It’s been a streak of good weeks over here in the nation’s capital. In fact, the whole month of July was a relatively pleasant one. The 4th, my favorite of holidays, was spent next to a babe on the Mall. Under the protection of Abe’s shrine, we watched as fireworks exploded above the Washington Monument and filled the night sky with a blood red haze. And for all you nosey people out there, yes, I now have a girlfriend. Her name is Tiara, and yes, in case you’re wondering, she’s kind of a babe (AND she’s a Republican too)!
A week later, after a grueling search through four different 7-Eleven’s and a CVS just to find a damn Rockstar Energy Drink (don’t even get me started on that story), plus a 45-minute metro ride and two hour wait at the book signing, I had the pleasure of meeting my favorite nationally syndicated radio host, Mark Levin. I even snagged an autograph in the process!
“Manny’s!” he exclaimed, reading the name of the beer spread across my shirt as I finally approached his table at the Tyson’s Corner Barnes and Noble, much in the same explosive manner expressed when providing his acute commentary on constitutional matters.
“Oh, you know about Manny’s?” My reply was filled with ebullience, for he, “The Great One,” actually recognized my favorite beer! “It’s one of the best beers! And wow, I didn’t know you were such an avid beer drinker! This is so awesome Mr. Levin! A Seattle beer of all places—“
“Oh, I don’t even know!” he shot back, waving my commentary off as if I were being dismissed.
“…Oh.” It was the only word I could utter, for nothing I’d say could impress the former member of the Reagan Administration. I gladly accepted the offer of two signed books and meekly left the book store, humbled by such a generous offer.
Tegan and Sara frequent my playlist during my walk to work these days. Heartthrob pumps me up, gives me the energy to take on the day, even draws a smile in the most severe of DC weather. And to think I had dismissed the lesbian/sister duo years ago, having no idea what I was missing… Oh, how foolish I was for giving up on them so quickly!
…And how foolish I was to think my string of good luck would continue with the reliability of the airline companies…
Standing amongst the bustle of Regan International on that Friday afternoon, I look up to the departures board as a swath of red-lettered alerts spreads across it like a swarming pandemic. Chicago O’Hare – Cancelled. Minneapolis/St. Paul – Cancelled. New York/LaGuardia – Delayed… Please tell me Lansing isn’t cancelled. Please… Amidst the threat of congested skies and stormy weather, a lone flight stands firm on its commitment. Lansing – On Time Departure: 4:59.
“Thank God,” I think to myself, my vacation still in good standing. Provided Tristan’s demanding med school schedule, it was imperative to leave DC that night to maximize my time with the homey. The prior week’s events had been planned around it. Two workout days sacrificed, dinner with the babe cut short, a 5 am check out—no way I’m getting stuck in DC! I will be getting on a flight, and I will be in Michigan—tonight. That’s for damn sure—
The departures board flickers, displaying the latest list of flights stricken by the pandemic. I read through the list, anxiety mounting. Lansing – Delayed: 5:17 pm… Crap.
It’s the most notorious of trends in the airline industry, teasing you with a string of piecemealed updates, keeping you around to have you believe that despite delay after delay, your flight will eventually depart. And like the sucker I am, I bought in, my fate helplessly dependent on the mercy of American Airlines.
“Attention American Airlines passengers on flight 4230, service to Lansing,” said a soothing voice through the terminal loudspeakers. Gee, I wonder what could possibly warrant such an announcement? “…We regret to inform you that your flight has once again been delayed. Your new departure time is 6:24 pm.” I hung my head and shuffled my way to an empty seat near the gate, already becoming a scarce commodity throughout the entire airport.
It’s nearly an hour before the next announcement. I update Tristan, take a snooze, and patiently wait, still holding onto that blissful state of ignorance, believing whole-heartedly that I’d eventually make it out of DC.
“Attention American Airlines passengers on Flight 4230, service to Lansing.” Here we go again. “We would like to inform you…” Oh, let me take a WILD guess. “…That we have a flight crew and that you do have a flight out tonight. We will begin boarding as soon as our plane gets in from Richmond.”
