’s up.

But the fun doesn’t necessarily have to end. Here is a way to get away with a Charlie Sheen week without being second-guessed for even a second…

Go! To! Iceland!

In case you don’t know, Iceland is the new hotspot for bachelor parties and misconduct. I didn’t know that when I went there last month but the girl who sold us our bottles of vodka at the JFK Duty Free store sure knew all about it. When she saw five guys roll up with ten bottles of this and that without female companions, she simply asked, “Reykjavík?”

Yes, Reykjavík.

It’s as fun and crazy as any city on this great planet of ours, but what sets it apart is that if you go for a week in June like we did, you’ll never see the night sky. Not once. Not even close. I’m not sure if that’s what makes the natives and tourists crazy or if it’s something inside the volcanic rock, but that place is just wrong, in a good way mostly. Everything about that island/nation is bizarre. The way people look, sound, spell things, and act on a Saturday night is all indicative of a place that really hasn’t had much interaction with outsiders until the last generation or two.

Quentin Tarantino has a famous quote about the place. He says,  “In America, the idea is to get the girls drunk enough to go home with you. In Iceland, you get the girls home before they get so drunk that they’re passing out in the bathroom.” Or something like that.

I’m not going to tell you what you can expect from your dirty trip to “Freakjavík,” that’s for you to discover. I’m just going to tell you how to get away with it for when you get back to your people. The answer is found in two words, “Golden Circle.”

In five short hours you can get a week’s worth of amazing photographs to take home to your wife and children in one drive around the Golden Circle. You’ll see fields of wildflowers, hot springs, rustic streams of melted ice, massive waterfalls, charming farmhouses in front of rugged mountains, and a geyser that shoots up every seven minutes or so.

You even get to see where two of the earth’s tectonic plates meet! You can literally straddle the crack they form with one foot on one plate and one on the other! If you include your innocent trip to the Blue Lagoon geothermal spa on your way to or from the airport, you’ll have so many images to show people. They’ll think you spent the entire holiday in a rental car, stone cold sober. It will look like the most boring place on the face of the Earth, albeit a gorgeous one.

You’ll know the truth though. You saw all those amazing things in one afternoon on less than one tank of gas. You may want to bring a change of clothing if you really want to sell this ruse. Slip into a different sweatshirt at the Geysir. Maybe start the drive with scruff and then shave once you get to the Gullfoss waterfall (you might recognize this place from the Echo and the Bunnymen album cover for Porcupine)

After making the drive, which begins as soon as you leave the city limits of Reykjavík, and stopping here and there for some photo ops, you’ll have 6 1/2 days of your week left wide open to partake in whatever shenanigans you want and to get your stories straight with your mates.

Here is my trip to Iceland ;)

See? Good clean fun!

Straight Guy in the Queer Skies: The Book is now available in paperback and Kindle versions!

Things I’ve Learned While Writing a Book

When I first became single nearly two years ago I didn’t really know what to do with all my new free time. Even though I’m an independent only child, I wasn’t used to doing whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. I hadn’t really been in that position in over six years! It was overwhelming.

I wasn’t interested in going out and meeting someone new. I didn’t have the money to travel the world. I didn’t want to sit around and dwell on the relationship. To pass the time I started writing in my neglected journal.

Since Day One of working for the airlines I’d taken mental notes on the job and the people involved. Sometimes I’d write little journal entries about this or that but for the most part I’d just take notes on weird and fascinating things I encountered on the job. Once I had all my free time, I decided to organize my notes of observation.

Twelve years of notes gave me heaps of ammunition. It took weeks to scour my 2000+ pages of journal entries to find every single thing I’d ever written about my job. I grouped the notes into categories and those quickly became chapters. Once all the sentence fragments were properly grouped together in an outline, the book practically wrote itself.

In less than a month I had it all written out. All 250 pages. I was probably ready to move forward at that point but something inside of me told me that it wasn’t ready. For the next 16 months I edited and re-edited it to death.

Even now I know that it’s not exactly how I want it. That’s lesson #1 I learned in this process, it’s never going to be perfect so don’t wait around forever and wait for it to be. Thank God I had friends around me that forced me to let it go and get on with the next step.

Lesson #2 is that it doesn’t have to meet your ridiculous, unreachable standards in order to be enjoyed by others. Fear is probably the biggest hijacker when doing anything creative. Fear not only of failure, but also of success.

That brings me to Lesson #3, the creative process is by far more enjoyable than the result. I loved organizing all my points and arranging them just so. I loved expanding on all of them while I filled in the meat of the story. I was in heaven during those times. Now that it’s all done and I have nothing creative to do anymore, I hate it.

I’m sick of editing, proofreading, and fixing the formatting errors. There are mundane decisions to be made like which font to use and whether or not to have chapter titles or drop caps at the start of each chapter. Do I want white or cream paper? Then there was the cover and the description of the book and of me, the author. I ended up having someone do that for me because I felt ridiculous writing a glowing paragraph about myself. Actually designing the cover art was a lot of fun, it was just the details that ruined it.

Lesson #4 is what every one who has ever created anything has learned. It’s a cliché. It’s that you go through cycles of loving and hating what you’ve created. Lately I have more days of hating it and the only thing that really makes me happy about the book now is the thrill I’ll get of holding a printed copy in my hand and hearing my nearest and dearest say they enjoyed it.

I doubt I’ll ever read it again and I totally get why actors like Johnny Depp never watch their completed movies. I thought that was a prick thing to say but now I get it 100%.

Lesson #5 is that I suffer from postpartum depression. The second it was completed, I felt a hole inside of myself. I was totally empty. I missed that feeling of hope and purpose. I had something to do every day and I had dreams of how it may turn out.

That ended abruptly, even faster than that moment you have when you’re reading a really good book and then suddenly realize that it’s going to be over in a few pages. It’s depressing, even though you’ve loved it more than anything up to that point.

I think that’s why some people are so afraid to really chase their dreams. We need dreams and hope to keep us going. It’s really all we have besides our loved ones. If we put ourselves out there and fail, it’s very hard to get out of bed the next day or next month. There’s nothing left to believe in.

I think I’m not going to even pay attention to how my book is received. It doesn’t really matter and I have no control over it anyway. I loved writing it and I know my friends will enjoy it and that’s all I care about. I have already started my next outline and that’s what I care about now. On to the next project!

Incovenienced Abroad: Scared In Switzerland

This entry is mostly done by the lovely Amanda, guest blogger to this site and my partner in crime for my trip to Zürich on Cinco de Mayo.

When I got the invite to join Brian on his twenty-four hour Zürich overnight recently, I jumped at the chance. I am also a flight attendant, so I used my flight benefits to hop on his flight in and tour around the city for a fun weekend in another country. We had a great time wandering around Old Town Zürich, sitting on the lake, and just generally soaking up the local flavor. I love spontaneous adventures.

Little did I realize the adventure part was only just beginning when we met the rest of the crew in the lobby the next morning waiting for the hotel van. I was already a little nervous about my timing – I still had to check in at the ticket counter and make my way through both security and passport control before boarding the flight home. But the airport wasn’t too far away, and, as a standby passenger, my name wouldn’t be called until the end of the boarding process anyways. As long as I checked in pretty quickly, the ball would be rolling and I’d no doubt waltz to the gate at the beginning of boarding, at the very latest.

I wasn’t too nervous until I heard more than one person on the crew say, “Where in the world is our van?” My heart sank a little deeper each time I heard it. I looked at Brian’s face, and his eyes were fixed anxiously on the street outside where it was supposed to meet us.

Finally I heard someone announce its arrival, but my momentary relief washed away as the tired inbound crew very slowly hopped out.

I floated through the next few minutes, feeling a bit defeated and incredulous at my poor decision to not go to the airport on my own. Meanwhile, Brian explained to the van driver that I need to get to the ticket counter ASAP. Another pang of disappointment hit me as the driver replied, “Ticketing is in another building.” He then offered to drop me off there to save me a little time.

“Yeah, when he said that another building was involved I honestly thought there wasn’t a chance in hell she was going to make it. Even with an on-time pick up from the hotel it was going to be a photo finish. When the van came 20 minutes late I thought she had a 5% chance. Once I heard about this second building noise, I was already thinking of how I was going to explain it to everyone back home.

 I was going to come out looking like an asshole any way I spun it though. You don’t take your girlfriend on a trip to another country and leave her behind. I’ve never met her parents but I’m sure I’d be beaten severely the first time I did.”

The whole ride to Zürich Airport I wrung my hands nervously as I stared out the window at what I hoped would be my last glimpses of Switzerland for the day. The flight wasn’t full, that I was assured of, so I knew I wouldn’t be competing with other passengers to get on their flight, but I still had several hurdles ahead of me. Both Brian and the Captain assured me that they wouldn’t take off without me, and that was a bit of a relief. But who wants a delay attributed to them, especially when it was my own dumb choice to save a few bucks and not jump on the train by myself an hour earlier?

