• Steffan Goes to New York ... BEA ... part 1 ...

    Last Monday, I returned from a one week trip to New York and I've been wanting to blog about it ever since, the delay in posting came from mulling over the whole experience as so much went down. Also, an intense period of rest was required, as anyone who goes to New York knows how emotionally and physically draining the place can be, that city definitely keeps you on high alert the whole time.

    I need to first just say thank you to my publisher, AmazonEncore for sending me on that trip in the first place as I hadn't been to New York since pre-Guiliani and the difference a decade and a regime makes is mind-blowing. A thousand thank you's, indeed. It was motivating on every level and eye-opening to say the least. Being able to safely cruise around Times Square at 3 am and eat pizza without being accosted by all the pimps and hookers d'jour, makes a world of difference.  Thus, it wasn't the place I last visited so long ago.

    Phase 1: The Journey ….

    I left out of Palm Springs on Monday morning 6:15am (May 22nd), thinking to myself that traveling on the same day when I'm supposed to be somewhere is a very bad idea. Clearly, this obvious idea wasn't readily apparent as I don't travel very often and so I 'just went with it,' to use the parlance of our times.

    Things should've been clear to me that events would quickly become disastrous when the plane lifted off and was immediately blown around by the wind, and then the tail end of the plane dropped during take-off and a whole gaggle of people screamed and several people, myself included, white-knuckled our arm-rests. When we finally got past all the turbulence, the Stewardess asked me if I was alright and brought me a cup of coffee. I wasn't one of the folks who screamed, but because I sitting next to her in the back of the plane, she must've seen me turn several shades of pale that likely qualified as disturbing. I can turn from tan to sheet-white in a heartbeat. My eyes go black and my hair takes on this Einstein quality and the overall picture is like something from the sketch books of Tim Burton.

    Anyway, sitting next to me was a nice enough gentleman who very easily could've passed as Burt Reynolds son … and I'm not kidding when I say this because he really did look like his offspring. We hit it off and told stories the whole flight. We mostly talked about hiking the Appalachian Trail, (which I did in winter 2006) and I recounted my experience in a small town in Georgia (Hiawassee) where they had filmed Deliverance, where the trail passes by, and yes, we even discussed ol' Burt. He, unsurprisingly, had a lot to say about that movie as well and so there was a lot laughing. The flight was quick (or so I would think) but incredibly turbulent. Around 10:30, the pilot came on and told us that Dallas Ft. Worth was engulfed in a huge thunderhead / storm and that we were going to land anyway. We began to descend and the mechanical sound of the wheels came down outside. Then, without warning, the plane lifted back up and rolled away to the left in a sharp turn. Again, I don't travel much, so to me – it was bloody frightening.

    Ladies and Gentleman, just to let you know, Dallas / Ft. Worth has just been closed down due to the storm and the flight has been diverted to Wichita Falls.”

    Now, most of you might know, it's apparently illegal for the airlines to keep you on a plane for more than three hours at a time, or something along those lines. However, we sat on that abandoned runway, in the middle of no-where, known also as 'Wichita Falls, Texas' for six hours. Yes, six hours. This is after being on the plane for two hours already. So that makes eight hours total. The pilot came on when we stopped there and said this:

    Ladies and Gentlemen, we'll be parked here for the time being while we wait for the airport to re-open and then be given instruction. I've opened the back of the airplane for anyone that wants to de-board and make their own way. Just be advised that there are no facilities at this landing strip. No car rental, no phones, no restaurant or any other amenities close by. If you choose to leave, you will be doing so on your own recognizance and you will be responsible for yourself and all your luggage which you will take with you. I advise against anyone deboarding at this time as we just don't know how long it will take to get clearance. Currently there are 147 planes ahead of us. I'll update you again … blah blah blah ...”

    After hearing that there were 147 flights ahead of us everyone gasped in horror. No one would be making any connection or getting to their destinations on time, myself included. Also no one got off the plane. Walking around with luggage in the middle of Hell Hole, Texas just wasn't appealing.

    After the plane got back in the air and we landed at DFW … we sat on the runway for another two hours before they let us de-board. The Stewardess kept getting on the phone line with the pilot and wanted to serve refreshments, but the pilot obviously kept saying no, because nothing came, not even water. It was the most maddening thing ever. When I finally got into the terminal at 6:03 Dallas time, I realized that I had been on the plane since 6:00am Palm Springs time. Far too long for any two hour domestic flight. Someone in front of me, while de-boarding and passing the Captains cabin, yelled “jerk” just loud enough. No it wasn't me. I'd never misbehave in an airport. I know better, trust me.

