Tag Archives: steward

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!

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.

Interview with a New Hire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pilots – Ego.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In a year? Definitely.

5 years? Probably.

20 years? Never say never.

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

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

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

They just say, “Coffee.”

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

And they say, “Regular.”

And you say, “What does regular mean?”

And they say, “You know, regular!”

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

And they say, “Milk, no sugar.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Road Trip- The Retrospective

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Växjö, Sweden 9-13-2012

I just got back from my morning walk with my camera. The only time I ever have morning walks is when I’m in a new place, usually on the first day. This is my first morning in Växjö.

I’ve found that I have a routine when I go to new countries. I gravitate towards three things: churches, playgrounds, and cemeteries. The simple things. The staples. And always with my camera.

I’m not a religious man at all but I appreciate all places of worship, especially if it’s really old and has character. Those super churches in Dallas don’t cut it. Even if I don’t really get what’s going on inside of these places, I can appreciate what it means to those that do, and it’s powerful. Most of the churches I’ve seen in Europe are older than my country.

I don’t particularly love children I’m not legally obligated to love, but I love seeing the simple playthings parks offer in other countries. The ones abroad tend to be simpler and much more dangerous. I guess the playgrounds I grew up with were simple as well. Slide, merry-go-round, see-saw, swings, and maybe a jungle gym. Now they’re all fancy and safe. No wood because of splinters. No metal because it gets hot. Just colorful plastic things for American kids these days. No need for an imagination!

The apparatus I liked the most at the playground next to the double spire Church in Växjö (built in the 12th century) was this spider looking thing that was eight feet off the ground. It was like a big circle and had about four ropes hanging down equidistant apart. At the end of the rope was a seat for one or two kids to sit on. Theoretically if four children the same weight each occupied the seats, it would be completely balanced.

The thing rotated as well, so while the kids were trying to balance, a dad would be pushing them around clockwise. Of course these kids didn’t all weigh the same and some kids wanted their own seat while others tried to get three on one. The result was much like a see-saw. The heavy side hit the ground while the lighter side was about eight feet up in the air. It didn’t look safe at all. Every now and then it’d be balanced and they seemed bored with that. A big kid would invariable grab a rope and make everyone else fly into the air, only to let go and have them crash down. It looked like a challenge from Survivor or maybe The Hunger Games. I was hoping to get some good shots of carnage, but I wasn’t so lucky. A few people did wonder why I was taking photos of little kids and giggling creepily.

The cemetery was serene and beautiful. The tall tombstones cast exaggerated shadows across the freshly cut grass among the weeping willows. It was a fantastic place to rest in peace. I slyly took a few pictures but stopped whenever I saw someone.

I never know the protocol for taking photos in foreign cemeteries. I’ve been yelled at and once we were stricken with a Maori curse that ended up destroying three peoples’ cameras, iPods, and computers. Apparently we were disrespecting the ancestors, though we didn’t mean to, we just thought it was breathtaking. Stupid, misunderstanding Maori ghosts!

I love how heightened my senses get when I’m somewhere new. When I’m in Austin, New York, or London (my normal stomping grounds) I tend to walk about like a stoned zombie. I don’t even have to think in these places, much less notice anything interesting. In random little towns in the south of Sweden however, everything is switched on. I ponder and appreciate every little thing and can’t get enough. I honestly can’t think of too many times when I’m happier. I really wish I could find a way to turn these first-morning walks into a career. I could write and photograph mornings like this for the rest of my life. Any takers?

My book Straight Guy in the Queer Skies is now available as is my Locations NYC app to help you wander around New York anonymously, like a lost puppy, the way I like to wander around bizarre exotic towns that I don’t even know how to pronounce.