“I’m not really sure if I could’ve backed up that promise of not leaving without Amanda, but I felt like the words needed to be said to her at that moment to prevent a breakdown.”

We pulled up at Arrivals to drop off the crew. I watched everyone hop off without a care in the world. I don’t know if I felt more sad or stupid, but definitely a combination of the two. Brian and I stared at each other with forlorn eyes, hoping we’d be seeing each other again before the flight departed. The van driver got back in and drove me the 150 or so feet to the Departures area, and he quickly got my bags out for me and pointed me to the correct counter.

No one was in line! And there was an agent, hallelujah! All that panic for nothing!

I sighed with relief as I handed the agent my passport and ticket, telling her I was going to New York. She took them and began typing away on the computer. Suddenly, her countenance changed just a little, and she asked me when I packed my bags, and who packed them. I thought to myself that she must be new, because she seemed a little nervous when asking me. I told her I packed my bags, just an hour ago.

“When did you purchase your bags?”

Okay, I thought, this is getting a little weird. “Um, nine years ago and…thirteen years ago?” I had no idea.

“What electronics do you have on you?”

“A phone and a computer.”

“When did you purchase them?”

Oh my God! I don’t have time for this!

“Two years ago and six months ago.”

She turned around and led me with a wave to a counter behind her, where another agent was waiting, this one bubbly and cute. She was handed my passport and ticket, and I began to unclench a bit. After some typing and a little difficulty processing my ticket, which was solved with the help of a stocky and sturdy woman seated next to her, I was handed my boarding pass and passport with a smile. Whew! I turned around and started marching away. Success! And wow, I even had a seat assignment! 20E. And my name is Denise.

Wait a minute, no it’s not.

I immediately turned around and trotted back to the ticket counter, as wearing my backpack forced me to do. I saw the agent and anxiously informed her of the mix up. Her eyes widened, and she told her large coworker in German of the error. “Scheiße!!,” she yelled.

I laughed aloud at her loud swearing. It was funny, but I also was looking for something to distract me from my tension. The first coworker again got to work, still confused as to how to check me in, but after a phone call to a supervisor and checking, double-checking, and triple-checking my new boarding pass, I was off and trotting once more.

Security was a breeze, and I was once again reassuring myself that I’d been panicking for nothing. I couldn’t wait to see Brian and laugh with him at how silly it all was. I followed the signs pointing toward my gate number, and I felt like I was in the clear. I’d even considered browsing through Duty Free, because I’d already been through the two places that could possibly hold me up. I decided against it as soon as the perfume cloud wafted into my face, and headed down an escalator that led to the boarding area. When I got to the bottom, I saw a sign pointing toward Passport Control.

“I would have killed her if she showed up with a bunch of Duty Free purchases. I was absolutely freaking out while I was trying to get my First Class galley together. Every other second someone was asking me if she’d boarded yet or if I was starting to get worried. Ummm yeah, I was getting a tad concerned.”

I always get nervous walking through Customs. I’d blame the show “Locked Up Abroad,” but I think my minor fear had started before that. I guess I feel like I’m going to stutter when posed a question, as I sometimes do when I am on the spot, and it’s going to set off alarm bells, which will then bring about an interrogation in a dark room for hours, with one agent screaming in my face, another with a clipboard analyzing my behavior.

It’s never happened, but I fear it nonetheless. I gulped a little and went up to the friendliest-looking agent, a frizzy-haired lady named Claudia. She was talking to a plain-clothes agent in her booth and she cheerfully went over my passport. I began reviewing in my head how I’d answer the question I was expecting her to ask, which was why I’d only spent twenty-four hours in Switzerland.

Instead, after lots of typing, I noticed her brow furrow and her conversational tone turn inquisitive toward her booth mate as she pointed at the computer screen.

“Have you ever lost your passport?,” she asked me, but more in a friendly way than suspicious.

“No,” I’d responded, thinking little of it, “but I just used it yesterday.”

“Hmm. It looks like it was used again,” she said. The lump returned to my throat. “Are you sure you’ve never reported it lost or stolen?”

“No, never. I’m a flight attendant, I have it on me at all times.”

“So you’ve never lost it?” A big smile crossed her face, and she sang, “Never ever ever?”

I laughed nervously. “Never ever ever!”

“When does your flight leave?”

“In thirty-five minutes!”

She cartoonishly grabbed her hair, stuck out her tongue, and yelped. I couldn’t believe I was in the real world at this point. She called up a fellow agent, and she assured me that agent would be here right away and they would try to get it taken care of in time for me to catch my flight.

“At this point the gate agent had told me that she had checked in so I felt very good about her making the flight. My biggest fear had been that the flight was set to depart in less than an hour. Since my flight was the only one my airline operates each day, there’s no need to keep the counter open after the JFK flight checks in. I had no idea all of this drama was going on and there was no way she could let us know.”

The next agent, a very pretty younger woman, came to her booth and looked over the screen with her. I looked at this new agent pleadingly, hoping she would somehow make it all go away.

My hopes  were dashed when I saw her writing Claudia’s full name and badge number on a form. Claudia then said to me with a reassuring smile that I was to go with this new agent and it would be sorted out. I couldn’t bring myself to look around the room as I was being led away by the armed customs agent. I was absolutely sure that everyone around me thought I was about to start pooping balloons of cocaine in the Customs toilet (if that’s what they make people do). I’m sure that’s what they told their friends, at least. “You’ll never believe it, I saw a drug mule get arrested,” I’m sure they said. “She looked so guilty!”

I was led to an office in the corner of the room, where I was sat on a bench behind it, I suppose to avoid nosy stares from other passengers. I was again asked if I’d lost my passport ever in my life, and once again I answered with a confident NO!

She told me to wait there as she went into the frosted-glass office, where another officer had been sitting. They again stared at the computer, scratching their heads and obviously producing no answers. I tried desperately to send help messages telepathically to Brian on the plane. All I wanted was for him to reassure me, and I knew there was no way for that to happen. I wanted to cry, but I also wanted to hang on to the shred of hope I still had left.

“I did not receive that telepathic message.”

My final obstacle after this was to get to the gate and get on the plane, so if it was resolved soon, my fate would mostly be in my own hands. That said, I also began thinking out a contingency plan for flying back to the US whenever this fiasco was over.

I saw the female agent get up. Perhaps she had good news! She bent down to pick something up before walking out of the office. Something jingly.

HANDCUFFS!!!

I nearly fainted as I saw them. I’d done nothing wrong! I wondered if Brian would think I was cool if I went to a Swiss prison. That’s kind of hot, right?

“way hot.”

As soon as I saw and heard them, though, she’d clipped them to her belt. Of all the times to accessorize, she had to pick that moment! She looked at me empathetically, however, and said, “I am so sorry for all this, I am going to check with one more agent. Stay here, I’ll be right back.” She quickly disappeared, and so did my hope for getting on the flight. I watched everyone else walking freely to their gates, and I felt like a mangy dog at the pound, being passed over by prospective owners and aware my days were numbered.

Finally, I saw the agent quickly heading back toward me. I readied my wrists for the handcuffs, just in case. She again apologized. “We’ve found nothing. I’m very sorry, have a great day.” Really? Nothing? All of this and it was suddenly okay? I didn’t waste time asking more questions and I ran off like a crazy person toward the tram to my gate – the final obstacle.

Of course, the tram pulled away as I reached it. I tapped my foot nervously as I stood there sweaty and frazzled, physically feeling every second ticking down as I waited. The next tram finally arrived and I cursed its slow speed. When it arrived at the departure gates, my inner New Yorker came out and I pushed my way though the doors first and ran, no longer rolling my suitcase but running with it, down corridors and up the escalators, until my gate was in sight.

There were still plenty of people boarding. Success! My name was called shortly after at the podium so I could get my seat assignment. It was all over. I handed my ticket and passport to the final agent I had to go through. She was smiling until she put her hand up in a stop sign.

“Have your bags been out of your possession at any time?”

I looked around. No one else was being asked this question. I wasn’t imagining this – I was a suspect.

“No,” I replied with exasperation. She began looking through my passport and at my ticket again, and told me to wait. I started again trying to summon Brian with my mind, but that worked as well as it had the first time. She called a second agent over, and, with a raised eyebrow, pointed to the security sticker on my passport. He instantly told her it was fine. She waved me through. I felt like I had no physical or emotional strength left in my body as I entered the jet bridge. I could see Brian on the plane, watching for me to board. I collapsed in his arms with relief, trying to laugh about it, but not at all ready yet.

“I don’t think I’ll ever tell Amanda that she was being punked and all those agents were in on it. Even the inbound crew and the driver that were so late were in on it. Ok, not really.”

He quickly poured me a glass of champagne, which I drank so fast I nearly choked on it. I wondered what lay ahead of me in the US, but at least it would be on my own soil when I would potentially be held and questioned.

