(Four Days, Three Nights in Hell )
By Roger A Wilbanks
Regarding the events of my life from Monday, September 25, 2000 through Sunday, October 1, 2000 Hurricane Keith
Chapter 1 -
It all started innocently enough. I had worked at broadcast.com (Recently renamed Yahoo! Broadcast) for close to three years without taking a single day off for any kind of vacation. I had come to work sick and on holidays because, well, that was my job but the vacation time was piling up and needed to be used. My boss suggested I take the following week off on an early Monday morning and the suggestion was anything but that. You could tell that look in his eye meant it was not a question of would I, rather it was ‘when’ would I. I went online immediately and looked at my options. There was Vegas, Cancun and Hawaii. It was October, the end of the hurricane season in the Caribbean, so I decided on Cancun. I bought one ticket for an all-inclusive hotel with the airfare included and sat back counting the days before my flight departed that Friday. When I told my co-worker Dewitt about the trip, he said, “You’re going alone???” It would not be the last time I heard that. Word soon spread that I was taking a vacation, and while that was strange enough, the fact that I was going solo was simply too strange to be ignored. By Monday’s end, I had counted no less than 12 different persons who felt it their civic duty to ask me the same question my friend has asked hours earlier. “You’re going alone???”
By the time the middle of the week rolled around, the question grew to include, “You’re going to Cancun alone??? And during Hurricane Season, too???”
Needless to say Friday could not arrive soon enough. When Thursday’s end drifted into view, I said my goodbyes to my coworkers and was still asked the ever growing question. I let that go as I envisioned myself calmly sitting on a pool chair in the sand as I sipped Pina Coladas and listened to the sound of the surf. I had done my duty and religiously checked Yahoo! Weather in the days leading up to my departure and saw that there were absolutely no hurricanes or storms anywhere in the area. There was ABSOLUTELY ZERO CHANCE of any severe weather in the area over the weekend, the website said. I want to meet the guy that wrote that. I really do.
Friday morning, I woke at 7am and got my bags ready. My brother drove me to the airport and wished me well with the question, “You’re going to Cancun ALONE? And during Hurricane Season?” I waved him off and headed to the International Terminal to check my bags. The old lady at the Pre 9/11 airport check in was as sweet as they come, really. She asked me the usual “Has anyone handled your bags since you packed them?” questions and upon seeing my ticket and the noticeable lack of anyone next to me followed it up with, “Why are you going to Cancun alone in the middle of hurricane season?” At least she mixed it up, I thought.
As soon as the details were ironed out, I looked at my new watch and saw that I had a full hour to wait for boarding so I went to the bar. You have to understand I am a horrible flyer. That’s why I never got to go on business trips. I have to have at least 3 beers in me before I get on a plane or anxiety takes ahold of me. The type of anxiety that hits you on a roller coaster as you near the top of the first plunge and start fighting the “I gotta get off…NOW!!!” thoughts I know everyone has had at least one time. Well mine hit me on an airplane and because I don’t want to spend the entire flight sedated and with several fat people sitting on me to restrain me, I do the public a service and get lightly hammered preflight. As I bellied up to the bar to order the first of the last Shiner Bocks I would have for the next 4 days, I told the bartender I was going to Cancun. He stopped the tap for a moment and looked around.
“You going with anyone?” he asked me.
“No.” I said.
“Why is that?“ he asked.
“You know what?” I said, finally getting an opportunity to answer for myself, “I have been asked that one all week. I am going on a vacation. I plan on spending the entirety of the following four days dividing my time between lounging on the beach, chasing the tail that appears down there and getting as totally shitface hammered as I possibly can. The LAST thing I need is to go down there with an anchor in tow.”
“Fair enough.” he said. “But a wingman wouldn’t have been a bad idea is all I’m saying.”
Truer words were never, in the history of mankind’s short stay on this planet, ever spoken.
