The Girl Who Lived
"I don't want my friends to have anything."
"Not even your bracelets?" asked Lil Jenny when I filled her in.
"Oh, no no. I always fly with my jewelry. They're coming with me to a watery grave." Technically a mountain valley or Great Plains grave.
Packing, I found a black sweatshirt, an item I certainly don't own. I brought it to Malomar and she rejoiced, having spent the past week lifting newspapers, walking to the laundry room, opening her refrigerator, and other acts in an attempt to recover the misplaced. I told her it was good thing I found her, as she would have otherwise had to buy it from Salvation Army.
I took the bus to the Westchester airport [$2] with an hour and a half until my flight. When I arrived, the flight had been delayed 20 minutes. In another 20 minutes, it was delayed an hour and a half. There are no direct flights between Westchester and Los Angeles, and this long delay meant that I would miss my connecting flight in Cincinnati. I was excited because Theresa had told me the Cincinnati airport is a shit hole and that meant it had a smoking room. I waited until take-off time drew near to call Mia.
"So what time is the next flight out of Cincinnati?"
"Oh, I don't know. That's a good question, Mia."
I went to the desk.
"Oh," echoed the woman at the Delta service counter. "There aren't any other flights leaving Cincinnati today." They put me on a flight that would leave the next morning at 7 a.m. and connect to a flight out of Atlanta. I went back to the bus stop, pulling a large, orange suitcase. The bus driver I had traveled with hours earlier was still driving the bus.
"Back so soon?" [$2]
The next morning I arose at what would have been bright and quite early on any other morning, for me and hungover college kids worldwide, but was in fact the departure time of my Atlanta flight. I would have set an alarm but my charger was stolen [I swear, stolen from my living room] and my cell phone had been dead for hours. I missed the next bus and, in nervousness, called a cab from a school phone. Despite its amazing proximity to our school, resulting in all-day-and-all-of-the-night sound pollution, I was charged $20. I went to the Delta service desk with a smile meant to read, "You fucked up yesterday so I took the opportunity to fuck up today."
"Oh," again, "you missed your flight. Well there's a 11:50 plane we can get you on to Atlanta, getting you into Los Angeles at... 7:30."
It was 7:35 a.m. and I was wearing a dress. Terry, Mia, and one of their friends had expensive theater tickets for that night and, with the same credit card she used to secretly fund my flight, Mia had bought me a ticket to the play, too. Universally, curtains rise at 8 p.m. I would never make it in time.
"Oh, no no no. Do you have anything earlier? Maybe going through Cincinnati?"
"Well, there's a 1:50 plane that gets you in at 6:30. But that's only 45 minutes earlier." It's an hour earlier and it's just the amount of time I needed.
"O.K. I'll take that. Yes, that would be perfect."
"Ma'am, we're going to need you to call the airline."
"You want to change your route. You'll need to call the airline to do that."
"But that was my original route. It was ruined yesterday by the delays. And anyway, you are the airline."
"I'm sorry, I can't do anything for you."
"My phone's dead. I can't call the airline."
"It's a toll-free number, ma'am. You can use the payphone."
I walked 15 feet to the payphone and dialed the number. Apparently, all operators were assisting other customers. However, Delta appreciated my patience. I stood my suitcase next to the payphones and sat on it. Girls from Westchester high school sports teams walked in and out of the bathroom. I couldn't think of a crazier way to appear to girls who would have treatedly me badly five years ago than sitting silently at a payphone, listening to Six Pense None The Richer on a loop and getting red in the face. I then realized that no one was going to pick up the phone. This is the earliest time zone in America, after all, and no one works before 9 a.m. I hung up, went back to the desk, and talked to an older Delta representative. In three minutes, she had me on the 1:50 flight to Cincinnati.
I got on the escalator. There were three small establishments: "coffee shop," "restaurant," and "bar." The guy who worked at "restaurant" ran to me as I looked at the menu.
"Lunch for one?"
Lunch? "Hi. Is the restaurant separate from the bar?"
"No, no. We're all connected."
"O.K. then. One for lunch."
Uncounted vodka tonics and a plate of iceberg lettuce later, I paid and went through security. I boarded a small plane, asked the man sitting next to me, "They serving drinks on this flight?" and prompty fell asleep against the window. I woke up an hour and a half later and the plane had not taken off.