I slept through most of the flight home, except to occasionally review the situation with the crew and finally start laughing about it. I hurried off the plane in JFK, anticipating a problem, but got through Customs in a blink of an eye, perhaps because the agent was too busy reviewing the previous night’s basketball game with either a traveler or an agent in plain clothes going home for the night. I met Brian by baggage claim, and I don’t think I’ve ever chanted “USA!” with such little irony in my life.

Before we even started our trip to Zürich, Amanda said she wanted to write about it. I think she secretly sabotaged her ordeal to make it seem more dramatic/impressive, like in Chuck Palahniuk’s “Haunted.” At the very least she may have done it subconsciously :)

You can follow Amanda’s Twitter

And also My Twitter

The Prodigal Son Returns February 29, 2012

After 82 days of being off of work, I finally got the call to come back. Medical said I was good to go, healthy as an ox. Well, they said to come up to New York and then maybe in a day or so they’d put me back in the mix. Of course none of the departments know what the other one is doing so for the past five days Scheduling has thought I’ve been back and has put me in the pool of flight attendants subject to receiving top-secret orders to God knows where.

Luckily they never assigned me anything on those days when I was still at home. That would’ve been a problem, especially if they would’ve called last night when my friends were throwing me an impromptu Goodbye Party at a seedy strip club in North Central Austin. I would’ve been excused from the missed assignment, but them not calling saved me even more annoying paper work and calls to my Supervisor.

She’s been my Supervisor for over 8 years now and until December, I never knew what she looked like, or what her first name was. She didn’t know me from Adam and we liked it that way. I didn’t bother her and she didn’t bother me. Now I have her on speed dial and know everything about her. I’m pretty sure I have her menstrual cycle down at this point.

I was hoping I’d come back to work with a spring in my step and a fresh sense of willingness to please, or at least not to be so quick to get annoyed with people. Whenever I catch myself getting annoyed by absolutely everyone I come into contact with, I know it’s time to take a few days off and get back to Neutral. After a week I’m recharged and ready for anything. After 82 days, I figured it’d be weeks before I roll my eyes or snap at a stranger. That’s what I was praying for at least.

The first test was passed with much ease. I made it through the Austin airport with no problem, most likely because I was still asleep and I don’t remember even being there. It wasn’t until we pushed back that the sun even came up. That was 11 hours ago. I honestly cannot remember a single detail of my hour I spent at the airport other than looking into Earl Campbell’s restaurant and wanting the signed Oilers jersey on the wall.

The flight was jam-packed, but that didn’t bother me, at least I got on the plane. I love flying for free. I slept through the entire flight. I love having the window seat. I couldn’t pick out the lady who sat next to me if you paid me a million dollars. I was in my own little world. So far so good. I love floating through non revving.

When we landed, I patiently waited for all the other passengers to get off the plane. I didn’t stand and stare at the front of the line while huffing or puffing. I sat there with my seat beat buckled and stared out the window at the bundled up baggage handlers doing their thing in the freezing rain.

Once the coast was clear and all the other non-revs were helping the crew clean the cabin, I snuck out and headed down to collect the bag I checked. Again, I was a little Fonzie, even when the bratty little kids kept riding the baggage carousel and kicking me as they went by.

Things started to fall apart a little bit when I was walking to the Air Train. An Indian man was racing to get to that terminal’s station which was about 1000 meters away. On moving sidewalk 4 in a series of 6, he decided to look for his wife, who was somewhere behind him. When he turned and saw that I was right on his heels and his wife was nowhere to be found, that was somehow my fault. He glared and of course I took it personally and went into defensive mode.

I thought he was going to say something to me and I was ready to reply, “Who runs off and leaves their wife and doesn’t turn around to check on her every minute or so? Prick!”

He never said anything to me, but I had already played out the entire fight in my mind and lived through all the emotions.  It was exhausting. I wasn’t in a good place. It was just as detrimental as if I had actually had the fight with the man.

On the Air Train a young, dirty Spanish couple annoyed me because they got on the train, plopped down their massive backpacks, and blocked the entrance from anyone else to get on. I was on and had a seat already, so it shouldn’t have concerned me, but I felt the aggravation of everyone else trying to get on the train. I took their ire upon my own shoulders, even though they didn’t seem to be bothered that much at all. They simply stepped over the obstacle and kept on with their lives.

I was feeling myself getting into the red and I was only on that train for three minutes before I got off at my terminal. I didn’t like where this was going. All of that time in Texas decompressing and within an hour in New York and we’re back in the dark place.

It was unbelievable, but I made it through security with no fuss at all. If anything, I was the one who slowed the process down. I perfectly fine being the weakest link and I’m very quick to apologize to everyone waiting on my ass. Getting past that potentially hellish encounter got me feeling optimistic again.

The last test of the kinder/gentler Brian was going through the Flight Attendant Operations area. Once I get to Ops I’m officially back into the world of working flight attendants. I usually try to walk through there with my blinders on and ears off. I don’t want to hear any of the inane babble the flight attendants are usually engaged in or hear their fights about whose stuff is on “my chair.”

Shockingly, it went very well too. No one was fighting over what to watch on the television and the dinosaurs who just transferred into New York from other cities weren’t complaining about what they held and how they thought they’d be able to fly better trips. No, make that they weren’t complaining about how they have all “paid their dues” and DESERVE to be flying better schedules. I honestly want to kill those people.

I guess what I’m saying is that the jury is still out on whether or not I’m going to be nice to the passengers and my coworkers. I didn’t miss the job at all during the last three months, but as far as jobs go, I have a very good one. I still know that. At the same time though, on the way to the crash pad I stopped by the bodega to buy a lottery ticket. The Mega Millions is now over 100 million. Let’s make that happen.

Memories of the Costa Concordia

As almost everyone knows, Costa’s Concordia ship, carrying 4,200 passengers and crew, had its hull ripped open when it hit rocks late on Friday the 13th, just hours into a Mediterranean cruise. By tonnage, it is the largest passenger ship to ever sink, even though technically it’s only partially sunk.

Captain Francesco Schettino is under house arrest, accused of causing the crash. Prosecutors have also accused him of fleeing the Costa Concordia before evacuation was complete. Dickhead.

He’s now saying that he tripped into the lifeboat and couldn’t get out. If the Italians hadn’t already given themselves a horrible reputation for their soccer players feigning fouls and diving to get free kicks, then maybe we could believe that. But we’re onto them. Nice try.

I have different mental images of that ill-fated vessel than the ones I’ve seen this week. I’ve only been on two cruises in my life and the first was a 7-Day Western Mediterranean cruise on the Concordia starting in Rome with stops in Savona, Barcelona, Mallorca, Tunisia, Malta, and Sicily in 2007. I loved it, it was one of the best weeks ever.

I’m trying to figure out if the same dude was the Captain back then. I saw him at the Captain’s dinner one night and he looks like the guy in handcuffs on the news, but who knows. I’m pretty sure it’s him, but maybe I’m discovering that I think that all middle-aged Italian guys look exactly the same. 2012 is certainly a year of self-discovery. The SOPA blackout/boycott is slowing down my research efforts, but I fully support it.

In the next few months that ship will slowly be removed and God only knows what will happen to its remains. I made several friends who worked as waiters, chambermaids, and card dealers on that ship that week. I don’t know if they’re still employed there or not, but I really hope they’re safe.

This is the way I’d prefer to remember the Concordia. A little trip down memory lane.

My friend Kenny a few minutes after we realized that they gave us a full bed instead of two twins. The problem was being fixed while we toured the ship.

Didn’t feel like doing the safety demonstration so we skipped it. It was going to take way too long since they had to do it in seven languages.

Our favorite Romanian casino girls. Oh, so many Euros went into their pretty little hands.

The most patient waiter I’ve ever met, he had to deal with the only table of Americans. I tried to recruit him for my airline.

Kimma, who kept our mixers full and our illegal vodka a secret from The Man.

Mimi playing with the slots

Me ripping up Mimi’s room-service breakfast order after a disagreement. I’m not sure if I’ve ever told her that I did that. Hee hee, sorry Mimi ;)

The Kings of the Roulette tournament

The big winners of the Black Jack tournament, Kenny was the only one on the ship that made both finals! Yes, he has two of those cheesy shirts.

Kenny winning over the mother of the one young hot chick in the disco on Singles Night

The best part about cruising with an Italian company, the kick-ass all night pizza

Fun at the ports- kickin’ it in Barcelona

And while we were on the La Pedrera roof, we saw this photo shoot going on next door! Every male on the roof took this same photo.

Pulling into Savona, a view from the top

My first taste of Africa, a very watered down taste in Tunis

Poor Kenny got talked into buying a rug. I call this photo, “Buyer’s Remorse”

Beautiful Malta. While I was taking this photo a big wave came and captured all the groceries I’d just purchased, along with my favorite pair of pink/gray checkered Vans that I’d kicked off for a sec. The barefoot walk across town back to the ship was very painful, emotionally and physically.

