Images of pueblos, azure skies and fry bread quickly receded on a recent trip home from New Mexico.
Grudgingly, I rose at 3am for the first leg of my journey, from Albuquerque to Dallas. (Debbie and her friends may have done Dallas, but this cheerleader avoids Big D like a full-blown case of herpes.) Lucky me, I had a long layover before my connecting flight.
Around noon I ordered a beer in the airport cantina. “You have to eat something,” the bartender said. Have to?
“It’s Sunday. You have to eat something. It’s an old Texas blue law.” I added this to my life list of dislikes about the Cowboys’ home and ordered a teensy bag of $2 potato chips. Thank God, nobody asked me to praise the Lord for the bounty I had received.
We pushed back from the gate a few minutes late. I took it as another omen that all was not right deep in the heart of Texas.
With everyone buckled and electronic devices stowed, the (un)American Airlines pilot announced: “Bad weather ahead, outside of Baltimore. We’ll have to wait for further instructions.” What? I’d just spoken with a friend who said it was sunny and dry at home. Where did the pilot go for the forecast? Pee-wee’s Playhouse?
We taxied and queued up for takeoff. Sky King returned with an update. “Someone on the plane is ill. We have to return to the gate.”
After reattaching to the jetway via retractable umbilicus, a washed-out-looking woman deplaned. My diagnosis, mild heat stroke. Show of hands, please, who will be next?
Inside the pressure cooker, broasting under the blazing Texas sun, my 24-hour deodorant went down in flames. Passengers groused. Babies wailed. The aroma of doody diapers wafted through the cabin.
I recognized the phlegmy sound of throat-clearing. “According to FAA rules, we need to refuel before we can depart.” Of course. We’d burned more than an hour’s worth on our round-trip excursion to the runway and back. “We’re trying to locate the fuel truck.” Hellooo … At the world’s eighth busiest airport, they don’t know where a fuel truck is?
By now I’m approaching homicidal. It’s hotter than hell. NO ac. NO fuel. NO food. NO freaking flight. And I’m still stuck in Dallas. But, if I can hang on another few hours, I muse, I’ll be able to order a beer without food.
In his smoothest Peter Graves voice, Captain Clarence Oveur updates the hostages. “Sorry, folks. This is an old TWA plane. We can’t get air-conditioning until we’re airborne. Thanks for your patience.” Patience? I’m poised to storm the cockpit with a coffee stirrer.
Flight attendants hand out water and apologetic (and apoplectic) looks.
Meanwhile—as if this were not entertainment enough—I am seated next to a woman who alternately hums and talks to herself. “How ‘bout this heat?” I offer weakly to interrupt her monologue. She glares.
I worry that the security scanner missed the butterfly knife wedged in her thong. I’d better not nod off. She may have a vendetta against writers. Or grandmothers. Or my turquoise tank top.
A multitasker, she continues to hum and mutter while reading a book: Women, Food, and God. Wasn’t Eat, Pray, Love more than enough fluff for one decade? From the corner of my eye I watch as she highlights passages. I check Amazon. The book exists.
I’m having a meltdown. I want out of: this seat, this plane, this world where a bull-goose looney highlights in Neon yellow narrative connecting females, fressing and the Almighty.
More than two hours after boarding, we taxi to the runway again. Crossing my fingers, I half expect the pilot to announce we’re returning to the gate because his hemorrhoids have flared up.
By some miracle, we lift off. My seatmate maintains her solo conversation for the duration of the flight. On landing at BWI, I feel deep gratitude that she hasn’t stabbed me with her highlighter, and we didn’t crash or return to Dallas.
I crawl into my house more than 12 hours after beginning the 1,600-mile journey. Hell, I could have flown from the East Coast to Honolulu, had a Mai Tai, and surfed the Pipeline.
I start to unpack. The TSA has left me a “Notice of Baggage Inspection.” The caps of my weekly pill organizer are open, the contents commingled with socks covered in red New Mexico clay. I’ll bet the agent was disappointed that the large capsules held Glucosamine Chondroitin, not hashish.
The coup de grace occurs when I discover my jar of award-winning salsa from El Pinto restaurant has gone missing. Janet Napolitano will hear from me. A lousy flight is one thing. But nobody messes with my salsa.