Flying

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The best seat in the sky

Friday, February 19th, 2016

It is exactly 24 hours from my door to Alia’s, and 16 of those were spent on a 777 from Chicago to Hong Kong. I had never been on such a long flight before, nor in such a gigantic bird. (That’s an industry term, you know — pilots call them “birds.” Wait. Do they?)

On a massive airplane with nine economy seats across, lumped in threes, an aisle between each set, I’ve decided that the best option is to sit in an aisle seat of the middle set. Here’s the logic:

  1. No matter what, the middle seat is the worst.
  2. On a regular domestic flight, I opt for the window. But if you choose the window on a flight around the world, you’re forced to watch the ground below, which on a global journey is really just ocean, inducing panic attacks and visions of Tom Hanks as the only survivor in a life raft in Castaway, which is by far the scariest movie of all time. Also, if you need to get up for the bathroom, you have to step over two people.
  3. The aisle seat on the right or left set of seats is okay, but if either of your two row mates needs to get up, you’re standing every time.
  4. But the aisle seat on the MIDDLE set… you can stand up whenever you want. You don’t have to look out the window hyperventilating. And if the person in the middle seat needs to get up, there’s only a 50% chance they’ll choose to go your direction.

Voila — the best seat in the sky. That is, unless you can afford to fly first class. By the time I boarded, those ballers already had free drinks!

Speaking of free drinks, you do eventually get those in economy, too. Time does not exist whilst in international flight zones, so when the alcohol tray comes through at 2pm, 3pm, 8pm, 12am, and 2am, just say yes, man. You paid good money for those free drinks.

Here’s another perk about such a long flight: the movies. The movies! I’m so glad I never paid to see The Martian in the theater, because after spending more money I’ve ever spent on a flight, I got to watch it for free! I also watched The Intern and Infinitely Polar Bear; in other words, it was the day you want every Monday morning when you actually have to go to work. I guess that someone’s gotta bring home the bacon and all… but what good is bacon if it isn’t paying for Netflix?

One thing I was ill advised about: there are no power outlets in economy. I was counting on an endless power supply for my laptop so I could write my memoirs. Alas, this blog is what I wound up with.

I am learning to accept my writing style for what it is. It’s difficult not to compare when reading other people’s words, blogs, and books, especially when I love someone else’s writing. Some of my friends have made a genuine living out of writing, and occasionally I think, “I wish someone would pay me to just be myself” — you know, as if all they have to do is write whatever they want that morning, and then get paid millions and millions of dollars for it. (I do know better, writer friends, you work hard. I’m just jealous.)

Anyway, everyone has a natural “voice,” and mine just so happens to be riddled with capital letters and parentheses and dumb jokes and a tiny bit of cynicism but also a genuine love for stringing words together and telling stories. I like to think that I write like I talk, but the truth is that I write better than I talk. Which is probably why I love to write.

I hope that you’re doing what you love, even if you don’t get paid for it, and even if you don’t do it as well as other people, at least in your opinion. One’s own opinion isn’t always the best judge, anyway. Judge Judy is the only judge for me.

Okay, back to this ultra mega flight. I was worried that they wouldn’t feed us and I would arrive in Asia an emaciated shell (as if). I am very afraid of being hungry, so I packed Larabars, an open-face turkey sandwich, an apple, and a baggie of almonds — and while it all went to good nutritious use, it was largely unnecessary. Here are the things we were offered on the flight: sundried tomato bruschetta crackers, sweet wafery cookies, manicotti, green tea sorbet, wasabi rice snack mix, and scrambled eggs. I didn’t partake in everything because with the exception of Ritz Crackers, mass-produced foods generally taste like sadness — but I’m serious, the crew was through over and over again with something new.

If you’ve made it this far, you know I’m just a wide-eyed country bumpkin on a major international adventure — par for the course for many of you, but out of the norm for me. I know that this week will be full of amazing experiences, and I can’t wait to tell you about them. And just to give you an idea of the length of the journey, here was our progress two and a half hours into the flight:

Screen Shot 2016-02-18 at 3.26.37 PM

The whole rest of the world to go. I can’t wait.

Springtime, come hither

Monday, February 15th, 2016

When I’m feeling overwhelmed, I retreat from the Internet — and lately, I’ve been feeling overwhelmed. An introvert can handle only so much extroversion before she caves in, like a molten lava cake, but way less hot.

Seriously, you should see how non-hot I am looking these days. I am bedraggled and dried out and pallid and puffy. Winter in Minnesota will do that to a girl. After that cold snap of sub-zero temperatures, the weather has been far more tolerable — but it’s still dark and icy and laze-inducing. I am willing along spring like a spectator at a marathon, except spring is the slowest one.