    So, every flight that day into DFW was cancelled. 100%. The airport was full of people and the hotels quickly sold out. I had no desire to spend two hundred bucks for a room there, it just didn't seem appealing, and there would be no flights leaving until the next day. Apparently, golf-ball sized hail stones had fallen on the shiny chrome fleet of American Airlines planes, supposedly “denting several of them which required and intense amount of inspection by qualified personnel,” or so I was told by my friend in the seat beside me from Palm Springs.

    I also got the sneaking suspicion that my new friend, offspring of Burt Reynolds, was the Air Marshall. He never said so, but after ten hours of conversation, it wasn't hard to deduce as the story he told me about who he was seemed unlikely, which I will leave out for the sake of privacy. He was also the only person on the flight that looked alert enough or capable enough to deal with anyone who wanted to test the system, had it occurred. I also got an interesting peek into his wallet when he opened it for a different reason. And for the record, an Air Marshall on a commuter flight over West Texas made a lot of sense in the totality of things. Gracefully, he did offer to let me come over and crash on his couch and meet his wife and kids, knowing that I'd be trapped in DFW all night. I thanked him and abstained as I didn't want to be a burden and I also didn't want to get comfortable. He was good person and I was thankful that he sat next to me rather than someone else, as it could've gone much different.

    So, yes, for the next twelve hours I was trapped in DFW. I ate baby-back ribs at TGI Fridays, had a few beers, talked to a couple of Marines on leave, had McDonalds coffee, charged my phone for free and then crawled away to a quiet spot in the main terminal and slept on the carpeted blue floor. I could've rode the internal subway all night for kicks, but it just didn't have any appeal. Mini, thankfully, got me a ticket out of there at 6am on a different airline and in the morning I promptly escaped. 

    US Air took me from Dallas to Philadelphia on another incredibly bumpy flight and I 'd be remiss if I didn't also note that – AGAIN – I firmly believe I was next to the Air Marshall. It really was the most interesting aspect of my journey because I have no reason why I would need to be babysat while flying. I'm not one to jump to conclusions, nor see things that just aren't there, but having Military training and being an alert person, certain folks have a tendency to stand out. I also had an interesting conversation with that guy, too, but he was far from the quality of my last friend and so we sat mostly 'at ease' during the flight into Philadelphia. Take it as you may … all I can say is 'just trust me.' Anyone that knows me, already knows that I have a penchant for gentle interrogation, or rather 'sifting,' so to speak. Sorry, old habits dies hard. The real concern may come later when I want to travel internationally. It's gonna suck to find out later that I'm on some stupid-ass watch list because I write cutesy-poetry or make ridiculous Facebook jokes or have too many friends that are 'out to pasture.'

    My last flight from Philly to LaGuardia was quick. I sat next to a girl who was a Yoga instructor, and was relocating to Los Angeles from New York and stopping back to see family. We were both a bit terrified to be on that flight as it was a rinky-dink prop plane and the emergency door had a half-inch gap / crack / space which clearly showed day light. I kept thinking that someone had opened the door on the flight before us and the tech's had failed to shut the damn thing properly. For the next forty-five minutes, the two of us cracked jokes about the plane being an impromptu 7-11 as a doorbell chime kept going off every five minutes; it was like someone was coming aboard to buy coffee, cigarettes or lotto tickets. It was absurb, maddening and funny all at the same time. I was too frazzled to even care about dying anymore, which I thought was going to happen on several occasions and finally had to just let it all go.

    When we touched down at LaGuardia in New York, we disembarked directly onto the tarmac. I bent down, kissed my hand and then touched the damn ground and crossed myself, thankful to be alive and be in New York. A whole day late, greasy and exhausted I'd come to discover a few hours later that American Airlines had “lost” my luggage and already sent the claim form in the mail to my house.

    I also later learned that DFW had been closed again, shortly after I got out of there due to the storm, which was part of the same system that had hit Joplin, Missouri a few days previous. Had it not been for the quick-thinking to buy another ticket, I would've been trapped in DFW for a total of three days as I would later discover from watching the news.

    But I'll update you tomorrow in part two of this three part series, which is just too much to fathom in one sitting.


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