I don’t normally talk about my personal life on here, aside from goofball observations of snack foods or microwavable dinners. This has always been by design because a lot of the things I write about are made up (not lies) or exaggerated for the sake of whatever I’m writing. For this piece, though, there is a bit of personal information that needs to be passed on.
A few days ago my father passed away. He died of cancer. He didn’t suffer for very long which, at the risk of upsetting my family, was a good thing because he was the type of person who would rather people remember him as a vibrant, good humored, active man rather than someone who slowly wasted away to nothing.
Last month I took a trip up to see him just in case it would be my last opportunity to see him. The flight up was completely without incident, not even a delay. That alone is unusual for me because I have some of the worst experiences when it comes to air travel. I am indulging in some ‘foreshadowing’ and this information will come in handy a bit later on.
Dad’s health had taken a down turn and he was in the hospital for the week I was there. I won’t lie, it was hard for me to see him in a hospital bed. The last time I had seen him he was quite active and in good health. A lot of my time was spent just sitting there and making small talk or trying to be respectful of his need for rest and being quiet. I never know what to do, in any situation, so I played it by ear and hoped it was the right thing to do. Because of his illness, it was hard for him to talk but one thing he did manage to get across quite clearly was, “I hate it that you’re here and I can’t talk to you.” I know there’s a lot of things he wanted to tell me but wasn’t able. I was actually all right. I’m a very quiet person and it was all right just being with him. One of my earliest memories is of him holding me, my head against his chest, smelling the sweat of the day on him and falling asleep. This wasn’t the same, of course, but just being there next to him, remembering, was something.
The flight back was almost as uneventful; merely an hour delay and being crammed into a center seat. It was as if Continental was making a half-hearted attempt at ruining my trip but just couldn’t muster up the malice for it.
Going to work turned into a major chore. Most of my thoughts were focused on my dad. Every time the phone rang my heart stopped because I thought it was that call. It got worse my sister called me and said that Dad wanted to say good-bye to everyone. She would hold her phone up to Dad’s ear and I could say what I wanted.
Last year I had an opportunity to say something to my wife before her fatal accident. I could have said, “I love you, no matter what.” Or even just, “I love you.” But, because I was angry with her, I didn’t. My last words to her were, “Yeah, okay.” I was determined not to do that again. So I told my dad about the influence he had through my life, how I tried to treat my step-kids the way he treated his, how I tried to do things the way that he would have done, that I loved him and always had and always would no matter what I had said as a stupid teenager. I went on and on until I was empty.
A few days later I did get that call. I numbly hung up and started to organize what needed to be done that I’d been putting off in the interest of being hopeful.
After my wife’s death I have become the epitome of sedentary. My life used to be full of driving kids hither and thither, shopping, making dinner, and walking up and down stairs about forty times a day. Since that time I’ve been feeling like doing nothing at all. I don’t cook for myself, I only leave the apartment if I have to, and I avoid stairs like the plague. Because of this I have ballooned into a corpulent ogre. So I needed to buy a new suit and what not. I went to the store, tried on some pants (because I’m growing up now) and bought what I needed.
I also needed plane tickets. It’s true that I swore off air travel because of that one hour delay after visiting my dad. That, and needing a seat belt extender and being crammed in a center seat. I was going to drive up but I was pressed for time and my sister, who is pregnant and fragile (pronounced ‘fruh-GEE-lay’), was worried about me driving up all by myself. I looked for plane tickets and was pleasantly surprised that I would be forced to get first class tickets because coach was all sold out. I wouldn’t fly first class if I wasn’t forced to do so. I made reservations for a shuttle to pick me up from my apartment at 2:00pm.
The last time I had a shuttle pick me up, also. You get a window of 15 minutes that they’ll be there. So, if you say “2:00pm” then you should expect them within fifteen minutes of that. The last time I got a phone call saying that driver was five minutes away and I still wasn’t entirely ready. I had to grab things and run downstairs to the parking lot and the driver didn’t take five minutes, anyway.