I celebrate with a smile of relief, despite another delayed departure time of 7:37 pm. Behind me is a line to the American Airlines Service Desk, already backed up several gates. My God, look at that! It’s still growing, twice as long since I first sat down! Any minute now it’ll be all the way to security! Too bad they didn’t get in line an hour ago. Sucks to be them—
“Attention American Airline passengers…” hold up. What’s this? “…Awaiting Flight 4230…” Another announcement? Why? “…Service to Lansing…” what, in the hell… “We regret—“ WHAT IS THERE TO REGRET!? “…To inform you that your flight…” No… NO! “…has been cancelled. Please see the American Airlines Service Desk for rebooking.”
My face drops, petrified into dumbfounded countenance. A text message pops up on my phone. I cautiously read along. “Attention American Airlines passenger. Your flight has been cancelled,” it reads, as if I needed another reminder. “You have been rebooked for Sunday, July 16th, 2017, leaving DCA at 4:59 pm. Please call our service desk number for additional rebooking options.” I sit for a long moment before dialing, my mind unable to process, let alone accept the fate bestowed upon me.
“Thank you for calling the American Airlines Service Desk Hotline,” the automated voice says. “If you have your confirmation code, please provide it at this time.”
“SBXOQH,” I say. A long pause ensues.
“We’re sorry, we didn’t catch that,” the concerned voice replies, though coming off as more annoying than anything else. “Please spell out your confirmation code, and provide a word after each letter. For example: C as in Charlie. P as in Plane…”
“S as in Santa. B as in Bravo. X as in… X as in…” Crap!
“I’m sorry, we didn’t get that. Please spell out your confirm—“
“S as in Sierra. B as in Bravo. X as in Xylophone. Q as in—“ hold on, SBX, OQH…. “Damnit!”
“I’m sorry, those letters did not match up.”
“S. AS. IN. SIERRA. B. AS. IN. BRAV—“
“Please wait. A service representative will be with you in over 2 hours.” Over 2 hours? AHHHHHHH!!!
I hang up and stomp my way over to the service line… all the way back to the security checkpoint. I stand on my tippy toes and peak forward. It’s hundreds of travelers deep, at least. This better not take two hours. I hedge my bets. No way it’s going to take over two hours…
Two hours later I stand at the heart of stagnation, my body failing, yet determined, fueled by a rage constantly building with each passing minute. The people watching is just as unnerving.
“Excuse me sir,” says one patron as a service manager passed. “I’m sure your people are stressed, but I just want to let you know that you guys are doing a terrific job of handling this. Thank you for everything you do.” Really guy? REALLY? A line backed up all the way to security? One service agent working the desk? You fool. You damn fool!
A pathetic show of intense schmoozing takes up another half hour of my time. Having a front row seat and constrained by the slug-like pace of the service line, I have no choice but to watch as two middle-aged “gentlemen” dressed in colorful suits sip on cocktails at the terminal bar and swoon their way into the pants of a group of older women. The worst part is, it’s actually working. So, this is all fun and games to you, huh? I’m sure everybody’s flight being delayed is just a gay ol’ time for you! What I would give to deliver a giant knuckle sandwich your way—
I feel a sudden buzz in my pocket. It’s the service desk number finally calling me back. I answer. “Hello.”
“Hello, this is Susan from American Airlines, how may I help you?”
“Yes, I’ve been waiting for over two hours. I need to rebook my flight.”
“…Sir, will you politely tell me your confirmation number?” Politely? POLITELY?? I’ll show you politely!
Susan turns out to just as worthless as she is rude, surprise, surprise. I hang up, every inch of my body ready to deliver the most stinging—most poignant of complaints once I reach the service desk. “Listen…” I say, practicing in my head. “I’ve been—“ wait, too soft. “List—listen here!” Yea, that’s more like it. “This—this is unacceptable! I demand compensation… Sunday? You have me booked out on Sunday? Hell if I have anything to do with it! You’re going to put me on a plane, tonight! Do you hear me! And I want first class, I want travel vouchers, food vouchers, and lodging! That’s right, I’m leaving tonight, but I still want lodging! Let me tell ya… the amount of time wasted—I could be home, I could be in Michigan—anywhere but here! You have no idea who you’re dealing with, you hear me!?…”
One customer remains before the mighty deluge of complaints flows mellifluously from my mouth. I salivate at the opportunity, the amount of time spent standing creating a sick and ecstatic desire to rip this company to shreds. She approaches the desk, an Aussie, haggard and unpredictable. By the looks of it, life had chewed this individual up and spit her back out a couple times over, at least.
