All those songs are right … it is nice to be home for the holidays. In 2018, according to AAA, nearly seven million people in the United States will travel via air during the next couple weeks to see family and friends. Over the last twenty years I’ve boarded many planes during the holiday season, and my journeys have gone smoothly.
In December of the year 2000 the Travel Gods had a good laugh at my expense. What follows is the journal I kept back then on planes, in various airports, my parents’ house in Lynn, and my apartment in Los Angeles. I always thought what I wrote was pretty funny, and I had visions of publishing a David Sedaris type article about my misadventures (I had recently read his SantaLand Diaries). Unfortunately that never happened.
Eighteen years later, I present these journal excerpts to you as my last blog post of 2018. Happy Holidays and I hope you enjoy!
December 24, 2000
FL 2677 to Phoenix (America West Airlines)
1:44 pm PST
In my seat and waiting to take off for the first leg of my journey. I should be thankful I made it on this plane. The morning started off quite poorly.
The fire trucks were a bad omen.
I somehow wake up just after eight am after drinking with Bradleigh and the crew all night, throw a bunch a clothes into a bag, and survive the fifteen minute walk to the subway station with my suitcase. Tired and weary, I am still on schedule.
But when I arrive at the Hollywood & Highland Metro station, there were flashing lights and fireman clomping down the stairs and police sirens in the distance. I didn’t smell smoke and nobody stopped me, so I descend towards the tracks on the escalator. I used the automated kiosk to pay my $1.60 fare and wait for the 9:20 train.
The night before I sat in a booth at The Formosa Café and got laughed at after divulging my plans to take the LA Metro to the airport. My friends looked at me as if I claimed I would get there via a pogo stick. I sipped my Manhattan and said confidently:
“The Super Shuttle is twenty-five bucks. A cab is about forty. And none of you drunks are going to get up that early and drive me. I’m broke and the subway is less than two dollars.”
Nobody believed it was possible. And when I explained the logistics, the red line to the blue to the green and then a quick shuttle, they thought it was all a joke. There was general disbelief a subway line even ran under Hollywood. I assured them it did, and that I had mapped it all out online the day before.
After the bar we all ended up at my place. I had planned on packing for my trip home to see my family, but then the tequila was taken out of the freezer. Not too many hours later, the buzzing of my alarm clock was terrifying.
But bag in hand, I had made it to the Metro tracks. LAX was about an hour away. It was the morning of Christmas Eve, and I stood on the Hollywood & Highland platform waiting for a train that would not come.
Had I not been so hungover, I likely would have realized my plight. But the night before I gave into my roommate Bradleigh and went out for a Christmas Eve-Eve Party. It started at our apartment on June Street, went to the Formosa, then to Cat & Fiddle, and finally back to where we started. It ended sometime around five am with a group of us watching American Beauty.
The 9:20 train didn’t show, and then it became 9:40, 9:45, and 9:53. I heard yelling down the other end of the tracks, and it sounded like someone was saying the station was closed. My adrenaline had spiked, and I walked back upstairs to investigate. The voice was coming from an MTA employee. He was informing people not to go down to the tracks, but neglected to share this information with the poor slobs on the platform.
I raced up the stairs to Hollywood Boulevard and hailed a cab.
I cursed myself for not arranging a Super Shuttle. This trip home to Boston was already going to tax my meager bank account, and my $1.60 mass transit ride had turned into a forty dollar cab. I’ll need to cross someone off my Christmas list.
Getting out of the cab I was horrified at the scores of people on the curb and inside the terminal. My plane would be leaving in about forty minutes. I scanned the area for an airport employee who did not look like he would stab me if I asked a question.
“I have an e-ticket and no bags to check,” I said. “Do I have to get my ticket here?”
“No, you can go right up to the gate.”
Nine of the greatest words ever spoken.
(Author’s 2018 note: It’s hard to remember that in the days before September 11th, anybody, regardless of whether they had a ticket, could go to an airline gate. While it was nice to be greeted by family and friends right off the plane while traveling, it also meant every nut imaginable could prowl the terminals asking for “donations”. While there certainly were legit charities at LAX, you were normally solicited by dozens of weirdos. Every time I would think of Leslie Nielsen in Airplane! And on that day my confusion was heightened by something very new to me back then, the e-ticket.)
I purchased my tickets online, first time ever for me, and I didn’t even print a receipt. There was nothing to prove I was supposed to be flying to Boston for Christmas. If I wasn’t so hungover, I probably would have been very nervous.
Checking the monitors my flight seemed to be the only one not delayed. I figured it was karmic payback for the cab. But when I got to the gate the earlier Boston flight wasn’t even boarding. I was delayed, despite what the computers said. But I still needed my ticket.