Please spring, even if it takes eleven hours, promise me you’ll cross the finish line. I hear there’s beer! And have I mentioned how hot you look?

Luckily I am leaving for Hong Kong on Thursday. Hong Kong is subtropical! Granted, it’s only supposed to be in the 60s and rainy, but bring on the balm. I plan on coming back with supple skin and the will to live.

Of course, I am terrified that my plane will crash into the ocean like Malaysian Flight 370, never to be found. My friends tell me to stop being morbid, but I’m hoping that by speaking my fears out loud they will lose their power, like shining a light into a 4-year old’s closet. (Except seriously, I just wrote my Last Will and Testament. I’m not joking. Last Thursday in the back row of a music event, I had Gabe and Maia sign as my two witnesses, all “I’m signin’, you’re signin’, we’re all signin’.”)

As for Foxy, I am flying Anna in from Colorado to stay with her while I’m gone. If I am flying my dog-sitter across the country, I am absolutely the 1%. It’s time for me to accept it and stop eating the heel of the bread because I think I’m poor.

I plan on living forever, a regular Tuck Everlasting — but if my plane goes down, know that I love you all, more than I love molten lava cake. I want to see Minneapolis in the springtime though, so count on my triumphant return.

As a parting gift, here’s me on Saturday, STANDING ON A LAKE, harnessing the power of the sun because it’s all I can do.

IMG_0637

New York

Thursday, October 11th, 2012

So many things were old hat: the quick note of my parking row, the toiletries in Ziplocs, the train to concourse C, the weight of my book-laden purse. After all, this was my third trip in so many weeks; I am no stranger to Southwest Airlines and Denver International Airport.

But as I boarded the plane, I felt an alien sort of energy: the destination was unfamiliar.

And waking up this morning in a very plush Hilton, the unfamiliarity was confirmed. I am in New York City. Word.

Prior to today, I have only been to New York once – five years ago. Another life ago. I spent a week crashing on my sweet friend Heidi’s pull-out couch in Brooklyn, and hoofed myself all over the city with absolutely no idea what I was doing.

One night, I was on the subway around 1am when the train just… stopped. Everyone off, they said. Trouble on the tracks.

So I took the stairs up to the open air of the dark night streets, and looked around for some sign of what to do next. Street signs did me no good; I had no context for where I was, and the hint of red wine lingering around my edges wasn’t exactly helping. I figured that I would get on the bus that I saw some of my fellow/former trainmates boarding, and just see what might happen.

Inexplicably, and hours later, I made it back to Brooklyn that night, elated at my sheer moxie (when really, it was all due to a merciful stranger who nothing short of spelled out directions for me). I had had a CLOSE CALL in New York, New York, and lived to tell the tale.

Yes, I acknowledge my naiveté. But I also acknowledge the possibility of my very large face on a very tiny milk carton. Touché.

In addition, I acknowledge the fact that I just used é twice.

This week, I am in New York for a work event – something rather outlandish and fun in and of itself. But I’m extending my visit through the weekend to a) rendezvous with the one and only Valerie Morby, b) test out the services of airbnb, and c) attend “Newsies” on Broadway. If there was any weekend to be jealous of my life, this is it.

Back in August, I started the book Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann, but wound up shelving it when life got crazy. On a flight to Austin just a few days ago (I told you – flights in abundance these days), I started reading again, and I finished it last night en route to New York.

In the last 15 pages, I underlined this: “One of the beauties of New York is that you can be from anywhere and within moments of landing it is yours.”

I’m wide open to that possibility.

False alarm

Friday, May 4th, 2012

I am spending the weekend in Boston with my dear friend Christina. Boston is one of my favorite cities, and Christina is one of my favorite friends, so in other words, everything is wonderful.

Before I boarded my flight on Thursday, I got an email from Christina saying, “Hope your flight leaves on time and that you’re not sitting next to another trademark weirdo” – bizarre plane-interactions seeming to be par for the course for me.

When I found myself seated next to a nondescript, completely silent gentleman, I was overjoyed. The 4-hour flight was without incident and without conversation – which equates to a hearty “hallelujah” from this introvert. We descended quietly into Boston, and I stared out the window at the clear night sky.

But as we taxied to the gate, something happened. Something surprising. Something shocking.

In the dark and silent plane, the man next to me suddenly yelled at the top of his lungs, “IT’S SNOWING!”