Heading to my gate with the slightest hint of a stagger, I went to face my destiny. I was fully prepared for the trip. I had my CD player, four days worth of batteries, my PDA (for notes), my one credit card, $300 in cash and enough clothes to last me 3-4 days. I took my seat on the plane and buckled in. I leaned back and relaxed as the plane started it’s lurching motions into the air, calmly reciting the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism and prepared to have the time of my life. The girl with the drink cart walked by and asked if I would like anything just as the plane hit a pocket of turbulence.
“I’ll have a Jack and Coke, please.” I said.
Sipping my carefully mixed drink, I heard the pilot’s speaker come on. This was the part where he, the pilot, came on to thank the people for flying his airline, told you how long the flight would last and wished us all the fun in the world upon landing. That wasn’t quite the way it happened.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is the pilot. First, thank you for flying Sun Country Airlines. I hate to be the one to tell you this, but there is a hurricane forming just off the eastern coast of the Yucatan peninsula as we speak and is expected to make landfall within the next 2 days. “
There was dead silence on the plane. I pulled out the weather map I had printed off Thursday as I left work. Clear skies…no clouds at all. I looked out the plane’s windows and saw the identical image. I noticed several other people doing the same.
“Aside from that…enjoy your trip and again, thank you for flying Sun Country Airlines.”
I wanted to kill the man.
I opened my backpack to retrieve the CD player to notice that, while it was where it should be, the case of CD’s was missing. That was not bad however as the one CD I was planning on listening to anyway Old 97’s - Fight Songs, was still in the player.
Now, I would have people know this one thing about me before I go on. I am a very resilient man. The fact that I was taking a trip alone reveals a great deal about my character in that I like being on my own. As a result I am able to endure trials and tribulations that most mortals would wither and die from. That said, missing a case of CD’s and flying into an as yet unproven hurricane was nothing to me. I take great pride in the fact that I can endure equally great strain. Where others on the plane were on the verge of revolt, I was calmly finishing my Jack and Coke, turning on my Old 97’s CD and looking at the boats on the Gulf, marveling at how tiny and small they were. I would survive and come out better for the experience.
After an uneventful landing in Cancun that saw me exit the plane on a rolling staircase that emptied onto the tarmac, I realized the fact that I was in a foreign country now. Kansas (and Dallas for that matter) was far behind me now. I walked with the rest of the passengers to the airport and passed on through customs with no problem. Outside of the terminal was the bus that was to take us to our hotel. I was the first one on and positioned myself at the mid point. That’s the safest place to be in a bus accident, I remembered hearing somewhere. The bus driver called to me and motioned to the cooler at his feet. It was open and filled with ice and Mexican beer.
“Help yourself, man. They’re free!” he said.
I helped myself to two and eased back into my seat as the others boarded the bus. Mostly people from my flight, we felt like we already knew each other. A wrestler named “Steve” sat in the seat behind me with his friends “Mitch” and “Josh” sitting across the aisle from him. They were in Cancun for their first time, as well but I wasn’t feeling social enough to talk to them. I sipped my beer and waited as we pulled out of the airport and started the drive to the hotel. The countryside of Cancun zipped past and it became apparent that this was a third world tourist trap in the images I saw on the side of the road, The REAL Cancun. It wasn’t the dreamy oasis I was on my way to but in a way it foreshadowed my future.
The strip of Cancun came into view and we soon pulled into the massive driveway of our hotel, Gran Caribe Real. I strongly recommend this place. It’s décor was classy, the rooms were neat and the food and booze was all included with the help of the yellow wristband I found someone attaching to my arm.
“Do not lose this, Seenyore. It is your only way to prove you are with this hotel.”
I promised to respect the wristband and asked for directions to the bar.
“That’s over there but you must check in first, Seenyore.”
I swear this guy was making the Senor sound like Speedy Gonzalez on purpose but I didn’t care. I checked in, was told my bags would be delivered to my room and went to the bar for my first Pina Colada. I walked outside to see a sky so blue it stung my eyes and ocean so clear it made me cry. The beach was a pristine white and the people playing volleyball were all beautiful. If they ever wanted to capture the essence of Cancun, I thought, this is it. I joined my fellow vacationers in a game of v-ball and won.
