Better Luck Next Time

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COMMENT

I headed to the airport Friday after work feeling excited for my weekend in New York City. As I made my way through security, I reviewed my upcoming plans in my head: a Friday night dinner with Reporter and some friends, followed by a hair appointment and shopping Saturday with Socialite. I found an empty bench by the gate and plugged my cell phone into the nearest outlet to charge it while I waited.

We boarded only slightly behind schedule. I checked the time as I nestled into my seat on the plane. Everything was still going according to plan. The seat next to me was vacant, allowing me to stretch my short legs into the tiny amount of real estate available on the itsy-bitsy commuter plane. The stewardess got on the intercom and announced that we were to depart on time, and that there was no wait for take off.

We taxied onto the runway as I opened up a book and turned on my reading light. A few chapters in, I looked out the round porthole at the dark runway. I checked my watch again and realized we’d been sitting there for 40 minutes. There’d been no announcement about a hold up. I calculated what time I would arrive at JFK and was relieved that I could still make the dinner reservation.

More time went by, prompting me to check my watch anxiously with the passing minutes. I clenched my teeth in frustration as it occurred to me that now only a miracle would put me at the restaurant in time for dinner. Finally, we took off. I continued to read my book for the duration of the short flight.

Once we touched down, I began to gather up my belongings and put on my coat. I sighed. It was past 9 o’clock, which meant I wouldn’t make it into Manhattan until close to 10. I wondered whether it made sense to meet Reporter at the restaurant, or if I should just head straight to her apartment and call it a night.

After several minutes of sitting there in a hot coat, I began to sweat. I looked up and realized in consternation that the fasten seatbelt light remained lit. I ripped my outer layers off and again peered out the window. We were just sitting somewhere on the middle of the tarmac. The other passengers began grumbling when finally the stewardess announced, “We are waiting for a gate to open up for us. I can’t give you an idea of how long we’ll be.”

The collective complaining grew louder, as someone yelled above the din, “Aw, come on! I’m gonna miss my connection!”

Faced with a tiny mob of irate passengers crammed into the constricting space of the commuter plane, the stewardess said blandly, “I’m sorry, that’s the best I can do.”

We sat and sat, and grumbled and put our bags down and griped some more. I heard a women chatter urgently into her cell phone about missed plans and rescheduling. It occurred to me that since we were on the ground, I was probably allowed to make a call, too.

I called Reporter and told her what was happening: I was trapped in this godforsaken tin can with a bunch of other angry lemmings, waiting to be released from our steely captivity. She told me to call her when I was on my way to Manhattan. She assured me she would still be out and that I should come meet her. I hinted that after a trip like this, I wasn’t so sure I would be up for a night on the town. She told me to, “Just get here. We’ll have fun.” I was in no mood for fun. My forehead was bunched up into a permanent state of wrinkled angst. I had a tension headache, I was tired and I just wanted to lay my head down and loosen up.

I thought, “I know, I’ll call Red Beard. That will cheer me up.” He’d told me that he’d planned on staying in that night and taking it easy, and that I should call him when I’d landed. So I called, but the phone rang with no answer. I wondered if he could be asleep already. I called again, in case he hadn’t heard the ring. Nada. Zilch. Nothing. This time I left a voicemail and waited to hear back.

FINALLY, the plane taxied somewhere near the terminal. Then we sat there some more. The stewardess informed us that now we had to wait for them to bring some stairs over to our plane. After another 30 minutes, the doors opened and we were guided out of the plane and into a downpour. I couldn’t believe it. I was hauling my bags through driving wind and pouring rain on the tarmac while our disgruntled group all looked at each other in amazement. As we made our way the 100 yards to a covered walkway, the woman next to me whined, “This is unreal.” Amen, sister.

[It was a Delta flight, operated by Comair. More like Con-air. Don’t say I didn’t warn ya.]

Exhausted and pissed off, I dragged my two burdensome bags through the airport and down to ground transportation. Let me tell you how thrilled I was to wait another 30 minutes for a taxi in the rain. It was awesome. By that time, my cranky pants were so far up my ass, I was ready to burst into flames.