A glimpse of the gladiator’s life at the Coliseum. And of cats, many many cats.

Whenever accidents happen it’s so easy to let it go in one ear and out the other. Every single day something horrible happens on some part of this planet and because of the internet, we hear about every single one, often while it’s still happening.

We’d all be suicidal if we took the time to really care about all these things going on in our world. It’s just not possible to give a shit about every single thing you see flash on your newsfeed on Facebook or on the evening news.

To be honest, I didn’t think too much about the cruise ship hitting rocks and going down, even after I heard that there were fatalities. It was just another depressing news story. In one ear and out the other.

When you have a personal connection to the tragedy, however, everything changes. Once I found out that it was my Concordia, I gave a shit. I remember that holiday like it was yesterday, even though we all admitted Costa was pretty low-budget. I hope all the people I met on that trip are ok.

I guess I should also realize that in every depressing news story I choose to ignore, that there are people who are personally connected and it’s ruining their world. I’ll try to work on my sympathy/empathy in 2012 as well as this apparent prejudices against middle-aged Italian men I seem to have.

See they all look the same to me! Am I wrong? And to make things equal, some girls to look at too. Something for everybody. Have a nice day.

My Anti-Bucket List

Everyone talks about what they would like to do before they die and yeah, I have a mental list too. But how about stopping for a second and appreciating the badass stuff you’ve already done? Stop living in the future (which will never come) and take a moment to appreciate the things you managed to do thus far, just in case you don’t wake up in the morning.

I just went to the doctor today and let’s just pretend that she told me that I’m not going to survive the night. Here are some things I’ve done and places I’ve gone that I’m really excited about and proud of.

I’m so thankful that I had these experiences. So glad that I…

Took a year off of work to just travel and be with my family during the holidays. I didn’t get another job, I just went to California, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii and spent many weeks in Austin and Oklahoma City with family.

Went to the World Cup. I saw the US play Ghana in Nuremberg, Germany in 2006. I still think it was a bullshit penalty call at the end of the first half!

Went to Stonehenge.

Experienced the back room at a strip club. I was in WAY over my head back then. I’d do much better now.

Floated in the Dead Sea.

Got a degree. I was even on the Dean’s List my last semester! somehow.

Saw the Grand Canyon.

Published both photography and some of my writing, and both have won contests, not that winning a contest was a goal. Still, it’s nice to be recognized. PS, writing award came when I was in high school.

Lived in New York City. And not just for a little while until it got the better of me, I left on my terms after more than a decade.

Won at a proper Bingo game with 100+ people in attendance. I don’t know if you know what it feels like half a second before you yell out BINGO to 500 people, but it’s a whirlwind of emotions, mostly fear that you messed up and don’t really have a BINGO and you’re going to be utterly embarrassed.

Saw the Sistine Chapel. Briefly. Then I got kicked out for taking pictures. Ditto with the Last Supper. And Mona Lisa. And Birth of Venus. And Starry Night.

Sat in the Kop at Anfield Stadium in Liverpool for a soccer game.

Saw Morrissey in concert. Though that first happened when I was fifteen and has been done several times since then.

Saw a Beatle in concert. Thank God it was Paul.

Took a road trip across America. From Los Angeles to Austin and all the way to NYC.

Saw a Dallas Cowboy game in person on Thanksgiving Day. It was in 1987 and Minnesota beat Dallas 44-38 in overtime with the backfield of Tony Dorsett and Herschel Walker. It’s one of only two NFL games I’ve ever been to.

Went to a big time, legendary, 3-day music festival in Europe. Every year now I do the Reading Festival outside of London, but only one day of it, while I’m on the job and getting paid at the same time.

Had a cliché, yet crazy week in Amsterdam. Ditto for Vegas.

Experienced the Great Barrier Reef. The first time is always the best.

Saw a live show at CBGB’s. They were all amazing, but the last one I saw was the best because by then we knew it was going to close down in a couple of weeks.

Visited a country where I understood none of the written or spoken language, yet managed to get by. Hand gestures and smiling goes a long way.

Well, I ran out of things so I did a google search for other people’s Bucket Lists and here are some of the things I’ve done that are on theirs. It’s amazing how EVERYONE has Swim with Dolphins on theirs! I’ve never done it and don’t really care that much to. They also all have Learn to Surf. That’s probably on mine as well.

Anyways: feed a koala, attend a high school reunion, test drive a car I cannot afford, stomp grapes, go to a Peter Gatien club in NYC, see a taping of David Lettermen, visit the Eiffel Tower at night, throw a coin into the Trevi Fountain, watch a show on Broadway, see the Shire, successfully bluff a stranger in a high stakes poker game, play strip poker, and see Michael Jackson in person (at the Disney Store in NYC)

It’s both inspiring and heartbreaking reading other people’s Bucket Lists. You see the same things over and over again and a lot of them are so obtainable! I don’t understand why they don’t just take a deep breath and give it a go. Some would take just a day to complete!

I guess people would say the same thing about the dreams I have though. My favorite lists that I came across today were the ones that would have check marks next to the ones they’ve done. There are some really young people out there who have done some amazing things. It was motivating. It really made me want to get off my ass and make things happen. Then again, there are some messed up things people consider goals and ambitions. Their priorities are WAY out of whack i.e. Get Someone Fired.

November 28, 2011- Manchester, UK

I didn’t really celebrate the fact that Frank and I were going to make our soccer game in Liverpool until we started our descent into Manchester, which happened to be when our plane was right above Liverpool. True, some things could happen that might prevent us from making it in, but all the major hurdles had been cleared.

I made it to the airport on time (left an hour earlier than usual). Our plane made it into JFK. Our plane was all patched up. We had a full complement of crew members. There was no inclement weather. Those are the most likely things to screw up a trip.

Of course the most definite way to assure a cancellation or diversion is to actually vocalize the fact that you have plans in whatever city you’re going to. Then you’re screwed. You tell the crew you have dinner plans in Vegas that night, you’re going to end up in Sacramento.

Once we got up in the air I felt pretty good, but once we landed I felt fantastic. We got to the Arora Hotel at around 8am and my alarm was set for 12:45pm in order to meet in the lobby at 1pm. I figured we’d get to Piccadilly Station at around 1:20pm, jump on a train at 1:30pm, arrive in Liverpool at 2:30pm, get to Anfield by cab at 3pm, and have plenty of time to shop at the club store before kick off at 4pm against the undefeated league leaders Manchester City, the New York Yankees of the Premiership with all the money they spend. I’m only slightly worried about the crowd on our train from Manchester to Liverpool. Don’t want any incidents with the away fans!

I tried to sleep, but I’m just too excited. I’m like a kid at Christmas. Or it could be that I’m not as tired as I should be because I didn’t have to work at all on the flight over and spent most of the time sitting in a First Class seat sleeping, editing photos, or trying to kill the baby roach that insisted on hanging around seat 1F.

When I heard the church bells chime at 10am, I knew sleep wasn’t going to happen. I killed a few minutes by putting in all the UK numbers I had into my new UK phone. Putting those two numbers in took about four minutes. I tested both out and immediately got responses from the recipients. Ok, now what to do with myself?

I got dressed and decided to take a walk since the early morning gloom had given way to bright blue skies. I proudly put on my Liverpool jersey and wisely covered it up with my puffy winter jacket. I grabbed my camera, the nice one, and took off towards Salford, not knowing exactly how far it was. I wanted to see the iconic Salford Lads Club from The Smiths lore.

When I came to my first Starbucks I jumped in and utilized their free internet. I got a white chocolate something-or-other to ensure I kept up the energy, though it made my stomach hurt from sweetness. I caught up on all my games of Words with Friends and sent WhatsApp messages to friends in Texas, Australia, and London. I looked up how far away Salford was and decided to just go to the Manchester Cathedral instead. I hear the bells chime eleven times en route. It’s a beautiful day and not a cloud in the sky. The red brick buildings were glowing like blood in the sun.

After a quick spin around the grounds, I started heading in whichever direction looked most interesting. I never really got to anything of note, but it was fun to explore. I stumbled across a random little vintage clothing store and went in. As much as I would’ve loved to have purchased something just so I could say, “Oh I got this at a hole-in-the-wall thrift store in Manchester,” there really wasn’t anything I wanted, at least not for those prices. Fail.

I came across the Hard Rock Cafe which normally wouldn’t even catch my attention, but the Manchester one might have some decent stuff inside. Maybe they have memorabilia from The Smiths, Stone Roses, Charlatans, Happy Mondays, Joy Division, Oasis, James, or any of the other iconic Mancunian bands. I don’t go in though.

