Tag Archives: hotels

The Check-in Kings

1I know how it sounds when I say it out loud. If you asked me what I’ve done in the last week it sounds unreal or that I’m bragging about it. First there was watching the end of the Tour de France along the Champs Elysees in the shadow of the Arc de Triomphe, followed by meeting Liverpool FC legends Robbie Fowler and Ian Rush at a private event in New York City. Then I got to go to the Tate Modern museum in London and have a drink at a bar where the Clash used to hang out. The very next day I was in Chicago at Lollapalooza listening to some of my favorite bands. All of that stuff happened in six days!

My friends that follow these adventures on Facebook tell me how exciting my life must be and how much they envy whatever it is I’m doing whenever I step out of my house. Well, that’s exactly the downside to this job and lifestyle, I’m NEVER at home. That’s something that non-airline people don’t always get. Yeah we do a lot of fun stuff all over the place, but that is really the silver lining to a job that keeps you away from all of your loved ones for most of the month, every month, for years on end.

2If you don’t love your friends and family, then yeah, being a flight attendant is the perfect job for you, but most of us see major drawbacks to it. Plus, it doesn’t pay that well so you have to fly extra trips just to make ends meet. When I pick up a trip to Milan, it’s because that’ll be the difference between me being able to pay all my bills that month or not. Some of my friends don’t see it that way and just see that I posted a photo of George Clooney’s place on Lake Como. Trust me, I’d rather be at home doing something. anything. or even nothing. But yeah, seeing that house was interesting so here’s a photo, what of it?

3If I’m lucky I’ll get to go home twice a month for 6 days each time. The first of these days is spent repairing whatever broke in my house while I was away for the last week and a half. This is also when I try to resuscitate my garden and mow the lawn. I refuse to talk to anyone for at least the first thirty-six hours after I get back, I need to be alone and decompress.

4The next day I’ll do all the chores and run all the errands than need to be done. I may have a chance to watch whatever I DVR-ed if I’m lucky. The second night is usually spent alone, holed up in my house. Pure heaven. I don’t think normal people appreciate their beds as much as flight attendants do, especially if you’re sleeping in a bunk bed at your crash pad in a boring part of Queens several nights a month.

By the third day I’m ready to be social. The next three days I’ll try to cram in as many friends and loved ones as I can. Luckily most of them get along so I can suggest meeting up in a big group. Some don’t play well with others so I have to arrange one on one time with them. I always make sure to have at least one meal with my mom while I’m at home.

6Back in my single days I’d have to try to find a way to have a date at some point too, but most girls aren’t that understanding of my schedule. More than one relationship fizzled out before it even started simply because I wasn’t there. Relationships are nearly impossible, it’s almost as if you need to find someone who likes you in theory, but doesn’t really want you around. Even if you are at home, half the time it isn’t during the weekend so good luck finding someone employed who wants to have a big night on a Tuesday.

7The last day off is never fully relaxing. I have to prepare everything to be neglected again. I have to repack for up to two weeks. I also have to keep my eye on the flight loads to make sure I can get back to New York in time to work my flight later that same day. If the flights are full, I have to cut my time at home short and go back a day early, back to that damn bunk bed.

Having a roommate is an obvious way to help out with the mortgage payments as well as keep an eye on the place, but to be honest, that’s the last thing a flight attendant really wants. You have a crash pad with a dozen other people in a small apartment and then you’re on a plane with hundreds of people every day. The last thing you want when you go home is another human being to deal with and the last thing you want to talk about is your week at work.

8At my high school reunion last year so many people told me how much they loved seeing the photos I’ve taken all over the world and reading about whatever it was that I was up to. I’m glad they enjoy that, but I don’t think a single one of them believed me when I said I enjoyed reading their updates about the little things at home just as much. There’s a lot to be said about just sitting back and enjoying your home and your family. Just to feel a part of your community is pretty amazing. I feel like I’m just popping in to make an appearance the way Larry did on Three’s Company, or better yet, Mr. Furley.

I appreciate my job and the opportunities I have, and I’m well aware that I can quit anytime if this lifestyle gets to be too much of a hassle. I know a lot of people would kill for this job, it’s not an easy one to get. But trust me, there’s a different side to it. If you’re judging it simply by the check-ins on Facebook, then you may never realize it. The grass is certainly greener on the other side 99% of the time.

I guess the main point is that we all give up something to live the way we do. Everything comes with a price and hopefully the price you pay is worth what you’re getting back. Everyone needs to find their own way to reconcile their dreams with their reality and make sure they’re doing what they’re doing for the greatest good possible.

9I will never begrudge a stock broker for his fancy car and big house. I know what he has to do to get it and that’s not worth it for me. I will never make fun of someone who quits their job to move to Costa Rica just to sell seashells on the sea-shore to tourists. If that makes that person happy, then I’m happy for them. We have just one life so find a way to make the important things come first. We all have the ability to change our station, as terrifying as that may sound.

As many friends I have who like to keep tabs on what I’m up to in my travels, there are almost as many who think I’m just showing off by simply mentioning where I am and what I’m doing. It’s not that at all, but I do focus on the positives and don’t apologize for that. We should all be doing that. We all have positives and then other stuff we just deal with in order to live the life we want. They’re called sacrifices, and yes, flight attendants sacrifice too. We miss out on a lot at home, and not just the obvious things like holidays, though waking up in my own bed on Christmas morning would be nice for a change. It’s really dumb luck if we’re off and at home in order to go to things like: birthdays, parties, recitals, Monday night football, Taco Tuesday etc etc. All those things normal people take for granted.

10This job has a shelf life for me. It was the best thing in the world when I was in my twenties, but soon the forties are coming and my priorities are changing. I love being home more than anything. This adventure I’m on has lasted over sixteen years and I’m trying my best to experience as much as I can, while I can. It’s not a non-stop party though, it never has been.  As time goes on, the balance is shifting on whether or not the positives outweigh the sacrifices. I think flight attendants are just better than most at taking advantage of their occupational benefits and using social media to let their families know what they’re up to.

Straight Guy in the Queer Skies now comes in book form. Check it out HERE. To see my photography page, please click here!

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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.

44 Songs for a Kick Ass Bubblebath Date

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

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

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Stuck in Slough for another 24 Hours

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Road Trip- The Retrospective

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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