So the karmic gods of Vegas have a sick sense of humor and decided to get me back from an earlier blog posting. I’d made fun of their city and their guests, and they saw fit to direct my return route to California right to them. Then I got bumped off of flights repeatedly leaving me weak and at their mercy.
My flight originated from a fairly quiet airport where I arrived early for convenience, but waited five hours to board. Traveling later in the day, I knew I was running the risk of not making my intended connection, but I was maintaining a naïve optimism in hopes of being home by 3:00. On the first leg of the journey, I was seated next to a fun young couple that was visiting San Diego for the first time. I used to live there, and I was excited about sharing places to eat and things to see such as Viva Pops http://ilovevivapops.com, which my good friends Jack and Lisa created and still own. The couple asked me a few more questions and then we settled into the flight; I into my book, and they into their electronic gadgets.
I should’ve known something was up as we made our decent. We bucked and weaved on the wind; turbulence that I haven’t felt in a number of years. I stayed focused on my reading because the one time I glanced out the window, I thought I’d do better not to watch what was happening outside. Finally we touched down with a thud, but I didn’t realize it because touching down had less of an impact on the plane than the jerking we’d experienced in the sky.
Contrary to the facts laid before me, I was still expecting a fifty-minute layover, which is reasonable. You have time to calmly reach the next gate and get yourself situated. However, there is nothing calm about the Vegas airport!
It was a nightmare come true. If I had dreamt it, I think it would’ve gone something like this: I’m on an airplane flying over the desert southwest. I feel a few bumps that cause me to worry, and suddenly I step off the plane and straight into the lobby of a casino. All those ding-ding-ding/dong-dong sounds that I’ve previously made fun of surround me, and I see slot machines cluttering an otherwise nicely laid out concourse. People’s brains have started to melt, and my fellow passengers clog the walkway as they decide to stop and try their luck before moving on. My path is so crowded that I can never seem to reach my gate in the allotted time.
What a stressful dream, but it wasn’t a dream!
I walked the entire length of the terminal at a snail’s pace to find my next gate, and I arrived just as they were boarding. I found one ticket agent servicing two gates, and the entire place was overrun with people in suits. One man looked like an English butler type sent over from Central Casting. This is not what I expect when you consider that most passengers travel in comfortable clothes these days—and in Vegas of all places. People who are flying out of Vegas normally appear much different from those who are just arriving. It’s easy to tell the difference by the looks on their faces, but with professional types in suits, I was trying to figure out what was going on.
I finally reached the frazzled ticket agent with hair falling around her face. This was not a style choice, but due to having been on the job for most of the day dealing with a lot of anxious people. She’d begun to fall apart, which was a sign of things to come. She smiled and said to hold on, as the standby passengers would be called soon. I asked her to tell me the truth. “What are my chances?” She smiled wanly, “Not good.”
At the beginning of my travel day, when I learned that getting out of Vegas was heavier than normal, I’d been advised to see if the ticket agent in Vegas would switch me to another flight and re-route me through Oakland. That would add another leg to the journey, but there was more availability. The bottom line was that I’d surely make it home, and at about the same time as I would if I ended up making that last flight of the night going directly.
I didn’t even get a chance to make the request. The karmic gods of Vegas wanted me to stay a little longer. It started when they announced a gate change, and the entire lounge area moved in a long procession twenty gates away. We must have seemed like the Children of Israel headed for the Promised Land. And like that story, if I may compare myself to Moses, everyone made it in except for me. I was staying in Vegas.
I was automatically rolled over to the next flight home. Even at the new gate with two ticket agents, no one had the time to type in a few codes and switch me to a flight that I could actually take. The best they could do was provide the gate number for the next flight. This time I migrated alone back to my original gate. In more ways than one, I was back to where I started. The lounge area was overflowing with people in suits. I had four hours to wait, and the people headed to Denver were fighting for seats. There wasn’t even anyplace to sit at the slot machines along the concourse, as the non-gamblers had managed to shove many of the diehard gaming junkies out of the way and take over the swivel chairs.
My phone battery was dying after 10 hours of almost constant use. I decided to get out my laptop and occupy my time. I had read over 140 pages of my book since the day began, and I was getting the feeling that I was going to have to pace myself for the final 60 if I intended to have something to do if I ever managed to get on a plane again.