My head was suddenly on a swivel. Where do I look? Outside! At the man! Around at the other passengers! Back outside! Every person on the plane had turned to look at my row-mate, who was staring blankly ahead, ignoring all attention and acting as if nothing had happened.

It was not snowing.

He wasn’t even sitting by the window.

Eventually, I took a cue from the man and stared straight ahead, too.

The time I said “EXPLODE” to homeland security

Wednesday, December 14th, 2011

So there I was at the Denver airport, heaving my bulging black suitcase onto the conveyor belt for the x-ray machine. This was just my carry-on – my REAL bag (a behemoth red Samsonite) had already been found 6 lbs. overweight at the ticket counter, leading me to put on my boots and jacket, stuff my curling iron and jewelry into my purse, and relegate various items of detritus to my smaller suitcase.

As the carry-on inched toward the x-ray machine, the TSA agent observed the swollen vessel, and made a comment that he didn’t know that it would make it through the machine.

“I know!” I laughed. “It’s about to explode!”

And right then and there, all of the air was sucked out of Denver International Airport.

The silence coddled the word like an overindulgent mother.

Explode.

EXPLODE.

I literally clapped my hand over my mouth, realizing what I had done – and then I sprung into action.

“Haha, I mean explode with my stuff. My STUFF – nothing dangerous, nothing sharp. I mean, except for high heels! Haha!”

No one else was laughing.

“Ma’am, we’re going to need to take a look in your bag.”

I was led to a sterile table where a blue-gloved person (man? woman? man?) asked, “If I open this bag, will anything harm me?”

“No! No, not at all,” I rushed. “All that’s in there is shoes. Oh, and a bunch of computer things. And I guess some snacks.”

Snacks is right.

The agent slowly, hesitantly, cautiously unzipped the suitcase, and beheld the contents.  “Ma’am, why do you have so many energy bars?”

Full disclosure: in my bag were hundreds of LÄRABARs.

“Well, those are for my co-workers in Nashville.”

“Okay…?”

And then, without further prompting, it all came tumbling out. “I resigned with the company – just last week, actually. I’ve been working for an email marketing company that’s based in Nashville – but I’m switching jobs. To LÄRABAR, actually. They’re based in Denver – I live in Denver. I just wanted to bring my Nashville friends some bars – as a little farewell, I guess.”

There it was. And there it is.

The suddenly indifferent agent waved me through security and all the way to Nashville, where I’ve given the bars to my friends at Emma – an understated thank you for the three years of support, camaraderie, and friendship they have given me.

Come January, I’ll join the marketing team for LÄRABAR, a brand that I have been evangelizing on my own for years. I am leaving an incredible company for another incredible company, which is not lost on me: this basically makes me the luckiest girl in the world. This is one of those moments where I can look back and see how the complicated, jagged-edged pieces have fit together perfectly, creating a gigantic flashing arrow, pointing me toward this next step.

So my suitcase may be emptier – but as much as my heart is tempted to feel the same (after all, I am giving up what has been a very good thing), it’s actually full to overflowing. I will spend the next week with some of my favorite people in Nashville, and then gently close the door on what has been a beautiful season in my life.

The goodbye is bittersweet, but the future feels warm and bright. In fact, my heart is exploding with sprinkles.

Just don’t tell TSA.

The progression of last night’s in-flight conversation

Tuesday, December 28th, 2010

“Can I put the arm rest up?”

“Sure.”

[spilling over into my seat]  “I’m still a big girl.  But I’ve lost over 200 lbs.”

“Wow – that’s incredible!  Congratulations – what an accomplishment.”

“No more seat-belt expander for me.”

[high-five with a 70-year old woman, initiated by yours truly]

“I’m Pat, by the way, and this is my husband Bobby.”

“Hi, Pat and Bobby.  I’m Annie.”

– – – – – – – –

“Are you from Nashville?”

“No, but I work for a company that’s based there.  I’m heading back for work, and a friend’s wedding on New Years’ Eve.”

“The company that you work for – do they rate well in customer service?”

“We do, in fact.  It’s one of the things that we’re known for.”

“Well, I tell you what.  You need to move to Mesa, Arizona, and teach those nincompoops a thing or two about customer service.  I have never met such dolts in my life as I did in Mesa, Arizona.  Or as many Ethiopians as I did in the Denver airport.”

– – – – – – – –

“How did you two meet?”

“We were in high school.  I had a girl friend who wasn’t allowed to car-date unless it was with another couple.  So she begged me to go on a double-date with her and her boyfriend, and Bobby here.  I couldn’t stand him.”