This was the life.
I made it up to my room around noonish to shower the sand and surf out of my crevices and noticed that my bags had not yet arrived. I called down to the front desk and was told that they would be up shortly. I decided a nap was in order and set the alarm for 2pm before dozing off. I woke at the sound of a buzzer but again noticed there were no bags. I decided to walk downstairs and check on this personally. The guy at the desk assured me the bags were en route and not to worry so I decided to eat lunch and get another drink. I helped myself to 3 Shrimp cocktails and 2 margaritas when I was informed that my luggage was now in my room. I walked to the elevator and headed up to change. It was now about 4pm so I decided to go swim in the ocean. My bags were safe in my room and I put all my belongings in their respective places but realized I hadn’t packed a swim suit.
No problem, I thought. I’ll just head down and buy one. The selection was scattered at best but I found one that fit and with the addition of an authentic pair of leather sandals, some sunscreen and 6 Cohiba cigars, I made my way to the beach. The water was a little different this time. I thought it was the tide but overheard someone mention the “H” word. I decided it was best to avoid swimming and instead settled into a chair with my cigars and an endless supply of booze a finger motion away.
After 2 and a half hours of sunbathing, drinking and fake-Cuban cigars, I decided it was dinner time. I headed back up to change and make my way onto the town. My hotel was picked specifically to remove the necessity of driving to get to night life. I put on some snappy threads and headed onto the walk that would change my life. The first place I saw was a steakhouse that advertised the best steak in the city. I tried it and in all honesty, even as a native Texan who has had some pretty good steaks, this place wasn’t bad. I felt a little indigestion but that wasn’t the food. I made my way to the nightclubs as it was nearing 8pm and walked into the first one I saw. It was called Le Boom and it will forever haunt me.
There was a $25 cover to get in, but this was explained away by the fact that it was, like my hotel, all inclusive. All the booze was free! It was love at first sight. I staggered onto my doom smiling. The first thing that greeted my eyes was a tiny Mexican dwarf with a bottle of red colored liquid he said was Tequila. Shorty (as I called him for the duration of the evening) proceeded to pour a healthy dose down my throat like it was Robitussin and I was one sick sonofabitch. It tasted more like fruit punch but I could feel the familiar bite of the tequila so I let that go. I went on into the labyrinthine club guided along by the sounds from the dance floor. There were 3 separate clubs all intertwined into one, the bartender told me. I was currently in the smoking room of one of them. Told this, I pulled another Cohiba from my pocket and ordered a dark Mexican Beer. After the first beer, a group of British guys came in. They were players of some wacky English sport (rugby, I think) and they gravitated to me for some strange reason. We spent the next 3 hours drinking heavily and smoking our fake Cuban cigars and telling the lies that only foreigners in a foreign land can get away with. It was greatness. That’s when SHE walked in. She being a girl from the plane I was on initially, meaning she was from Dallas as well. I motioned her over to join us and her friends came along as well. There were 3 girls and one guy. I thought this odd but who the hell was I to cast aspersions? I came to Cancun alone, during hurricane season.
The Dallasites and the English eventually parted ways and I stayed with my hometown friends. The two single girls and I tore up the dance floor in that drunk white-guy fashion that leaves the white guy feeling like he just climbed Everest and everyone else feeling as if they just watched the Special Olympics. But I was so stinking drunk at this point that I didn’t care. These girls were all over me and it felt good. Shorty walked up and held up a tray of shots. It was The Boomerang Shot. The liquid in these glasses was a white milky colored mixture that he had a very foreign name for. The girls and I took them gladly.
