Sunday, September 25, 2011
The Saga of the Odyssey of The Return, or, How I was almost forced to eat a passenger on a Continental flight from Houston to Huntsville.
We had the story of our dreams. All I had to do was get from Chicago back to Birmingham to write it up and post it. Flying up was just a two hour hop. My ticket for the return said Chicago to Indianapolis to Birmingham. I planned to use the long layover in Indy to write the story and send it to David for vetting. He was driving back to Ohio and had the additional assignment of posting The Letter on Scribd.
Made it to Indy, set up my laptop, and began to churn out some of the best prose reporting I've done in a while. (Much of which I could not later remember and so it didn't make it back into The Story. But I'm getting ahead of myself.) Finally, I was done, I called David (still on the road) to read it to him. Almost finished, my computer screen went black and my cell phone went on the fritz at almost the same time, both of them proved to be temporary but I couldn't get back on the computer to finish. Frustrated beyond belief, I go to ask the United ticket counter person how long until the Birmingham plane arrives. She looks puzzled. "There is no direct Indianapolis to Birmingham flight. Let me see your original ticket and boarding pass."
Turns out when United handed me over to Continental, they neglected to mention that Continental was going to fly me first to Houston and then on to Birmingham. OK, fine, I said. How soon will I get to Birmingham? About 10 PM Central, I was told. OK, fine. Whatever.
But I must confess the double fritzing of my electronics shook me up a bit. How in the hell had that happened? A power surge might have got the computer and knocked it off, but the cell phone wasn't plugged into anything and it went out at nearly the same time. Solar flare? EMP? Captain Kirk's photon torpedoes bursting on the near side of Venus?
Whatever. It all came back to The Story. We had to make sure The Story came out. I called David back and told him, I would rewrite it by hand on the flight to Houston, but don't do anything until I post it.
David gets home, I am still in the air. He cranks up his computer, checks Sipsey Street and Holy Excrement, Batman!, there's my post, or at least the first part down to the letter transcript. The rest seemingly disappeared, but that's not the mystery. The mystery is how in Hell did it post, in part, all by itself?
I do not know this. I am still flying Continental to the heathen side of Texas. But although it is posted, David does not know that it is incomplete. He's actually puzzled that it is different -- far shorter -- than what I had read to him, but, hey, there it is. I don't blame him. Neither of us got much sleep at the conference, so we're both beat. He proceeds with the rest of what we agreed upon: his version, the Scribd post, sending me his link.
I get to Houston, having had to fly around a thunderstorm. First thing I do (the plane hadn't stopped rolling yet) is call David. David tells me it is all done, no worries. W!?! T!?! F!?! I bust out, frightening my fellow passengers. Immediate fix to problem (his idea I think because I was not thinking too clearly at that moment): I give David my password to Sipsey Street, and he changes the post, pulling it back down into edit mode. He does the same for his, then he notices the Scribd post already has hits so he locks that up in private mode until I can get to Birmingham and fix the whole damn thing.
The Story still is not out. Worse, we have obviously tipped somebody off prematurely that there IS a story and a damned important one at that. It gets worse.
I get off the plane. I am instructed that plane I just debarked from must be cleaned and then we are going to Birmingham. I sit where I am told. After about five minutes, somebody comes to man the little boarding booth. I explain I was told to get off and wait, but when, please ma'am, will the plane arrive in Birmingham? Quizzical look. Oh, no. I've seen that before.
That plane is not going to Birmingham. The plane going to Birmingham left at 25 after the hour. I look at my watch. It is TWENTY SEVEN MINUTES PAST. Lady, I explain, it has only had the door shut for two minutes. The flight attendant hasn't even made it to the oxygen mask explanation yet. Too bad. Doors closed. Heap bad juju if they open again. Someone will be tortured to death by Human Resources.
