Category Archives: Drama-rama

My First Uber Trick

images     I’m always looking for ways to supplement my income so that I don’t have to be away from home so much. I freelance photography jobs. I wrote a book. I made an app. I’ve even been a substitute teacher, but only for the tiny kids that are still afraid of adults and don’t know how to talk back.
When Uber became a thing, I was interested straight away. It sounded perfect until I read that drivers must have a four-door car and it must be newer than 2010. My crappy little Civic was two-door and a 2005. There went that idea. Plus I heard that Austin Uber drivers were getting busted by undercover cops posing as riders because technically Uber driving is illegal.
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They must have sorted that out with the taxi contingent because I started hearing about people using Uber all over the Austin area and no one had heard about drivers getting in trouble anymore. Sweet.

When I had enough money saved I got a new car, my first brand new car ever. I made sure it had four doors. I bought a fancy edition Toyota Rav 4 with all the bells and whistles. This is the first time in my life that I’ve owned a car where you can open and close the windows by pushing a button rather than cranking a crank.
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I started all the paperwork and background checks and within a week I was cleared to go. I watched a 20 minute long instructional video on how it works from the drivers’ perspective and I thought I had it down. Still though, I had already decided that my first fare would be my girlfriend since she’s an expert on the Uber thing from the riders’ side of it. I figure I could take her out to a nice dinner, pay for everything, then she could “hire” me to take her home. That way I can figure out the Uber app and get a perfect rating to my name in the process. It was a fool-proof plan.

Last night we put it into action. We weren’t really feeling a fancy dinner so we did Olive Garden instead. We got seated in a booth in the bar area by four screaming meth addicts, one of which was very pregnant. I wondered if any of them knew who the father was. The table on the other side of them demanded to be moved because of how rowdy they were. My girlfriend nearly went off on them but I begged her not too because one of the guys was showing the others how you can turn two Olive Garden steak knives and a breadstick into a makeshift double-edged sword. I found him to be the most normal of the four.
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That group finally finishes up and leaves in a Tasmanian devil whirl. The waiters apologize profusely about their behavior. Never in a million years would I think that those toothless rednecks would fail to be the weirdest thing about our night. I hit the button on the Uber app that says, “GO ONLINE.”

My girlfriend logs on and checks out the Uber car situation from her phone. There isn’t alot of activity in far North Austin at 11pm on a Tuesday night so we put the plan into action. She presses the button to request a ride and immediately my phone buzzes. I see the request and quickly accept the job. Pretty easy.

We walk out to the car and when we get in I try to tell the app that I’ve picked up my fare. It’s not giving me that option though. She checks her phone and notices that somehow my name isn’t listed as her driver, it’s someone else, and they’re one minute away. She quickly cancels the request as the poor soul pulls up.

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We quickly back out and leave the parking lot, trying to figure out how our plan fell apart. She requested a ride, my phone buzzed, I accepted the fare, and then what the hell? Obviously someone else accepted her request, but how could I as well? As we were heading home we realize that my phone is still saying I have a customer and that they’re seven minutes away, now eight.

Is it really possible that the second she requests a ride a stranger accepts at the exact moment a second person requests a ride and I accept? Well, yeah, I guess it is. That’s what we’re dealing with here. My instinct is to just cancel and go home because I need to be up at 6am but my girlfriend says I should probably go ahead and do it so I don’t get yelled at by the Uber people. So where is this joker anyways?

I turn on the GPS and start following the directions. It looks like we’re going to a part of town that’s nothing but warehouses. It says I’m a minute away and there isn’t a soul around. I’m hoping it’s all a big mistake, a glitch in the Matrix. Right on cue, I make the final turn and a well-lit building appears with a disheveled business guy sitting in the grass, waving me down. Welcome to Perfect Tens Strip Club.

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Before I even get to a stop he stands up and starts walking over. I guess this is the guy. He opens the door and climbs in. I ask him where we’re going and he says I should already know. Right, I guess I need to do something with the app. I tell it that I made the pick up and that we’re now en route to his house, which is 40 minutes away. The robotic lady starts giving us directions and immediately the guy tells me to ignore her because we need to go to Whataburger first.

