Sunday, September 4, 2016

Holiday in DFW or Moscow?

The one good thing about not blogging very often is I get to save up a lot of stories/incidents to blog about later. If I can just remember them all. This travel story happened last December.

On December 28, the last day of my Christmas holiday family visitation trip, the weather forecasters predicted 27 inches of snow at home. As usual, they were completely wrong; we only got 24 inches. But I was far away and unconcerned in unusually balmy weather in Tennessee. With two days to clear the snow from the runway and with the airport within walking distance of home if necessary, I didn't worry.

Amazingly, on my last night away, with humid conditions and a 68 degree temperature, we had a perfect night to sit by the hotel firepit without even a jacket. Two of my brothers were there along with assorted other hotel guests as we relaxed and eventually closed down the bar which proved to be my first mistake as hotel bars generally close at 11:00 or midnight, and I had to get up at 4:00 a.m. to catch a 6:00 a.m. flight home.

One of the other hotel guests opened up a travel bag and pulled out a bottle of whiskey for just such an emergency. When he asked us if we wanted some, my answer of "sure" became my second mistake. We enjoyed conversation late into the night, and I had become completely oblivious to the time. As we staggered back into the hotel, my brother said, "I can't believe it's 3:00 a.m." Crud.

At that point, I decided if I went to sleep I'd never get up for my flight so I just sat on the bed watching tv for an hour trying to stay awake. Finally at 4:00 a.m., I got up to get in the shower as my phone buzzed with a voicemail.

"That can't be good," I thought as I grabbed the phone and played the message.

"Hello, this is We Don't Fly in Snow Airlines. We regret to inform you that your flight from Dallas to Antarctica has been cancelled. However, we have booked you on a later flight which departs on January 2."

"January! That's next year!" I fumed to no one. "Four days? I can't get home for four days?"

I settled down and decided not to panic. I've been in these situations before; I'm sure I can get a flight via standby. I also realized that I could just stay in town for another day or two and at least visit family and catch a flight later in the week.

I checked in at the airport and told the agent that if I could book a later flight, I'd just hang around a few days. She glanced at the long line behind me and suggested that all flights were booked up forever and ever and that I should be happy just to get to Dallas. I figured she might be right, and at least St. Pauli Girl could always drive to Dallas to pick me up. So I headed toward the gate.

I finally collapsed into my seat on the plane ready to sleep for a solid two hours during the flight. An older man in jeans and a straw cowboy sat next to me (normal attire on a flight to Texas). I quickly closed my eyes to signal him not to bother me.

The plane finally took off, and I tried to get comfortable for my nap. I heard a slight buzzing sound and a light rap that slowly grew louder. I opened my eyes and noticed the man next to me humming some sort of chant while patting out time with his hands on his thighs. Then the chant went quiet and suddenly got loud again. I decided the best plan of action would be to ask him about it and see if he could keep it a little quieter.

"That's a lovely hymn you got going there," I said. "What does it mean?"

"Thank you. It doesn't really translate to English. But it basically means, 'hope the plane don't crash.'"

"Keep up the good work," I said as I turned back to the window and closed my eyes.

Thanks to his chanting, we made it safely to Dallas and I was now running on about 20 minutes of sleep in 24 hours. I decided I would treat myself to breakfast plus coffee before my next flight. I liked my chances; with the snow two days old, surely they had plowed the runway by now? As I finished my eggs, my phone received another voicemail.

"Hello, this is See You Next Year Airlines, your 9:30 flight has been cancelled. We booked you on standby on a 2:30 p.m. flight but don't hold your breath. And remember we still have a seat saved for you on that January 2 flight. Have a nice day!"

By the time I had paid my check, and left the restaurant, I looked up at a departures screen to see the 2:30 flight had been cancelled already. I called St. Pauli Girl to relay the good news. Originally, we had planned to drive back to Dallas on the 30th anyway to celebrate my birthday and spend the weekend there. We came up with a brilliant plan that I could just spend the night in Dallas, and she would drive out the next day like we had planned.

I decided I had better talk to a real airline agent to get everything straightened out. After an hour, I made it to the front of the line and spoke to an agent.

I said, "Look my wife is gonna pick me up tomorrow, so just keep me on that January 2 flight just in case. I'll just spend the night here."

Relieved that he didn't have to think or that I wasn't the typical angry psychopath airline passenger, he said, "Would you like a discounted hotel room?"

"Why yes, yes I would. Of course, I suppose I can't check in until this afternoon..."

"Nonsense, an airport shuttle will meet you over there by exit G."

Finally, things were looking up for me... ( to be continued)

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Things That I Should Have Said

It was fitting that we ended up in the church we had mostly grown up in. Attired in jackets, ties or dress, we paraded down the main aisle reminiscent of Christmases long ago. But this time, we had reserved seats, and no usher necessary to seat us.

Back when we were scattered about at various school locations, Christmas was the only time of the year when we were all together. We always went to midnight mass on Christmas Eve with my parents going at about 11:00 p.m. to save good seats for everyone. The rest of us kids would arrive just before the opening procession.