“Ma’am,” addresses the service desk representative, still in the process of setting up her workstation. “If you can step back for a few moments as I log into the system, I will call you up as soon as I’m ready—“
“Excuse me?” she blasts back. “I ain’t goin’ anywhere, mate.”
“Ma’am, I need you to step back, or I can’t help you. I will call you when I’m ready—“
“Don’t you tell me to step back!” Sounds like I wasn’t the only one practicing.
“Ma’am, I need you to lower your voice.”
“LOWER MY VOICE? AFTER WHAT YOU’VE DONE!?”
“Ma’am, I can’t help you if you keep screaming. If you bear with me, I can see about getting you a flight out of here tomorrow.”
“TOMORROW? YOU EXPECT ME TO WAIT UNTIL TOMORROW? BULL SH—“
“NO! YOU’RE GOING TO PUT ME ON A PLANE BACK TO AUSTRALIA TONIGHT, DO YOU HEAR ME!?” It’s like she literally read my mind…
The manager rushes over for assistance. “Mam, we’ll get you a flight, but you need to calm down.”
“I want… a ticket. And I want it… now.”
“Alright, I can print out an itinerary for you—“
“WHERE’S MY TICKET!?”
“Ma’am, please, If you don’t calm down, I won’t be able to give you a ticket, or allow you to board an American Airlines flight.”
“WHAT?! YOU GOTTA BE F—ING KIDDING ME!”
“NO! YOU CAN’T DO THIS TO ME!”
“Ma’am, you’re showing us that you’re emotionally unstable—“
“Emotionally unstable? Emotionally Unstable?? F— YOU! HOW DARE YOU CALL ME—I’LL SHOW YOU EMOTIONALLY UNSTABLE YOU MOTHER F—”
“Ok, we’re going to need to call security over here,” says the manager through his walkie-talkie. “Mam, please step aside. There’s nothing left we can do for you.”
She shouts a few more screams at the managers face before storming off, continuing her eruption of random obscenities as she stomps around the terminal in a Tourette’s driven fit, determined to go down swinging. It’s only a matter of time before security drags her out of the airport.
“…Next please,” squeaks the service desk agent, a minor insult away from bursting into tears. Slowly, I step up to the plate. This is it. Don’t go soft now.
“…Hello Ma’am,” I softly reply. “Listen. I…” I stall, the Christian inside me trying to drain me of ammunition. What are you doing? They screwed you, big time. Get it together, let’s go! “List—“ Her delicate body slouched, having already received her fair share of tolerable abuse for one night. I looked back once more at the line. God, she still has a long night ahead. A really long night. “…Listen. I’m frustrated, you’re frustrated, everybody’s a little frustrated, but I would be in total gratitude if you could help me rebook my flight out of here…”
My tone softens and my edge fizzles into oblivion. Damnit.
It’s well past 10 pm when I reach Tiara’s apartment with a rebooked flight, leaving the next day from Washington-Dulles, connecting through Dallas-Fort Worth, and then to Grand Rapids, Michigan. I stand before her a strained specimen at the edge of a 20-hour bender, stressed, sunken, sweaty, sleepy…
Immediately she shoots me a look of pity. “Oh, hun,” she says, greeting me with a smooch and a hug. There’s no hesitation to her benevolence. “Are you ok?”
I speak, unsure of what to say, but hoping for a combination of words that articulates my exact feelings.
“…American Airlines is the worst, but you’re the best.”
12 hours and a 45-dollar cab ride later, I arrive Washington-Dulles, still baffled as to why I must travel all the way to Dallas in order to get to Michigan. Depression sets in. I’m so close, yet so far away. What if I never get there?... I fill the void with eggs, wings, beer, and other forms of empty calories. It isn’t enough.