I called Reporter and told her that I wouldn’t make it to Manhattan until close to 11. She said, “No worries – we’re out. Just come over to the West Village!”

I tried to apprise her of the situation in the best way I could. “Wait, you don’t understand. I am still in the taxi line, and I have my luggage with me. I have no idea how soon I can get into the city, and I can’t drag my baggage around all night.”

She cheerfully offered, “Seriously, no biggie. Just take the cab to my apartment building on the Upper East Side and leave your stuff with the doorman, then take another cab downtown to meet us. Come on, we’ll have fun.”

I felt powerless to make her understand my torment. In exasperation, I told her, “Look – I have been on a five-hour trip that was supposed to take one hour, with nothing but a single beverage service during which I was served a miniature bottle of water. I can’t even tell you how aggravated I am -- I am frustrated beyond words. And I have to get up early tomorrow. I am really in no mood to take a 45-minute cab ride to your apartment, and then turn around and take another 40-minute cab ride downtown so we can go out. Seriously. It’s late. I am exhausted. I just need to go to bed.”

She asked, “Then what are you going to do?”

I thought for a moment. There was no way I could call another girlfriend at this late hour and impose on her as an unexpected guest. I had already made arrangements to stay with Reporter, and I had wrongfully been working under the assumption that the plan was to turn in after dinner – not to spend a night out on the town. I would feel like a jerk telling any one of my friends that she was my second choice, and making her feel obliged to take me in after I had initially refused her hospitality. So I said, “I guess I’ll get a hotel room.”

After I got off the phone with Reporter, I called the W in Union Square. The room rate was $700 for the night. I stifled a shocked reaction and asked if the operator knew of any hotels with a more modest rate. He hooked me up with the Sheraton at $450 a night – an ostensible bargain at that point.

Finally, I was fist in line for a cab. I climbed in and directed the cabbie to the Sheraton Manhattan in Times Square. As I was on my way, I called Basil and told her my tale of woe. I choked back tears as I told her, “And through all of this, I really want to talk to Red Beard. He’s supposed to be home right now, but he’s not answering. I’m really bothered – I mean, I’m traveling and having a hard time – and he’s unreachable. This just sucks.”

Basil offered her sympathy as I warned her that my cell battery was dying; airports always seem to kill it. I had the cabbie pull over so I could use an ATM. I didn’t have enough cash to pay for the $45 trip. As I hopped out of the car, my cell cut out. I nervously ran inside the bank vestibule as I realized I was in New York with no means of communication and my bags in the custody of a stranger. I breathed a sigh of relief when I got back into the waiting taxi with a fistful of money.

As we pulled away, Red Beard called. Again I felt relief – that my phone was still working, but more so that I was finally hearing his voice. He apologized for not picking up when I’d called earlier. He had decided to attend trivia night with coworkers. The group was a bunch of regulars at the event every Friday night, and they’d invited Red Beard to come along. When I phoned him, the emcee called him out in front of everyone and threatened to disqualify his whole team if he answered. He didn’t feel it would be fair to ruin the game for everyone else.

I felt much better knowing there was a plausible explanation, rather than wondering if he was sleeping through my call or worse yet – choosing not to answer because he didn’t feel like it. Apology accepted. As we pulled up to the curb in front of the hotel, I told Red Beard I would call him back once I was checked in and safely inside my room.

Nothing could have prepared me for this $450 chamber, since I’d only stayed in one hotel room at such a price point before. It had been in Seattle, and I was put up in cavernous luxury suite. I was well-aware that a New York City hotel room would pale in comparison for the same price. I was expecting something miniature that I would hardly be able to turn around in, but with sleek styling.

What I actually got was a grimy, dingy compartment in which I could hear the clear blare of taxi horns sounding off nine stories below. I was choked by the stench – a thick pallor of cigarette smoke hung in the air of my non-smoking room. The bed was lumpy and there were holes in the sheets. My only real hope at that point was that I wouldn’t encounter any bed bugs.