“What?  How could you not stand Bobby?”

“I don’t know, I just couldn’t.”

“Okay, go on.”

“My girl friend liked the guy she was going with, but her family told her that she couldn’t marry him, because he wasn’t a Christian.  So she wrote him a Dear John letter.  But, you know what?  She died of typhoid fever.”

[gasp]  “That’s terrible.”

[somber]  “Yes.”  [gung-ho]  “But after that, Bobby called me up to ask for a date with just me.  And I said yes.  And we’ve been together ever since.”

– – – – – – – –

“How have you made marriage last for 49 years?”

“It’s give-and-take.  Always give-and-take.  I love him so much, I hope I die before he does, because I could never live without him.”

– – – – – – – –

“Bobby has had a kidney transplant, two knee replacements, and open-heart surgery.”  [fumbling for his meds]  “I hope we make it to 50 years before he dies.  Want a sugar-free yogurt-covered pretzel?”

“Sure.”

– – – – – – – –

“Have you met Mr. Right?”

“No, I haven’t.  Not yet.  I hope I do someday.”

“Oh, you will.  A girl like you can’t last much longer without being snatched up.  Blows my mind that it hasn’t happened already, actually.  Men are idiots.”

“Thanks, Bobby.”  Smile.  For real.  Big smile.

– – – – – – – –

“Girl, I’ll tell you what.  I can already tell that you have common sense – which is more than I can say for most people in this world.”

“Well, thanks, Bobby!”

“You do.  You’ve got it.  Common sense.  And pretty eyes.

I need to use the restroom.”

– – – – – – – –

I’ll be honest: at first, I felt tempted to open up my laptop and cut off conversation with them.  But I’m so glad that I didn’t.  Pat and Bobby reminded me that life is precious and fleeting, like a vapor, and that the only thing worth passing on is love.  I don’t know how to reconcile the notion that “life is meaningful” with “yeah, but everyone dies” – but this couple, towards the end of their relatively quiet, non-glamorous years, somehow made me believe that the two aren’t mutually exclusive.

I think I should switch them.

Everyone dies.

Yeah, but life is meaningful.

Extremely, intensely, marvelously meaningful.

Yet another Southwest thriller

Monday, December 20th, 2010

On Saturday, I flew back to Colorado.  I’ll be with my family through Christmas, and then fly back to Nashville for another week – because apparently, I enjoy being a geographical ping-pong ball.

I flew Southwest (like I always do), fell asleep the minute I boarded (like I always do), and slept for the first 60 minutes of the flight (like I always do).  When I woke up in my aisle seat, I noticed the middle aged couple sitting to my right.

They were well-dressed, albeit in a gaudy sort of way – he in fancy cowboy boots, she in a leopard-print shirt and a lot of gold jewelry.  Her hair was meticulously highlighted, which I noticed because she tossed it a lot.  They were loud and spirited and obnoxiously physically affectionate, drinking airline cocktails from plastic cups as they canoodled.  It didn’t take long before I couldn’t take it any more, so I pulled out my laptop, put on my headphones, and started watching a movie with scenes that I secretly hoped would make them uncomfortable: “Alive.”

When all else fails, subject your neighbors to true stories of flesh-eating survival.

Suddenly, the woman made a grand sweeping motion with her hand, and her open bottle of Finlandia cartwheeled off the seat tray and into her lap.

What happened next was immediate.

Her feet remained firmly planted on the floor, and her shoulders pressed to the back of her seat, but her hips?  It was as if some invisible cosmic god reached down, grabbed her by the belt loops, and yanked: the woman’s pelvis thrust straight into the air.

“I am soaking!  It’s everywhere!  It’s all over my seat!” she shrieked.  And then some choice expletives.

And because compassion for the crazy can be a challenge, I stared straight ahead, willing the corners of my mouth to stay still, stifling laughter.

From the corner of my eye, I watched the man use the little Southwest napkins to clean up the vodka from her seat.  This was easy because her pelvis remained skyward – one of the more gauche things I’ve ever witnessed.

But just when I thought things could not get more awkward, the man began to use the napkins to dab up the front of her jeans.

And as soon as I thought up the phrase “crotch blotter,” I knew I had to write this one down.

56 pounds

Thursday, August 19th, 2010

At the Denver airport last night, I heaved my suitcase onto the scale at the ticket counter, and cast a furtive glance at the damage: 56 pounds.

For the first time ever, I was going to incite an overweight charge.

