How to Plan a Wedding, Part 1

The air was damp.  My rain jacket fluttered against the ocean breeze as I boarded the M.V. Coho at the tip of Washington State.  My mission was clear—perform reconnaissance for potential wedding venues, but time was limited, and stress was mounting.  Nothing I haven’t been used to lately.

To be honest, life’s been a little hectic these last few months.  When I popped the question, I thought it was gonna be all gum drops and lollipops.  I was on top of the world!  Nobody told me planning a wedding was going to be hard work.  At least I found this guy for some advice.  Go Cougs!

Heck, if it were up to me, I’d go see Elvis at the ol’ chapel in Vegas, but since she’s looking for something a little more proper, and I love her and all, I decided to accept.  And luckily, I had my good buddy Mike Masters tag along, and let me tell ya, he could barely contain his excitement!

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The departure was smooth, with only a mild wind brushing against the water; nothing worrisome to the crew tending the Coho.  There had been rougher sailings on the “Black Ball Line,” I’m sure of it.

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And here we are 15 minutes later.  The sights were just as wonderful, but don’t just take my word for it.  You be the judge.

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Boy, the ocean doesn’t change much minute by minute.  At least it’s getting a little warmer outside.  Who would’ve guessed.  At least I feel good about water now.

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Hair of the dog, here’s another 15 minutes.

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Nothing much had changes in 5 minutes.  I thought the ocean would be a little more exciting than this.

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We were getting close!  Can’t you tell?

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And here we were, pulling into what they call the Inner Harbor of Victoria.  A quaint little place by the looks of it, though it was hard to get pictures with everybody in the way.

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I managed to scrounge together a few good ones before undocking.

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Our first stop, was this castle, Craigdarrach I think they called it, or Craig’s Crotch, or something—the Canadians were always a little goofy with their names.

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Not exactly my idea of a good time, but Mike Masters was pretty insistent.  I think he was trying to impress his babe by acting noble and taking her to an establishment of such extravegance, but I knew better.

Luckily, we didn’t go to every place he wanted to go.

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I’m not gonna lie, the place was pretty fancy!  But man, were they sticklers or what!?  “Don’t go in this room!  Don’t touch that!  You’re not allowed to drink water!”  Give me a break why don’t ya.

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Not sure about the wedding dress…

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Or these crappers.

Sure, they had a room or two to get hitched, but the no red wine policy was a no-go—not with my mom, anyway.  They didn’t like you dancing either.  And check out the flower girl and ring bearer outfits.

If I knew any better, I’d say there were a few ghosts hanging around Craig’s Crotch.  No thanks.

Sorry Mike Masters.  This place gives me the creeps!

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The Fairmont Empress was next, and boy, was it classy, like a real life Wes Anderson film.

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With such posh interior, fire places, wood stained upholstery, marble and a giant tea room overlooking the bay, I knew right then and there the babe was going to love it.

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IMG_3511IMG_3519IMG_3537IMG_3574IMG_3585Immediately, I set up an appointment for formal consultation.

“I’m very impressed with the amenities you’ve presented,” I told the gentlemen running the joint.  No way I was gonna screw this one up.  “So, how much does a wedding run at a fine establishment such as this?”

“Typically, our wedding runs around $225 per person, with a $15,000 minimum,” he said.

“…Seems reasonable,” I replied with a steady nod.  “Let me see here, 225 dollars a person… that’s almost 500 dollars a couple–wait… what the–500 dollars?!”

I stared into space and contemplated.  I made it this far, I wasn’t going to blow my cover now.  “Multiply that by 50 couples, that’s like… $25,000 dollars!  Screw that!”

“Sir… Sir?”  My body gave a little jolt back into reality as my mind raced for a quick answer.  Great.  How am I going to get out of this one?

“Now, if it were up to me, I’d say yes right away,” I said, my mouth moving faster than my mind could keep up.  “But I must consult with my fiancé.  She’ll has to make the final decision.  You know how it goes…  But don’t worry, I’m sure she’ll say yes.  Be on the lookout for her email.”  He understood completely.

“We’ll be in touch then.”  We agreed with a handshake, and went on my merry way.  Phew… close call.

The search continued.  Venue after venue we passed, from the parliament, past a few churches, to several other hotels.

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Too bland

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Too old fashioned

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Too Miami Vice

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Heheh.  Erected…

Something seemed off about each one though.  Well, to me, these looked really nice and beyond adequate, but I had a feeling she wouldn’t go for it.

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How could I look my babe in the eye with sincerity and say, “Mission Accomplished?”  Time was running out, my chance of success was looking bleak, and worse of all, Mike Masters had to call it quits.

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So there I was, stuck in this foreign corner of the world, alone without the slightest idea of where I hold my wedding.  Along the waterfront I stood, contemplating my mission and the purpose of life among other mysteries.  How can I possibly go back now?  Across the water stood one last hotel.  The Delta they called it, glowing like the centerpiece of a Liberace Candelabra, shining with full clarity now with Mike Master’s head out of the way.  It looked promising.  It had to be.  It was my last hope.

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I crossed a pedestrian bridge and descended upon the hotel.  It’s exterior lay home to a tributary of paths to a much calmer, greener part of town.  The inside was sleek and modern.  Grandiloquent, but not over the top.  No need to show off.  That’s my motto.

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The staff was courteous while I toured the joint, showing me plenty of spaces for dinner, receptions, ceremonies, the whole 9 yards.  I could see it all unfolding, my family conversing with her family, the bridesmaids and groomsmen partying it up, Gibson yelling at people about football, Ulrich bragging about his pecks—it was all going to work itself out… for the right price of course.

