Flightmares

When looking to book a flight for you and your four year old, I realize now there is really only one thing to consider. Simplicity.

I am no stranger to airports. I have seen them all over the world. I have eaten from their various sketchy vending machines; I have waited in smoke choked departure gates for hours on end. I have even, once, hallucinated at one due to nothing more than a toxic combination of sleep deprivation, lack of food and extensive physical exhaustion. That time was memorable.

Many years ago, my family and I were returning to the East Coast after a wonderful vacation in Hawaii. I love Hawaii and have visited many times in my life and hope to go again someday. The visits, however enjoyed, need to be spaced sufficiently far apart from each other for me to mostly forget the nightmare that it is just getting there and back. On this particular trip, we had departed the beautiful Pacific island paradise on an evening flight. Naturally, since it was our last day there, I had stayed up late the day before, risen early that morning and then played hard all that last day. Only when we were on our way back over the ocean did I realize how torturous this was going to be.

I don’t sleep on planes.

Ever.

This was all back before the days of TV’s in the seat backs, laptop computers and iPods. You brought a book, A Sony Walkman, maybe a pocket chess set, but that was about it. Since we were flying through the night, there was very limited entertainment being projected onto the one big, movie screen on the Berlin Wall between First Class and Cattle Class. Mostly, it was dark. Dark and boring. Eventually, we landed, made a plane switch at LAX, and that took us on toward our next connection in O’Hare.

Let me say this now. O’Hare, is awful. Or at least it was. I haven’t been there since and to be honest, I’m still scarred sufficiently to not even think about returning to see if they have ever managed to de-evil the place. It’s huge, sprawling, filled with moving sidewalks that go on for so long that you actually start to fear that you’ll never find your way back and for me, it was also dead. We were there around three AM.

When we had landed in Los Angles, my father, who is also notoriously bad at sleeping, had tried something new on the market to help him out. A neat little pill called Benadryl. Normally, it was used for allergies but because it was an antihistamine, it would also knock you flat. Back then, the notion of “non-drowsy” was unheard of and besides, sleep was what he wanted. Unfortunately for him, my dear Dad is also one of the most drug sensitive people I know. A half dose of anything usually does the trick for him, regardless of the malady. The full dose of Benadryl he gulped down somewhere over Colorado hit him like a freight train. When we landed, Mom and I had to practically drag him to our waiting area, zombie style. Once we had found our gate, he promptly laid down on the floor, face first and started drooling into the gum stained rug. He was unconscious in under ten seconds.

Once I was sure that Mom was all set with everything, my hunger beat out my tiredness and I went foraging for sustenance. We had about two hours to wait, plenty of time to find food.

Two things:

First: Believe it or not, the restaurants in airports do actually close. Really!
Second: You can expect them to be closed at four in the morning.

What this left me doing was pacing back and forth outside of a shuttered cafeteria style establishment where I could hear but not see noisy things happening that hopefully involved the making of breakfast and the opening of the establishment. By five, the metal curtain went up and by five-o-five, I was sitting down and eating pancakes and bacon.

As I chomped and slurped I noticed that my best friend, The Doctor, who was sitting across from me was simply looking on at the messy destruction that I was making of my plate, rather than getting some food for himself.

Around a mouthful of desperately needed, greasy sustenance I managed to ask him, “Do you want some?”

“No.” He replied with a headshake, “I’m all set” and he just smiled at me, seemingly enjoying watching me enjoy the meal.

“Are you sure? If you need some money, I’ve got enough for you too.” I was a little concerned. If I was starving, he must be too.

“No. Really. I’m fine.”

With a shrug and an “Ok” I dug back in and started to cut off another big slice from the hubcap sized pancake. Only then did I pause… and then look up sharply.

He wasn’t gone.
He had never been there at all.

The Doctor hadn’t been on this trip with us. It had all been in my mind, but man-o-man, I would have sworn up, down, left and right that he had been two feet away from me just a second before. The elderly couple in the booth across the isle were staring at me with a odd and somewhat uncomfortable expression, like you would to a street crazy preaching his beliefs, and I suddenly felt rather conspicuous and embarrassed. I managed to inhale much of the rest of my food in under three minutes and with one more spooked look back at the empty seat that had always been empty, I bolted back to my gate before any other weirdness decided to find me and start messing with my already addled brain.

Back in the departure lounge, Mom was still guarding the luggage while Dad sprawled out like a bearskin on a hunting lodge floor. I got home some time later that day and slept off my dementia.

The trip to Florida would naturally, be nothing so epic as that trip, but still the lesson was there. No Benadryl for Dad.

Um, I mean, no connecting flights. Not if you can help it.

There was also the fact that I would have no backup. It was just the two of us and when you are working without a net, you really don’t want to start stacking the deck against yourself.

Initially, this was hard for me to recognize. I am, after all, cheap. The obvious problem I had was that everyone knows that direct flights cost more and I was trying like hell to make this adventure happen for as little as possible. Money saved on transportation could, after all, be spent in gift shops! It was my friend Coley who tenderly and delicately talked some sense into me.

“What are you, NUTS?”

Coley’s never been one to mince words.

“Yah but, the one with the connector is cheaper.” I mean, come on, that’s irrefutable. He could understand that, right? He’s a Yankee!

“Not if you miss your flight. Not if you miss the launch because of delays. The whole point of going would be ruined! They could even loose your luggage.”

The missed or canceled connection was a good argument, but that last point was the most troubling. I was good at sprinting for connections and was pretty confidant that I could fly through a concourse while pushing a stroller at unlawful speeds. Lost luggage was something I had no power over though. Mostly, I wouldn’t care about the lost clothes and toothbrushes, but loosing the tent, our packages and packages of survival food and all the other goodies that I would have to spend a huge amount of time and cash on to make our stay enjoyable, suddenly started to make me rethink my convictions.