But wait!  Could this be my lucky day?  The ticket man hasn’t seen the number yet.  He’s asking for my ID.  He’s handing me my boarding pass.  He turns his back for one moment, and…

I made a run for it.*

I was around the corner before he turned back around to discover my beast of burden.

I triumphantly called my mom from the security line, jubilant at my own stealth.  Ha-HAA, I outsmarted The Man!  Take THAT.

*moments like this make me wish I had my own personal cameraman to document my life.

– – – – – – – –

So here I am, sitting across from my little nymph Greta in a coffee shop, working away.  Seattle still has a way of wrapping me like a hug, and making me feel more at home than anywhere else.

Piles of style

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

I’ve been bouncing in and out of Denver this summer – it seems like I haven’t been home for more than 3-4 days at a time before I’m packing up and heading out to the next destination.  Admittedly, I am the world’s worst packer, and always wind up packing way too much or way too little or way too… wrong.  In Portland last week, I unzipped my suitcase to find one pair of jeans, my running shoes, and a cardboard box of food.  That was basically it – hence the circumstances of having to wear my black racerback tank with a rainbow graphic eagle on the front.  To work.

But at least I had my baby carrots!

Last night at 11pm, I started packing for tonight’s trip to Seattle.  I walked into my bedroom and stared at my suitcase, and suddenly felt my brains sucking out of my ears until my skull was completely devoid of any logic.

“What am I going to wear?” I despaired.  “I HAVE NO CLOTHES.”

Hopeless Annie was about to win.  She was about to slide open a dresser drawer and just dump whatever contents therein into her Samsonite, and call it a night.  She was going to show up in Seattle and realize, “I have no shoes.”  She was going to be content looking like a vagrant in front of some of her dearest friends.

All was nearly lost.

But then.

Hopeless Annie was bound and gagged, and had a pillowcase thrown over her head.  By whom, you ask?  Assertive Annie.  Assertive Annie came out of nowhere, took the reins (as she is wont to do), and formulated a plan.

I do so love a plan.

I spent the next hour – yes, 60 entire minutes – trying on clothes.  Outfit after outfit, drawn from my closet – and when something “worked,” it was put in a pile on the bed.  I concocted combinations of clothing for each day in Seattle, from the shoes to the belts to the earrings.  I even made sure I had the right underwear for each pair of pants (bikini or thong? bikini or thong?).  And in my “extra” pile, I put a few pieces of insurance – the t-shirt that never goes wrong, the flip-flops I can wear if all else fails, etc.

I am ready for this trip.

I am prepared.

I think.

If this plan works – if I am able to successfully marry style and practicality from the articles that show up with me in Seattle tonight – then mark my words, I will post pictures.  Because when it comes to clothing, I generally have about as much panache as Pat Robertson has tact.

This could be a turning point.

Oh, for the LUV

Monday, March 22nd, 2010

I’ll just cut to the chase: Southwest Airlines lost my luggage this weekend.

[insert me telling you how this sent me for a minor emotional tailspin, and how I was sick as a dog, and almost broke down and gave up, but soldiered on – for the children, really, and for America]

Flying from Nashville to Austin on Friday night, I was exhausted.  I was getting sick – and I had no Kleenex.  So on the plane, to my horror and shame, I had no choice but to use my sleeve to wipe my insanely runny nose.  Multiple times.

Southwest offered to reimburse me for $50 worth of necessities until they found my bags – which, when you are in town for a wedding, and all you have is the mucus-crusted cardigan on your back, won’t get you very far.  But I appreciated the gesture, and went to Target to max out on the necessary toiletries, medications, and two pairs of underwear.

Why two pairs?  Because I wasn’t sure what kind of a dress I would wind up wearing, and any woman can tell you that different dresses call for different undergarments.  Just… I just needed both pairs, okay?  Always be prepared.

I found a dress and shoes at TJ Maxx, took a hot shower, my meds kicked in, and a great time was had by all at Joey and Sam’s fabulous wedding.  All’s well that ends well, right?

Not so fast, sparky.

Southwest decided to itemize my Target receipt, saying that they weren’t sure that all of these things were truly “necessary” to my survival without my luggage.  Things that made the cut, no questions asked?  Cosmetics.  Medicine.  Eyedrops.  Tampons.  Thanks, guys, for deeming tampons “necessary.”  You are too kind.

The complication?  The underwear.

Apparently, because the luggage was returned within 24 hours, only one of the pairs was considered “necessary.”  And so there at the Southwest counter, I was asked to indicate which pair I wore that day – bikini or thong.  Multiple times, I was asked out loud, “Which pair did you need today?  The bikini or the thong?”

You will never know.

But Southwest does.