How to Get to Denver by Air Slower Than if You Had Driven
Soon after booking my classes and flight - I booked a Friday morning flight so I’d have a whole weekend to spend in the City before driving up to Hyde Park for class on Monday - my friend Keith, who is from New York, offers to go along, he can show me around and we can stay at his friend’s place in New Jersey. So, now I’ve got a native guide and a place to stay for the couple of days in NYC, things are looking good.
A few of weeks before the trip I book my hotel in Hyde Park and begin buying the things I think I’ll need. The welcome letter from the school tells me that I’ll need white chef’s coats and black or checked pants for the production class, and “business casual” attire for the business class. I’m sure I know what business casual is, and I’m sure business casual in New Mexico and business casual in New York are two very, very different things. Here it means that your jeans are pressed and you don’t have fresh shit on your boots. I am also sure that I don’t have any NY business casual as anyone who knows me more than in passing knows that I don’t shop, in fact I hate to, my wardrobe consists of jeans and t-shirts and cargo shorts. Looking through my closet, I come up with two shirts that’ll work, and no pants, so a trip the store is in order. I also order chef’s coats and pants, since these garments are foreign in the Café Rio kitchens; a white cook’s shirt is as formal was we get, and a few odds and ends for my tool kit, in that, at least, I’m pretty much prepared. Then two of my knives go missing. My chef’s knife and my paring knife, both gifts, come up missing. To say that this pisses me off is understatement, but I borrow a chef’s knife from Keith and take a paring knife from work and I am set.
The last couple of days I check and recheck my paperwork for the trip, making sure that every piece is where I think it is, pay bills for home and work, walk Brett through the Café’s minimal paperwork, sign a couple of checks and place some cash where the kids have access to it if they need it, double check their schedules, the work schedules, clean up my office and finally it is Thursday night and it is time to leave for Albuquerque.
Keith had suggested driving up Thursday so that we wouldn’t have to leave by 4 am to catch our flights (he’s taking a different one), and getting a hotel close to the airport. This entire thing (Keith going at the same time) has given the crew a lot of entertainment. In the back kitchen is a chalk board the sole purpose of which is to provide a place for the Café Rio Top Ten List. From my first stint as a waiter nearly eight years ago the Top Ten lists have been posted there and everything is fair game: quitting, firing, marriage, divorce, birthdays, you name it. For the “Top Ten Reasons Eric’s Going to New York,” number seven was “Hookers” while number five was “Commitment Ceremony with Keith.” Funny, funny stuff. In between Top Tens the board sometimes hosts other pertinent notes, such as “No pissing outside,” and “Hobart 1 Brandon 0.”
The drive up is uneventful except for near the beginning when, right outside of Carrizozo I end up behind a pickup pulling a stock trailer. When we get to the one stop light in town and I get close enough for my headlights to really show some detail I realize that the back gate is open and there is a horse in the trailer standing with legs locked in a cartoon-like pose of rigidity. I flash my lights as the pickup turns north and, surprisingly, the driver pulls over and stops and I let her know about the gate. This, I think, should keep me from dying in a plane wreck tomorrow. That’s how my mind works.
Anyway, we get to Albuquerque, check into the hotel and drive downtown for dinner. Of course I insist that we eat at Asian Noodle Bar (see previous ABQ posts) and dinner is outstanding as ever and entertaining as the chef is doing sake shots with some regulars at the bar.
The next morning starts off well enough, we’re running a little late but not too bad, but goes down hill fast. I have to park a flippin’ mile from the airport in long term parking because I’m too chicken shit to just leave my car at the hotel like Keith did. If I had just done that and taken the shuttle things would have been ok, but I didn’t. I get to the United check in and go to one of the automated terminals, punch in my numbers and receive a message that the plane has departed. A woman walks over immediately and tells me the same thing, “That flight has already departed.”
“Why?” I want to know.
“It departed at 7:27,” she tells me.
I recheck my paperwork for the hundredth time, “It wasn’t supposed to leave until 7:55,” I say, showing her the time on my Travelocity printout.
This does not phase her in the least and she quietly processes me and gives me a pass for standby for the next flight. As I walk away and pass by where Keith is waiting in the American line he tells me that pretty much the same thing has happened to him. “Sorry,” I tell him. Shoulda took the shuttle.
“Shit happens,” he replies. Yes. It does.
We grab an airport breakfast, and let me just say that airports have gotten so much better about the quality of food and options for entertainment available while awaiting a flight…but not in Albuquerque. It does not matter which “vendor” you choose there, either the food or the service, or both, will suck ass. I don’t even remember what it was that I ate, but it was stale and I didn’t finish it. And the coffee sucked too.
By then it was time for me to head for my gate so I told Keith I’d see him in New York and off I went. The next time I “talked” to him he was in Dallas and texted me to see where I was. STILL IN ABQ, I answered.
WTF? was his response, so I told him how I didn’t make the next flight to Denver but now had a real boarding pass for the next one in a couple of hours. We agreed that he should just have his friend pick him up at La Guardia and that I’d meet them at the restaurant where he had made reservations when I got there.
I did make the next flight, but once in Denver found that my connecting flight had been delayed an hour.
YOU IN NY? I texted.