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“Hmm… I really like what you’ve done with the place, but finances are of concern,” I told the wedding coordinator.  That was correct, to a certain extent—maybe a little exaggerated.  But being the frugal person I am, I had to negotiate.

“Oh, well we offer a half-price discount on all our reception halls if you get married on a Sunday.”  …So far so good.

“Sure, but what about the rehearsal dinner?”

“We can set you up at the hotel restaurant.  And if you want a private room, we can probably wave that fee as well.”

…Hmm.  She’s good.  But I’m better.  “Alright, I’m sure the dinner is superb.  But we’re also looking at a few other places around Victoria, like the Empress. Pretty classy place if you ask me… Gosh.  I just don’t know if we can fully commit…

“We also offer a free breakfast the morning after your wedding.”  …What? Free breakfast?

“Free break—well why didn’t you say so!?  I think we have ourselves a deal!”  A cautious smile slipped from her face as I vigorously shook her hand.  “My people will be in touch.  Let’s talk soon!”

The Delta it is!  The best part was, I didn’t even have to consult with the babe!  Boy, is she going to be glad she doesn’t have deal with choosing the wedding venue. Decorations? Leave that to me!  I have that all under control.  Oh, and I got the perfect idea for a cake as well!

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#drakecake

As I left Victoria that day, a sense of pride swelling within me, one phrase ran through my head…  “Mission complete.”

Wedding planning isn’t so bad after all.  Neither is the ride home on the black ball line.  Just as pretty as the ride over.

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London Calling Part 2: The Sights

Buckingham Palace

My mind was flooded.  Unable maintain all the information Mike Masters was feeding me, I grew wary, then dizzy, my vision blurring trying to navigate his directions on Google Maps.  The data overload fried my circuits, and the harder I tried to concentrate, the faster he talked, my condition worsening with each additional landmark mentioned.

“Ok, so you are here, Trafalgar Square.”  Right.  Trafalgar Square, got it.  “Go North a few blocks, and you’ll be at Piccadilly Circus.  Go there…”  But why would I want to go to the circus?

“Go back the other way, and you’ll be at BBBBBBBB…” …I’m waiting…  “BBBBBuckingham Palace,” he finally said, emphasis on “Bucking” for some reason.  That must be the place with the guards in the goofy hats…

Go across the bridge, and you’ll see the Eye of London.  An eye, like the one in Lord of the Rings?  Wait a minute!

“Across the river is Big Ben.”  …Who’s Uncle Ben, and how do you know I’m going to see him?  “Keep going, though.  You’ll pass a couple bridges.  First, there’s the Millennium Bridge, like the one in Harry Potter.”  Harry Potter?  Who cares about that dingus?  “Then, there’s the Tower Bridge, not to be confused with the London Bridge.”  London Bridge?  I thought that thing fell down years ago???  “Cross it, then go to the Tower of London…”  Hold on, which one do I go to? Tower Bridge or London Tower?

“…You have got to see the Crown Jewels…”  See the family jewels, check… “And while you’re over there, go ahead and check out St. Paul’s cathedral.”  …Saint Turkey—who?  “Oh, then there’s the clubs!”  I hope he’s not talking about that Playboy Club he was going on about earlier…

“Oh, you’re going to London?” said another Mike.  This one was bigger, scarier, and has been known to give me a creepy look or two in the past.  “Go check out Harrods.  Fanciest department store you’ll ever go to, and the Toy section; biggest and best anywhere.”  Now I have to go to a toy store?  “Also, they have the most upscale food court you’ll ever see at a mall…  And make way for the Queensguard!  They don’t mess around.  They can’t even drink alcohol…”  No alcohol???

My legs began to numb.  My head spun.  Each word spoken from a Mike fell into obscurity.  How in the world will I do all of this in one day?

…I wouldn’t.  I would have a night and a day.  There was still a chance, and the moment I checked into my hotel at the grandiose Trafalgar Square, across the street from the massive courtyard standing at the helm of the National Gallery, I’d waste no time.

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Disclaimer, not my actual picture of Trafalgar Square.  Mine got deleted for some reason.  Arg Apple!!!

***

I followed the pink signs off the Knightsbridge underground station.  “Winter Wonderland” they said, with an arrow pointing in the direction of darkness.  Some would call me foolish, putting blind faith in such an arbitrary sign.  Yet, through the eternal dimensions of black space, bright, neon lights could be spotted, if only ever so slightly.  It glittered through each breath that precipitated under the moonlit twilight; lights shrouded in mystery, begging for discovery.  I crossed the street with the light as my guide.  It was where I needed to go.  It must be…

It was a lonely walk along the dirt path, silence being my only companion.  One side sat a long pond that wrapped around a few acres of grassy fields and scattered trees.  The others side was just that, an endless plain of grass and flora, though it was hard to tell exactly what lay beyond the darkness.  I kept my conscience occupied with Kanye West’s “All of the Lights” playing inside my head, resounding the closer I made my way to the source, anticipating a crescendoed climax the moment I reached my destination.  In time, civilization would seem to rejoin me in my quest, for a group of hooligans sharing some naughty British slang snuck up on me.  They looked to be some Ben Woodward lookin’ chaps, greasy, long hair, lanky stature, spider fingers, all smoking their cigs and holding their lovers.  They didn’t bother me, nor did I bother them.  All of us seemed to be looking for the same thing.  So, we journeyed further into the park…

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Yes… I was in Hyde Park.

