Monthly Archives: November 2011

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.

Advertisements

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!