Pernicious thoughts fill my head as I travel on the tram at DFW. Between stops, one man, loud and overtly gregarious, finds it necessary to tell the same story over and over again to every passenger; each retelling just as lame as the previous. “Howdy Ma’am. Make sure you hold onto the rails. One time, I wasn’t holding on, and then the tram stopped.” Gee, the tram stops, imagine that. “…I flew forward and hit my head! I don’t think I got no brain damage, heheh. But I certainly learned my lesson. Well, have a nice day… Oh, hello sir, you might want to hold onto the rails there. You might just go a flyin’. Take my word for it, 2015 was a rough year! Don’t remember too much after that, heheh. Well, have yourself a nice day… Hello ladies…”
Dude, your story sucked the first time, and news flash, IT’S NOT GETTING ANY BETTER! Why does this crap always happen to me? One day, gone. Wiped out. Down the drain. Dead. Burnt to a crisp! Sayonara! See ya later! Thank you American Airlines, you’ve officially ruined my vacat—
The illuminated sign, though small, glows bright like a white dwarf in the infinite night sky. It captivates—no… slays me, like love at first sight. Whoa. Dunkin Donuts… that sounds… awesome.
There was no excuse. Three days without exercise and 2000 calories already expended, today alone? Another 600 would break the bank. I can’t—I won’t. That’s it Zack, just keep walking, right past the sign, past the counter. No need for coffee, you’re going to sleep on the plane anyway. Don’t stare, don’t even look at the colorful assortment of donuts. They’re not worth it. Overpriced, unfulfilling, and regrettable, every time. Don’t you do it… Don’t you—
“Hello sir, welcome to Dunkin Donuts, what can I get you?”
“I’d like a strawberry frosted donut with sprinkles and a large latte please…”
I can literally feel another fat roll form under my belly as I sink my teeth into the strawberry pastry. Immediately, I regret my decision, yet I don’t stop eating; I don’t stop drinking. Having paid too much for a single donut and coffee, I finish both, unfulfilled, then board my flight.
It’s midway through the flight before I fully realize the error of my gluttonous ways. The excessive consumption of salts, sugars, soda and beer throughout the day results in an allergic reaction, a perfect storm of sorts. My throat develops an itch, which triggers a cough. My body breaks out in a sweat, anything it can do to remove the harmful chemicals attacking it. I began to sneeze, uncontrollably. Upon landing, it becomes a race to the bathroom for a most proper and efficient removal/relief.
I make it… barely.
“Hey, what’s up man?” reads a missed text from Tristan. “You still going to make it by 8?” Immobilized in the 2nd stall of the Grand Rapids airport, I respond accordingly.
“Had a little bit of an emergency, still need to get the rental car, going to be late.” Approximately a half hour passes before I reach the rental car kiosk. It’s another 70-dollar expense added to the trip.
The drive to East Lansing is over an hour long. I can only imagine the angst building within Tristan as I’m well passed my original time commitment. Daylight runs low. However, the western side of the Eastern time zone buys me a few more minutes—thank God.
The non-stop traveling and its associated torment drives me to weariness; a day’s worth of bodily punishment finally coming home to roost. I need a boost, some source of excitement, some energy. I need….
I take the next exit and find the nearest gas station on the outskirts of town, accompanied by the erudite musical selections of Wiz Khalifa. Heads turn as I tear through the parking lot with “We Dem Boyz” pumping through the speakers of my rented Toyota Camry. Mothers and daughters alike stare with curiosity. Who is this man, strange, yet cool and confident, walking into our gas station with such purposeful intent?
The quality of this convenient store is above satisfactory. Clean, friendly, and a more than adequate selection of energy drinks; leaps and bounds beyond the standards of your average DC 7-Eleven. My hand gravitates towards a Rockstar, my go-to energy drink, but my mind wavers. Can my body handle such intense doses of caffeine, guarana, taurine—vitamin B12? I mean, I have gray hairs now! I’m not a little kid anymore!
Another wave of depression begins to seep into my head. I ignore it. No time to feel sorry for yourself. You’re so close. Keep searching. There’s got to be some—wait, what’s this? Organic Rockstar?… This is amazing! An answered prayer! But… I can’t. Not after how much I’ve made fun of Robin Comita over the years… All that shopping at the Co-Op, drinking tea and eating all sorts of natural bull crap… Boy, I’d rub it in her face too, like an animal, heheh! But Jesus… at this point, do I have a choice?
With a deep breath and a big step, I swallow my pride and take one of the biggest risks of my adult life. I purchase an organic product.