I got some good pics of the Christmas market and of random buildings, but nothing to get super excited about. My photo shoot two days ago in South Kensington London was much more productive. While I’m trying to figure out which way my hotel is, I hear the bells chime twelve times. I pass by China Town and by the Monkey Bar. I’ve never been there but I know it’s very close to the hotel. Within five minutes I’m back in my room. Fifty minutes before I meet Frank in the lobby. I’m killing time now going between the two music video channels, both of which are having Top Christmas songs countdowns. Wham is on now.

The plan is to catch the last train from Liverpool back to Piccadilly at 11pm but more realistically I think we’ll be getting the first train in the morning, the 3am, especially if we win. Last time Chuck and his mates took us out after a game we ended up break dancing on a lighted disco floor at 3am.

Well…. we made it to Liverpool with no problem, even though we had to stand the entire way on the train. Thankfully most of the riders were wearing Liverpool red rather than City blue. When we got off the train Frank noticed Elvis Costello sitting at the Costa coffee cafe in the station. He looked exactly how you’d expect him to look. I took that as a good sign for today’s game. Not sure why.

We go out and join the queue for the cabs and did our customary thing of looking for other people in Liverpool jerseys and asking them if they wanted to share a cab to Anfield Stadium. Elvis was our first choice. We found a couple of Kuwaiti guys instead. I’d never met anyone from Kuwait but they were really friendly and hated Manchester City and their owner, billionaire Sheikh Mansour bin Zaved Al Nahvan of the UAE. They paid for our cab and wouldn’t let us chip in, very nice indeed.

We did a little shopping before the game, I bought a bootleg shirt from the hole in the wall place for six pounds, as is my custom. Frank buys stuff from the official club store which is way more expensive but the money does go to the club, so he’s doing his part funding the purchases of thirty-five million pound gangly, clumsy strikers that look like soft-core porn stars you see on Cinemax. (see above)

Our seats were in the famous Kop end of the stadium. The name comes from the German “Kopf,” meaning “Head.” Back in the day there were no seats, it was standing room only and it got very tight in there. And rowdy. And loud. And sometimes dangerous. This is what The Kop was like during the Beatles heyday, before the game even started. The Kop can be very intimidating to visiting teams and the Kopites are what the Oakland Raider fans in the Black Hole or the Bleacher Creatures in New York strive to be. They don’t come close.

Nowadays it’s a little more civil but we relished the chance to take our place in history as official Kopites. Once they played “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and we had a sing along with 45,000 other fans in red, Frank finally admitted that we’d made it.

The game was good, bad, and ugly. Manchester dominated the first half and scored first. The boisterous crowd fell deathly silent in the 30th minute, except for a tumultuous roar coming from the far corner where everyone was wearing a girly shade of blue. Somehow Manchester scored off of a corner kick, I think it got redirected off of a shoulder but no one could argue that they deserved to be up. It looked as if we’d never even get a shot off, much less score a goal, but somehow a horrible shot got deflected in the net by a Manchester defender and we went into halftime tied. At that point I would’ve been thrilled for the draw against the undefeated Blues.

The second half was a completely different story. We dominated possession and finally started getting some chances. The best part about that was that Liverpool was shooting at the goal we were sitting directly behind. We had the best seats in the house. Manchester couldn’t stop our midfielders but we never quite finished our attacks. Manchester brought on their highly controversial Italian striker Balotelli, who’s as famous for his wonder-goals as he is for his bizarre haircuts, temper tantrums, and setting his house on fire by shooting off fireworks from inside.

He’s only twenty-one and has enormous potential but his temper is legendary and now opposing players know how to push his buttons. He came on halfway through the second half and eighteen minutes later he got his second yellow card and was sent to the showers. I’m not sure how much he got paid for those 18 minutes but I’m sure it’s too much. He broke down a door in the dressing room out of frustration, another fine is coming his way I’m sure.

Even with a man advantage for the last ten minutes, Liverpool couldn’t quite get one in the net. That was mainly because the Manchester goalie, who is also the England keeper, played out of his mind and pulled some amazing saves out of his ass. When the final whistle blew both teams were somewhat pleased with the draw. It was a fantastic game to watch nonetheless.

That should’ve been the end of a long day but it was just the start. We met my friend Chuck and Frank’s twizzler-loving friend Aaron after the game by the famous Shankly statue, and made our way back in town, stripping down every minute of the game and what we should’ve done differently. I thought they should have brought on Craig Bellamy but it turns out that he told the coach that he was too upset to play because his dear friend Gary Speed committed suicide that day. Understandable.

Aaron had to catch a train down to London so we had a couple of quick pints at the White Star pub in Lime Street Station. We checked, but Elvis had left the building. Chuck’s mate Doug showed up and then another guy Steve. A night for the bulls. Frank and I suggested we find a cheaper place, maybe somewhere with food, but they only listened to half of our request.

We went to the student bar, The Flute, but it was not happening. Sunday night is not a good night for that place. We had our obligatory one drink while we watched Barcelona get shut out on television and then walked down to another pub.

More discussion of the squad followed as well as another break-down of how each and ever player performed and who the ultimate striking partner for Suarez should be. We all thought Lucas was simple brilliant as a defensive midfielder. The experts agreed and named him Man of the Match.

Frank and I begged for food and we finally got our wish, a dirty pizza slash kebab joint where you could get a regular pizza for just 3.50. Not a slice mind you, an entire small pizza. We super-sized to the large, which was only 5 quid. We inhaled it and then continued our journey down the road to Hannah’s pub. Hannah’s had a power outrage so everything was dark except for a single candle on each table and a few along the bar. It looked too much like a seance so we took off for a much livelier place, the Shipping Forecast, via the Swan, of course.

More drinks came and I was struggling to keep up. I’m always the slowest drinker with Chuck and his mates and I really should know better than getting into a round with them. I’m usually half way done with my pint when they’re ready for the next round so they’ll tease me until I chug what’s left. Next time I really need to do bottles rather than pints. It’s only slightly less beer, but that little bit might save my ass.

For some reason someone ordered Strawberry beer, so there were glasses of that in front of just Frank and I. I’m guessing the guys ordered those as a joke, but we drank them, like the well-trained monkeys that we are. I think at the end of the night I was trying to introduce Liverpool to Pickleback shots but no one was onboard. They were cool with the shot of Jameson, but skeptical of the pickle juice chaser. I felt like Marty McFly when he was trying to explain his guitar solo to the horrified kids at the 1955 Enchantment Under the Sea Dance.

The last train is at 11pm so we head back to the train station at the last second and they throw us on. The train was packed but we managed to find seats. The carriage was full of drunk Man City fans and they were having the time of their lives. They were still drinking, smoking pot, dancing around, and singing Manchester songs. I tried my best to sleep, but every time I closed my eyes, everything started spinning. I hate to think how bad I’d be if we didn’t have that pizza.

Frank wasn’t feeling well at all, he looked green and his eyes were glazing over. I couldn’t look at him without feeling more sick. That hour train ride seemed like seventeen.  I only have two good memories of the train ride. One was of one of the drunk Mancs trying to climb into the overhead storage rack and falling out onto the floor with a massive thud. The other was going by where the infamous Hacienda night club/live music venue used to be. I was excited to see that. Madchester.

I don’t remember us getting home but we must’ve stopped by Tesco Express because I have a bag from there in my room and some random half-eaten snacks. I think I fell right asleep and even though that 8am wake-up call came way too early, I don’t feel that bad. Out of all the nights I’ve spent with Chuck since I met him in 1999, this is BY FAR the best I’ve ever felt the morning after, only slightly nauseous and a headache on the side.

I took some trusty-rusty Advil gel caps and downed a bottle of water so I think the headache will be done by the time I shower, shave, and watch the highlights of the game on the telly. Having a freshly shaven face gives the illusion to the passengers that I was a good boy the night before and they’re getting me at my best.

It wasn’t the ideal result for the team yesterday, but the night was just fantastic. The best part was that I got to have it on a layover so I’m getting paid for all of it. It’s trips like this that really make me praise my job and wonder why I’d ever give it up to do anything else.

Straight Guy Lesson #21- Sleeping in Airports

Sometimes I sleep in airports, not very often, but sometimes I have to. Sometimes I try to sleep in airports but can’t, like when I was in Amman. Remember that?

When I’m in a city that happens to be a crew base for my airline, I get to leave the terminal area cluttered with the riff-raff and enjoy the VIP area which is Flight Attendant Operations. Its “Quiet Room” isn’t that nice, but at least there are semi-comfortable places to sleep. In New York we get big comfy reclining chairs. In some other airports there are little cots.

When I walk through airports where something dramatic has happened, like a massive snow storm that caused cancellations, I always feel sorry for all the people just stuck in the airport with nowhere to go. They find any and every place they can to sleep: benches, the conveyor belt by where you check in, the shoeshine man’s chair, or even on top of their own luggage. Pretty much anywhere you won’t get stepped on is a good enough spot in an airport.