It must have been difficult to hold onto those seats for the entire family for an hour. That service is always very popular with standing room only by 11:30 p.m. Mr. P, the head usher, prided himself on being able to fill the pews with 600 people when normal maximum capacity should have been 400. He would stand next to a pew, hold up the number of fingers representing the number of people he intended to seat there, then beckon with a wave of those fingers. If no one came forward, he would start pointing at specific people standing against the back wall. Then he would look down at the people in the pew with a stern face that seemed to say, "You best be moving over."

I'm sure he tried several times over the years to force people into the pew my mom had reserved with coats. My dad probably didn't care and would have thought "serves the kids right for waiting until the last minute to show up."

But I'm sure my mom gave Mr. P a glare that said, "You best be looking to seat those people elsewhere."

And every year, we would saunter in just before midnight and sit in the pew that my mom had saved.

I think we always thought our "just in time appearance" irked her considerably. But we found out years later that she loved having us dressed in our best clothes parading through the entire congregation to our seat as if showing off the family. She said we looked like the mafia all dressed up with stern looks on our faces. Except for the crime, I guess.

I'm glad we did it one last time for her.

Five or six years ago, after another Christmas visit, I prepared to leave my parents' house to catch my flight. My mom still displayed a sense of understanding with an occasional word, maybe a laugh and that goofy look as if saying, "Are you kidding me?" I wore some ghastly t-shirt with raised lettering, and when I went to hug her goodbye, she traced the "S" on my shirt with her finger and said, "Superman."

I don't know if it was a lucid thought, a hibernating memory suddenly shot out of the dark recesses of the brain or if she was even talking about me. But I chose to think she was talking about me. I almost missed my plane because of having to pull over a few times to clear my eyes and get my thoughts together.

All these years later, it has finally dawned on me that she wasn't talking about me at all. She was talking about my dad. I don't know anyone that would or could possibly argue that he isn't Superman.

Most people, simply from watching television if nothing else, are familiar with the classic marriage vows, "to have and to hold, in sickness and health, until death do us part." I don't know if those vows are still in use, but I'm pretty sure it's hard to find a minister who actually believes it or can say it with a straight face. In my lifetime, I doubt I will witness anyone that can honor those vows as my parents did for 57 years.

"To have and to hold": that first dance, holding hands, that first kiss, a wedding kiss, an embrace on the first born, then another child, and another child, etc. A few stolen moments on weekend getaways, the kitchen make-out sessions when you thought there were no kids around (or just didn't care), the hugs upon family deaths, weddings, and minor surgeries. Holding hands in a custom built treehouse as the sun sets, holding her up on the first slip to holding/carrying her wherever she needed to go, to the final act of placing her in her resting place.

In retrospect, I guess the kids should have been the ones saving the seats for my parents at Midnight Mass. We might not have staved off Mr. P the usher with an easy glare, but with two lawyers in the family, they'd issue subpoenas and depositions while the rest of us engaged in fisticuffs, half'-nelsons, full-nelsons, eye-gouging ("Hey Mr. P, I got two right here!") and quite possibly a Stooges pie fight.

My parents probably would have avoided the fracas and simply taken a seat somewhere in the back. My mom would have put her head on my dad's shoulder and said, "Oh how I love them."

And we love her too, forever and ever.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Mayor McCheese?

Late one evening, St. Pauli Girl and I were sitting in our courtyard enjoying a cocktail when we noticed a light reflecting off the side of the house. It disappeared then came back. The courtyard is surrounded by a five foot high brick wall, so we couldn't see beyond it without standing up. Having sat out there on many a night, I knew it couldn't be the headlights of a car.

"What's that light?" I asked. "Is that a flashlight?"

Then we heard a grunt.

"That sounded like an animal," I said.

"Yeah but they don't normally carry flashlights."

I pushed my wrought iron chair back dragging the legs along the bricks trying to make as much noise as possible.

"Hello?" I called out as I walked to the brick wall.

I peered out out over the wall and saw a scruffy man in a white t-shirt, grey shorts and sandals and using his cell phone as a flashlight.

"Hello, can I help you?" I yelled out trying to be firm and civil

He said something, but I couldn't understand it. He stood still staring at his phone.

"Time to get serious," I thought.

"Hey! What are you doing on my lawn?" I said in the deepest foreboding drill seargant voice I could muster.

"I'm looking for my wife," he snapped back as he resumed looking at his phone.

"Not good enough. What are you doing on my property?" I demanded.

I turned to look at St. Pauli Girl to tell her to get ready to call 911, but she was gone. Then I saw the front porch light come on. I quickly ran into the house and to the front door. I came out into the front yard and saw St. Pauli Girl talking to the stranger. I ran toward them as St. Pauli Girl walked back toward the garage.

"Marcellus Wallace, I live three houses down." the stranger said as he held out his hand to me. (Names have been changed to protect the innocent and not so innocent.)

