Best Flight Ever

(*Sally, this story is ok for you to read. I’m running out of ones that will embarrass you for raising me*)

As I dropped my friend off at the airport this afternoon so he would be able to spend the holiday season with his family, leaving me here in Nashville all by my lonesome (seriously, what am I supposed to do now, Nate?), I was reminded of a story I promised someone I would write and never got around to it. So, since Nate wants me to write a story about one of our experiences and he just left for the holidays and I don’t have anyone to hang out with tonight I am going to tell the story about a girl I basically don’t remember at all (no, this isn’t like the girl whose name I don’t remember. This one’s different. I know her name.).

Every year a group of friends I have known for years go to this wonderful event in Richmond, VA called The Beer, Bourbon and BBQ Festival. This event is a wonderfully drunken time I would equate to what Heaven is probably like if it even exists. At the event this year I made friends with the presenter who was pouring Evan Williams Single Barrel. He kept calling me his writer friend and asking for my autograph. He definitely was giving our group a very heavy pour. It is pretty easy to figure out how drunk I am at any given time based on how many pictures there are of me on the Internet attempting to lick someone’s face. I believe this event yielded 4 pictures of my tongue in contact with another person’s face.

This is not a story about my alcoholism, or about what crazy adventure I got into while we were sampling bourbons and beer at Richmond International Speedway, or how I came to lick faces when I am really drunk. No, this is a story about my leaving this time-honored tradition.

I had spent two weeks back in Virginia visiting my family and friends. I was ready to go back home to Nashville after four days (Apparently it doesn’t take long to remember why you left a city when you go back to visit). I think that was the happiest I have ever been for a vacation to end.

When I was dropped off at the airport I basically sprinted to my gate, even though I had gotten there two hours early. At least if I was at the airport it held the promise of eventually getting home. My arm was throbbing from a fresh tattoo I got from my good friend Kenny Varnau at Handmade Tattoos in Manassas and I had a monster hangover as the result of a two week binder that just made me want to get back home as quickly as possible. I wanted to sit in my bar and drink a beer. I wanted to go to the Frothy Monkey and get a cup of good coffee. I wanted to not be judged on the tightness of my jeans, or the length of my hair, or how many tattoos I happen to have visible now.

I had also been talking to this girl, Julie, around this time period and she had agreed to come and pick me up from the airport. Getting back home to Nashville was going to be great. I could see my friends that had become my family. I could hang out with Julie. I wouldn’t have to tell the same stories over and over again. Answering the same questions of  “when will you come back?” or “why don’t you visit more?” (Why don’t you come visit me? I’m in Nashville. You’re in Manassas.). I could be me again and not the version of myself I buried in the Manassas Battlefield when I left so long ago (Sometimes I wonder who I will become when I leave Nashville).

Anyway, I was flying out on United…and they just suck. They overbooked the flight, as they tend to do, and were offering people money to take the later flight. I was not about to do that because, as previously stated, I really wanted to get home as quickly as possible (this was a slight oversight on my part), partially because I missed my friends, partially because I wanted to hang out with Julie.

The people who were like me, the ones who decided they had to go home at that minute, all boarded the plane ready to get back to the Volunteer State. We took our seats, put our seatbelts on and then were asked to get off the plane.

They had found a slightly shaky window that had them a little worried, but would have it fixed in ten minutes. They just needed everyone off the plane so they could complete the repair.

Ten minutes.

Ten minutes.

United said, “ten minutes.”

United lies.

Three hours later United cancelled my flight.

I rushed over to the customer service line in the middle of their announcement of the cancellation and asked if they can switch me over to the next outbound flight (the same one earlier they were offering to pay me to go on). They switch me over, saying I was lucky because there were only a handful of seats left. I told them I agreed; I was really lucky to have chosen United.

I texted Julie and told her I wasn’t going to get in until after 11, and she responded by telling me that was too late and she wasn’t going to be able to do it anymore. I started calling all of my friends back home, hoping that I could find one that was a) not working, and b) sober enough at 11 whatever to come and pick me up (I found somebody who fit 50% of the criteria in my best friend/little brother, Probie).

What do you do when your flight has been cancelled, you’re hungover and alone in an airport? You go to the bar.

I sat at the airport bar, paying an exorbitant amount of money for beers and actually getting excited about the “special” they had on a beer and a shot for something like $12. What a deal that was.

I pulled out a pen and started doodling on napkins to kill time (Here is one of those).

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I had been sitting in an airport now for 6 hours and I didn’t have much patience left for this day. I don’t think I could have been happier when boarding finally started.

Finally I get on the plane. I was tired, my arm hurt from my new tattoo and my hangover hadn’t really subsided since I didn’t want to keep paying airport prices for drinks. I walk down the aisle waiting to get to my seat. I am lucky enough to be in the last row, the one right next to the bathroom. I cursed United at the time. I think I even tweeted something about them being cock blocks as well.

I sit down, pull out my laptop and just want to work on the newest story for my book. Moments later this very attractive girl is standing next to me asking me if she can slide by. I couldn’t tell you how many flights I have been on in my life, but this was the first time I had ever won a game I like to call “airplane lottery”. The rules are simple; you sit down, cross your fingers and hope to Christ that the person that sits next to you is good looking (I had won once before, but it got negated because someone wanted to sit next to their toddler aged son. I was asked to switch seats. I considered that a bigger loss than getting a fat guy next to you).

Finally having won a game I had been playing for years at this point was the first good thing that happened to me that day.  It was a small win, but a win is a win is a win. I opened my laptop again and started working on the story I was writing. The lovely girl next to me pulled out a book and started reading.