Monday – 1:30pm
This time I was more prepared. And I would meet them out in the parking lot because I’d go out earlier than my 15 minute window mandated. I got a phone call. It was an automated call from Delta saying that my flight was delayed an hour. Then I got another call from the shuttle driver saying he was outside my building. No warning call and this dude was way early.
I get on the van and we start heading downtown to drop two older women who were in town for something-or-other and just had to go to sixth street to get drunk. It was the only thing they talked about, seriously. On the way I get another automated phone call, this one telling me that my flight is now delayed two hours.
Now I’m at the airport, comfortably early if my flight was leaving on time, but now stupidly early since my flight is delayed.
I’m going to get nit-picky and detailed from here on in and I hope it doesn’t bore you too much. I feel, though, that it adds to the story and better explains why I just about lost my mind before I reached New Jersey, my destination, and why I swore I would never fly Delta airlines again.
Since I was now a first class citizen I wandered over to the check-in line for first class passengers. I know I could get an e-ticket from the kiosk, but I figured I’d ask the agent about alternatives since my flight was so late. Before I could reach the line a Delta person forced me to use the kiosk. I tried (because I wasn’t too argumentative yet) but after stepping me through the process it decided that it couldn’t help me and I’d need to see a ticketing agent. I explained this to the person who wouldn’t let me talk to an agent and he said, “Oh, yeah, it’s probably because your flight is so delayed.”
So I talk to the counter guy and he decides he’ll look up other Delta flights to see if there’s something that can be done, but everything else is booked. I mention that I’m trying to get to my dad’s wake, which is actually ‘tomorrow’ at this point. He immediately picks the phone up and starts calling other airlines. Sadly, everyone appears to be booked but I was given the option of going over to Continental and leaving Tuesday morning or staying the way I’m going and probably having to stay over in Detroit. I would have cost me to get shuttle rides back home and back to the airport, so I opted to stay the course. At this time I was getting phone calls from Delta saying that my connecting flight in Detroit was delayed, too, so this gave me hope.
Now, with my one bag checked and carrying my backpack, I had the option of going through security now and being locked in the airport or going outside and smoking until I passed out.
At this point I should probably explain this, too. While nicotine may be hideously addictive, with me it has more to do with boredom, habit, and keeping my hands busy. What is there to do in an airport for five hours? Nothing. Chances of being bored? Pretty high. Chances of wanting a cigarette while I’m bored in an airline terminal? Guaranteed.
As we all know, smoking is bad. Not just for the smoker, but also for people, plants, pets, germs, planets, aliens who pass by the planet in their flying saucers, the climate, the fabric between dimensions, and anything else anybody wants to make up just to make life difficult for a segment of the population. This means that even having a room for just smokers is a horrible stupid idea because someone, a non-smoker, will end up going into that room to breast feed her child and complain about it killing her and her kid. So there’s no room with outside ventilation for smokers.
And yet… There are bars a plenty. Even the place that makes sandwiches and the pizza place serve beer. Because alcohol is OK and doesn’t everyone need a drink?
Fuck no. My wife died from driving drunk. Nobody flagged her, nobody took her keys, she just drank until she couldn’t drink anymore. And while I know people won’t be drinking in an airport terminal and then driving and killing people, I still don’t want to be around them. It’s bad for my mental health to be around people who “need” a glass of wine at 9am.
So my proposal is, if I don’t “need” a cigarette in an airport then nobody else “needs” a drink, either. Ban alcohol in airports. I don’t like it. Oh, and ban it on the airplanes, too. I don’t want to smell it and I don’t want to hear about it. There’s no reason in the world why someone needs to drink on an airplane.
So I sucked it up and went through the security check. That was uneventful, too. And I meandered around the place until I got hungry.
There was a place that had a sign that said, “Seat Yourself – Full Service” so I seated myself and waited for my service. It turns out that “Full Service” at this place meant you had to get up and get what you wanted. This is a totally new twist for me so I left and went someplace that wasn’t “Full Service” which was the Waterloo Icehouse or something. They made me a hamburger and handed it to me over the counter.