A large plot of carnival rides stood before me, lighting up the night sky with music, laughter, and excitement.  This is what I had come to see, an electric super show, erected in desolation.  I reveled in its magnificence as it tempted me inside.  As captivating as it was, I could not stay.  Another destination called my name, and time was of the essence.

It wasn’t hard to spot Harrods, the enormous castle of a department store that the Mikes talked so highly of, only a brisk skip away from Hyde Park.  It lit up like a Christmas tree; t’was the season after all.

Harrods

The inside was just as glamorous as the outside.  Layered in elegance, each floor was home to a maze of showcases; scents and perfumes, men’s and women’s clothing, home and décor, appliances, Christmas decorations, and the ever so anticipated toy section, each segment connecting to another with just as much style and curiosity as the one before it.  It reminded me of IKEA in ways, minus the frustration (PS: I HATE IKEA).

Proper, orthodox, and classy, Harrods was everything I’d imagined it to be, as was London.

First stop was the clothing section, drawing me in like a woman from the better side of the West Virginia border.  So profound, profuse—profligate…  Louis Vuitton, Versace, Prada, Gucci and more… all names I had recognized, thanks again to the lyrical selections of Kanye West.  Section after section, I was tempted with a suit or similar garment from one of these merchants, affording me the opportunity to match the genteel fashion sense of London’s natives and set me apart from those back in the motherland.  Only the lack of room in my suitcase prevented such a purchase, and having already been asked for directions on the streets (the charade given away once my American accent was noticed), I could assume my appearance was satisfactory, at least for the weekend.

Then… I saw them.

Gucci Shoes

They were the most stunning pair of shoes I’d ever laid eyes on.  Just the thought of me strutting around Idaho with these beauties gave me chills.  Mike Gibson’s face would boil with rage.  Ben Woodward would follow me around like a sick puppy, clinging to the faux fur lining.  Bill would of course give me his classic scoff, acting disgusted, but only to conceal his pending jealousy.  And Josh Ulrich… why, he couldn’t even muster the words for a proper insult, nor an erudite Instagram post, too frozen awe to speak.

“Excuse me sir, how much for the shoes?” I asked.  The question was unnecessary; there was no doubt they’d be mine.  At this point, I could pretty much feel them clinging onto my feet, a confidence I had not felt since the first time I set eyes on the Yeezy Boosts.  It was only a matter of time—

“That would be six hundred and seventy-five pounds sir.”

“675 pounds?  Well, shucks.  My budget was 500,” I told him.  I thanked him for his time and settled for a stuffed Christmas pooch at the Toy Store for 15 pounds.  It was either that or the ball point pen for 7.

It’s too bad he wasn’t willing to negotiate.  I was serious.  I would’ve bought them for 500, though apparently, according to the credit card company, 500 pounds isn’t the same as 500 dollars (still arguing, but don’t worry, pretty sure I’m going to win this one).

I made my way towards the exit, finding the food court on the ground level.  With a full-service steakhouse, oyster bar, whiskey bar, and an artisan dessert shop in the middle, the Mikes were correct; it was the fanciest food court in town.  Easily ready to spend 25 pounds plus on a fish and chips basket with a fine brew, I took an open seat next to the bar.  Unfortunately, it was too late, as I was quickly shoed along.  9:00 PM was far past this bartender’s bedtime.

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I found refuge near what Masters referred to as “The Piccadilly Circus.”  Though quite an interesting place of commerce and innovation, it didn’t have much to do with the actual circus.  They do know how to do up Christmas however.

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“Shake Shack…” I whispered softly, as if the words naturally echoed out into obscurity, drawn to its neon sign.  “Shake Shack… Shake Shack… Shake Shack…”  I had to give it a try.

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Turns out, British burgers are about as good as the American counterparts.  If not… better.  Proud to make that my first meal in the UK, no anarchy needed.

The night was young, and I’d have loved to stay out longer, but partying wasn’t an option—not on this night.  A big day was ahead of me.  So, I headed back to the hotel lobby and settled for an old fashioned, a fancy one at that (the bartender took 5 minutes to make it!).

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“So where are you from?” asked the Bartender, who was a foreigner from Milan (the “city of fashion”) himself.

“Do you know where Washington State is,” I asked, just so he didn’t confuse it with Washington, DC.

“Oh C’mon!” he snapped back with slight offense.  Apparently, many Brits are familiar with Washington State, for I received the same reaction with the same exact words by others when the same question was asked.  Nothing to get too worked up over.  I actually found it a bit flattering that so many in the UK were familiar with the homeland!

Back in the room, I settled the night with a few scenes from American motion picture classic, “Total Recall” starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.  “Hmm… they have pretty good taste in cinema too,” I thought to myself before fading into a slumber.

***

Rise and shine.  A run around the bridges and a hearty breakfast with a cup of tea, and I was off to take the Mike Masters tour.

 

Anybody ever watch that movie, “Get Out”???

***

Saw Buckingham Palace.  Looked like a nice place, except those dudes in the goofy hats wouldn’t let me in.  Much feistier than they look in the movies.

 

 

And it turns out, Uncle Ben’s was kind of a bust…

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Here’s where the London Eye’s supposed to be, except all I saw was a stinkin’ Ferris Wheel.

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The Tower Bridge.  Didn’t see any London Bridge, so I think I was right.  It did fall down a long, long time ago.

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The Tower of London, just an old castle.  This is where the Family Jewels are.  It cost me 28 pounds just to see them though, and they wouldn’t even let me take any pictures!

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You could however take pictures of some of their guns and armor and stuff.

 

Speaking of Family Jewels, this guy kept his well protected!  Heheh.