Those people have to deal with a lot of crap out there, too. There’s always some guy on a phone ranting, raving, whining, and moaning about the situation, making a bad situation even worse. They also have to deal with the cleaning crew and their loud machines. Then there’s the worry that someone will steal your shit or that you might sleep through your rescheduled flight. It’s not a peaceful night is what I’m saying.

So when I tell my friends that I had to spend the night at JFK, they really feel sorry for me because that’s what they imagine. Then I tell them that I’m not out in the terminal with the commoners, I’m in a secure area that’s dark and reasonably quiet. When they hear about the Quiet Room they quit feeling sorry for me and think I have the best set-up possible. It sounds lovely to them. I let them think that.

This is what I never tell my friends though, there are a myriad of other issues in that sixteen-recliner Quiet Room in Flight Attendant Operations that make the experience a living hell. For one, there are mice in there. That is probably my smallest complaint out of all the ones I’m about to mention, but others would disagree.

First of all, you have to find a seat. You’re not supposed to save seats for yourself or your friends but people do it anyways. Some people will lay out their blanket on a chair at 9am, work a turn-around trip that returns at 10pm the same day, and then take their seat. This sucks for the people who commute into JFK at around noon and have to work a flight that departs in the evening. Having a little cat nap really recharges you, but all the seats might be taken by people who aren’t even there. And you can’t just move someone’s stuff if you think they’re not really there, flight attendants are very possessive of their stuff and if you incorrectly guess that they’re on a trip and they’re not, there WILL be a major fight.

Last time I was in the Quiet Room a fist fight nearly broke out. A guy had his backpack on a seat, but elected to hang out outside the room while he made some phone calls. That was the right thing for him to do. Another guy comes into the Quiet Room at around 2am and looks for a recliner. They’re all taken except for the one that has the backpack on it. The guy moves the bag to the floor and climbs into the chair. He reclines it back to its optimal, horizontal position and falls asleep. Half an hour later the guy comes in for his seat and sees that this other guy moved his stuff and stole his chair, the last chair.

Of course he wakes the guy up and that guy gets pissed off. They argue about whose seat it was until everyone in the room is awake and grumbling. Neither guy budges and they start to get rough with each other, or so it sounds, the rest of us aren’t watching, just listening. After a couple minutes, an innocent lady just trying to get some sleep comes up to them and quietly asks them to have their conversation outside so we can sleep. You’d think they’d understand and oblige, but the chair stealer starts going off on her as well, telling her “to get her damn hands off of him.” He sounded kinda like George McFly when he was saving Loraine from Biff, except he was talking to an old lady about his own body. Pathetic.

Up until that point we were just listening from under our covers, but when it sounded like a lady was going to be hit, we all sprung up and told the chair-stealer guy to Get the Fuck Out! This happens more often than you’d think.

Even if there aren’t fights breaking out over saved seats and you have the best case scenario where everyone else is soundly asleep, you’re still not in a good place. At any given time there will be five snorers and at least three farters. The last time I was in there we had a guy who talked in his sleep, but he was yelling at his Supervisor. I thought it was hilarious, but it did cost me half an hour of precious sleep.

Then there are the Ambien zombies. You really don’t know what to expect from them. One girl started masturbating in her chair and was really loud about it. Another guy got up to piss but never made it out of the Quiet Room, he just went against the wall next to a girl. The room had to be evacuated and shut down for a day while a special bio-cleaning team sterilized the room. One guy decided to go from recliner to recliner to try to snuggle up with whatever person happened to be asleep in there. He didn’t get very far and the authorities were involved. This one colleague took off all her clothes and slept on top of her blanket. I guess she got hot.

There is always one person who forgets to turn off the ringer to their phone and another who decides to play Angry Birds with the sound on under their blanket when they have insomnia. That one also makes me laugh for a second, but then I get annoyed.

The first flights in the morning depart around 5:30am so some people are waking up at 4am to get ready. Alarms will go off every ten minutes from 4am until around noon and you can’t wear ear plugs because then you’ll miss your own alarm when it needs to go off. I tried the vibration route one time, but my phone fell out of my pocket and in between the seat cushions. Luckily I missed a flight to visit a friend, not one that I was supposed to be working.

I don’t think I’ve ever slept more than four hours in there, but I know I couldn’t have done any better out in the terminal area with the other refugees. My lesson here today isn’t how to make it work when you have to spend the night at an airport. The lesson is: Don’t be Cheap, Get a Damn Hotel Room. No matter what the cost.

Why this Thanksgiving is going to be Wonderful

From my journal- the day after Thankgiving last year.

“I feel like I was just in the sequel of Plains, Trains, and Automobiles- only the after-hours version and with a Hispanic cast.

We didn’t land in San Antonio until after 2am thanks to a wheel issue at JFK that delayed our departure. The Purser said he was going to make a PA seeing if anyone was driving the eighty-two miles up to Austin but must have forgotten.  I didn’t care, I felt weird about asking strangers for a ride so far in distance.

When I got down to the Ground Transportation area I weighed my options again.  I gave up with the rental car idea.  It was going to cost too much.  I had to decide between waiting until 6am and flying to DFW then to AUS and landing at 9:30am or catching the 3:40am Greyhound bus.  When I did the math I realized that if I did the bus, I’d be home right when that first flight was taking off.  I figured it’d cost about $60 to take a cab to the bus station, buy a ticket, and pay for another cab to the AUS airport to where my car was patiently waiting.

I went outside and caught the one and only cab at the airport.  She was an older lady and slightly bizarre.  I asked her if she knew where the bus station was and she said she was very familiar with it.  I felt good about my decision.  At least I was still moving, still making progress.

I get to the downtown bus station at around 2:45am and took in the reality of my surroundings.  I was in a San Antonio bus station at 3am on Thanksgiving night.  If I ever needed to be reminded of my blessings, I didn’t after seeing that scene.  It was seedy as hell.  I was the only white person in there, which I didn’t mind at all, though people were looking at me like they did mind.  I didn’t like, however, that I was wearing my business casual attire from the plane.  I looked too good for the bus station, which of course I felt too good for as well.

I bought my $24 ticket and went over to the all night cafe.  I tried to special order a grilled cheese sandwich but the old Mexican lady wouldn’t let me order off the menu.  I had crinkly fries and a Mr. Pibb instead.  I didn’t want to ruffle any feathers by explaining all the elements for a grilled cheese sandwich were right there in front of her. I mean, I could see them! I accidentally spilled some of my soda on the ground, making a sticky floor even stickier.

While I was eating a Border Patrol agent strolled through and checked everyone out.  He even went into the kitchen and closets to see if illegal aliens were hiding out.  Even the Border Patrol guy was Mexican.  I wonder if they see him as a sell out. I kinda did.

I texted a little but not much.  I didn’t want to show off my fancy Android in front of some of these people who looked homeless and desperate. When buses came and went the announcements were in Spanish first and then English, as an after thought or maybe just to humor me.  The bus going to Austin, Dallas, and then onwards came from Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, straight up I-35.

As bizarre as the people in the bus station were (all men), the ones already on the bus coming from Mexico were even more so.  Even the bus driver was shady.  I thought he was just the kid helping with the baggage.  He took my suitcase and put it under the bus.  He smirked at me without a single tooth in his mouth.  I was shocked and horrified when he got behind the wheel and took us out of the station.  He honestly looked 15.

I then had the monumental task of picking a seat.  I thought I’d want to stay near the driver for safety but after seeing him, maybe I should get as far away from him as possible.  I headed to the back and it looked like some had been on that bus for weeks.  Little tents had been made out of towels and blankets in the seats.  It looked like a shanty town.  Amazingly it smelled ok.  The very back of the bus was taken up by a tweaked up looking couple, guarding the bathroom.  I stayed in the middle of the bus, right behind an older Mexican lady who I thought might be a whore.  I wondered if whores worked on buses and it wouldn’t shock me if they do.

After a few minutes I realized that she’s with the big fat Mexican with all the scars on his head sitting in the row in front of her.   She turned around and smiled at me, but I just stared out the window.  Most people had a row to themselves, two seats, so they were sprawled and asleep.  I wished to God that I could take pictures of all of this.  I wanted to do that as soon as I got to the bus station, and even more so when I got onto the bus.  It reminded me slightly of the bus ride scene in Trainspotting, only much seedier.

The lady in front of me with the tight jeans and dyed red hair got phone calls all the way to Austin.  I heard her at one time talking about how she was pissed that we didn’t have alcohol on the bus.  I slept on and off but the ride was only an hour and a half.  I woke up and opened the curtain to see downtown Austin passing by and then the Capitol.  It would just be another couple of miles before we exited.  I used to live near the bus station but have only been there once, in college, when I had to pick up a crazy Oklahoma girl from the station when she ran away from home to live with me, uninvited and unwanted.  Of course I didn’t know that she’d run away when I picked her up, I just thought she was coming down for a long weekend and would be heading home Monday morning. Not a good weekend.