I have no idea where the nearest Whataburger is so he gives me turn by turn directions, all the while playing on his phone with a bluetooth ear piece still in his ear. I wonder if he had that thing on during his lap dances. Probably so.
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I figured he’d want to just go through the drive-thru but he insisted on ordering from the counter. We park and he staggers toward the doors. I notice that when he gets his order it’s not in a brown paper bag, it’s a tray full of food, enough to feed a family. He sits down and starts unwrapping his burger as if he were defusing a bomb. Are you kidding me right now?
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It looks like he’s eating in slow motion. I’ve never seen a drunken meal go down so slowly. Things got worse when two high school girls in short shorts came in and ordered food as well. It took him ten minutes to remember that he had a burger in his hands and that he needed to be biting and chewing. In all fairness he did ask us if we wanted anything before he went in. If I had known he was going to take 32 minutes to eat, I would’ve taken him up on his offer. My midnight bedtime was never going to be achieved.

He finally finishes his feast, wipes his greasy fingers on his slacks, and heads back to the car, thanking us for waiting, but not before checking back on the high school girls one last time. I guess if he looked back and they were eyeing him then he’d ditch us and go with them. Since they had no idea he was ever there in the first place, much less left them, he climbed back into the back seat, looking a bit defeated. We notice he smells much better than before. The girlfriend thinks he put on cologne to impress the under-aged girls, but I think he put it on to cover up stripper sweat and other things on his lap before he gets home to his wife. We may never know.

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I’m not sure what the etiquette is here. Am I supposed to entertain him or just leave him alone? When I’m in a cab I just like to sit there in the backseat and do my own thing. But this isn’t a smelly cab, I’m letting this guy into my car, it’s personal and therefore a little more familiar. The obvious first question would be how is day is going but considering he’s drunk and I picked him up on the front lawn of a ghetto-ass strip club in the middle of nowhere, I already know the answer to that one.

The only time I’ve ever been in a Uber car as a passenger, I was sitting between two friends who were in the middle of a fight and they were screaming and cursing at each other like  Bobby and Whitney. That went on for 40 minutes. I spent the time making apologetic looks to the driver in the rear view mirror. That’s what I know about what goes on during an Uber ride.
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I decide not to say anything to him. Or to my girlfriend. I didn’t want him to feel like he was intruding on our evening, which he certainly was. We follow the directions down south and of course there’s road construction everywhere and his exit doesn’t exist. This first ride could not be going any worse.

He directs me to another road and the GPS Navigator takes it from there. We go way south and then start heading west into the hills. After 20 minutes we’re in the middle of nowhere, heading to either the fancy houses overlooking the lake, or to a kill room he has hidden in the woods. I thought fancy house, but the look on my girlfriend’s face said she thought the latter. At least we’d be dying together. She began sending out a myriad of texts to friends and family to let them know what was going on in case this was our death cab. She would later say that she had seen it all in her mind and begged him to kill her first so she wouldn’t have to watch me die. That’s sweet.
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We head up massive hills, make sharp turns, all the while avoiding deer and armadillos that seem to come out of nowhere. It just keeps getting darker and darker. I’m trying to follow the directions on my phone which I’m illegally holding in my hand because I don’t have a holder. He tells me to forget about the route map and just keep going straight until it comes to an end. I think too deeply on the existential interpretation of that statement. Gulp.

While we were stopped at Whataburger I tried to find an XM radio station that matched his personality. I guess the Pearl Jam one, but now I’m thinking I should have picked something a little more Patrick Bateman. I can’t help but think this is what hookers must feel like when they have to pleasure clients they’d rather not even look at. I just want this to end. It’s so incredibly uncomfortable.
images-12     The road keeps getting more and more narrow, but we start to see a few mailboxes so we may just get out of this yet. He tells us to pull over onto a side road that immediately dead ends into an iron gate. Just like that, he says we’re at his house which I can’t even see from the front gate. He walks over to a keypad and presses in some sort of code. We don’t even wait to see if it works, we just back out and head out ASAP.
images-13       After we calmed ourselves after fits of laughter, we go over our thoughts during the entire ordeal. We had to reaffirm that he really was as creepy as we’d made him out to be. We went over the evidence at every turn and built up quite a case against him. At the end, we were lucky we got out of it unscathed.

We drive the 45 minutes back home and only when I pull into our neighborhood do I notice that I never told the app that we delivered the goods. I quickly hit END TRIP and that officially closes the ride, and stops the meter. Yeah, I may have accidentally doubled his fare, but I think I deserve it. We had the lengthy unscheduled Whataburger stop and is he really going to complain to Uber about what happened on his trip home from the strip club? He’s wise to just keep quiet about the whole thing and chalk it up to a crazy night. I’m sure he spent five times as much money on strippers anyways.