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And finally, St. Turkey’s Cathedral.  Man, did they have a killer organ in there!  I stood in humility as the organist laid down a long string of heavy Castlevania riffs, the eyes of St. Turkey and his friend Paul donning, urging me to confess my sins!  I left an hour later, purified, ready to face the world with a clean slate.  It’s only a matter of time, however before I make my return, the adulterations of the mortal world too much for one soul to handle.  Until then, St. Turkey’s got my back.

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I managed to find a pub or two before the night was over.  Though not much for Cask Pub Beer, their fish and chips were decent enough to keep me satisfied.  Once again, I retreated back to the hotel a little early for my nightly slumber.  After a full day to touring and running, I was pooped, and had a plane to catch tomorrow!

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Though proud of myself for nearly completing the Mike Masters’ challenge in its entirely, there was still more to be seen.  Not just in London, but in England all together.  I want to go back and hang out in the old pubs built in 1200 AD and watch a soccer game or two, maybe hang out in the old villages and farms a little bit.  Something seems so quaint and wholesome with the whole experience.  And what about Scotland?  I am part Scottish after all, and St. Turkey’s got nothing on St. Andrews.  You think having a church is cool?  St. Andrews has an entire golf course!

And with such elegance and prestige, it’s hard to believe they pissed us off so hard back in the 1700’s, not to mention the beef William Wallace had with em’.  But I’m good with the Brits.  They treated me well, and all that war and fighting crap was a long time ago.  Forgive and forget, that’s my motto.

So don’t worry London.  Like our buddy Arnold used to say, “I’ll be back.”

London Calling: The Tube

“Welcome to the UK.  May I have your passport, please?” asked the customs official in a proper accent.  Now you’re talking my language!  No more of this bonjourno or ciao crap!

After a question or two and a stamp of the passport, I had officially become a visitor of the UK.  And man, with less than an hour had been spent, my outlook was already on the up and up!

To be honest though, everybody had talked the place up at work, telling me where to go, what to see, and how to get there!  “Oh, you can take the Tube anywhere,” mentioned my boss.  “It’s easy!  They’re all over the place…”  Wait, the Tube?  What’s a Tube?

***

My topcoat and parted hairline cloaked any traces of my foreign status as I walked down the steps to this supposed “Tube,” though it looked a lot like a subway if you asked me (FYI, they have funny names for a lot of their stuff over there).  The British have a tendency to be much more presentable in their fashion, at least in public.  And the girls like to do themselves up big time, especially on a Friday night!  Like, “holy cow, you must’ve spent hours in front of the mirror putting on make-up,” style of done up!

And get this… one even talked to me!  Schya, I know.  Kind of a big deal, right?!

I’ll never forget the look she gave me, that layer of glittered makeup, the precisely drawn-on eyebrows, her crispy, blond hair caked in product, the hair spray stinging the nostrils.  As I looked at her, there was but one thought that consumed my mind… “Man, I hope nobody lights a cigarette nearby!”

She turned her head, expecting her two friends walking next to her.  Instead, there was me.  Out comes a shrill gasp.  Taken aback, her eyes widen and mouth hangs agape.  “Ohae, Christ!”

Quickly, she scurries past me and finds her girlfriends.  No matter.  I had Tubes to ride, places to be.

Friday nights on the Tube can be a little tight as well.  For better or worse the skinny cabs of the Piccadilly line force you to get cozy with your fellow commuters.

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At least their seats are more like couches.  Before being packed in like a can of sardines, I found an open spot on one and got comfortable.

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A few crackles on the Tube intercom brought the patrons to attention.  I remained calm, having heard these types of official announcements many a time riding the DC Metro.  “Attention green line passengers,” the voice would usually say in a succinct manner.  “The elevators at the Mount Vernon Square Station are currently out of operation.  Maintenance will be conducted on Sunday, from 6 AM to 8 PM.  I braced myself for something similar, more professional and proper, of course, as is the British custom.

“Why ello dere,” mentioned the operator.  Wait a minute, is the operator a 15-year-old boy?  A slight paused commenced before the young lad continued with his official, important, Tube-sponsored announcement.  “Well… you might be wonderin’ why when you try to go north at the Wimbledon station, they keep on makin’ you go south.”

…No, not really, but yes, continue.

“Well, dats because… and actually, you’ll probably hear about this on the news lata…”

Go on…

“…But the power cables… they fell down.  They’re layin’ down on the tracks… all of em’.  Another long pause commenced.

 “The last time this has happened has been… why, since before I can even rememba…”

And that was it.  That was the entire announcement.  I sat back and took a deep breath.  What the hell was that?

So yea, I guess you could say there are some interesting characters on Tube.  I mean, get a load of this guy with his kazoo keyboard, trying to be the next Ed Sheeren or something!

Honestly though, he wasn’t too far off!  His style was enigmatic, a collaborative combination of instruments classified as juvenile, yet captivating.  The patrons couldn’t help but engulf themselves in his interpretation of the classic tune, “Jingle Bells,” especially the lady across from me!  She acted like she was annoyed, as did I, burying her face into her phone and everything.  Her eventual toe tapping gave away the façade.

But his musical endeavors didn’t come without consequence.  Stop after stop, new passengers boarded, greeted by his siren song.  And one by one, they stayed and listened, put under a soporific-like spell the minute they entered the Tube.

The lady across from me… she took it the hardest.  Struck by his soothing voice and her phone forever removed from her face, she lost herself, her eyes fading, unwilling to move from her spot on the couch… not for the end of the world—

“Oh my God!”  Her rising face and deep gasp said it all.  Precious seconds spent in a blissful existence of song and dance were no more—this was her stop!