An announcement was made: "We will be taking off in one minute so be sure to buckle up!"
Ten minutes passed and the plane began to move. We were next on a runway line. In my airborne youth, seated next to Terry, he would tell me about how fast the plane was going to go before it was going too fast to stay on the ground. As promised, he would tap me when we had hit that speed so I could enjoy going as fast as anything could while still traveling by land. The plane started speeding, hit the take-off MPH, and the nose of the plane began to lift. It was then that the pilot slammed on the breaks, slamming the plane back to the earth. We were close to driving off the landing strip, so he steered the plane to a hard left with a brain-swelling screech. I was very drunk, so although the man next to me and everyone else in every seat was holding anything they could tightly and tearing, I was nodding off and mumbling, "Guess this is it."
The plane slowed to a stop. The pilot told us through the microphone that a mechanic was going to come to the plane. People were yelling that they wanted to get off, but I still attempted to get back to sleep. I thought about how I had missed my connection, again, and then about the minor plane crash. I put on my sunglasses and started to cry. We de-planed and were asked to wait for a Delta representative to come and talk to us about our experiences. I exited and went back to the service desk.
"I don't want to go anymore," I told one of the two women at the Delta service desk.
An announcement was made: "Customers on Flight [number], service to Cincinnati, please proceed to the Delta service desk to reschedule your flight arrangements. Thank you for your understanding."
The entire plane stood in line behind me, at which point the woman I was speaking to wandered off. She took the woman she was working with with her.
"WHERE ARE THEY GOING?" someone yelled. I shrugged and thought about recommending the bar to them. Everyone on the line was lifting their arms and letting them drop. They began chatting about the feeling they had in common.
My Delta representative returned. "Ma'am, you're going to need to call the airline if you wish to cancel your flight."
"BUT YOU ARE THE AIRLINE." I don't yell and I never speak to strangers in a state of fury but airports have a way about them that incites animosity in all of humanity.
"I'm sorry, ma'am." She handed me a pamphlet with a circled toll-free phone number. "Just call this number and explain it to them. There's nothing else I can do for you, ma'am." I thought of all the times I had overheard Terry on the phone with AT&T. They would have charged him twice or put a service into use later than they were supposed to or processed a bill incorrectly, so he would have to call their toll-free number and "handle them." His two main lines to them were: "Don't say sorry, just fix it" and "Stop calling me sir." It was at this time that the latter was fully understood.
I bypassed the payphone and got on the bus [$2] with my suitcase. The bus driver was not the same and everyone on the bus was sleeping. Some were snoring and all of them swayed with the turns. One man had his arms stretched out to the seat in front of him, one was cradling a book too large to be the Bible. I rode the six-wheeled ghost ship back to Purchase.
I called Mia from my roommate's Razr.
"I can get you on a flight tomorrow morning out of JFK." Direct! "It's at 7."
I stayed up all night, first partying, then on whitepages.com. At 5 I was able to reach a cab company that would pick me up. They came 20 minutes later than promised and in an hour [$120] I was at JFK. I would have technically been able to go through security in time to get in my seat, but my suitcase would not have gotten to the plane. I had an hour and 40 minutes until my new flight. I bought airport wireless and hung out on Facebook.
Mia had a detailed plan for how my arrival would be a surprise. First there was the cab [$40] from LAX to our apartment, at which time I was to ask the driver to honk the horn a bit. Mia, having left the windows open, ran downstairs to meet me and brought me up to the third floor. A plumber was in the apartment and Terry was on a business call, so I had to wait in the hallway. The plumber was finished and leaving and needed to return our parking permit.
"It's O.K. I'll bring it back up. Good luck," he cheered.
When Terry had hung up, Mia went back into the apartment and left the door open. I could hear her tell him that a delivery had been made and that he needed to close his eyes. I rolled my suitcase into the apartment, and Mia said, "Now, put out your hand." She was covering half of his face.
I ran and lept into his extended arm and squeezed his stomach.
"See," Mia joked to him, "that's why I kept cleaning everything and yelling at you when you made it messy again."
For the rest of the weekend, he just repeated: "I can't believe you're here."