Seating was at a premium, but I finally squeezed into a seat at the next gate over. A short while later, a woman came to the lounge area and took a seat with a brand new iPhone. She pulled it out of the box and started setting it up. This left me with lots of questions that I was not about to ask her: Why now? Why at this particular moment did you decide that you needed to purchase and use an iPhone? Did your other one break and you needed something fast? Is this a burner phone because you have illicit business to conduct at the airport before leaving Sin City? Perhaps this was the particular moment in time when your internal voice said, “Today is the day I’m finally going to give up my flip phone!”
All of these thoughts were swirling around my very tired brain as she unfastened the little plastic thing around the charger. The cord cascaded down her ample bosom, and she was typing on it furiously with the skill of someone who works at an Apple Genius Bar. Maybe she had been so successful as a drug dealer, a madam or a meth cook that she could finally afford expensive burner phones. I could hear her yelling at her shady accountant who launders her money: “I’ve worked my butt off all these years to become a successful drug manufacturer, and my stable of fillies has served me well with my clients and as a team top-notch drug mules! I make a million dollars a day, and I like nice things! If I have to buy a new, disposable phone every day to stay ahead of the Feds, I’m going to do it with a smartphone!!!”
Her flight left before she could use the phone, so I’ll never know. My flight was eventually called, and it proved to be the waste of time I thought it would be. The karmic gods of Vegas were laughing, but I was still not giving in. I would wait two more hours in hopes of being freed from this eternal layover.
To prevent deep vein thrombosis, and to investigate my food choices, I walked the length of the terminal for a third time. I frequently voice my dislike for fast food. Again, it’s not that I’m totally against the food even though much of the taste doesn’t appeal to me. The real issue I have is that I don’t go often enough to know what they offer, and I do not like reading the menu off a lit marquee while surly employees shout “Sir! Whaddleyahave?!?” I never know at the point they ask, and regular customers sigh and seethe waiting for me to make it through the ordering process. No, I do not want to super-size. I do not want a drink big enough for me to soak my tired, traveling feet in, and I do not need a side dish. Whatever you’ve slathered onto the bread will fill me up nicely, thank you.
When I finished gobbling my sandwich, I moseyed over to the next ticket counter to inquire about the likelihood of making that final flight of the night. I’d already cancelled an important lunch and another meeting for the next morning. Even if I did get home, I wouldn’t get to bed until midnight, and I knew I wouldn’t be in any shape to go after having been up for almost 24 hours.
And who knew where my check-in luggage had gotten to? I was reassured that it was in a locked room at the airport so that I could claim it when I finally arrived, but I couldn’t shake an uneasy feeling based on the numerous news reports after 9-11 where they showed the TSA blowing up unclaimed bags all the time. Everyone has seen me in all the clothes in that bag, but I did get some new books on the trip, which I’d like to read, and I’m actually fond of that piece of luggage. It’s the perfect size, and always comes in under the weight limit unless I over pack. How I hated the thought that some pyromaniac was going to take it out to the tarmac and surround it with explosives.
I looked around to see the weary faces surrounding me. I recognized about eight people who’d been trying to get on all the same flights as I had that day. I was told that one more flight had been oversold because there had been a housing convention in town. That explained why travelers were in suits and why I’d been hearing random conversations about interest rates and the secondary mortgage market throughout the evening.
Someone should say something to the convention organizers because every registrant had decided to go home early. I heard one man say, “I live in Orange County. There were no seats left to go there, but I had to get out! Sure, I could wait until tomorrow, but I couldn’t wait to leave. I’ll have to pick up my car tomorrow, but I want out of this place.”
Now I understood why there were suddenly 82 available seats for the first flight out the next morning. The outlook of flying that night was grim. I started thinking of backup plans. Gary phoned to say that he had checked lodging rates and that the Hooter’s Hotel was offering a special for $45. Karmic gods of Vegas! They were not taunting me. They were terrorizing me!
I was ready to get on my knees and bow down to the pantheon of gaming deities. I would admit to the karmic gods that I was wrong, and I shouldn’t have been so uncharitable to the people who love Vegas. I’d even give them an offering by sticking $20 in a slot machine and losing it right away. Whatever it took to keep me from staying in the Hooter’s Hotel. Then I heard my name called. “Passenger Patrick Brown.” I shouted, got my boarding pass and hurried onto the plane before the vengeful gods could notice. I was going home.