Have you ever had a moment when your life literally stood still? When time ceased to move? I stood there swaying on a throbbing dance floor in Mexico as the lights shifted to a slow motion strobe and the music muffled as if I were underwater. I marveled in this feeling for what felt like an eternity, certain that this was bliss. What I didn’t know was that it was merely the calm that precedes the storm. A simple digital ticker in my mind’s eye began counting down. I saw this as clearly as I saw the gyrating females and the insane dwarf bartender. 8...7...6...the clock started falling. Time began to acquire a faster pace. My mouth acquired a battery-like taste. 5...4...3.…the lights began to flash faster. My mind’s camera began zooming on the area immediately in front of me. 2...The music came into focus as the lights sped to a faster and faster pace. 1. And thus, the aptly named Boomerang shot earned it’s name. My stomach had had enough. In my best impression of Mssr Creosote from The Meaning of Life, who upon having one final wafer thin mint exploded across the room, I began to vomit in an uncontrollable manner. I clamped my hand about my mouth, but I was the Dutch Boy with his finger in the Dike. I ran to the restroom and went to town, looking up occasionally to see my reflection laughing back at me in the mirror above the urinal with an ominously worded warning about illegal drugs. My face was a crazed maniac’s. That damnable shot was the first rat off the sinking ship, followed by a stream of red that initially frightened me before the realization that it was the fruity tequila sank in. That good Mexican dark beer followed, barging its way out like an angry soccer hooligan only to be trailed by that delicious steak and potato dinner, which did a fine impersonation of a couple involved in a high-stakes dine and dash. I think my kidneys tried to leave but I was able to reach down and nail those buggers before they could bolt free. Total elapsed time for all this, from initial shot to vomit-soaked misery? 2 seconds.
When I returned to the dance floor I was a changed man. An experience like that will do that to you. The Dallasites were still there and very concerned, but I reassured them well and was able to continue the fun. Shorty announced later that the bar was closing, and the 5 of us left the bar. The couple decided to take a walk back to their hotel while the 2 other girls and I were to head back to my hotel to enjoy the still open complimentary bar. I just needed to get some pesos for the cab ride. I walked across the street and used the ATM at the hotel. I pulled out a few extra pesos to buy some more cigars later and turned on my heel to get in the cab. My credit card and sole source of funds waved back at me.
When we arrived at the hotel, I walked in with the girls. The doorman stopped me at the door.
“The girls, Seenyore…they can no come in.”
“They no have the wristband.” he clawed at my yellow shackle.
“We just want to hang out.”
“That will be $100 per person for them to come in for the day.”
“Put it on my tab.”
“No problem Seenyore. Just give me your credit card and I will handle it.”
I pulled out my wallet and began the futile search for the credit card.\ I had left dangling from an unknown hotel’s ATM machine. I pulled everything out of the wallet to no avail.
“I seem to have misplaced it.”
“Then the girls…they can no come in, Seenyore.”
At this, the girls pouted and left. I walked to a couch in the lobby and sat as the realization that I was now without money in a foreign land crept over me. I was still too drunk to process this, so I went upstairs and went to sleep in my room with the ocean view, as long as you lean out the window and look around the air conditioners.
The morning walked in through the closed curtain and pistol whipped me. Sunlight pierced my head as if it were daggers as the sounds of fun being had beat upon my head. The hangover equaled the night it its sheer excess. I showered and put on clean clothes and went downstairs to the concierge’s desk. I called Bank of America and told them what happened. The operator told me it was no problem, that sort of thing happens every day. I was so relieved to hear this that she almost slipped it past me.
“We’ll have a new one sent out to you on Monday. It should arrive by Tuesday.”
It was Saturday.
“You do understand what I’m telling you, right? I’m in a foreign land for the weekend, and I have no money?”
“Yes sir, but we can only send you a new card via the mail, and they have already picked up today’s outgoing. The earliest I can get one even sent out will be first thing Monday.”
“Don’t you have a branch IN Cancun for emergencies?”
“Um, SIR? We are the Bank of UH-MARE-UH-KUH, not the Bank of Mexico.”
“Ok, understood. How about wiring me some funds from my account?”
“That will take a manager’s approval.”
“Fine. I’ll wait.”
“He’s out till Monday.”
“Ok. Let’s distill this down to the basics. I need money. Money that YOU have in your bank. Is there ANY way YOU can get some of THAT money to ME in Mexico?”