In the mass of people there seemed to be an amorphous line. I squeezed into it. There was a good chance I would be shunned at the gate. I hadn’t even called to confirm the ticket I bought online from William Shatner’s Priceline.com over a month ago. Maybe this wasn’t even in the right place. Was it Northwest or America West or Southwest?
And what if my name had been deleted by some computer in, say, Backwater, Utah? I could hear some smarmy guy explaining, “Sorry, sir, no Ostrowski’s on our list. In fact, we don’t even have any Michael’s”.
Panic would set in and I’d be too weary to do anything. Muttering to myself and heavy drinking would soon follow. I would curse Captain Kirk to the day he died.
But I showed my ID to the woman at the counter and she gave me a boarding pass. I wait an hour or so (I’m still on track to make my connection to Boston in Phoenix), and eventually got to my aisle seat on flight 2677 to Phoenix on America West Airlines. Writing in this journal has already eaten up a lot of time. I’ll eat my snack mix and then continue as we’re about to land.
Wheels down now for the approach to Phoenix….
It’s close to two o’clock Pacific time, and we’re thirty minutes before my plane to Boston. Lunch would be nice, but not enough time. Thankfully the gate I’m landing at will be right we’re I’m taking off.
Still in Phoenix
“Flight 2824 to Boston- obviously we’re experiencing a delay. The plane has been clean and catered and the pilots are ready for departure. We just need a crew. There will be a slight delay while we locate them.”
-America West Announcement
The delay in Los Angeles wasn’t much of a problem. Whether waiting in LAX or Sky Harbor…it’s still waiting. But we’re nearing 4:15 pm and they haven’t begun boarding. Another announcement just informed us the crew would be here shortly “from the break room”. The person using the PA is obviously pissed at his fellow employees. For such raw honestly in an airport must be done out of spite. Passengers are a cranky lot by nature, and this just gives them live bodies to vent their frustration.
At the gate across from me a shouting match is going on. Well, not really a match. It’s more of a one-sided verbal tirade from a female customer. I wonder if the crew on her flight got adequate rest in the employee break room. They’re surely going to need it.
“Once again we apologize for the delay”.
Airports just bring out the worst in people. Like freeways and World Wars. Mostly I find them a creepy necessity. Thousands of strangers each desperately wanting to get somewhere/anywhere and most willing to step over babies and shove the elderly to do it. And then there’s the airplane food.
“Your choices for dinner tonight are Salisbury Steak or Walnut Chicken Salad.”
I hate walnuts and Salisbury Steak reminds me of Elementary School. But all I’ve eaten today is snack mix. I get the beef and a beer. 1,854 miles to go.
11:00 pm EST
It’s been a family tradition to gather at my great aunts’ house on the night before Christmas. Afterwards I would go to Ditch’s and drink Irish whiskey and see friends from high school. I’d never missed either of those events despite living on the other side of the country for the last three years. Tonight the streak ends.
Fuck you, America West.
December 30, 2000
Logan Airport, Gate 43B
A great trip home, but I now must get back to Los Angeles.
With a king hell bastard of a snow storm closing in on Boston, I’m here at the near empty America West terminal. On the news I hear of delays and cancellations and all sorts of airport trouble, but somehow, someway, FL 2188 is on time. The madness of LAX a week earlier has been transplanted to the tranquility of Logan.
But it’s a little too quiet.
There has to a problem. My good ole friend shitty luck tells me that. He’s an asshole so I want to ignore him, but unfortunately Mr. S. Luck is usually right.
Although this could be a karmic bone thrown to me for leaving (and losing) $300 worth of CDs on the plane from Phoenix. I really don’t want to relive that situation…thinking about it makes me want to scream. I called the airline and spoke to several people, but nobody could locate my CD carrying case (Author’s 2018 note: we were still around a year away from the iPod being released…it was devastating to lose all that music.)
What is certain is that I’m missing both wild card games. There’s no damn TV in this mini terminal. No food, no stores, no magazine racks either. I’m not even sure there’s a bathroom. I could walk over to the American one and see how the Colts are doing, but that’s just inviting disaster.
Well…the trip home?
Great seeing my mom, dad, sis, bro, nephew, brother-in-law, grandparents, and friends. I got to spend a lot of time with everybody and I’m truly lucky to have so many wonderful people in my life. But of course that makes me not want to go back to LA.
The play (SantaLand Diaries) and the museum with my Mom were great days. My nephew Nicholas is almost two-and-a-half, and was much more receptive to me than my last visit and he actually said my name. Ditch and I had a good time drinking at Uno’s and The Border Café. And I got to toss back some pints with Mark and Scott at The Beantown Pub, then later at Nua Tua (a new Irish Pub that was cool).