It takes a minute before I gain the courage to taste it. My heart pounds as I pop the top and press the can up to my lips. Hmm… not bad. Not great either, but… wow, this is… so natural… so refreshing—whoa, I feel—this… Man, THIS IS GREAT! I suck the rest down and rip out of the there, Wiz screaming “Holla” several times to innocent bystanders.
My entrance into Tristan’s neighborhood comes at a great disturbance. Being so close to Michigan State University, such mayhem is to be expected during Fall and Spring semesters. However, for those residing on the quaint suburban street and looking for refuge, the luxury of a summer respite would desist, at least while I was in town.
I approach the door and knock, my nerves spiking as I wait for an answer. Gee, it’s almost 9, a little later than I thought… What if he’s mad? What if he— Through the window I see silhouettes, shifting and closing in on my position. Butterflies swirl as I hear a twist of the doorknob. The door swings open and a tall hunk appears, looking as though he had just finished a shoot for GQ Magazine. My eyes radiate. I can’t help but smile. “Dude… Tristan!”
“What’s up dude?” he says, greeting me with a bro-hug and a big smile of his own. “Come on in!”
He leads me into his study and begins the tour of his new home, adjacent to the front entrance. “Oh man, you’re like a doctor now!”
“Yea! Working at it.”
“Oh man, this is so cool! Let me guess, this is where all the magic happens.”
“Yep, this is where I study.” I observe his computer workstation. Particular lower regions of the human anatomy are plastered across the screen, dissected, ribbed, and fully frontal. “Don’t know if you can tell, but we’re studying the abdominal regions and other extremities of the human body right now.”
“Alright! I say, my eyes glued to the screen. “Boy, that must be a picture of the… the uh… scrotus?”
“Yes, haha. That would be the scrotum,” he responds in a professional manner.
“And those must be the testes—well, don’t know that for sure, but I know for a fact that that’s the wiener!”
“I think the preferred scientific term is ‘penis,’” he calmly responds, trying to conceal his growing smirk. I imagine he’ll get rid of the giggles by year 3 or so.
“Oh man, I kind of want to be a doctor now, too!”
“You already got a good start on the anatomy.” It wasn’t Tristan’s voice this time. I turn. Another smile, reinvigorated and bigger than the first emerges. It’s Kim Klapchar. Ladies and gentlemen, we got another doctor in the house! My mind turns to mush as another wave of excitement burns through me. I speak without a guarantee of intelligible discourse.
“Klim Klapcha—I mean…” crap. Try again. “Kim Klapshell—Sharnheart… I mean, Kimmy Kimmel—Klam… Klipchart… uh… how are ya!?” She gives me a hug, forgiving the mispronunciation. “Boy, we got some catching up to do!”
Moments later Maria walks in the house, having just come off work. This time it’s diarrhea of the mouth.
“Maria, it’s me, Zack!” Her eyes widened as I go in for a sudden hug. Being that her hands are full, I do the hugging for the both of us. “Man, I missed ya! Did you miss me?”
“…Um, yea, I missed—“
“I knew it! And holy crap, you just got married, to Tristan of all people! How was the wedding?”
“It was beautiful—“
“Oh boy, all the way in Tuscany! I bet there were Italian babes all over the place! Speaking of babes, I have a girlfriend now!”
“Total babe, by the way. You’d like her. And she’s a Republican!”
“And you know those hardly exist anymore!” I shoot back, winding up and swinging my arm forward as if I’m throwing a fastball.
“I… I don’t disagree—“
“Hey, are you guys hungry? I’m starved! I’ve barely eaten anything all day!”
“Yea! There’s a little place called Reno’s down the street,” suggests Kim Klapchar.
“Reno’s?” replies Maria.
“Reno’s?” adds Tristan.
“Reno’s!!!” I confirm.
“Wait? Aren’t you going to tell us what happened with your flight?” asks Maria.
“My flight?… what flight—oh, my flight! Yea, I guess it kind of sucked! Oh well, I’ll tell you the details later. Let’s go!”
“But wait, I just got home—“
Despite Reno’s mediocre service, unfinished décor, lack of siding, and unimpressive spice level of their “lava” wings, dinner was great, the surrounding company wildly exceeding expectations. “Dude, Tristan, how’s med school so far?”
“I study all the time, but it’s good. Just got a lot of catching up to do.”