Still, the directs cost so much more…

“Did you try JetBlue? They fly directs from here to Orlando and usually have a really good price.”

“They do?” I was amazed. I didn’t think anything flew direct to anywhere from our little corner of Maine. A quick check reveled that not only was my friend right, but that the tickets purchased directly from the airline cost almost exactly what the layover flight on the other airlines would have. They even let you pick your seating! I don’t know how I missed this, but I had. That evening, the tickets were booked and our place on the plane selected. Right side for the trip down, left for the flight back. I figured that way Short Stack could watch the world go by from thirty-three thousand feet rather than a never ending vista of ocean. No carpet drooling or running for far away gates in foreign concourses for us.

Most importantly, no O’Hare.

We were ready.

Tomorrow, we leave for adventure.

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Winning the “Husband Points” Lottery.

Three years ago, we had made plans to go vacation with out friend in France. His house is beautiful and the country side is rugged and inviting. The time we were planning to go was what they call the “shoulder season”, meaning that it was leading up to, but not quite yet, nice out. It’s a good way of avoiding tourists and crowds, although where our friend lived, that was hardly a factor. His house is located on a terraced hilltop out side of an obscure and minimal village in a little traveled province of southern France. Hardly on the tour maps. The weather would be chilly and rainy but we knew how to dress for that. On the positive side, that would mean lots of fires in the mammoth fireplace. I hade visions of me sitting, curled up on the couch or out in the courtyard, wrapped in blankets and writing for days at a time, interrupted only by wonderful food, wine and conversation. It sounded like heaven.

This was to be no ordinary trip for us either. This was our “Last Hurrah” trip. At the time of the trip Action Girl would be about four months pregnant. We both knew that long distance journeys would be out of the equation for the foreseeable future. We both wanted to see our friend again but to be honest, it was I, who was looking forward to this the most. Left to her own devices, she would have fancied something with more palm trees. Still, it was looking like it would be a fun time.

The first problem started in a Paris Suburb. In 2005, Two youths, fleeing from Police ran into a power sub station, over the protective fences and were electrocuted. The Minister of Saying Things On TV at the time was then Mr., (now President) Sarkozy. He managed to fan the flames of racial discord enough to really get the riots going full tilt.

We watched the news and the pictures at home of burning cars and screaming protesters. “No big deal”, we thought. “This is France we’re talking about here. Protesting is a national sport over there. I’m pretty sure that their version of the Boy Scouts offer a merit badge in protesting. It’s a way of life for them. It’ll blow over. Besides, we’re not going any where near Paris. We’re flying into Marseilles.”

Two weeks later, the rioting had spread to Marseilles. Great. After each new news installment of what was on fire in France now, friends kept asking us the leading question, “You’re not going to go, right?” No, we were still planning to go. The only problem that seemed to be looming was that I was still waiting for my new passport to arrive. As usual, I had waited too long. My old passport had expired and only through the less than subtle prodding from Action Girl, did I get it in, supposedly, on time. It was getting down to the wire.

About two weeks to go and the passport arrived. I popped it into the luggage and foolishly thought that we were good to go. The rioters even seemed to be burning fewer cars and shooting at fewer police. What timing! Four days to go and then… oh dear. While doing the final packing, Action Girl happened to look at her passport.

Expired.

Not to worry. It would be expensive, but the government does offer an expediting service. All you need to do is send in your old passport, new pictures of your self and a bank check big enough to make a mortgage payment. The new passport will then arrive in one day from the time they receive it. So, we did all this and waited. And WAITED. Two days until we leave and still no passport. Action Girl calls the processing center and inquires what’s going on. They haven’t seen her passport. WHAT!?

Through a set of unfortunate events and misleading instructions, Action Girl had mailed her information and old papers to the wrong place. There was no new passport coming. Not in time anyway.

What I got that afternoon was a phone call from my cursing/semi-hysterical wife, telling me that the trip’s ruined and that she was going to call work up and try to get her vacation time back. After talking her down from the edge, I told her to give me the afternoon to work this out. I got off the phone and put my brain into overdrive. Mind you, “overdrive” doesn’t get used much. It smokes a bit and makes a grinding sound.

Where could we go? Florida and much of the southern east coast had just been flattened by a series of hurricanes. So had most of the Bahamas and the Virgin Islands. I didn’t know much of anything about vacationing in California, Washington or Oregon. We needed to find a place to go that didn’t involve passports but would be guaranteed to make my dear wife happy about this vacation on the fly. I had it! I called the airline and asked them, “What if we went west instead of east?” A couple hundred dollars paid to them for changing my mind, a quick call to my Mother to enlist her help in finding lodging and we were all set. I called Action Girl at home.

“Empty out the suitcases and start repacking for warm weather.”
“What? Why? Where are we going?”
“Don’t forget your swim suit.”
“WHERE are we going!?”
This was tough. I badly wanted to make this a surprise, but I supposed that she had lived through enough stress for today. I also guessed that she would have strangled me if I withheld this information until we reached check-in at the airport.
“Maui”

*Gleeful squeals*

“Do we have tickets?”
“Taken care of.”
“A place to stay?”
“Mom found a place. It’s on the beach.”
*More squeals*

So, we called our friend in France, gave him our apologies and flew from Boston to Maui. I hadn’t been there in about ten years and for Action Girl, it was her first time. We had a blast. I didn’t get much writing done. Most of our time was spent sightseeing and snorkeling. We had a blast.

I’m still looking out for a chance to get back to France. The fires are out and the rioters are just the local taxi drivers or school teachers and no one seems to be shooting at the police at the moment. I’ll get there yet. The trouble now will be convincing Action Girl to fly east, rather than west.

Bon Aloha.

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