I also watched the Pats game with my Dad (a close loss to the Dolphins, finishing the season at a very disappointing 5-11) and talked sports with Jeff. I met Mark last night to see the new Coen Brothers’ film “O Brother, Where Art Thou” (which was great) at the new Fenway Cinemas. And like always, Boston looked amazing despite the cold weather, and made me realize how shitty LA really is.
Back to Hollywood.
… 2:36 pm PST
At the back of the plane all by myself. Haven’t been on a plane this empty in along time. It’s quiet and I have space…not too much else you can ask for on a cross-country journey. Well, if a really cool and pretty girl was sitting back here … and we had a great conversation and then ended up becoming boyfriend-girlfriend.
Let’s be reasonable.
I think it would be wise to declare my life a disaster area and try a different approach. Because what I’m doing now just ain’t working. But is that the absolute truth? Is this is all “destiny”…part of some bizzaro plan that’s never been shared with me? I moved to LA two and a half years ago, and I’ve got nothing to show for it. I can’t believe it that’s my plan. I need to make things happen.
Shit, I’m tired but I can’t sleep. Even with nobody in any of the rows surrounding me I can’t get some Z’s. But I’m going to try again.
. . . 7:38 pm
Sky Harbor Airport
I get out of a damn blizzard in Boston and now I might not get to LA because of fog. We were 30 minutes early to Phoenix, but now have to wait least an hour delay with a high chance of cancellation.
The Travel Gods are straight up giggling at me.
Although it’s a dump, I just want to get back to Hollywood. I’ve been up since 5 am Pacific Time and I’m getting a headache. They’re announcing our fate in a few minutes. If I didn’t have to work tomorrow it’s no big deal. But I do. And this whole situation, for lack of a better cliché, sucks ass.
. . . 8:30 pm
They say my flight, most likely, is going to take off. But they changed gates.
From gate B26 (where I was) to B6 (where I needed to go) is a long ass walk. My flight is delayed to at least 10 pm, and they make you trek all the way through the damn terminal to wait for a plane that still might not leave tonight.
My other option is Burbank. That leaves at 10:30 pm and “supposedly” there is no fog there. For all I know there’s hail and locusts. Burbank would be a cheaper Super Shuttle to Hollywood.
I’ll wait until 9 to make my decision.
Shit, it’s not 8:30 it’s 9:30. Lousy Phoenix and their disregard for Daylight Savings! I thought we were on LA time. I’m going to try for the Burbank flight.
…..On the Flight Back to LA
I’d like to think I looked like OJ running through the airport in those old commercials. But most likely I resembled Culkin’s family in “Home Alone”.
After going all the way to Gate A9 for the Burbank flight I was told I had to go to Customer Assistance if I wanted on that flight.
“Can’t you just put me on?” I asked.
“But, the computer—”
“I can’t do it.”
I’ve seen Jamie, my good buddy and an AA employee, do it many times. But she wouldn’t take the 5 seconds to help me.
The line is deep. I’ve been waiting in it now for 15 minutes and I’ve moved nowhere. At this rate I should be at the front in . . .well, never.
Somehow I make it to the front of Customer Assistance only to find out the flight is full.
The woman there offers some hope when she says, “But they’ve lifted the fog ban in LA and I think they’re boarding now.”
I am nowhere near B6. So it’s come to this. I’ve been up for 17 hours, my nose is running, my eyes watery, the last meal I consumed was reheated Salisbury Steak, and now I have to RUN halfway through Phoenix if I don’t want to spend the night here.
I make it one minute before they close the doors.
We’re in the air I hear for about twenty minutes and we get this gem of an announcement:
“We don’t want to get your hopes up. We might have to turn around and go back to Phoenix.”
Luckily that doesn’t happen. We somehow are able to land in the fog and the whole plane is clapping. But I can’t see a thing out the window and I’m not at all convinced we’re at LAX. We taxi on the runway forever.
1200 North June Street
Los Angeles, CA
Beer in hand, time to finish this crazy story. If I wasn’t so broke I would have taken a cab. Instead I had to take the Super Shuttle, and just before we’re about to leave it’s just me and a woman going to the Westside. The Super Shuttle is great for those of us on a budget, unless it’s full and you’re one of the last people to get dropped off. But here it is, after midnight, and hopefully I can escape with just one other passenger.
Four more people squeeze in just before we’re about to take off. Guess who’s the last stop? My laugh scares several of the passengers.
I take the elevator up to my floor, and I truly expect to come home to a robbed apartment. But when I open the door I find everything exactly as I left it. Bradleigh’s working and won’t be home for a couple of hours. There’s three Guinness in the fridge and I plan to drink them all before going to sleep.