“You’ll be alright. You’re pretty much one of the smartest hunks I know. Hard working too! And thank God you’re studying the greasy regions right now. It’s nice to know I have someone I can trust, just in case… I don’t know, something bad happens… not just to me, but to any of us! You know what I’m saying? Not saying it will, but…” I go on and on while Tristan chuckles and shakes his head, unsure of how to respond.
“Yea, don’t worry Tristan. Med school might suck for a while, but it’ll be worth it in the end,” adds Kim Klapchar.
“Yea! And pretty soon, you guys will be able to talk, doctor to doctor!” My quip receives a collage of chuckles.
“So, tell us. What the heck happened with your trip?” reminds Maria.
“…Yea, so American Airlines kind of sucks, and straight up cancelled my flight…” I tell of the atrocities committed by American Airlines as best I can, trying to recapture the anger held a day prior. For some reason however, sitting there amongst good company, thinking about the week ahead of us, most of the animosity had seemed to vanish.
“…You know what, forget American Airlines. I’d like to propose a toast instead,” I say, raising my glass. Tristan, Maria, and Kim Klapchar follow my lead. I forget the exact combination of words used, but the sentiment’s clear.
“To you guys… my friends. American Airlines is the worst, but you’re the best!” Our glasses clink, and our smiles flourish.
The proceeding events of that week prolonged those smiles. As Tristan studied the suggestive regions of the human body and attended class during the day, Maria and I caught up on some much overdue gossip on all sorts of hunks and babes, usually over the course of a drink or two. Sometimes, those bills ended up being a little more than we were anticipating (500 dollars???).
When Tristan needed a break from his med school studies, we’d feast at Buffalo Wild Wings, find a silly internet video or two to watch, and sometimes retreat to the tennis court. He’d cream me, every time, for nobody can stop his monster serve (and I guess my tennis game probably needs a little work as well, heheh)!
And when both of them were held up with work obligations, Kim Klaphcar and I would head to the local Espresso Royale for a little work work work work work work of our own—Rihanna style.
The pinnacle of the week came at an international soccer match, Roma versus Paris Saint-Germain in Detroit. Two young and undisciplined PSG fans gave us constant heckles throughout the game’s duration. Given that their parents refused to punish their children (parenting these days… I swear it’s going down the tube), we mercilessly gave it right back at em’. But as Roma (Roma Roma) came up short on the shootout, the young siblings were beyond relentless, crapping on us all the way towards the exit. Even at the expense of disappointment, we couldn’t help but appreciate such passion for the game. We left Tiger’s stadium still smiling that evening, having added another precious memory to the bank.
It’s weird that out of all the major events that occur throughout our lives, it’s the small moments that seem to stick out the most. On my flight back to DC, I couldn’t help but think about our friendship and the adventures we had just had, how each of us were making that scary, yet exciting transition into the next chapter of our lives. Then, about our time as roommates in Seattle; the silly songs we’d sing, our nerdy passion for gaming, the constant quoting of Doctor Steve Brule, and Carly Rae Jepsen’s Call Me Maybe (our favorite)!
Many times, I’d come home from work, stressed, worn, and uneased with the direction of life—common emotional foibles for the average Millennial. As I’d walk up the stairs and into the living room, there Tristan and Maria would be sitting, captivated with another episode of Chopped on the Food Network. Unable to resist the build-up between rounds and commercials, I’d join them and commence in what eventually became our daily routine. I’d crack a lame joke, and either out of pity or sincerity, they’d laugh. So, I’d crack another one, and another one, and they’d follow up with even more laughs. And between my arrival and the revelation of that episode’s winner, we could forget about the stresses and pains life was dealing us. We could smile, and for a moment, enjoy the time spent together, however short that moment would be.
Friendship can be a powerful thing sometimes. Simply being in the presence of old friends, new friends, a babe of a girlfriend (or hunk of a boyfriend), family, and other loved ones alike can turn any bad day around in a heartbeat. They make the bad times—the long hours at work, the gray hairs, snarky baristas, Dirty Michelles, unpredictable weather patterns, multi-day airport fiascos, and even the Gretch’s, Gibson’s and Ulrich’s of the world all worth it in the end.
It’s their smiles that keeps us going. They remind us that even when American Airlines is the worst, they’re still the best.
And you’re worth it. Every single one of you…
…Even Ben Woodward.