Anyone who knows me already, or has seen me at one of my favorite writing spots, knows when I type I don’t look at the screen much when I’m writing. I just type while I’m looking around and observing people. People have commented on that skill often and it has been a way to start a conversation. Ironically though, when I am in the zone where I am writing like that, I never want to talk to anyone. I want to be left alone.

While I was on this flight, I was in one of those zones. While I was looking around at what little there is to observe in an airplane I couldn’t help but notice my neighbor was peeping at my computer and glancing at the story I was typing entitled “The Day We Picked Up a Prostitute In Baltimore”. After a few minutes she asked me what I was working on.

I explained to her I was writing a book about my life in short vignettes and this was a story I was thinking about adding to it (it never made the cut). She asked me what it was about. I couldn’t help but smile. This cute girl sitting next to me had just asked me about my favorite subject in the world…me.

I leaned back and told her about the tale of the time my friends and I went to Baltimore for a Red Sox game and ended up…well, in case I ever decide to release that story I will keep the end a secret. She told me I was lying, I swore to her I was not. She asked me to tell her another story, so I told her another one.

If this girl had been a prostitute I would have given her all of my money because she wanted to talk about me and, obviously, I love to do that.

Quick side note: one of the things I pride myself on (one of the many things) is I am pretty observant. I have been called hyper observant, freakishly observant, told I am not supposed to notice that much stuff and so on. When I was getting my ticket switched over to the new flight, I am not sure why but, I noticed the woman who was working behind the counter was named Marie. I also noticed Marie was exceptionally apologetic and very sweet. It’s amazing what you can pick up on people in just a few short moments of speaking with them.

Ok, so my airplane lottery winnings and I were hitting it off pretty well (I will throw in that she is engaged. She has a very obvious ring on her finger and I was not trying to pick her up. I was just enjoying the conversation). I make a passing comment about how I feel that the airline at least owes us a drink for the plane being delayed hours. She agreed, so I said I would procure us a couple of drinks for free. She said that I wouldn’t be able to do it.

The steward came over and asked us we needed anything. I don’t know why I did what I did. It is completely out of character for me to do something so brash, especially upon just meeting someone, but this turned out to be one of my all time favorite moments in my life and yet it is such a small achievement (sometimes it truly is the little things that matter).

I grab my neighbor by the hand (we don’t know each other’s names at this point), and look up at the steward and say, “Yeah, actually, Marie at the customer service desk said that as an apology for our flight getting delayed and the fact my fiance and I would miss a meeting we could have a couple of drinks for free.”

My neighbor doesn’t miss a beat, squeezing my hand tenderly, which later I found out was involuntary because she looked away trying not to break out laughing.

“Did she happen to give you any drink tickets?” he asked, skepticism dripping from his tone (Now the steward was an obviously gay, large, black man that had a pretty obvious lisp, and a snarky tone in his voice. Replay that last line in your head with this new information. It makes it funnier).

“She said she was out, but if I showed you my old boarding pass it would be good enough,” I explained, in the best acting job I have ever done in my life.

Here was the problem. After my flight got cancelled and I got transferred onto my new flight I had thrown my old boarding pass away. If he asked me for it I would have no proof I was on that flight originally.

Of course he asked for it.

I pull out my bag and start going through it as though I am really looking for it, knowing it is in a trashcan at Dulles Airport hundreds of miles away.

I look at my neighbor, attempting not to laugh as I say, “Sweetie, I can’t find mine, do you have yours?”

She stifles some laughter, reaches into her bag and produces a boarding pass to the cancelled flight. I take it from her and hand it to the steward who looks it over, nods and said, “That sounds like something Marie would do. What would you all like to drink?”

“Jack and Coke Zero,” I say, taking the boarding pass from him.

“The same,” my neighbor says, still trying not to laugh.

He poured us our drinks and handed them to us. I thanked him, sipping my drink, looked at my neighbor and smiled, “Told you.”

She couldn’t believe it had actually worked and in all honesty, neither could I.

We sipped our drinks and talked the rest of the flight. I made fun of her for almost laughing and ruining my brilliant plan. She laughed and agreed she almost lost it a few different times.

She asked me about my writing and how I picked what stories I write. I told her if I felt like something is a good story and I could entertain people with it, I’ll write it.

Right before we landed I told her there was a pretty decent chance one day she would read a story entitled “Best Flight Ever” and she would be able to tell everyone she was the girl in the story. She said I couldn’t write it because I didn’t know what her name was (even though I change most of the names in my stories anyway). I told her I would be able to guess it in three guesses.

I knew she was a few years younger than me. I thought about my contacts list on Facebook and tried to figure out what names were most popular in our certain age group.

“Jessica,” my first guess wrong.

“Megan, of any spelling,” my second guess was wrong.

At this glorious moment the plane started landing. Seat backs and tray tables, the whole nine. Giving me time to think instead of playing the odds.

We get to our gate and the entire rest of the plane stands up and starts gathering their things. We sat there and talked a little while longer, we couldn’t go anywhere anyway. We were the last two on the plane.

She asked if she thought I could turn this plane ride into a good story and I said I would definitely try.

We stood up as everyone else has exited the plane. I grab my bag, leaving only one bag left in the overhead compartment. I smile and start walking toward the exit. Some days I am just exceptionally lucky.

“Thank you for making that the most fun plane ride I’ve ever had,” I said as we walked onto the tarmac. “Erin.”

She shook her head and said something about me being a “hyper observant something or other” but she trailed off at the end.

She asked me what my name was and I like to think I told her it didn’t matter, or something cool like that, but I’m arrogant and I want people to know me and who I am so I probably told her so she could search for me.

I left Nashville Airport went home and…nothing. Never saw her, or heard from her again. Not that I was truly expecting to. In all honesty I am only writing this because I told her I would one day write this story, and Nate wanted a story where I talked about him. I am sure this is not what he meant.

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