I didn’t really want to get off the bus.  I wanted to just keep going.  I was tired and I didn’t really mind being on the Twin Peaks bus.  I felt like I was on an adventure and it was so surreal.  I’d love to just sleep for hours and see where I woke up.  I also didn’t want to think about trying to get a cab at 5am, going all the way back down to the airport and then driving to my northern suburb of Round Rock.

I heard the next stop was going to be Round Rock so I thought about just staying on and forgetting about my car for the time being.  I didn’t though.  I got off with the older Mexican hooker and got a look at the young guy in a pick-up who picked her up at the station. He acted like he didn’t know her.

It was still pitch black outside and very cold.  I had no idea what to do next.  I thought maybe cabs would be out hanging out.  Ones were outside the San Antonio bus station.  After five minutes of standing in the cold I thought about my options.  I could walk across the highway and get to the Ramada hotel.  From there I could call a cab.  I got out my phone and did a google search for Austin cabs.  I found a website and was just about to call the number when I looked up and saw a cab from the very same company passing by.

I waved frantically at him and within a minute I was warm and on my way to the airport.  I had the same random conversation with this older man as I did with the older woman in San Antonio, mainly revolving around Thanksgiving dinner and how not many people are needing cabs tonight.  Of course not, it’s the most family oriented night of the year.  It was depressing that neither really got that.  I tried not to dwell on that fact. It was depressing.

The streets were dead and empty, still pitch black.  I was exhausted and tried not to chit-chat but the guy was bored and lonely so he kept asking me questions about how I got to Austin from New York at such a weird hour.  I think I answered him but I’m really not sure.  I was so fucking tired.

He drops me off at the terminal and I start walking. I walked through the covered parking garage where the rich people park, out through short-term parking lot, and into long-term parking.  I look around and check for Parking Lot D.  According to the text I sent myself two-week ago, I’m parked in D13. My car was there, safe and sound.

I drive the thirty-minute drive home, in darkness still. I don’t see another car going my direction the entire time.  I listen to a mix of Joy Division, MGMT, The Normals, The Smiths, Radiohead, Pavement, and The Postal Service. This was not at all how I envisioned spending this Thanksgiving or any Thanksgiving, but it’ll make me appreciate every single one for the rest of my life. It was a good reality check.”

Random side note- look at the photo of the Austin skyline again. Notice anything weird? Where is the moon’s reflection? Photoshop=lame!

Straight Guy Lesson #20- Seat Back Pockets

For as long as there’s been air travel, passengers, flight attendants, and cleaning crews alike have been fascinated by the contents of the seat back pockets.

They always remind me of that game on The Price is Right when the contestant had to blindly stick their hand in the big bag and pull out a chip. Sometimes the chip would help them win a wonderful prize. Sometimes the chip would get them closer to the booby prize. Sometimes the chip would be a strike and they were one step closer to leaving the show with only whatever shitty thing they had won to get them out of Contestants’ Row and on to the stage.

Almost everyone I talk to has a story of leaving something behind on the plane, usually in the seat back pocket. I myself left my little Canon digital camera in seat 19C on JetStar flight 912 from Sydney to Townsville on Saturday February 21, 2004, not that I really remember or am incredibly bitter. No, it’s not like I had the entire Australian/New Zealand holiday on that camera or anything! Grrrr! Seriously, let me know if you come across it people! You can have the camera, I just want the memory card! But I digress…

Every flight attendant I know has a story of finding a wedding ring, iPod, or wallet in there. They say they get returned to the rightful owner but I’m really not sure. This never happens to me in any case. I only find chewed-up gum and wet tissues.

Still though, we all think that there’s something magical in there, like there is in the cartoons when someone sticks their hand into a kangaroo’s pouch. You can’t just go in with your guns blazing, though, there could be a million things in there and only 5 are good: iPod, iPad, camera, PSP, or wallet. You need to treat that seat back pocket with the utmost respect and with a poet’s tenderness. Pretend the entire thing is a Faberge egg. I know someone who got stuck by a needle! Off they go for a series of tests.

Other than the unknown surprises, there are some things you know will be in the seat back pocket: the inflight magazine, online shopping catalogue, and that staple of the ages, the barf bag. Yes they’re still there and yes people still use them often. Which reminds me, be careful when you handle yours, sometimes people like to use them and just put them back in the seat back pocket. Neither the flight attendants nor the aircraft cleaners will notice this so it will remain in there, stewing, festering, and morphing into something quite alien.

My dear friend and fellow blogger Sara (pictured above) was asking me about barf bags just the other day and that’s what got me thinking about them and about the seat back pockets in general. We decided to both write about the subject.  Here is what she had to say…

“On my flight home from St. Louis I was bored, tired, restless, and probably still a little bit drunk from the night before. (see picture above for what I think Sara meant by that). I began exploring the seat back pocket in front of me. I thumbed through the Sky Mall magazine, the American Airlines magazine, the Spanish language magazine, and some new magazine that they are now wasting money on publishing. I was looking for one thing…. the barf bag.

I was really curious to see just how deep the airline cost-cutting had gone. Did they still provide barf bags to all passengers? In 31 years of flying, I do not recall ever having partaken usage of a barf bag. I also do not recall ever having seen a fellow passenger utilize this resource. It seems like people don’t really get air sick anymore? I would LOVE to know the annual cost of barf bag purchases by American Airlines. And…. success. They do still provide barf bags. They even now spend more money by printing messages on them!

After reading this article about all the crap people dump in seat back pockets, I can see the benefit of providing these and suggesting that they be used for diaper disposal. ew”

Well Sara, let me tell you what I’ve noticed about the barf bags. They do indeed get used, and sometimes even for vomiting into! Unfortunately they’re small and often times the sick person isn’t just throwing up once. That little baggie gets filled up pretty quickly and then we have a problem. They can either go to bag #2 or make a run for the bathroom. I try to stay away from bag #1.

Personally when I hear that someone is getting sick, I fetch one of the large “market bags” we use to collect rubbish. Those things are massive and don’t leak. An entire row could use it as a regurgitation trough and there’d still be plenty of room for more.

Surprisingly enough, we do use those barf bags for other purposes, really useful things. Sometimes passengers have medications that need to be kept cold so we’ll fill the bags with ice and put their meds on top, then return everything to the passenger. Sometimes people get injured or feel feverish so we can turn the bags into little ice packs (always checking to make sure they’re clean inside first, of course.)

Whenever we have a super cool and/or smoking hot passenger that the crew wants to bestow a gift to, those little bags are the perfect size to stash a handful of vodka minis. It’s kinda like we’re packing their lunch for them as they run out the door and off to school, except they’re running out of the plane and off to have a smoke.

Side note: I bet the airlines make money off all the publications in the seat back from the advertising. Just a guess though.

You’ll want to read what Sara has to say about running with the bulls in Pamplona.  SAngRiA Smiles :) is the name of her blog.

Straight Guy Lesson #19- Duty Free

Duty Free shopping is a wonderful thing when you’re traveling abroad. You can find deals on everything from perfume to alcohol to local food specialties. Part of the fun of international travel is seeing what goods they have at the airport’s Duty Free Shop.

Duty Free shopping inflight, however, is a pointless pain in the ass, at least for the flight attendants. It’s a miniscule part for what you do as an international flight attendant but I’ll give you the rundown anyways.

It’s a two-man operation and usually selling Duty Free just means you make a quick lap of the cabin with a heavy cart and say things like “Duty Free purchases?”, “Duty Free today?” “Do me free?” “We have the same crap on the way back.” “You can get this stuff at the airport when you land.” “Duty Free?” “Cigarettes, alcohol, jewelry, fragrances?” “Something for your loved ones meeting you at the airport who will be expecting a gift?” Some of those we say louder than others.

No one really buys anything, though sometimes they’ll stop us and look at the merchandise for half an hour, trying on all the watches and sniffing all the fragrances. This is annoying because as soon as Duty Free is done, we can start our breaks and take a nap. When we get too impatient we’ll leave them with the catalogue and tell them that if they decide on something just to find one of us and we’ll make the sale, knowing full well that by the time they get back to us the Duty Free carts will be locked and sealed.

Flight Attendants hate selling Duty Free and the person in charge of it is always the most junior member of the crew. I don’t understand why we even do it inflight. The passengers could’ve bought the stuff in the airport before we left and in most cases, at the airport when we get in.

When you arrive in airports like London Heathrow, you can’t even exit the airport without going through a massive Duty Free store first. When you leave an airport like Rome Fiumicino, you can’t even get to your gate without going through Duty Free first.

We rarely sell anything inflight and if we do, it’s the cheapest crap imaginable, like the cartons of Benson and Hedges cigarettes, Tolberone chocolates, or an eye mask. The sales hardly make up for the cost of the fuel needed to carry the extra weight of the two heavy Duty Free carts. The airlines must get paid a lot of money to put the carts on the plane because we always have them onboard.