I introduced myself and shook his hand.

"Just looking for my wife," he said. "So you bought the De La Hoya house?"

"What?" I asked while still trying to grasp how this weird situation had now become a normal conservation. "I didn't know the house had a name."

"They were the previous owners," he said smirking.

At this point I noticed his wobbly legs as St. Pauli Girl came back from the garage.

"Well she's not in the garage," she said. "Did you meet Mr. Wallace? He said he saw his wife walk up here."

"Yeah, I was concerned," he said. "She was pretty drunk, and I'm just trying to get her home safely."

"I don't think so," I said, "we've been out here all night and haven't seen or heard a thing."

"Hmmm, maybe next door."

We watched him stumble across the driveway into the neighbor's yard.

"I wonder who's drunker, him or his wife," I said as we walked back to the courtyard.

"You know who that was don't you?"


"That was the ex-mayor."

"What? Really?" I asked.

"Yeah, can't remember when exactly but I guess before you moved to the Great Republic of Texas."

We resumed our cocktails when about ten minutes later, we saw the same light flashing on the house. We walked back out to see Marcellus walking up our driveway again.

"She's not here," I yelled. "We would have seen her."

"Just let me check your garage."

St. Pauli Girl walked through the garage and told him the same thing.

Marcellus threw up his hands and walked down the driveway and back to the street. He weaved badly in and out of the street. We stood and watched him stumble up and down the street a couple of times.

"Do you think we should call the police?" St. Pauli Girl asked.

"I'm torn between not wanting to stay up all night getting interviewed by the police and being awakened by his cell phone flashlight shining in our bedroom window. If we see him come by again before we call it a night, we'll call the police."

We sat down and quietly contemplated the incident for a few minutes.

I finally broke the silence. "You know, considering this is Texas, it's amazing and lucky that we were both unarmed."

We didn't see him again the rest of the night.

Several weeks later, St. Pauli Girl called me at work to tell me the dogs had escaped from the backyard. Both the sidegate and back gate were wide open, and I failed to notice when I let the dogs out.

"Do you think the mayor was looking for his wife again?" St. Pauli Girl asked.

(The dogs returned safely.)

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Golfers are just the Best

(After a much longer sabbatical than otherwise planned, I have returned!  Hello, is anyone still out there?  Anyone?)

We live almost across the street from a private golf club (no, I am not a member so I yell and shake a fist at whoever may hit a golf ball into our yard). One day earlier in the spring, while raking leaves in the yard, I wiped my brow and hoped that St. Pauli Girl would come out, offer me a beer and tell me to quit for the day. Suddenly I heard a thumping noise as a car came down the road next to the golf course. Someone definitely had a flat tire.

The car slowly veered onto our street and stopped in the middle of the street in front of our house. Now our street is very narrow and appears more like a driveway, but nevertheless it is still a street where cars do go in both directions often times much faster than they should.

I stood and waited for the driver to exit the car. Knowing that chivalry would demand that I offer to help if the driver were female, I prayed for a male driver. Luckily, the driver was a man, an older man, but I judged him fit enough to change the tire by himself. I resumed raking.

Despite the fact that the back tire was flat, he knelt down by the front tire and examined it for some reason. After a few minutes, he went behind the car and opened the trunk. I saw him moving some things around, then he came back and looked at the back flat tire. I felt relieved that I would not have to go down and point out the correct flat tire. He then pulled out his phone and made a call.

"Ah," I thought in relief. "he's calling AAA or a buddy so I don't have to worry about whether or not I should offer to help."

Upon completion of his call, he went back to the trunk where he pulled out his golf clubs which I assumed were blocking his access to the spare tire and jack. Instead, he closed the trunk and stepped onto the grass bordering the golf course. He pulled out some golf clubs and started swinging them to loosen up.

"Interesting," I thought. "I guess maybe he called his friends to have them pick him up on the way to the golf course."

He then grabbed his golf bag and carried it down next to a tree bordering the first fairway. A few minutes later, a golf club worker pulled up in a golf cart. They threw his bag in the back and drove back to the first tee. Apparently, so as not to miss his tee time, he had called the golf club pro shop and asked to have someone come pick him up.

It's quite possible I would have done the same thing except for the part where he parked his car in the middle of our road.

"Whatever," I thought. "Maybe AAA is going to come fix it while he plays golf. At least it's Sunday and there's not much traffic on the road."

But AAA never came. And as darkness settled in, the golfer never came back either. The disabled car remained parked in the middle of the road overnight and through most of Monday as well. I finally noticed at some point Monday night, the car had disappeared.

I tried to decide if he was arrogant or just stupid then realized that was a waste of my own time trying to figure that out. The lesson in retrospect, was that I should have offered to help. He may have declined my offer, but at least when the caddy came up in the golf cart, I could have said, "Woah, woah, woah, buddy. Let's get this car off the road and out of the way before you get to your jolly, jaunty golf game. And whatever you do, don't park it on my lawn!"