She shot up and made a break for the exit, minding the gap the furthest thing from her mind.  “She’ll never make it,” I thought to myself as I watched the doors come to a swift close in front of her face.  “They’re moving too fast.  She’s doomed, her entire day—ruined!  How will she ever get off—”

Wham!  The doors slammed, separated only by mere inches.  Without missing a beat, the music man shoved his foot in the middle, right in the nick of time.  “Jingle bells, jingle bells,” he continued… but the doors were relentless—determined to shut, no matter the casualties.  They opened once again, only to shut on his delicate foot with twice the force.  Unfortunately, a Tube entertainer’s salary doesn’t always provide for adequate footwear.

This music man was undeterred, however; his commuters deserved better than this.  In a courageous display of might, he took another step, wedging his body between the doors.  Sacrificing his body, the lady stepped past before either could be crushed.  “Jingle all the way…”

Pop!  The doors slammed into each other.  On one side, the lady walked her way to luxury, never to acknowledge her savior, ever again.  On the other side, the music man stood, stoic and un-phased at the fact that he was nearly decapitated.  “Oh, what fun it is to ride in a one horse open sleigh, hey!”  He sends me a wink and a smile, needing no praise for performing his civic duty.  He knows I’ve enjoyed his performance; my stupid grin gives it away.  I reward him abundantly with a pocket full of pounds.

***

It’s getting late, and even in London’s prestigious Trafalgar Square, the underground corridors can become a bit sketchy, let alone tricky to navigate, especially for a foreigner like myself.  At such a late hour, the usual commuters tend to vacate, leaving the unsavory to populate the Tube’s tunnels.

I walk alone, eyeing the end of a corridor that looks to be the exit near my hotel, at least one can only hope.  To my left sit two homeless kids, their belongings spread out across the ground.  A line of a brownish/green substance lays on top of an open piece of cigarette paper.  OPSEC ringing, I surge forward, not willing to stick around and find out what type of herb they were using.

The boy begins to speak.  “It’s Lokke,” I imagine he says.  I can’t quite understand though, nor do I try to.  Just pretend like he wasn’t talking to you.  Works every time.

“It’s Loke!” He says again, louder this time, and more legible.  Still, my mind is races, survival instincts overcoming.  Ignore him.  Keep walking, and whatever you do, don’t stop.  The exit’s only—

“IT’S LOCKED YOU BLOODY BLOKE!”  I freeze, coming to a realization.  Ahh, this exit must be locked!

I turn to address the lad.  “Oh.  I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you.  The exit is locked you say?”  I thank him for the friendly suggestion and turn back.

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“You know, I think I’m starting to get the hang of this ‘Tube’ thing,” I thought to myself as I emerged from the depths of the underground a block away from my hotel.  “It’s a shame I only have a day to spend here.  I was really starting to feel at home in the UK.  It’s sort of like I was a natural…”

…A native.

American Airlines is the Worst, But You’re the Best…

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)!

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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.

Hope remains.

“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—“

“Ma’am, please—“

“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!”

“Ma’am—“

“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…

Defeated.

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.

Dunkin Donuts

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….

A Rockstar!

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?

We Dem Boyz

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.

Organic Rockstar

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!”

“I heard—“

“Total babe, by the way.  You’d like her.  And she’s a Republican!”

“…That’s good—“

“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—“

“Let’s go!!!”

***

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???).

 

 

 

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.

IMG_2449

***

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.

Good God. I Actually Have Grey Hair…

I climbed out the bed of Todd Athey’s truck at the helm of Little Meadows, a hunting club nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, having just received a Master’s Degree in adult studies.  My professor, Dirty Michelle and her West Virginian counterpart Amanda had gone above and beyond in their duties as representatives of Giles County, a place where a billboard promoting the saving grace of Jesus Christ can be seen atop a billboard for the local strip club.  Both were pleased with the amount of knowledge passed along through the mountains, a free and extensive education whose curriculum spanned a breadth of subject matters, including the discrete undertakings of Southwest Virginia, their thoughts on men, relationships, and a unique take on the birds and the bees.

IMG_2323

My mother on the other hand, was not so pleased…

It was the same look I had received as she watched us depart that afternoon for the mountains.  I caught a quick glimpse of her before we pulled onto the highway, sitting next to a cooler of beer in the back of the truck, already guilty of the crime I had yet to commit.  Not even the endless display of forest and flora that smothered the Appalachian Valley, a scene so grand that it became the backdrop to the 80’s classic “Dirty Dancing” could ease her state of mind.  She knew.  The dirty words that were said, the alcohol consumed on our way up the mountain, the suggestive subject matter that could never be erased from memory… between her maternal 6th sense and the cloak of guilt I shamefully wore, she knew… every single bit of it.

IMG_2362

At the edge of Little Meadows Hunting Club

I turned and made my way towards the pond at the edge of Little Meadows, anything I could do to shake that daunting look from my mind.  “I love you Zack,” cried out Dirty Michelle from the patio as I walked away.  “Let me tell you, I love Todd and Neal, but I just love that boy!”  Her insistence on reminding everybody that she loved me didn’t help the situation.

“Hey Zack!” another familiar voice called.  I had only made it a couple steps before I stopped in my tracks, its tone deep, unwelcoming, and not my mother’s.  “I say c’mere boy!”  I turned again, feeling another spike in blood pressure.