The only practical use of the Duty Free process is having access to electronic chargers. I can charge my phone and iPod on the plane without having to make much of an effort or lug around cords and chargers all over the world. When the cart is opened I can take out the necessary equipment, plug them into a seat power port, go about my business, and then a couple of hours later put the chargers back in the box for resale on a later flight.

There’s also a hangover remedy that we sell that some pilots swear by. I haven’t tried that one yet. I just stick to the oxygen in the cockpit for those fragile days.

There’s no incentive for us to try to sell the Duty Free crap. We get something like 3% of what we sell and they send us a check every few months. The largest check I ever received was for $24 and that was when I was flying Main Cabin a ton right around Christmas.

Sometimes flight attendants will try to market the items we have by placing them on top of the cart for all to see. Sounds like a good idea, but they always put the cheapest stuff on top, the stuff geared for the kids like jelly beans and a little teddy bear wearing a Captain’s hat. Even if they sold everything they had displayed, the money earned wouldn’t buy you a cup of coffee. They should at least promote the expensive jewelry, electronics, or watches. That makes sense to me.

Oh, another fun thing about Duty Free is watching the gentlemen check out each and every ladies’ watch and fragrance we have, and we have A LOT! The time and money he spends on Duty Free is a great gauge to how bad he fucked up on his business trip away from his wife and family.

Some female flight attendants are great at flirting with the men and talking the saps into buying them something expensive or good smelling. I’ve seen it happen time and time again.

The entire Duty Free process on the plane usually takes half an hour. We go through the plane, sell the goods, count the money, inventory the cart, fill out the paperwork, and then lock up the carts with seals and padlocks. Easy, but annoying.

On my last trip it took well over an hour just to finish selling the shit and collect the money because the lady I was working with was trying to sell everything in Euros, convert them into dollars out of her pocket so she’d have Euros for the layover in Rome, and then make all the numbers add up correctly.

By the time I counted everything and finished the rest of the work, we were nearly at the two-hour mark. Somehow all the numbers added up but I’m pretty sure I lost money out of my pocket trying to make change for all these people paying with $100 bills.  The lady insisted on letting them pay with them and I have no idea why.  I usually say “correct change or credit card only.”  We don’t get paid enough to deal with all that shit.

Theoretically, one way you can get ahead in life via the Duty Free cart is to take cash from the people purchasing things. We get a 15% employment discount on everything we buy as crew members. So if a passenger buys a $300 watch and gives you cash for it, you can just secretly claim the purchase as your own, use your card which will only be charged $255, and walk away with a $45 profit. It’s win-win since the passenger isn’t getting ripped off in the slightest, just the company. I don’t know anyone who’s actually tried this but I’m sure it’s just a matter of time.

 

Best. Airport. Bar. Ever

I actually planned a five-hour layover in London Stansted airport on my way to Austria for the sole purpose of going to the famous bar at the Radisson SAS Hotel right outside the airport. I was going to have to go through some airport in some city in some country in order to get to Graz, but when I looked at all my options, Stansted was the obvious choice.

The tiny, low-fare carrier-dominated airport which is way too north of London to realistically be called a “London” airport had one thing none of the other airports had, a thirteen-meter tall wine tower.

You expect to see stylish, gimmicky features such as that in flashy places like Vegas or New York, but not in some random regional airport that even some Londoners can’t point out on a map.

I heard about it though and I went straight over after I got off my flight from JFK. I was worried that the “airport” hotel wasn’t really that close to the airport, just maybe in the vicinity. Some JFK airport hotels are a ten minute van ride away. This wasn’t like that though. I walked outside the terminal that was about the same size as my high school gymnasium and walked maybe 40 meters. Then I was there.

The ultra modern hotel’s lobby did not disappoint and in the center of everything was the fabled wine tower with one its angels doing her thing, flipping and climbing her way to the very top of the tower. I later learned what a treat it is to see the angel fly so high, the cheapest bottles are at the bottom and the most expensive are at the very top. That is just brilliant planning on their part. I was planning on ordering a random bottle near the top, not caring if it was red or white or blue or French or Chilean or from some hick’s little slice of bayou in Louisiana. When I heard the prices I realized that my budget caused the angel to actually bend down to retrieve the bottle, while standing firmly on the ground that is. So I was thankful there were some Chinese businessmen in the house that had a corporate credit card. That saved me some precious poundage.

I had over three hours to kill and I had the best time all by myself just watching the show. Not only was the acrobatic girl fun to watch, the patrons were as well. Everyone was taking photos and videos and you really felt like that was THE place to be in England that Monday afternoon. Even the stuffy ol’ businessmen watched liked starry-eyed children at the circus.

It was so surreal. If I drove just two minutes in any direction I’d see rolling green hills with little bushy sheep but not in the oasis of the Radisson.

I just sat and watched the scene. I wrote in my journal and got more than a little bit drunk before I continued my journey to where my holiday was supposed to start. If anyone has to pass through England to get to a European destination, for God’s sake, forget the bland insanity of Heathrow and go through Stansted instead.

August 12, 2011 GIG-JFK

Bored… Bored… Bored… I am so bored!

On the plane between Rio and New York, heading North.  I’m not sure where we are exactly but it’s about 3am NYC time.  About an hour ago we were over Venezuela.  I could tell by all the oil rigs.  We have about three hours left.  All my passengers are dead asleep.

I slept like a rock on my break, which was good because I’m not sure when my next good sleep will be.  It won’t be tonight because that’s now and we land at 6:30am.  I’ll sleep for a few hours during the day and then go out with Cindy, Diggy, Buffy, and Sport in the East Village.  Diggy and his DJ buddies are throwing a party on Houston and Orchard.  I’m sure that will be a late night.  I’m positive of that.  So that will be very little sleep because the next day I gotta get up at 10am to watch the Liverpool game on TV and then head straight over to Newark to stand by for the SAS flight to Stockholm.  So that night will be spent on a plane and not much sleeping will happen then I’m sure.

Once I get to Sweden I reckon I’ll be out partying all five nights.  I can only hope we sleep in during the day, but I’ll be way too excited to do that.  I’ll be up early and wanting to wander around and check out Stockholm with my camera and journal.  I think my best bet is to take a sleeping pill on the plane to Stockholm and sleep all the way there.  At least I’ll be hitting the ground fully rested.  I won’t be at my house again until the night of the 23rd.  I left it on July 29th so that’s nearly a month.  I’m glad I don’t have any pets.  My plants will be lucky to be alive.

I got the lowest maintenance plants known to man.  My mom once threw one away and six months later it was still alive.  That’s the perfect plant for me.  I like my friendships that are like that.  They can remain dormant yet preserved thru months of neglect.

It’s really like I don’t even have a house.  I’m not sure why I got one.  Obama’s $8000 First Time Home Buyers tax credit was too good to pass up.  I love being home more than anything, but I’m also perfectly happy staying in New York and running around with my friends there on my days off.  I also love to travel and could do that forever.  I always thought it was a good thing to be that adaptable, being able to live anywhere, but now I think it says something about my personality, and maybe that’s not necessarily a good thing.  Maybe that’s why I’m still single.

I’m getting even more bored.  This flight is dragging.  I’m eating Brazilian cheese balls by the handful and drinking vegetable broth just out of boredom.  I’ve also noticed that I’ve been staring at the ice cream for the last ten minutes. It’s as good as in my stomach.

I’m so damn bored that I’m now racing glasses of juice.  I had set out ten little glasses of OJ and apple juice in case someone woke up and wanted one.  They’re sitting on the counter and the vibration from the plane is causing them to very slowly move down the countertop.  At first I thought the lady I’m flying with kept moving them but then I noticed it happened again when she was in the back of the plane.  They don’t go very fast.  It takes several minutes to travel a few inches.  They’re moving at glacier speed.

That’s when I decided to race two of them.  I picked an orange and an apple and made sure they held the same exact amount of juice.  I moved them back ten inches and let them go.  It’s been about five minutes now and Apple has moved 3cm and Orange 1cm.  It’s like watching turtles race.  I decided it’s more fun if I don’t watch them and just check back every few minutes to see how they’re going.

All the other glasses of juice are lined up in the back, cheering them on.  There are seven orange juices and just one apple so I’m rooting for Apple.  He’s a loner, Dottie, a rebel.  Some of the OJ spectators aren’t staying where they’re supposed to on the sidelines.  They’re slowly vibrating their way on to the track.

Fuck it, I’m starting the ovens early.  It won’t get us into NYC any earlier but it makes me think that we are.  The next step in all the steps that need to happen to end this flight is to serve First Class breakfast.  That should be happening in an hour but I think I’ll do it now instead, even if it means just two of us serving the entire cabin while the other two First Class stews are still on break.  Then we can move on to the next step.  Let’s get these steps done as quickly as possible, no matter how sloppy and rushed.  I’d make a horrible twelve-stepper.