United We Fall

Midnight, Room 225, Quality West:

As I write this, I’m laying on my stomach at the Quality West Motel in Houston, Texas, essentially face-down on a red checkered industrial rug, marble, stain-hiding fabric that melts together with the burgundy and goldenrod couch that is meant to blend well with the cream colored walls. I assume the overall effect is meant to connote a nice juxtaposition of regal and relaxed, but really its matchy efficiency is pissing me the fuck off. Honestly, though, I would have probably been pissed off had I found a a pot of gold in the Q-Dream Shower – “Three Excellent Settings” (ON, OFF, and BATH, as far as I can see). I’ve been in transit since three thirty in the morning, and will continue to be until 9 am tomorrow, when I – hopefully – touch down in the Federal District.

Let me back up.

Without addressing Israel too much, for that’s another post (or 10) entirely that will obviously make this whiny travelogue seem insignificant in comparison, let’s put this into perspective: We ended the trip eating bomb food and chugging beers in Jerusalem until 1 am, hopping the bus to Tel Aviv, and stumbling to the red eye with eyes red from everything, and Flight #1 left Sunday at 5 am. I got home, rolled out, and spent 36 hours running around the city and Westchester smoking, drinking, and making major life decisions while trying to process the last 10 days of my life. Chill. Half price wine and oysters precede heavy-lidded packing and Flight #2 leaves LaGuardia at 6:30 am Wednesday.

The first snafu occurred when the southern belle stewardess asked me if I wanted a drink.

“I’ll have a water, as well.” (30E, my seat neighbor, had ordered water.)
“What?”
“I’ll have a water, as well.” Irate.
“Excuse me? I can’t understand you.”
“WATER!”
“Honey, you have to learn to speak up.”
“I did.”
“No, you didn’t.” Simpering smile.

First of all, I speak, I don’t drawl. And second of all, is it possible the “as well” hasn’t crossed the Mason-Dixon Line?

So I landed in Houston with an incident under my belt, though immediately forgotten. Until I got to security, where a similarly-voiced woman informed me I had to go to the secret Palm-Swabbing Chamber, thus named because that’s what they did: Swabbed my right and left palms with teeny band-aid-esque cloths that they ran through a machine to test for…sarcasm? I truly don’t know.

Nothing abates irritation like aching hunger and a 5 hour layover, so I decided to seek nourishment. Wendy’s spoke to me at 10 am, and I soon found myself drooling over a six piece spicy chicken nuggets and a pretzel bacon cheeseburger. The latter, I’m certain, contains neither bacon nor cheese and certainly not pretzels.

The day lagged on, I became intimate with terminal C, the light shined through the darkness and it was 1:53 pm – boarding time. Or not.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, due to a mechanical error, this plane is unusable; we are in the process of getting another aircraft.” One down.

Planes changed, number two arrived, and by 3:30 everyone is locked, loaded, and ready for takeoff.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, because we received this plane so quickly, the proper checks were not completed in time. The mechanics are looking at it now and are saying that there is a mechanical error and we will NOT – I repeat NOT – be flying out on this plane. Please gather your belongings and go back to the gate for further instructions.” Two down.

We unboarded slowly, feeling defeated. It’s not every day you get three planes. We all were directed to a different gate and told we had between half an hour and an hour.

“So I have time to eat?” I asked.
“Yes,” was the response.

I walked over to Wendy’s and decided to prove a point: I got 12 spicy chicken nuggets and a small fries. The point is now mute because my stomach still hurts; I honestly don’t know what it was to begin with. The food was indeed fast, so a couple moments later I was strolling back to Gate E14 with my paper bag, still feeling zen. My heart soared when I saw all my plane mates lined up: We were leaving.

“Do we have to check in again?”
“No, these are food vouchers. $10 or $20 denominations. Apparently it’s at least another hour.”

Question: If someone asks if they have time to get food and you’re on the brink of handing out free food coupons, would that not logically work its way into the conversation? I watched 99 people glom down delicious, free food as I tried to channel my inner squirrel and nibble tinily on my nuggets.

At this point, I started writing “Fuck United” over and over like a psychopath in my notebook, so there’s a little blur in the early evening; eventually, though, around 7, the third plane arrived. To make a long story short, we all got on, and eventually, due to a mechanical error, we all got off.

Now I’m not one for adages but I think the “Third time’s a charm” has some
truth. Mainly because four times is a long time to do something that you keep failing. I pose a question: Would YOU want to get on the fourth plane?

The apocalypse came. All the previously well-behaved babies lost their shit, as did all the previously well-behaved adults. I had Tourette’s as I waited for the 30 rows in front of me to stumble out; the guy next to me kept saying “the next fucking voucher better be for the fucking bar.” Three down.

No one sat down as the desk agents shuffled papers around to look busy, the United employee equivalent of fake checking your email when the person you like is walking over. The entire plane hovered around the desks, waiting for this announcement:

“Ladies and gentlemen, we have found another plane. There seem to be some small mechanical issues, but more than that, we don’t have a pilot. Please stand by for more information.” Four down. Seconds later, the big red CANCELLED popped up, followed by a neon sign that said, in the epic mock of the summer “Thank you for flying United.”