There was nothing settling about his smug grin, complimented by the occasional sip of Budweiser Select 55.  Some would say his lanky stature held an intimidating pose, though his beer belly, still in the infant stages of pregnancy, conjured thoughts of “why even bother?”  It was the bold and elegant words on his sleeveless, red shirt however, tucked nicely into his jean shorts that commanded the bulk of my apprehension.

To beer or not to beer… that is a STUPID question.

“What are you doin’, walkin’ round in that ol’ wife beater, gettin’ all fat over there?” Todd Athey berated.  “Just look at them big ol’ titties on ya.”  For some reason or another, Todd Athey had a tendency to refer to a pair of breasts as “titties,” no matter his audience.  Having already come to terms with my abnormally large breast size (see The Mammogram) and the prescient knowledge of Todd’s particular obsession with that area of the body (judging by the amount of time he spent grabbing mine) I could take his insult with a grain of salt.  Besides, rumors have been spreading for years regarding Todd’s sexual orientation!  This was just his way of dealing with the blaring insecurity, and who am I to judge?

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Me, dad, and Uncle Neal.

Unfortunately, he continued.  “Hold on a minute… are those gray hairs on your head?  Damn boy, yo’ ass looks older than me!”

I didn’t fight back; my debilitated state disallowed it.  As much as I wanted to enjoy the four-wheeling, horseshoeing, deep cabin dwelling amenities of Little Meadows, all I could do was slouch, sending the blame towards the previous night’s festivities at Uncle Neal’s cook out.  “What, I just can’t suck down the Coors Lights like I used to,” I’d say when pressured.  It was lie—a petty excuse.  There was something more.

Little was said on the car ride home, forgoing the back of Todd’s rig for a seat next to my mother, much to the heartbreak of Dirty Michelle.  Though my mother was finally at peace with my decision, Todd’s words left me unsettled.  The feeling lingered well into the evening, preventing me from enjoying the beauty that encompasses the Appalachian Mountains.  It can’t be true.  It just can’t be… me, getting old?

***

It was a struggled to rise out of bed the next morning.  With only the boost of a Rockstar Energy Drink could I find the strength to make my way to Hardee’s, the same one on the edge of Pearisburg where my little sister rocked out to Nickelback.  “The Girls come easy and the drugs come cheap…” she sang while rocking her head and squinting her eyes, her heart fully entrenched in the music.  And like always, their cinnamon raisin and pork chop gravy biscuits didn’t disappoint; they just weren’t enough to loosen the grip on my conscience as I began the long drive back to DC…

The signs have been there for quite some time now.  Only on rare occasions (like when I shop at Whole Foods, ughz) do people ask me for my ID to purchase beer.  Apprehensive thoughts fill my head when I’m invited to the bar or some other weekend activity, knowing full well at least a half a day’s work will be sacrificed in order to participate, and stress levels rise when 10:30 rolls around and I realize I’m not in bed.  Hell, at the last wedding reception I went to, I had women flocking my direction just to dance with me, lining up to grab me and swing me around the dance floor like a ragdoll—without permission I might add!

…The only problem was, each one of those babes was at least 60 years old…

***

5-hours later, I stood in front of the mirror back at my hotel.  I stared at a distance, waiting for the angst to build passed its breaking point.  For too long has this ignorance controlled me… well, not anymore.  I took a deep breath and stepped up to face my fears.

Let’s see here, top of the head, nothing of concern so far.  The bangs look alright—nothing gray here.  What am I even freaking out over, some words that Todd Athey said?  Todd Athey’s a giant butthole who doesn’t know what he’s talking about!  There’s absolutely nothing to worry… wait—wait a minute… what the hell is this?  Maybe the light’s weird.  Yea, it has to be!  Let me flick the other… that can’t be right.  I mean, I got a lot of sun this weekend!  Of course my hair’s a little light… but it’s… it’s everywhere!  Oh my God—you got to be kidding me…

 

I actually have gray hairs on my head…

I retreated in horror, wondering how in the world it had come to this.  I’ve literally reached the point of no return.  For heaven’s sakes, it’s not like hair turns back to brown!  Just take a look at Obama’s old ass!

Maybe the intensity of DC’s just too much for a guy like me.  Trying to juggle a career while keeping up with the hippest coffee shop lingo, dealing with the unpredictable weather, retaining the wealth of knowledge given to me by the women of West Virginia—what did I expect was going to happen?

And think of all the people I’ve had to put up with over the years?  Just the fact that I know people like Josh Ulrich and Mike Gibson has already taken 5 years off my life—at least.  And that’s not even taking into account all the crap I’ve had to deal with from those two!  Then there’s Ben Woodward.  Good Lord, just the mention of his name adds another gray hair on my head.  I can actually feel my skin wrinkle as I type.

And then there’s Gretch… Oh God.  GRETCH!!!

Indiana Jones getting Old

No wonder my hair’s turning gray at just a year over the tender age of 30.  All these responsibilities forced upon me, the decisions and sacrifices I have to make… I’m not sure if I can keep up anymore!  Sure, I do it for the good of the country, but this can’t go on forever.

Danny Glover, after all these years, I can honestly say I feel your pain.  I’m getting too old for this shit!

I thought I moved away from this crap?!

I finished the last sip of my 12-ounce latte and packed up my laptop, garnishing a smile that revered accomplishment.  Already, I had begun Memorial Day weekend running from site to site, paying my respects to my friends Abe, George, Tom, Frank, and Martin on a beautiful morning on the Mall, and now I was on the eve of another successful writing session at the Slipstream Coffee Shop.  After what seemed like a grueling month struggling with writer’s block, chapter 7 of my latest work, “How to Clean Your Conscience,” was finally coming along.  “Hey, maybe I can actually roll with the best of them, these cool coffee kids,” I thought to myself as I exited the café and hung a right onto 14th street.  Despite my desire to continue writing, a growing appetite fueled my departure.  Good ol’ southern food was on my mind, and it had been much too long since my last visit to “Oohh’s and Aahh’s Soul Food,” made famous by Guy Fieri himself!