Salt Lick has a presence in the airport and they were featuring live music. When you hear someone say that Austin is the “live music capital of the world” they mean what they say. Unfortunately, they were very crowded so I didn’t bother trying.
If you fly often you’ve probably noticed that in front of each gate there’s a pole. On this pole is a sign that points one way saying to go on that side of the pole if you’re a special first class (or gold member or whatever) person. That side also has a carpet with writing on it saying, in effect, that only special people get to walk on it. The sign on this pole also points in the opposite direction and implies that if you’re one of the unwashed masses you should go on that side of the pole, which doesn’t have a special carpet. And that’s it. There’s no separation other than that pole. It’s not any faster. You don’t get carried in a golden litter by slaves to the airplane. And yet, when they call for boarding of first class passengers people go out of their way to walk on that side of the pole, over the carpet. And, in most cases, they had to walk back to the desk where the guy was scanning boarding passes. Then I had to do it because I was in line but I didn’t feel any different walking over the special people carpet.
The last time I flew first class, which must’ve been over ten years ago, I was able to watch a movie while munching on mixed nuts in a warmed bowl while waiting to take off. I expected something similar after I planted my big butt into the big seat, in which I didn’t need a seat belt extender. When I say ‘big’ I mean human sized. I’m sure that the coach seats are designed for Pygmy Marmosets, not humans. The seats in the terminal are larger than coach seats, by a mile. But there was no movie playing. No mixed nuts. In fact, there was a lot of nothing in the way of perks for people who shelled out big bucks to sit on a human-sized seat. One of the reasons for flying first class, I thought, was being able to put on airs and pretending you’re better than the other peons in the back of the airplane. They never even drew the curtain to hide us big wigs from the rest of the plane. I’m not even certain there was a curtain. When I was a kid there was always a curtain and the stewardess (because that’s what they were, then) always made sure to close it and edge through it, when she had to, to minimize contact between the rich folks and the poor folks. So, I always imagined they were having parties and stuff up there because I couldn’t ever see in it.
But I made it to Detroit. Late. My delayed connecting flight had taken off hours ago. What I had to do was go to a kiosk to collect my hotel voucher. It turns out that one machine didn’t work at all and the other was out of paper. At this point I contemplated not going to a hotel and just staying in the terminal. Would I be able to wake up in time to catch my 7am flight? Probably not. But, damn it, they were giving me a free room so I felt I should take it. So I did. A small group of us convinced a nearby human that the machines were slacking off and we all got vouchers for a hotel room and $6.00 off breakfast, which was a free “continental” breakfast that I wouldn’t have time to get, anyway. I asked about my luggage and the guy told me he was “re-routing my luggage to carousal five.” He assured me it was going to be on carousal five.
Now I’ll say this for the Detroit airport: it’s freaking huge. Standing at one end of the terminal, I could look the other way and barely see the other side; just glowing daylight coming in from the large windows. I walked to the halfway point, walked down a bunch of stairs and started walking down another really long corridor so I could walk up another flight of stairs and attempt to retrieve my luggage.
Carousal Four is where my luggage should have been. It had my flight number and everything on it. So I stood between Four and Five, wondering at this point why the guy re-routed it to Five, keeping an eye on both for my suitcase. Four started rotating and vomiting bags while Five stood still. Eventually Four stopped and I gave up on Five when some maintenance guy showed up and started taking it apart. With a heavy sigh I went to the baggage claim office and they told me that my luggage was going to be put on my 7:00am flight to Newark. With what I’m sure was a blank look I told them that was fine. I gave up and walked away.
Then I had to try and find the place where I was supposed to find a phone to call the hotel and let them know I was coming. Which is why I was surprised when the van showed up and the driver was convinced that I didn’t call to let them know I needed a ride. But I arrived at the hotel, checked in after finding out that Detroit also doesn’t care for the American way of life and prefers to have a government that is anti-freedom of choice for businesses and went to my room. At this point it’s 1:00am, Tuesday.