“No sir. I’m sorry. But isn’t there a hurricane heading that way?”
“Honey, that’s the LEAST of my worries.” I hung up the phone.
My first phone call was to home. My parents would be able to wire me money. They lived in a part of Dallas that is predominantly Hispanic and there are locations on every block advertising JUST that service. I knew that making that phone call would be admitting defeat. It would be me standing up in the Town Hall assembly and saying loud and clear for all to hear that “Yes. Yes I am a moron.” But I also knew that without the buffer of a few hundred dollars I could well wind up in jail in this godforsaken hole. My all inclusive hotel meant that as long as I ate, drank and did whatever I could do here, it was covered so I wouldn’t go hungry. I was just screwed when it came to gifts and extras like cigars. I figured $500 would cover those plus any extra fees the hotel decided to tack on at the end. So I pulled the calling card I almost left behind from my wallet and made the call.
“Hi Dad, it’s me.”
“Hey Boy! How is Mexico? Is that hurricane there yet?”
“Nah. It’s a day or so away. Look, here it is. I got shitface drunk last night and lost my credit card. I need you to wire me $500 so I can have some money to spend here and cover any extras the hotel charges.”
I fully expected my father, whom I have known my entire life, to laugh at this with uncontrolled glee, even though he is a man that laughs very little and smiles even less, but to his credit, and I love him more every day for this, he didn’t.
“Where do I need to send it to?”
I gave the address of the Western Union office the hotel had given me and told him I would call back in 20 minutes. When I called, he gave me the confirmation number and I walked off to get that money. The rain was just beginning. The morning started off Sharp and Clear, but the clouds had started swirling in and the little stinging rain had begun. I think the walk was 4 blocks but to be honest I don’t remember. I had no trouble getting the money and went outside to the payphone to call my Dad with the news.
“Hey Dad. I got the money. It was no problem. Just gave him the number, my ID and he handed over the cash.”
“You think $500 is going to be enough?”
“If it isn’t, I promise you will hear from me tom……”
At this point I stopped speaking in a very abrupt manner.
“Roger? ROGER??? You There? Hello? Hello?”
The sound of a large engine passing coincided immediately with my sudden conversational embargo, and my Dad thought I had been hit by a bus. I had, but not in the physical sense.
“Dammit Boy! I thought you got hit by something!”
“Dad…you’ve been to Tijuana, right? When you were in the Navy?”
“You told me about the busses there. I remember that…the crazy ones. You remember those?”
“Yeah. Watch your ass around those. Did one almost hit you?”
“Nah. I’m off the street a good 12 feet. But one did just drive by.”
“It had chickens on it, Dad.”
“That’s normal. I’ve seen those.”
“NO, Dad. It had Chickens ON IT. The top of the bus had a foot high fence of chicken wire and there were 12-15 chickens just walking around on top of it as it screamed by at about 40 mph .”
It was at this that I can say with all honesty that I made my father laugh till he almost wet his pants.
I walked back to the hotel as the rain began to pick up. I still had some pesos so I flagged down one of these chicken busses and rode it the remainder of the way. This bus had a hole in the floor where the gearshift poked through. This hole was 2ft by 3ft in area and was in no way shielded from the people. I missed stepping into it by the Grace alone. I looked down at the road as it screamed beneath us and heard the tap tap and cluck cluck of the chickens atop the bus. This memory still haunts me to this day but in the occasional nightmare that visits me, the driver is laughing a mad little laugh and the bus is lit with candlelight.