A small hole in the wall on U street across from the African-American Civil War Memorial and right off the green line metro, the restaurant became a weekly staple upon its discovery during my first DC outing.  The mounds of collard greens, award-winning mac and cheese, and other assortments of southern cuisines packed into your meal are nothing short of abundant.  And their wings… ah, my favorite.  Just the right amount sweet, spice and mix of zest, and the only thing between me and comfort food bliss was a 20-minute walk through the hippest neighborhood in DC.  For the first time since my arrival, I felt the confidence that I was cool enough to make the journey.

Several restaurants catch my eye.  The Pig—fancy BBQ perhaps?  I’ll have to try it one of these days.  Shake Shack—that place is awesome!  Been there 4 times already.  El Diplomate—some French-ass restaurant.  Heard they’re a little slow with the damn croissants.  Busboys and Poets—Masters told me about this place.  Sounds lame.  Probably is.  Who cares?  The variety, from causal to fancy, to everything in between was impressive, no doubt.  All seemed like good prospects, but it was Oohh’s and Aahh’s that I had a hankering for, and nothing could veer me from it.

A few blocks down the street I see a Pacer’s Running Store.  I hesitate for a moment, contemplating whether to check it out.  Gee, I’m really hungry, but I mean, since I’m here, might as well drop in and take a look.  Maybe there’s a running group or two to join.  I enter the store.

15 minutes and $147 dollars later I turn to the exit, a complete antipodal revealed before me.  Solid sheets of rain crash down on the streets.  Streaks of people can be seen running past the store as heavy beads drop at a fast and violent pace, their arms over their heads holding newspapers, jackets—anything they can do to mollify the wrath.  This city wasn’t prepared for this type of assault.  Equipped with only a t-shirt as my top layer, neither was I.

I develop a plan.  Run to U street.  The metro station can’t be that far from there.  Go in and exit on the other side.  Ooh’s and Ahh’s will be right across the street.  It would work—it would have to.  I take a deep breath and brace myself for the ensuing chaos.

I make it a block in a pseudo walk/jog.  The speckles of rain first absorbed into my shirt spread rapidly.  Few dry spots remain, and Mother Nature is obstinate in its pursuit to complete the jigsaw puzzle.  My God, I’ll never make it.  Mission abort!

My head whips from side to side, desperate for answers as I am continuously pummeled with goblets of water.  Any longer and I’ll be completely drenched—a top candidate for hypothermia.  Look, across the street—Trader Joes.  Risky, but at least it’s not Whole Foods.  With an illegal and dangerous J-walking maneuver, I make a break for it.

I wander inside the store for 10 minutes, waiting for the storm to clear.  It doesn’t let up.  I grow anxious, hungry—impatient.  All these ethnic cuisines, these yuppie-hippie infusions… so much organic, non-GMO material—I can’t take it anymore!  Desperate for any form of sustenance, I grab the first thing that makes an impression, a box of baked ziti and check out.  The disappointment of a proper meal will soon begin its diffusion into my soul.

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I call for an Uber.  Judging by the volume of people crowded under the cover of the store’s entrance with their faces buried in their phones, I’m not the only one with the idea.  The sheer number of requests drives up the demand, and for the first time, I opt for the communal, Uber-Share service.  My God, I’m becoming one of them!

Unlike most of the cool and urbane Uber driver’s I’ve encountered thus far in the city, this one’s a mad man, especially considering the conditions we’re in.  With limited vision, he screams through the streets, weaving in and out of traffic, crashing through puddles, and often traversing through narrow alley ways to reach his destinations.  Often, he comments on his erratic driving behaviors, as if nearly averting a major accident is all part of a fun game.  All I can do is react with a nervous chuckle and pray for my safety.

By miracle, we make it back to the Homewood Suites with zero casualties.  I worry for the girl left behind as he drives away, the rain far from ending its relentless punishment on the city.

***

It’s an all too common scene these days, waking to a spotless sky, only to be surprised by a freak rain storm a few moments later.  One minute, you’re suffering from a sweltering sun compounded by an unbearable humidity, a dismal combination that leaves you in a pool of sweat by the end of your morning commute.  Then, if the heat doesn’t make you uncomfortable, the instantaneous downpour will.  At least once already, it’s tricked me into walking into work ill-prepared, resulting in a soaked outfit by the time I enter the office.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned with these unpredictable weather patterns, it’s that wife beaters are life savers.  Oh, and wear white at your own risk.  It leaves little to the imagination.

Ok, time out.  Look, literally, as I write, another rainstorm has just swept in.  Surprise surprise!

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So far, I’ve missed two baseball games, all because of weather delays and cancellations.  The Mariners came into town last week too, and I couldn’t even watch them actually win a game for once, as potential heavy rainfall moved the game forward into working hours!  Even my third attempt to attend a game was hindered by the rain, causing adverse effects on the fans and players, on Star Wars day of all days!  At least I was still able to get my Chewbacca Koozie out of the ordeal.

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I don’t know how much more I can take.  I’ve already suffered through the wettest Spring in the Pacific Northwest in recent history, with a grand total of two sunny days in the month of March.  Two whole sunny days, and now this?  I thought I moved away from this crap!?