Well, I demand, when is the next plane to Birmingham? I am becoming frustrated and a little tetchy. "Tomorrow morning" is the answer. I am directed to the inaptly named "Service Desk." Gritting teeth, explain problem. Must get to Birmingham. MUST GET TO BIRMINGHAM. Answer same-same. No Birmingham. Too bad. Where the hell am I going to sleep? (Here I am hoping that because they screwed up they will put me up in a hotel WITH AN INTERNET CONNECTION, hint, hint, nudge, nudge, wink, wink, say no more.) Blank looks. Dunno. They look at seats around the concourse. I am thinking now is a bad time for a heart attack due to stress and hypertension.
Then the girl on the end (really, she was a girl, but obviously more creative than her elders) clicks some keys and says, "We can get you on a flight to Hunstville, sir, would that be fine?"
Through gritted teeth I reply, "Fine? Why just as fine as my first marriage I suppose." She did not get the menace behind it. A passenger behind me guffawed, but when I turned on him he looked all innocent, like "Who me?."
And there was STILL The Story.
Using superlative self-control I turned back to the girl and asked, when will the plane arrive? She told me. And when does it leave? Well, uh, it seems like, well, right now(?). I call Rosey, who has just driven four hours back from Hattiesburg, MS, after visiting Zoe for the weekend. Explain problem tersely. Can you get to Huntsville in the car and pick me up if I land there? Sure, no problem, well maybe a problem. Hour and a half away. No gas, little money. Gave all of hers to Zoe because "she needed stuff." Quarter tank of gas. Little money. How much is little? Three dollars and some change, besides she says definitively, "YOU were coming home." Yes, but I are not home. Must fetch me. Find money. Go to PO Box see if there is subscription money. Uh, huh. And if not go to good friend in Pinson and borrow some gas money until tomorrow. OK? Well, yeah, okay. She goes to box. No money. Goes to friends, borrows ten dollars.
I turn to girl. OK, now how to I get to plane to Huntsville? Long way, can't get there, must have help. They call a little shuttle car that runs up and down the concourses when summoned, if you're lucky.
I am lucky. We load my carry-on laptop and meds (my check luggage, they say, will be efficiently sent on to Birmingham, no worries). Whatever. Worries, but whatever. Not a priority. The Story. THAT is the priority.
Shuttle guy breaks all land speed records getting to Huntsville bound plane, almost flattening two small children. I am amazed at how indifferent I am to their near-death experiences. Realize I am getting low on sugar. Go to boarding desk. Hand her new paperwork. Are there snacks for sale on plane? No, too short, big hassle, no can do. I reply, no problem, I'll just eat a passenger when my sugar gets low enough. Ha, ha. You are late, must board now, don't eat passenger where anybody in authority can see you.
Get on plane, last guy. I must look deranged. Guy in seat beside me moves to empty seat. Too bad, he was small and it looked like it would be easy to eat him.
Plane takes off. Flight attendant comes by with drinks. I ask her about possibility of snacks. No, too short, big hassle, no can do. I repeat my by-now very serious threat to eat a passenger when my sugar gets low enough that I can plead temporary insanity afterward. Then, A THOUGHT occurs to me. Do you have any orange juice?
No. Ran out. Have apple juice. Enough sugar, Mr. Cannibal? I look at can. 37 grams. Yup, that ought to do it. Still no food, but what I most need is sugar and this is packed with it.
She comes back afterward. Sugar up. No eat passenger now. Tell that guy who fled he can come back. He hears me and without making eye contact he shakes his head.
Finally land at Huntsville. Another Bataan Death March to the pick-up lane. Ask for assistance from a bored cop, the only official looking guy around. No. No help. Short way. You can crawl it. He still looked bored, but he had a firearm and I didn't.
I make it to the exit. Rosey is there. We load my stuff. You look beat. How'd it go? I almost ate a passenger, I replied. She doesn't bat an eye. Oh, OK, she says. "I'll drive," she says.
I get home, crank up the computer, still had no food but on a sugar rush from the apple juice. Finish The Story. Notify David who is dozing next to his computer waiting for my sorry ass to crank it out. I crank it out. He cranks his out.
Had to delete all premature comments on the blog and answer all pissed off emails -- "Where the hell did the story go?"
Look, don't dick with me. I almost ate a passenger. But I got The Story.
I'm going to bed now, OK? I'll eat tomorrow.
Wait, this IS tomorrow.