Well my latest way of supplementing my income didn’t get off to the easy start I thought it would, but at least I foresee adventure in this endeavor. Next day off I have at home after I fly my Rome trip tomorrow will be spent trying it again. I’ll set aside four hours and just answer ride requests. I’ll figure out what exactly I can expect in a day’s work and if it really is something worth doing on my time off. I may want to do it during the daytime though, not at 11pm. I’ll learn.

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Airlines Need New Blood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prepping for The Amazing Race

imagesIt’s always been a dream of mine to be on The Amazing Race. Out of all the reality shows I think that’s the one I could do the best on, and would enjoy the most. I would do it without the million dollar prize. I really could not care less about the money, I just want the experience.

Unknown-9Survivor would be an epic failure as far as reality shows go. Fear Factor just seems pointless. Big Brother even more so, but at least you have a chance to hook up with someone. Plus no one is watching that show in case you have to do something embarrassing. Actually American Gladiators would be alot of fun, if it were still on.

UnknownI’m a great armchair quarterback when watching The Amazing Race at home and of course I always make all the right decisions. Just like watching Wheel of Fortune at home where it’s always your turn and there are never Bankrupts, you have that same luxury with watching Race. You never get the cabbie who needs to stop for gas or ask for directions. You never get on the flight that has to divert to Botswana.

images-4Even when the less-than-ideal situations arise, I think I’d still do alright. I can cope on the fly pretty well and my experience as a flight attendant would certainly help navigating through airports and running around in weird cities.

I would help my cause beforehand for sure. I would do everything possible from the moment I found out I was on the show until we took off to meet Phil. I’m starting a list of just what those things would be.

Let’s say I get 6 weeks to prep before the race starts. Let’s also say that I don’t have to go through the audition process of picking a partner. I’ve been doing that for years. I have a few people who are potentials. Some of the ones I would perform the best with aren’t necessarily the ones I’d want to be with 24/7 for however long the race lasts.

Unknown-4Some of the ones I know I would love spending every second racing alongside aren’t necessarily the ones I’d succeed with in the competition. It’s a fine line and very few people would satisfy the criteria to make the race both fun and lucrative. Selecting your sweetie can be a brilliant or horrible idea.

Unknown-6Ultimately I would pick a partner based on my weaknesses, mainly eating anything gross or in large quantities. Partner must also speak at least one other language fluently. Not German though, I know enough of that to get by. Partner must also have to be able to tolerate me thinking I always know the right way to go. Partner must also hold their tongue when I’m wrong and we end up in a Turkish prison.

TO-DO List

1)  Clear things up with work so it’s not a situation of me having to quit to be on the show. I think that’ll be easy, my airline has had flight attendants on the show before. They didn’t fare too well, but we were proud of them all the same. Redemption!

images-22)  Start running and getting into as good of shape as possible. Take up yoga. Maybe a dance class as well. If I can’t learn rhythm, learn to fake it.

images-33)  Learn to drive stick. I have only done it once and that was for five minutes in driver’s ed. It was in a straight line in the high school football stadium parking lot. Stalling occurred.

Unknown-34)  Get Rosetta Stone for two languages not known by my partner, one being an Asian language. Have partner get the basics of one or two new languages as well, maybe sign language too. This will mainly be done while on the treadmill or on days when I’m too sore to exercise more.  Multitasking will be the key to my training.

5)  Watch every season of The Amazing Race thus far and take meticulous notes on everything imaginable, including: which legs usually have U-turns, Non-eliminations, etc etc. Note, it’s always a good thing if Phil seems extremely sad if he tells a team they’re the last to check in. Nine times out of ten it means you’re still racing, you’re not really the last team, or it’s a non-elimination. Watching all 20+ seasons can also be done while running on treadmill or stationary exercise equipment.

6)  Memorize passport number. Get global entry for when landing back in the USA.

Unknown-57)  Get into the habit of always having a large backpack with me and get to where I can run short and long distances with it on my back. Also get to where I consider the bag as an extension of myself to where I would never leave it on a funicular, gondola, in a taxi, or on the wing of a plane.

8)  Try to learn to eat new foods. Find hypnotist to help in that. Or maybe take one of those sexy classes where they teach you how to really relax your throat muscles and allow things to go in without gagging. There’s always a bingeing challenge.