I was tired. I couldn’t go any further. I sat down in a chair and removed my shoes. I plugged in my cell phone and called Red Beard back. We talked for a half hour and I unwound a little bit. We said our goodnights and I love yous and I went to sleep.

Saturday was bound to be a better day. I hopped out of bed at 7, took a deep breath of cigarette smoke filled air, and hopped in the shower. I dressed quickly, packed up my bags and headed to the front desk to check out. I couldn’t get out of that room fast enough. The woman behind the counter inquired about the quality of my stay. I was honest, “It was pretty bad. My room reeked like cigarettes.”

She looked down her nose at me and snipped, “We can’t control our guests. It’s supposed to be a non-smoking room, but people sneak cigarettes anyway. There’s nothing we can do about it.” Very helpful, thank you for f*cking asking.

I left my bags with the bellman and started out in the rain to my hairdresser Antonio’s apartment, where I was due at 9 a.m. At long last, I was getting my Lady Godiva locks trimmed up above nipple level. But first things first – I needed some highlights to disguise an inch and a half of dark roots. By noon, my hair was colored. I have no idea where the time went. Three hours for highlights. How is this possible? I told Antonio, “Uh oh, I’m supposed to meet Socialite for lunch right now. We’ll have to hurry.”

Antonio said, “Just give her a call and tell her you’re going to be late.”

I explained, “Please, she’s a good friend and I don’t have much time to spend with her…” Antonio leapt into action and cut and styled my hair in record time. He was attempting to attack me with a flat iron as I tore off the cape and jumped out of the chair. I quickly told him, “It looks gorgeous – thank you so much, but I have to run!”

I pulled on my coat, stuffed a wad of cash into Antonio’s hand, snapped a picture of the two of us in the hall mirror, and ran for the door. When I got outside, the rain had stopped and the sun was coming out. Things were looking up. Then I checked my cell phone and saw that Socialite had cancelled on me because of the rain. I felt my grumpiness returning as I prepared to face even more of my visit without friends. Ah well. At least it was getting sunny out.

I grabbed some fast-food sushi and called Red Beard. We chatted while I ate. When I stepped outside again, a huge black rain cloud raced me across the street, dumping big fat drops on my newly done hair. I ducked inside a bookstore as I watched the sky open up while sheets of rainwater absolutely teemed down.

Thankfully, the storm burst was temporary and, still chatting with Red Beard, I headed out on my shoe shopping mission. As it occurred to me that this could possibly be the dullest conversation in the world for him (“These shoes don’t quite fit right, maybe I’ll try a different size,”) I said good bye and told him I would call him when I was though.

Two pairs of shoes and several hours later, I called Red Beard so we could continue our conversation. I complained about being weighed down by so many packages. Red Beard suggested that I take them to Kinko’s and have them shipped home. Great idea! He got online and directed me to the nearest ship center. It seemed so far away, the bags were getting heavier by the minute, and my tension helmet was getting screwed on tighter and tighter. Red Beard said, “Sounds like someone just put her cranky pants back on.”

I told him, “I see the Kinko’s. Let me take care of this and I swear by the time I drop all this stuff off and call you back, I will be lighter and the crankiness will be gone.” And that’s what happened. We picked up where we left our chat. Red Beard told me he planned on throwing together a last-minute Halloween costume and attending a gathering. He had to jump in the shower and get ready, so we signed off for the day. He told me he would talk to me Sunday.

I went back to the Sheraton to pick up my luggage and then I took a cab up to Reporter’s apartment. I helped her and her boyfriend, Youngster, prepare for the pre-Halloween-outing cocktail hour they were hosting. Then we all put on our costumes (I was the Bride of Satan) and welcomed the guests. I didn’t think it would bother me, but the flood of couples all around me made me feel slightly pathetic. An old acquaintance asked, “Where’s Red Beard?” I explained that he had too much work for grad school to take care of and so Red Beard decided he couldn’t make it.

He looked incredulous as he asked, “Really?” I looked back at him blankly. He looked embarrassed as he said, “You’re not kidding … your boyfriend didn’t come with you.”