STILL IN DALLAS
He’d been bumped from standby three times. I found my gate and, having plenty of time on my hands, went in search of food and beer. The Denver airport is heaven compared to Albuquerque in that regard. I found a nice little pub called the Hub, ran by New Belgium Brewing, the makers of Fat Tire (not my favorite, but some of their beers I like) and settled in an hour or so.
My phone chimed, THE FOOD HERE SUCKS, Keith complained, so I sent him a picture of my bratwurst and beer, which were very good. I had one more beer and then made my way back to the gate.
Things To Do In Denver When You’re Wishing You Were Dead
Airports are great for people watching, you see all conditions, emotions, rich, poor, those in love, those heartbroken, excited, exhausted…they are all at the airport, so find a spot where you can see the most people and enjoy the show. First, I noticed that I had seen more pretty women in the hour that I had been there than in the past two months at home. The best show though was a couple of kids, about four or five, playing on the moving walkways. They were hanging outside of the walkway by the handrail and letting it drag them along the smooth polished metal that covered the gap where the floor stopped and the walkway began. They were squealing with the sheer joy of it and when the one in front couldn’t hold on any longer he let go, causing the one behind to crash into him and let go as well, they collapsed onto the floor in a heap of rolling, laughing fun. People stopped for just a second to smile. It was also fun to watch adults get miffed when they misjudged their own dismount and stumbled a little.
After a bit two guys sat down across from me. By then I had begun reading, so I looked up and nearly choked. These guys looked liked they had just stepped out central casting for a Tim Burton movie: one fat and short, bald with dark five o’clock shadow and wearing, of all things, a shirt with wide, horizontal stripes; his friend was a little taller, thin, with spiky hair. Both were bug eyed and pale. I don’ think they caught me taking frequent glimpses as I quickly sketched them.
Right about then, the gate crew began making announcements for my flight. The plane was being changed from a 757 to a 737, meaning about 40 fewer seats and they were calling names.
“Eric - ?” Shit.
With a totally sunk system I stepped to the back of a depressed line. There are two older women at the desk, something about a death, the gatekeeper shaking her head and as they walked away I could tell it didn’t go well for them. I stepped up and told her my name. She scanned my boarding pass and tosses it as a new one spit into her hand from some unseen device.
“Here you go, just changing your seat assignment, your old one doesn’t exist on this plane.”
Yes! “Thanks,” I mumbled and walked away feeling that maybe things are going to work out. Then I saw the two women again.
‘Damndamndamndamn…okokokokokokokokokokok!’ and somehow Iwas back at the desk.
“Yes?” the gatekeeper asked.
“Uh, those women, if they need a seat…”
She thanked me and told me that no, they just got bumped from first class but still had seats on the flight. Cool, that should keep this plane in the air. My brain is a fucked up place.
Soon we boarded the plane and I found myself sitting next to a gorgeous Ukrainian girl, who was of course, sitting next to her ridiculously handsome husband. Across the aisle, the guy closest to me was already chatting up the couple next to him and I overheard that he’s a chef and the other guy was a sheriff’s deputy. Then one of the flight attendants apologized and mentioned that apparently when they changed from a 757 to a 737 they forgot to get the right pilots en route. But, he assured us, we should be off shortly. I wanted off then; this is not good, my fucked up mind was telling me. But I avoided the horrible scene that would have been me pushing my way off of the plane* by doing what I had done dozens of times, if not more, as a soldier and cop, or even as a kid sitting at the top of a steep hill about to challenge the Courtland Levee Speed Record on a borrowed bike with a warped rim, by just sucking it up and driving on. For some of us, embarrassment is a fate worse than death.
As you are reading this, you may assume that the plane, and by extension I, survived the flight. It was happily uneventful except for our entire row getting drunk and loud and using the first class bathroom a few too many times and my chef buddy trying to woo first the female attendant, and after that didn’t work, the male. In short, I had way more fun on an airplane than I’ve had since coming home from Uncle Sam’s aborted attempt at involving me in Desert Storm seventeen years ago.
Finally we landed, I bid goodbye to my new friends and met Keith at the United luggage carousel. “Do you believe this shit?” he asked, but by then I could only laugh. He had only been in New York a half hour longer than I had, we are got there almost eight hours late, and it wasn’t over. My luggage, of course, didn’t make it onto the smaller plane, so we had to stand around to wait for it to come in on the next flight, which was, at least, only 30 minutes behind mine. Then a shuttle ride to the car rental place where, I noticed for the first of many times, how friendly and helpful New Yorkers can be. Soon we were in my rental, an ugly, bright blue Dodge Journey - “Journey great American rock and roll band,” Keith would say in a mangled “Asian” accent nearly a dozen times over the next couple of days, mocking some Korean kid he’d known once - and on the highway.
A few minutes later I saw, for my first time, the Manhattan skyline at night.
* I really don’t care for flying much. It’s not death really, I don’t want to die any time soon, but dying doesn’t actually scare me. It’s the horrible, conscious minutes that I imagine it takes from the time something goes horribly awry to slamming into the earth. I don’t like being in my own head sometimes, but we really don’t have a choice now do we?
NEXT: Becoming a New Yorker