9)  Get to where I can swim long distances

Unknown-110) Brush up on rock climbing, scuba diving, and canoeing skills. Maybe get somewhat proficient in synchronized swimming and basic gymnastics.

11) Get to where I can run a mile comfortably in snow, sand, and whilst carrying/dragging heavy, cumbersome objects.

Unknown-712) Learn to communicate with animals, especially notoriously stubborn ones

images-113) Get full physical and tune-up from my doctor. Find the line of legal supplements/illegal steroids and don’t cross it.

Unknown-214) Pick out wardrobe. Be prepared for all climates and possible meteorological phenomenon. Shop around for advertising deals from local stores. Let everyone know I can be bought. My team can look like a Nascar vehicle if necessary. I don’t mind having Coke on one sleeve and Pepsi on the other.

Unknown-815) Last but not least is going to couples therapy with my partner. Even if I go with my mom or childhood friend, it wouldn’t hurt to have some sessions with a professional. Maybe we could learn some tricks of the trade to bypass potential fights.

That’s a pretty good start I think. Six weeks of working on those 15 things and I bet I’d be as ready as possible to take on the race of a lifetime. My passport has been needing some new stamps. It’s feeling neglected. Now I just need to get on the damn show and everything will be perfect in my world.

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An excerpt from “Straight Guy goes to Amsterdam”

imagesI’m currently working on a couple of short stories, maybe around 75 pages each. They are about trips to Amsterdam and Australia. For the most part it’s straight out of my diary, but I’ve had to change some things here and there in order for my friends to continue being my friends. I hope to do a series of these books which will be just as much traveling guidebooks as journal entries.

The Australia one is almost ready to go, but the Amsterdam one is in its early stages. I’ve been going over hundreds of pages of journals from my six visits to Holland in the last thirteen years. I’m cutting and pasting the interesting parts and trying to put it into a single story. Yeah, it’ll probably seem a bit unrealistic that all of these things happened in one trip but hey, the events really happened for the most part.

Unknown-4Here is an excerpt from one of the best days of my life that started off incredibly shitty. I was in Amsterdam for my old college roommate’s wedding. I woke up at my hostel, hungover after the reception the night before at the famous Hotel Pulitzer…

images-7“Word at the Pulitzer Hotel reception desk was that the Ajax soccer game started at 1pm on Sunday.  Word from the concierge was 2:30pm. No one seemed to know anything. If you ask anyone in Texas when the Cowboys are kicking off they can tell you before you finish asking the question and will judge you for not knowing, even if they hate the Cowboys. And I say that making fun of the Dutch, not Texans. There’s a reason why the most popular churches in Texas are the ones where the pastor/reverend/bishop/whatever lets the congregation out ten minutes early in order to make it home for kick off.

As I have every morning on this Holland adventure, I woke up early and walked around for a couple of hours, and again, you couldn’t ask for better weather.  I was half looking for that perfect photo and half looking for an ATM that will take my card.  One out of ten will take my Capital One credit card, but that’s maxed out now anyways.

Unknown-6My card from the airline credit union is what I need to work immediately if not sooner.  It’s frustrating because I have the funds in my account, I just can’t access them. I need to pay nearly 150 Euros for the hostel by the time I check out tomorrow morning (Sunday) and I simply don’t have it and can’t get it until I call them on Monday morning and have them remove the bar from my card. For some reason they think my debit card is stolen because I tried to use it in Holland. Airline credit union cards should NEVER have international bars on their cards. We’re flight attendants!! Of course we’re going to have charges in Brazil one day and Amsterdam four days later!

I’m down to 32 Euros in cash and the Ajax game will take up at least 20 not to mention 3 for the train to get there and back.

images-8I haven’t been able to call my credit union since it’s the weekend and it still won’t be open when I check out from the hostel tomorrow morning at 7am (midnight New York time).  Since it’s my last day here I need to smoke as much of the weed as possible and I have been.  That’s probably why I’m not taking this out-of-money situation as seriously as I should.

I get in from my morning walk and get the last scraps of the free breakfast before going upstairs and falling asleep until noon, the meeting time with Jim, Molly, and Becks, childhood friends of the groom from back in Dallas. We meet up and find out the game is indeed at 2:30pm so we decide to re-meet up in an hour at 1:30pm.