I got out a block from the hotel and walked back in a now driving rain. The darkened sky at 2pm spoke of danger and despair this night, and I laughed at this. Back in the hotel, I discovered a cigar roller in the lobby and purchased 12 hand rolled Churchills from him for $2 each. They had the Hotel’s logo on the wrapper and were quite good. At 3pm, I changed and went to the pool. My hangover demon had been exorcised by the surreal day so I was ready to begin my vacation in earnest. The rain was doing a fine job keeping everyone indoors, but I went to the poolside bar anyhow. Miguel handed me a frozen Pina Colada and I leaned back and sipped it slowly. He and I talked of many things over Pina Coladas and Cigars. We spoke of poor timing, poor judgment and even poorer luck. I told him about Shiner Bock beer and he mentioned a special Corona in the brown bottle, only available at the lobby bar. I promised to try one after dinner. As our conversation dragged on, we were both distracted by the ever darkening skies and the ever increasing wind. Both of these eventually forced Miguel to shutter the bar and I went to shower and change for dinner. I had a reservation at the finest restaurant in the 5star hotel. When I got there, I was asked to put on a jacket, so that I would not offend the other guests. This I refused on the grounds that I was the ONLY person IN the place. I won that argument, but decided to eat on the patio anyway. I ordered steak and lobster that were made to absolute perfection. I smoked my fake Cuban over dinner and an Irish Coffee of Colombian dark roast and Irish Whiskey as the wind slapped me for my cheek. The waiter, God bless him, made enough trips outside to visit this crazy man on the patio to earn the larger than necessary tip I left him, but with dinner done, It was time to head indoors. I went to the lobby bar where a handful of the remaining guests sat all glued to the game on television. NCAA College Football. The University of Miami vs. Oklahoma. I really liked neither team, but with nothing else to do, ordered a drink and joined the group. I ordered a Hurricane. The waitress handed me my drink as the announcers came back from commercial break, while on a separate television, the weatherman was giving the details of our future. It was at this point that the irony of my situation hit me with a brutal shock and I laughed so loud and with such a release of pent up rage, indignation and shame that I scared all of the people around me. I calmed myself down and said in as slow and sane a voice as I could muster, “I’m drinking a Hurricane, while Watching the Hurricanes, in the MIDDLE of a GodDamn Hurricane!”
This handful of people around me cheered and exchanged high fives with each other as they all ordered hurricanes and the entire staff joined us. This was one of those “Who’s coming WITH me?” moments, and I treasure it to this day. I have no idea who won the game.
The night ended as uneventful as it had begun. Sunday morning greeted me with a black sky and horizontal rain that looked like an out of tune television on my patio glass door. I packed my belongings and walked down to the lobby to await the bus that would take us to the airport. I exited the elevator to the sight of two women in satin dresses, one pink, one gold, crying and holding each other. The girl in pink was doing her best to console the one in gold.
“There is no way you could have known 6 months ago.”
“Bu bu bu but someone should have warned mu mu mu me!!!”
“It was impossible for you to have seen this coming, sweetheart….”
I looked down the hallway and saw it gaily decorated on flowers of milk and gold colors with occasional pink roses woven in every 5th or so bunch. There were streamers of silk and satin along the hall as well, all leading to a dias outside now being beaten by the hurricane winds as if it owed them money. Three men in tuxedos leaned against a wall out of earshot of the crying females.
“No way I could get the money back. Travel Agent said it was a lock. I would have eaten all 12 grand. Shit. SHE’S the one that wanted to come here anyway! I fuckin wanted to go to Vegas. But Nooo. The water here is ‘soooo beautiful’ It’ll look so much better in the wedding album than ‘some stooped casino‘.”
“Well, at least we all got a trip to Cancun out of it.”
“Yeh. Well HER old man paid most of it. Go thank him.” He drank his beer in one gulp and pointed to something in the distance.
I followed his finger to the lobby bar where I saw an older man of about 60 stooped against the bar, sitting in a tall chair. His arms were crossed immediately in front of him as he stared at a glass of dark amber colored liquid and mumbled to himself. The man had a look of inconsolable grief, like his favorite dog just got hit by a garbage truck. I looked from this miserable old man to the laughing groom and the weeping bride-to-be and at that very moment came to grips with the fact that there are people in this world worse off than me.
I dropped my bags down in the lobby and sank into the couch. The hotel announced that they were to begin evacuation procedures within the next three hours. I had just enough time to get a drink and get some last minute shopping in.