We were made to queue; hotel vouchers were handed out. I was designated to the Quality West, a fake-ass place if I ever heard of one. I was also given $20 in food vouchers, “which you can use either in the airport or the hotel.” I was told that a shuttle was on the way to whisk me up…

5:09, Terminal C:

Delirium set in last night thus rendering writing an impossibility. Wendy’s is not yet frying up flatbread breakfast sandwiches, so I and the other 99 people on my flight are waiting on line at Starbucks to get the best bang for our vouchers. Missing the flight for a frappucino is a harsh reality.

I’m physically uncomfortable. Despite the brevity, my sleep last night was restful. Unfortunately, in a moment of gung-go Girl Scout productivity last night, I decided I’d optimize my time an promote personal hygiene by sink-laundering my skivvies.

“They’ll dry overnight,” I thought.

In retrospect, I wish I’d worn a skimpy lace thong as opposed to borderline plush, comfortable boy shorts because four hours does not constitute overnight, and that hotel hair dryer wouldn’t have moved a dust mite.

The comedy of errors was long last night, and became increasingly less funny. After waiting one and a half hours for the hotel transport in the muggy Houston night, I was informed that the shuttle was actually out of service and that I would need to take a cab. I went back to customer service and was given two cab vouchers by Alan N. from Pensacola, Florida. I know this because he had a pin on that said “ask me about Pensacola!” (Unless I’m off-base and that’s some gay airline personnel code that means “I bottom.”) Alan had never heard of the Quality West. Neither had Yolanda, his supervisor. Or anyone else waiting for a taxi. When my cab came, the driver hadn’t either. Visions of rape in the Texas suburbs permeated my thoughts and the eighteen spicy chicken nuggets that I’d destroyed threatened to make a reappearance.

I was to perish in Houston.

Luckily, a female garbage attendant who looked like she knew a thing or two about hotels walked by in that moment. Call it women’s intuition, or the universal connection between women who enjoy life, but I asked the cab driver to ask her.

“Usetabe da Hampin Sweeeeets. Raht off da biltwaahy,” which translates to a 10 minute cab ride from IAH.

The final blow of the evening was twofold: not only was there no restaurant or food service to speak of, but there was no hotel bar. The closest gas station was a $15 cab ride away, and though I had a second cab voucher for the morning, I hadn’t been given a beer voucher. Teetotaling would be the name of the game.

I then spent thirty minutes watching YouTube videos of “How to Fold a United Airlines $10 Food Voucher into a Quarter for Vending Machine Use.” I couldn’t make the corners on the five-fold octagon round, and so I dropped a dollar on a bag of Munchos. Hydrogenated salts have never tasted so satisfying.

5:57, Gate E14

The 6 am flight has been pushed back to 6:45 because the plane was missing. I have never heard of something so big being so difficult to get one’s hands on. (Yes, she said that. Too soon.) I was just given a third $10 food voucher, because apparently statistics show that anger is disappeared with arbitrary denominations of food coupon. For informational purposes, a $30 airport breakfast is comprised of:

One large coffee
One liter Fiji Water
One bottle cold vanilla coffee
One bottle Naked Orange Juice
One lowfat blueberry muffin
One turkey and cheddar sandwich
One bag jalapeño chips

This is a gross amount of food, and I did not want it. They did not take my suggestion about donating the voucher to poor kids in Houston seriously. The man in front of me spent $17 of his $20 and was bullied into getting an unwanted banana. As a female, I understand this is more traumatic than it sounds.

Out of everyone here, I probably have the best situation. I’m traveling alone, only have a small bag, am still jet lagged and so don’t care that it’s an ungodly hour, and have been sleeping three hours a night for two weeks anyway. Plus, I’ve had three red eye flights in five days, and haven’t slept in my own bed since I left for the Jersey Shore on July 20th, which, all joking aside, I love (not just because I sleep in a child’s bed and adore having more room).

And if you want an affirmation that people can be good, go to a gate with an 18 hour delay. Someone gave me a charger cube because I only brought my USB. I shared my voucher cab with another displaced, non-voucher-having traveler. One woman took it upon herself to hold a woman’s baby so she could have a bite to eat. Three French an one Mexican teenagers became BFFs and ended up sharing a hotel room. No one’s lost it, yet.

6:24, No Progress

Two businessmen have lost their minds; security has been brought in. The pilot has stepped out and announced that they’re just refueling and we should be airborne by 7:30, which the Mexican translator miscommunicated as “the plane was over-fueled and they’re siphoning some out, which will take 40 minutes.” My trembling, over-tired hands have cause my coffee-stained jeans to look like jean-stained coffee legs. And there’s not even anyone here who I’d want to join the Mile High Club.

Together we stand, with United we fall. Actually, we don’t go anywhere. Next time, if I ever make it out of Terminal C at the Houston International Airport, I’m sticking to Delta.

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