Unknown-8The last four days I’ve just blindly hoped I’d find a way to get money, but now I have to be realistic.  Perhaps the credit union has an emergency number, if not maybe Capital One can just raise my limit in these special circumstances.  They seem so helpful in their commercials, “when other credit card companies say ‘no’, Capital One says ‘Yes!’” I’m going to put that to the test if I can figure out how to call America.

Unknown-2I walk over to Leidseplein to a financial service center I spotted earlier. They looked eager to please. I go up to the lady and explain my situation.  She thinks and then says I can get a cash advance on any Visa.  Sweet.  I say Yes and then she says I need to give her my passport and we’ll be in business.  This is when the chaos starts. The next two hours should be my video application to Amazing Race.

Unknown-7I have just 35 minutes before I meet the gang at the hotel so I take off toward the hotel clear across town to get the passport.  I run up to my room and while I’m digging through my bags the cleaning lady comes in.  I tell her I don’t need anything and keep throwing all the contents of my backpack around the small room.  She says she’ll just take out my rubbish and I nod while I recheck my jeans pockets.  As she’s grabbing the clear plastic sack I realize with embarrassment the only items in there are two condom wrappers, two used condoms, and Ingrid’s ripped pantyhose.  Fuck it, she’s seen worse.

images-2I realize the front desk has my passport so I run down, grab that, and sprint back over to Leidseplein, pausing every other block to rest.  Somewhere along the way I sprain my ankle so I start to run gimpy, like a hunchback really.

When I get there I go back to the same girl and give her my cards and passport.  She asks how much I need and I figure 400 will easily get me through one more day in Holland plus five in Graz, Austria.  She tries the first card and says she’s not getting authorization. That’s the problem I was having. That’s what I wanted her to fix. I thought she was supposed to be able to side step that or at least get into contact with my credit union. Damn.

images-6It’s not going to happen.  I sigh and slide the maxed out Visa over to her, knowing what the outcome will be.  After she tells me what I already know, I quickly hobble back over to the hotel to meet the gang.  I’m late getting there but they’re even later because Jim and Molly are in some comic book/gaming store for half an hour.

images-1In the meantime I managed to exchange my last few American dollars and every other type of currency I could find in my suitcase. I had Pesos, Reais, Kroner, and things that are no longer used. I took the four coins I received and bought a calling card.  If I could have found a phone I would have been in business, but no such luck.  All of a sudden all the pay phones have disappeared. No calling the credit union and no calling Capital One. Damn.

Our walk to Central Station is quick and silent.  I continually scan for phones but don’t see a single one. The April sun is out and there is hardly a cloud in the sky.  If it weren’t for these money concerns, I’d be the happiest person in the world right now.

It’s 2pm when we get to the ticket counter at the train station so we should get there just in time for kick off.  The lady tells us track 7B in three minutes so off we go to 7B.  We get to the train and Molly double checks with a passenger on where the train is heading.  She nods and we jump on.

Twenty-five minutes later we jump off and get on a train going the other way.

Twenty-five more minutes and we’re back at Central Station getting on the correct train.

UnknownWe get to the stadium at half time and find out the game is sold out.  We ask about the scalper situation and the ticket-taker looks offended. He indignantly says they don’t have those in Holland. We roll our eyes and tell him to cut the charade and just tell us where the seedy types hang out with extra tickets for an exorbitant price. He again insists there is no such thing in Holland. After Molly gets tough with him, he admits that the criminal element known as “scalpers” do exist but we’re too late, they’ve all gone home. He practically broke down in tears when he admitted the truth. So weird. And such an easy man to break!

Unknown-9We’re not yet defeated though.  Americans know there’s always a way in, you just might have to pay a lot or risk getting arrested.  That’s what makes America a world power. We don’t give up, even when everyone is begging us to just leave it alone.

We walk around the entire stadium and there isn’t a single scalper in sight, which isn’t surprising since it’s already halftime.  We ask a couple of the younger ushers if they can sneak us in, but no. I think I offered them the rest of my pot and the promise of American stewardesses. They blushed, but we remained unsatisfied.

We think about asking some of these families with small children leaving the venue if we can have their tickets, but don’t act on it. For some reason that seemed like crossing the line. Even eternally-hopeful Jim is losing hope at this point.  We’ve resigned to the fact that we may have to settle for a cheap souvenir from the club store. That would be the most hated souvenir ever purchased and I knew that immediately. It’d be a sign of failure to the highest degree.

images-9We’re on the far, remote, side of the stadium, furthest away from the main street and train station.  Nobody is around us except for a young couple making out in the employee parking lot.  They stop kissing when we pass and I ask them if they have tickets to spare. They were very polite in saying No.