I picked up knick-naks for my coworkers, a chess set for me and a few more Cubans for home. I took the hotel wrappers I had saved and put them over the Cubans just in case Customs got up in my business when we landed.
The bus driver that dropped me off in Dante’s Vacation Spot announced that they would be leaving within the hour to, and I quote here, ‘Try to be beating this hurry cane with the plane.’
I walked back to the sofa my bags were in front of and noticed the rock sculpture next to it. I looked at this rock with an intensity I would look an a suitor who visited my daughter if I had one. It had taken my attention by force. It was then that I had a moment of Zen smother me and a sense of enlightenment so clearly focused settle my thoughts. The rock was not a rock. It was a mixture of grit, sediment and minerals at it’s base and at it’s core, simply a collection of atoms, but it was precisely because of this collection of atoms that it could be nothing other than a rock. The rock is not a rock. And that is why it is a rock. I wrote this on the wooden rail around the sculpture and boarded the bus.
I was hungover. I was miserable. I was completely embarrassed. I, by all rights, should have been suicidal. But I wasn’t. Not until Tina’s friend started speaking on the bus. The trip to the airport was long, made even longer by the elemental barricades the driver was navigating. Trees were falling and the rain made it almost impossible to see through the almost pitch black sky.
The voice seemed to come from the wheels of the bus behind me, as if some part had worked itself loose and was trying to get the driver’s attention.
“Teeeeena? Why don’t you come back here and talk to me?”
The voice became barbed wire, and wrapped itself around my brain, tightening with each and every single…
I pulled out my CD player, and pressed play. The batteries were almost gone, but I could buy more at the airport. The Old 97’s began to sing Jagged.
“Teeeeena? I’m lonely. Come back here!”
I wished that Teeeena would come back there. With a heavy section of lead pipe and bash the living shit out of…
“Teeeena! I need another beer. Would you get me one?”
I turned the volume up as loud as it would go, infuriating my hangover, but like a drunk in a jail cell when another bum is introduced, it just grumbled and made room.
“Teeeeena? How far till the airport? I’m homesick!”
I began fiddling with my armrest. I attempted to pry it free, imagining myself beating Teeena’s friend about the skull until tiny little bits of shaky grey jelly came…
“Teeeena? I need food. Do you have any candy bars left?”
It is amazing, the human response to torture is, when you really think about it. The human body has a way of compartmentalizing itself and shutting off the bad parts when it finds itself in danger of being….
“Teeeeeena? How far to the airport? I need to peeeeeee.”
“Tina don’t wanna talk to you stooped lady!” One of my bus mates just earned a free drink on me.
“Will you come back and talk to me then?”
“”Baby…if I come back there, I’m gonna shove something in your mouth you ain’t gonna like much. And I ain’t had a shower today.” My new hero just earned lunch when we landed.
This seemed to do the trick, and Teeena’s friend ceased her audio attack. The words still reverberated in my head, however. “Teeeeeena…..teeeeeeeena….teeeeeeena.” I think my ears were bleeding.
When we arrived at the airport, I prepared for the assault on Customs with my illegal Cuban cigars. This never happened. They never even checked. I got to the airport and was whisked past everything to get us on that plane. No Customs, no nothing. We were allowed 10 minutes in the Duty Free shop before boarding and I swear to you if you ever take a trip abroad, this is the reason for doing it. They allowed you a specific amount of each (alcohol, cigarettes, etc) but there was no tax on it at all. When you take a second to consider how much we tax alcohol and tobacco in this country the removal of those penalties has a very odd effect on you. I equate it to that feeling I got on Christmas Morning when I opened the Six-Million Dollar Man Action Figure I wanted so damn bad. You remember that one? He wore an orange jumpsuit like he was in county lockup and had a rubber I-Beam girder he could bend. It was THE SHIT. Well I went to town playing with that action figure and I knocked the dust off of that cash register at Duty Free. I bought 5 bottles of tequila for $20, the good stuff, not that golden crap we Americans like. I got a carton of Camels for a dollar, I think. I needed a new bag for most of this but managed to stow it in the carryon luggage anyhow. The plane began boarding and you could feel the tension in the air. This was a make or break moment. We had a short window to get out of Cancun before the full force of the Hurricane hit. Miss that and we’re in Mexico indefinitely. To the credit of the airline, and all involved, we all got on the plane and the pilot was able to begin his take off. I had the tween seat on this trip, between the window and the aisle. On either side of me were muscle builders. These guys were huge. I’m not a tiny man by anyone’s assessment, but these guys made me look like Michael J Fox sitting between Shaq and Ahnold. The plane sped up as it flew down the runway and I leaned to the window to watch as we left the ground and while no one will back me up on this, I will swear to this day the clouds formed themselves into a giant foot and literally kicked my ass out of Mexico.