I laughed awkwardly, “No, he didn’t come with me! He graduates in March and I’m sure he’ll have more free time then. Maybe next time I come up, his schedule will be a little lighter.” I wondered if it was strange for committed adults to travel for weekends of socializing without their partners. I recalled the bachelor party in September and thought, “Sure it is. People do it all the time.” I shook off this mere acquaintance’s judgment and thought to myself, “What does he know?”

Soon we rounded up the partygoers and headed out to the bars for some Halloween debauchery. We hopped in cabs and headed downtown. It was a typical Halloween in New York, with everyone feeling extroverted and social in their costumes. It was an interloper’s paradise where complete strangers would customarily walk up to each other and strike up conversations.

A few drinks into it, our group said they were heading to another bar. Reporter pulled me aside and told me, “I’m not sure what you want to do. Inferno is going to be there.” I felt frozen as my mind reeled. I figured it would be a pretty foolish idea to put myself in the same room with the guy when Red Beard wasn’t at my side. It's not that I didn't trust myself – it's that I didn't trust Inferno not to have an unsolicited grope fest at my expense, and I didn't want to make a scene. We decided to hang back as the rest of our group moved on. That left me with Youngster and Reporter, who started canoodling in a corner by the bar.

As I had been experiencing since I landed Friday night, I remained surrounded by people and yet I was still extraordinarily lonely. It hurt. This weekend was not going as planned. What a big pile of suck.

I took a moment to assess the situation. It was Halloween and I was at a bar. Relax. Have fun. I resolved to buck up and stop feeling sorry for myself. I was here to have a good time, god damn it, and I refused to let these surprise circumstances ruin the whole weekend.

I looked around and saw a girl dressed up as Paris Hilton standing by herself, so I went over and made friends. We joked around for a few minutes before being approached by a guy dressed up like a football player. He joined in our conversation. Paris was distracted by some tomfoolery nearby while the football player stood there looking at me. He said, “So, do you have a boyfriend?”

I answered, “Yes, actually, I do.”

It was clear he thought I was fending off his advances with a lie. He came back with, “Oh really? You have a boyfriend. Well, where is he then? Point him out to me.”

I fortified my stance and firmly told him, “I came up from out of town to visit my friends – he’s at another party back home.”

The footballer guffawed. “So it’s Saturday night and your boyfriend is at a different party? That’s great.”

Why was this such a difficult concept for people to understand? I was feeling defensive, and I hate to admit, suddenly very disappointed that Red Beard had chosen not to come. I mean, of course I was slightly let down right when he said he couldn’t make it. I mean, who wouldn’t be? But we have adult responsibilities, and we can’t always get what we want, now can we. I had gotten over it, but the inquiries and the circumstances were opening the wound up wide and rubbing in some course salt.

I turned away and went to find Reporter and Youngster. It was just after midnight, but thankfully they were ready to go back to the apartment to have our own petite party. We three sat on the couch in our pajamas and ate leftovers while we chatted for a little bit before we went to bed.

Sunday morning, I packed my bags, hugged Reporter goodbye and took a cab downtown to Basso Est, across the street from my old apartment on Orchard Street. LL, Orch and Dave, and Manolos and her new man all showed up soon after I arrived at the restaurant. Finally, I was at ease and happy. We all had some laughs over brunch and mimosas, then spilled out into the windy, sunshiny day. At last, I was glad I'd come.

I called Red Beard to firm up my travel plans home. With all this wind, he’d verified that there were delays out of JFK. Not wanting to deal with another rotten flying experience, I canceled my flight and decided to take a train. I said goodbye to Manolos and her boyfriend, then walked around with Orch, Dave and LL in order to find some soy sauce dishes for dipping sushi. We wound up at Pearl River where I went nuts and purchased about ten little saucers.

Afterwards, I hugged my crew goodbye, hopped in a cab to Penn Station and called Red Beard. We debated the different train times before deciding it would be best to grab the soonest and quickest train possible, even though it meant spending a wad on the Acela. As glad as I was to have spent some gratifying moments with old friends, I couldn’t wait to be home.