The exact recount on what happened next is already debatable and I suppose it always will be.  From what I remember it was Molly who noticed this single metal door slowly closing about fifteen meters from us.  She’s the one I heard yell, “Get it!”  Becks, I believe, is the one that ran over and caught the heavy door, smashing her fingers in the process.  Whatever the sequence and whoever did what, I don’t care; we had a chance!

images-3It looked like an ordinary parking garage stairwell and I figured it’d take us to all the cars parked right above us.  Nevertheless we all crept in and started heading up.  We could hear voices above us but it sounded like they were heading up as well.  I was shaking, I didn’t know what level of trespassing this entailed or what the penalty would be. If you can get stoned from spitting out your gum in some parts of the world, surely the death penalty was a viable punishment for trespassing in the sacred Ajax stadium.

Up and up we tiptoed, all heads staring up the stairs as they curved around.  We went up about five stories, always hearing the voices ahead of us, but never seeing whom they belonged to.  Finally we hear a door shut and the voices stop. I can see the next level is the top one so whatever is going to happen to us is going to happen right now.

The time for creeping is over; we now need to look like we know what we’re doing.  Once at the top we come to two metal doors.  We put our ears up to them and hear a lot of noise.  That’s a good sign.  I tell everyone that we’re going to open the door and walk in quickly and quietly and nobody act like we’re doing anything wrong.  If someone sees us come in they may let us go if we’re nonchalant about it.  None of this cracking the door and peering in bullshit.

images-4We take a deep breath and calmly push open the doors like four little Fonzies.  They open up to a roar of sound and many concession stands.  Without hesitation we get into a line and reassess our situation.  It looks like we made it in but there’s still the matter of getting past the ushers and into some seats.

I make a recon mission and decide we should try to enter near the corner of the field where there’d more likely be empty seats.  I’m not sure why I think that, but I do and no one disagrees.  To get past the ushers we need to just have our hands full of food and drink so they won’t ask to see our tickets.  At this stage of the game they are less likely to check stubs, but its better to be safe than sorry.  We should just breeze by the ushers and pick a direction right or left to go and then head up into the stands.

Left feels lucky so we head up before we even have time to think about it.  We walk right past the ushers who don’t even give us a look and then I turn to face the stands.  At first I look at the back row but that’s full.  The last few rows are all completely packed.  Without even stuttering I keep slowly heading up and then I see the row right in front of me has four open seats, but one has a jacket on it.  Chances are slim that they’re vacant but we have to try. I can easily see this turning into an international incident.

images-5As we scoot by everyone I check for looks of disapproval or confusion from anyone on either side of the vacant seats.  No one bats an eye.  Even the fourth seat with the jacket on it wasn’t a problem.  The owner grabbed it before we even asked him if the seat was open.  We took “our seats”, looked around, waited for harsh words in Dutch, and finally exhaled when none came.

Then we just kicked back, had a toast, and watched the second half of the game, which was still scoreless when we got in.  Everyone around us knew that we didn’t belong in those seats but nobody said a word.

Unknown-1We purposely went for a section right by a goal and luckily we selected the one Ajax was attacking.  We saw two goals go in but both were ruled offsides and rightfully so, despite what the home crowd thought.

In the 86th minute the sub Anastasiou had a beautiful header go into the corner of the goal to win it for mighty Ajax.  It was the perfect blag, though we never actually had to blag, we just snuck in.  Though the fries and beer set me back 5 Euros, I still had 24 left. We did the Dutch equivalent of sneaking into Yankee Stadium or the Staples Center for a big game.

Unknown-5We argued who would get to the honor of telling the story to Samuel The Groom. He’ll be so jealous. I bet he would’ve rather been with us on this adventure than alone in a fancy hotel room with his beautiful bride.

The perfect day ended with a kick ass Mexican meal, the use of a phone to call the States, $300 worth of emergency money from Capital One, and drinks at the Pulitzer bar with our soccer crew, the bride, and the groom.  We even got in a pretty good game of hacky sack in front of the Anne Frank house, out of respect of course.

Unknown-3I will never make fun of a Capital One commercial again, they really saved my ass and kept me from asking the Groom for money the day he was set to leave for his honeymoon. Thank Christ it didn’t come to that.

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.