The flight was standard after that. The roiders and I had a nice chat. They were supposed to sit next to each other, but that would have been too tight a fit. I saw the logic in this and gladly maintained my middle seat. This earned me a “Sympathy 5!” from them both. These guys were very into high fiving things and naming the high 5 when appropriate. I saw this activity replayed in a character on Scrubs named The Todd. Whether these guys were gay or not tho, I could really care less at this point. The Gulf of Mexico, while so inviting on our journey South had transformed into a woman after 10 years of marriage. Gone were the garters. Gone were the high heels and suggestive winks. All that was left was frump and bleak dreary, with one hell of a stormy sea. Texas could not make it to the window fast enough, and it was magical, but almost as soon as we saw land, I spotted Dallas. 10,000 feet in the air is a magical place. I saw downtown, and my home from the window and the highway where I knew the plane would make its turn for a landing. The plane banked hard to the left as I put the CD player ion for one last song. Old 97’s: “Crash on the Barrelhead” was this song.
Now I think I said it before but it bears repeating that I am not by nature a good flyer. I have some nervous twitch that begins whenever I am inside of either airplanes, roller coasters or elevators that I cannot explain, but it exists, and I acknowledge this. I make it a point to drink to a certain point before getting on a plane, but in the hurried state of our departure, I missed this important step. My nerves began to play the familiar tricks on me as the song began. “Yer gonna Crash….” as the plane began the steeper than usual banked turn that almost slammed me into the guy on my right. “…on the barrelhead, son.” The plane began its decent. “You’ll regret the thiiiiiiings….that you done.” The plane hit a small pocket of turbulence that shook every passenger awake. “One of these dayyyyyys you’re gonna rue.” Another pocket of turbulence slammed the plane. The guy to my left began to show signs of panic. “All the messed up things you do” The plane shook so hard that people were falling out of their seats. I saw them rapidly fastening their seat belts, having previously ignored the request to do so. “You're gonna die….” the plane lurched towards the ground as if all air pressure holding us aloft vanished without a trace. The guy on my right screamed “WE’RE GONNA DIE!!!” I elbowed him. “…the way you live.” The plane righted itself. Remember this point. The skies were clear. The storm was hundreds of miles away. There was no storm in Dallas this day.
“And the way you drink….” I pulled out a bottle of Herradura Silver tequila and opened it. I drank easily 7 ounces of it in one gulp. “…you're like a ri-
ver…” I passed the bottle between my 2 new friends who repeated my action. “…bound for falls and not much fun…” I looked out the window at the rapidly approaching ground. It was easily a few hundred feet away, but suddenly the plane lurched to the right and I saw the wing and the ground almost scrape. I vividly recollect seeing the dust swirl at the tip “You're gonna crash…” The plane shifted back to the left and we bounced into a landing, “…on the barrelhead, son.”
I gathered my belongs and looked around the plane. Every single person was visibly shaken, even the flight attendants. I left quietly and went to customs where I wasn’t in the least worried about getting pinched for the dozen Cuban stogies. They ignored them here as well. My mother picked me up at the airport and commented on the smell of tequila on my breath. She knew of my flying mini-phobia and when I explained the landing offered no argument or further conversation till I arrived home where first I hugged my dog and then threw up.