Not sure why I do it sometimes—endure the hardships, move to DC, walk in the rain, argue with Gibson over politics and football, subject myself to the ilk of Josh Ulrich and Ben Woodward…  My duty to God, the military, my country?  Maybe for the great patriots that have served before us, making the ultimate sacrifice so the rest of us don’t have to.  Yea, maybe for them, for people like Tom Brady.  That sounds pretty good.

Go America.

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That’s Such a Starbucks Thing to Say

It’s been a week since I made the move to DC.  Gradually, I acclimate to the hustle of the city—the rapid pace each professional walks with, their superior sense of dress code, and the efficiency of which they work at.  It’s as if their presence at the next destination is of severe importance, every time.  Day by day, I take one step closer to becoming one of them.

But my writing lags.  At night, I sit in my room at the Homewood Suites, suffering.  I try to find ways to retell the adventures of Bill and I in Boise, and fail routinely.  I struggle to describe the ruthless nature of Gretch.  Worst of all, I can’t even convey the blaring foibles of Josh Ulrich, a rudimentary task for even the most novice of writers.

By God, I can’t even make fun of Ben Woodward!

…Each night, I sit in a constant state of agony, unable to put words to paper.

For over a year, I had frequented the local coffee shop closest to my home.  It was a place of efficiency, where my presence was welcome, where I could write freely, unabated from the stress of the world.  A place where each barista would greet me with alacrity and fondly accept my entry into their place of business.  And as always, the feeling was mutual.  At the Starbucks on Bucklin Hill Road in Silverdale, WA, I was a mean, green, writing machine, and I loved every minute of it.

I needed my mojo back, a catalyst to spark my creativity.  Something to bring me back to my A-game; my motivation.

I needed to find my Bucklin Hill Starbucks.

A quick search on Yelp reveals a myriad of choices near my area, none of which are Starbucks.  Apparently, Starbucks is too corporate for Yelp.  The reasons could vary, and are probably plentiful, but it’s a lost cost, for I have yet to pass a one that remains open past 9:00 PM in the city.  In fact, very few coffee shops are open past 5:00 PM, and I only drink coffee at night.

Yet, hope remains.  One specific shop catches my eye.  It’s located a mere 2 blocks from my hotel.  Slipstream Coffeehouse, open until 11:30 PM.  Bingo.

I investigate further to verify this particular establishment meets my standards.  The website suggests a local, high-end institution—many close-ups of elegant coffee drinks and natural ingredients all over the website.  There are even exotic locales on display to show where their coffee grounds come from, places like Africa.

It also shows alcohol.  It’ll do.

30 minutes later I enter the shop, a modern atmosphere cloaked with a rustic façade—a hipster’s paradise.  Lucky for me, I’ve achieved an enlightened tolerance level for the hipster scene through years of enduring the social climate in Seattle.  I can handle that of which most cannot.  I continue forward and approach the bar.

Across from me is a wall of liquors, elegantly lighted and stacked along a recessed cabinet.  Indeed, the owners are honest in their advertising, a respectable sign of good business.  Why not give it a chance?

The barista and I make eye-contact.  Assertive, no nonsense, black button down—this isn’t her first rodeo.  We wait a moment.  “Hello,” she says.  No turning back now.  An awkward feeling escalates.  Do I bark out my order?  I run the risk of being impolite.  I say nothing.  A few more seconds pass.  “Do you know what you’d like?” she asks.

I look at the menu.  Too many extravagant drinks to choose from.  It’s becomes a blur.  Another customer gets in line.  No time to think.  Don’t be that guy.  The stakes rise.  One wrong word and I look like an idiot in front of the barista and everybody else around—something you never want to do.  Ok, keep it cool—keep it simple.  You know exactly what you want.  I speak, clear, concise, and with confidence.  “I’ll take a Grande Latte.”

She tilts her head and stares, one hand on her hip, unable to control the sardonic smile creeping up on her face.  The stagnation is even more unbearable than before.  Was it something I said?

Grande Latte?” she finally replies.  Anxiety fills within me as I wait for her next words.  “That’s such a Starbucks thing to say…”

Her words are crushing and commanding, gathering the attention of the entire wait staff.  It includes the other baristas, cooks, bar tenders and all.  Half the restaurant is aware of the cardinal blunder.  Besides a sorry explanation of my prior inhabitance in Seattle, I’m at a loss for words.  Grande Latte, at the cool coffee shop?  How can I be so stupid???

“How about I make you a 12-ounce latte?” she suggests.

“12-ounce latte.  I’ll take it.”  I keep my composure and accept the drink.  We talk afterwards.  Turns out, she’s from Washington too.

I survive… for now.

***

Most people would’ve left a situation like that in shame.  To some, there’s nothing worse than being humiliated in such dramatic fashion.  And honestly, most probably wouldn’t have the courage to step foot in a like-establishment ever again!  I can’t imagine what the case would be if it were a Ben Woodward or Josh Ulrich type.

Not me though.  I know my roots, where it all began.  No shame, whatsoever.  You can make fun of me and my provincial Starbucks lingo all you want.  I can take it.  I have much writing to do after all, and I can’t afford any lost time, no matter how much of a dingus I look like.

…The sacrifices I’m willing to make for the world.

I guess I’ll be back to the Slipstream, even though it’s not exactly a Starbucks.  That’s a lie—I’ve been back.  Twice already (I mean, they do have beer after all).  Besides, there’s still a lot to learn about this town.  Maybe this barista can help.  I think we’re tight now.  Hell, maybe there’s a couple things I can teach them!

Perhaps I’ve found my Bucklin Hill Starbucks after all…