Saturday, July 24, 2010

He was my North, my South, my East, my West...

It's a line from one of my favorite poems and also one of my favorite movies, Four Weddings and a Funeral. And all week I haven't been able to get it out of my head. Though for the life of me, I have no idea why. Normally when this happens, I recite whatever the poem du jour is while I'm brushing my teeth, and it's over. That's that. However, when I can't shake it, it's usually a sign that I need to do something constructive with it... Enter this week's blog topic.

You see, for as bad as my luck is, it's rare that I rant. Honestly. I try to see the positive (or at least the humor) in most of the things that happen to me, but sometimes a person has to pull a George Carlin and let it out. So here I go... The only thing worse than airplane food is airline service. Oh wait - neither one exists anymore, nor does their compassion (at least on Delta and United).

Now, in their defense, I don't have the best travel karma, and DB knows it. It's not like I can hide it from him. However, when his dad died, he needed help, so I had two tasks: get him to Montana the day it happened, and get the rest of us there for the funeral. That's it. When I started looking on-line, I couldn't find tickets for less than $1000 each. So I called Delta and United and asked about bereavement fares. Turns out, even though their Web sites claim they exist, they don't... kind of like your luggage on an international flight. At any rate, I couldn't (in good conscience) let him spend $4000 in airfare, so I went back on-line and started mixing and matching itineraries in an attempt to cut costs.

It's true that you get what you pay for.

DB's flight was fine (and it was only $500), but his kids and I weren't so lucky. For the low-low price of $600 per ticket, we had to drive to an airport two hours away and take the red eye, which arrived in Montana on Sunday at 2:00 AM. Then, I had to turn around and take them home at 6:00 AM that Tuesday. When the alarm went off that morning, DB rolled over, stroked my face for a couple of minutes, and said, "I love you with all my heart, but you're never making our travel arrangements again. You're really, really bad at it." Then he got up, got his children up, and got us to the airport.

For the record, the best part of waking up is NOT Folgers in your cup... it's sarcasm.

But he's right, I am really, really bad at it. And it's not the first time he's been on the receiving end of it. You see, every Easter, my very large family descends (en masse) onto Washington DC to celebrate the holiday at my Aunt’s house. While we’re very Irish and a little German, we actually aren’t that religious… we’re just that co-dependent. We’re also gossips who discuss every birth, death, and divorce ad nauseam. So believe me, if you’re dating someone – we want to meet them. And this year, they wanted to meet my partner and his children.

Now, to be fair, most of them have already met DB… and they adore him… in spades. My mother thinks he’s charming. My sister thinks he’s good looking and funny. And my brothers think that they could kick his ass if they needed to… but only because DB’s a pacifist and wouldn’t hit them back, which they fully acknowledge. They even accept that they would have to jump him while he was meditating (and even then only if there were no other Buddhists hanging out with him at the time). My father, to whom I was very close and who passed away in 2006, was a professional jazz pianist for over 50 years and would have loved him, too. And not just because DB plays Blues guitar, but because he’s just that cool, and my dad would have genuinely enjoyed his company. In other words, my partner has passed with flying colors, and this means a great deal to me.

At any rate, since it was my family that we were visiting, I volunteered to plan the trip… which I tried to do from work… between meetings… in a cube. But I did a great job! I really did. I got round trip tickets for $140 each… not too shabby (over a holiday no less). Unfortunately, they were for April 9 – 11. Easter happened to be April 2 – 4 this year, and (naturally) our tickets were non-refundable, non-exchangable. This is EXACTLY why neither my sister nor my best friend allows me to plan ANYTHING.

You see, it all started several years ago, when I lived in England. I begged my mother to visit for a month and she agreed. I was so excited to see her, that the morning she was scheduled to arrive, I got up, rushed to the airport, got flowers for her, and stood there waiting… for five hours. Finally, at around noon in London, I was panic-stricken that SOMEHOW they had lost my mother SOMEWHERE over the Atlantic Ocean. Now, you should know something about me. When I’m upset, really upset, I start to cry and I talk at a decibel that only bats can hear. No really, it’s true. I do. So I’m standing there… at a Customer Service Desk full of stiff upper-lipped Englishmen… sobbing… sounding like Alvin and the Chipmunks… trying to explain to British Airways that I’ve “lost my mother.”

They thought she’d died.

And when they said, “She died?” I thought they meant, “She died!” And when they said, “On the flight?” I thought they meant, “ON THE FLIGHT!” It goes without saying that I flipped shit. In my defense, I am the youngest of four children. I am the baby of our family, and I have been coddled ALL my life. Before that day, I had not once, not ever, had to deal with real tragedy, and I was not about to start then. Instead, I did what I always do in these moments, I called my sister. Yes, at 6:00 AM in Southwestern Pennsylvania, my beautiful, wonderful, oldest sibling woke up to a phone call from London to hear me, wailing like a bi-polar, helium sucking rodent, saying “Mom is dead… and it’s not my fault. She died on the flight.”

At that moment, we were no longer 36 and 29 year old women with lives and careers of our own. We were 14 and 7 again, and any tact, patience, or eloquence of speech we may have mastered in adulthood fell to the wayside as we became victims of our birth order. She was simply my big sister, and she was pissed that I woke her up. Without skipping a beat, on a speaker phone at Heathrow International Airport, I heard, “mkromd, you idiot! She’s not even ON the flight. She’s at home… ALIVE… IN BED… and ASLEEP… LIKE I WAS THREE MINUTES AGO! She flies in TOMORROW MORNING.”

You know, the English aren’t always stoic… Not when they think something’s funny. Because the next day, when my mother did arrive… on time… as scheduled, the same Customer Service Rep at British Airways who had helped me the day before walked over to us and said, “Madam, when a child loses their parent it’s regarded as misfortune. When an airline loses one it just looks like carelessness. Welcome to London.” But the saddest part of that WHOLE story is that it’s not nearly as bad as what I did to my best friend.

See, I’m ALL about bargain shopping. I am. I own $600 shoes, but I will be the first person to gravitate towards a good deal when I find one, and one time, several years ago, TB and I were heading out West to ski. She had booked our hotel in Aspen, gotten our lift tickets, scheduled our flights, and reserved our rental car. I had three tasks: pack the toothpaste, bring the shampoo, and book a hotel room in Chicago since we were flying out of O’Hare at 6:30 in the morning. Most people would look at a $65/night hotel in Chicago and see red flags. Me, I saw a cost savings opportunity, and I took it. And it was a mistake.

After driving around Chicago for two hours, my best friend and I finally pulled into a convenience store and asked for directions. Now please understand something, if you get NOTHING else from my blog, take this piece of advice. When a man… at a ghetto Seven/Eleven… asks you if you’re SURE you have the right destination address… you should cut your losses and find a Radisson… that is at least 30 minutes away from your current location. Seriously. Here were the directions he gave us: Go out of this parking lot and go right. When you see a Subway with bullet proof glass, go left. The road will go from four lanes to two and you will go under the overpass where hookers hang out. Stay straight for another mile or so until you see a Storage Utility Facility. It’s behind that. You can’t miss it.

It was the original no-tell motel, complete with an hourly rate. The only thing that saved my best friend from killing me that night was the fact that there HAD to be undercover cops there and she knew it. It wasn’t all bad. We took turns sleeping, but we ended up safe. On the up note, I never have to plan anything for us. She just organizes it and makes me write her a check for half the expenses. My sister does the same thing. It’s a win-win, really - and DB is now in the same boat. I bet that, regardless of the direction we head: North, South, East or West, he plans all of our future trips.

Talk to you next week.

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