I made a good effort, but I succumbed to the land of dreams. And I over slept, missing my 7am flight. I gathered my things, checked out, and took the next shuttle to the airport. I got a flight, went through the security checkpoint, which was very long considering I had lost my first class status at this point. I would detail the walk from the ticketing counter all the way back to the terminal but it was just another really long walk. Detroit does have moving sidewalks, though, which made it seem like I could walk twice as fast as a normal human.
I got to my gate, which was all the way down one end of the terminal. I sat around waiting and figured I’d look at the screen to see if there’d been a delay because I wasn’t very hopeful at that point. The display at the gate, all the way on the bottom in small letters, says my gate has been changed. I walked up to the main spot to verify it. Sure enough, the gate had been changed to one further back in the direction I had come from so I hiked back up a few gates and planted myself. For some reason I decided to ask the person at the desk a question. I got up there and saw that the destination on that screen didn’t match my destination.
“Is this flight not going to Newark?” I asked.
The woman looked at me, quizzically. Looked at the screen behind her, turned back to me with a look of surprise and said, “I guess not!” Then she picked up the mic and made the announcement that the gate had been changed. Changed to a gate further up in the direction I had come from. So I hiked my way up there.
That’s when the announcement came that the pilot was sick and there would be a delay. That delay turned into a cancellation. I was instructed to go to one of the customer service desks, which I did. On my way there I sent a text message to my brother explaining about the cancelled flight and also sent a message off to Twitter saying something along the lines of “@Delta, why are you trying to make me miss my father’s wake?”
My brother called me and wanted me to switch airlines. I tried to explain to him that this terminal was Delta, only, from what I had seen. For me to switch airlines I’d need to walk the mile or so back to the exit to somehow find a different terminal and that it would be a right mess. Unless I got a ticket from another airline and they came and picked me up it just wasn’t going to happen.
Delta airlines responded to my Twitter, and that person came back with incredulity after checking out my travel experiences so far and immediately offered me all kinds of vouchers and stuff while looking to see what could be done on their end.
The person at the customer service counter tried to book me on a later flight but I mentioned my father’s wake again and they did the best they could, short of getting me my own chartered plane. I ended up being on stand-by for the next flight out. The Delta Twitter person confirmed that was the best they could do.
So, to cut this story a little bit short, I made the stand by flight and made it to New Jersey where, and I’ll admit I’m surprised, my luggage was patiently waiting for me outside of the baggage claim office.
I left my apartment at 1:48pm Monday and arrived in New Jersey at 3:00pm Tuesday for what should have been a five hour trip.
In all honesty, I was annoyed to the point of insanity. That’s true. But I have to say that every Delta employee I talked to, as far as I could tell, tried really hard to fix the problems I encountered. I collected a bunch of $6.00 meal vouchers, of which only a couple got used. But everyone, right down to the Twitter person, was very respectful of my issues and really did try to get me to where I needed to be even if it meant calling a different airline to get me there. And for that I am grateful.
It wasn’t until I finally got to the wake that I began to wonder if maybe Dad wasn’t trying to keep me from making it. Nobody knows what’s in another person’s heart and mind, but I can tell you that the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do was see my father lying in a coffin. After decades of watching him being alive it was soul crushing to see him stopped. I just don’t know that he would want me to see him like that.
My wife made me swear, an honest to God oath, that if she died I would have her cremated. She didn’t like funerals and it was because she didn’t want her last memories of someone to be them laying in a coffin. She wanted to remember them as being alive and vibrant and, by being cremated, that’s how she would be remembered. I had never thought of it that way but it made sense after she told me that.
The funeral was as nice as it could have been, I suppose. There were a lot of people who’s lives were touched by and intertwined with Dad’s. My trip back was, not surprisingly, completely uneventful.
Some might say that Dad’s story has ended, the last chapter has been closed, and that he will be missed. I won’t say that, though. Oh, he will be missed, there’s no doubt about that. But his story will live on and be told again and again. With his loss comes another life when my youngest sister gives birth to a new family member in a couple of months. Tales will continue to be told to my brother’s kids and to my sisters’ kids.
Lives will continue to be touched by this man’s life. This, I believe.