Wedding #5 (October 31, 2014)

Vieques, Puerto Rico; Coralville, Iowa; Omaha, Nebraska; Chicago, Illinois; Peoria, Illinois

At first glance, as the old Sesame Street tune goes, “One of these things is not like the others.” The freak entry in my 2014 wedding travel log is a sunny paradise full of clear waters, scenic cliffs and exotic wild animals (in this Midwesterner’s defense, frogs and iguanas qualify as otherworldly in a landscape rife with pigeons, rats and squirrels). The other four stops are…flat and full of corn.

There’s a cute new television commercial airing courtesy of Southwest Airlines. In it, a perennial wedding guest is shown rocking a succession of attractive frocks, while throwing down some infectiously committed, if spastic, dance moves. In one scene, she is forced to adjust the overeager hands of a juvenile suitor. I am not saying this happened to me at the Iowa wedding, but if I did, would you be surprised? Basically, change the protagonist’s hair color to a deep red and put a few more years on her, and this advertisement tells my story.

When the invitations started rolling in around the New Year, I had a few concerns about my ability to rise to the occasions, above and beyond the ample financial and time investment required. A jam-packed wedding season is not normally the favored prospect of a two-time divorcee. Also, as regular readers of this blog know, I limped into 2014 fresh from the latest incapacitating romantic disappointment. I was emotionally bankrupt and attending up to six personal and group therapy sessions a month when the first invite was extended.

One must be comatose to find a summons to Eden unappealing, especially when it comes from a dear friend who’s become part of the family. And when that sister’s betrothed flatters a battered ego with a request to sing the wedding song, “Besame Mucho,” only a real fool rejects such an opportunity. I wrote about the experience earlier this year as a transformative one in many ways. It left me with the ability to envision myself, for the first time, as a contented retiree. Personal vistas expanded with time and freedom to celebrate life, committed love and a raw, achingly beautiful, undeveloped part of the world I rarely experience.

I kind of assumed Puerto Rico would be an anomaly. Upon a mid-April return, I tried to fortify myself for the coming onslaught of other people’s dreams coming true, and the bitterness I expected to wear as an accessory. The level of adoration I feel for these people would take priority over self-indulgent pouting of course, but no way could I just sail through a matrimony parade feeling fine, right?

As it turns out, once I got it right in my head that I have zero interest in a third husband, and am not totally sure there’s a commitment of any type in my future (at 36, the small talk associated with a first date feels like too much labor better invested elsewhere), I became a veritable reception MACHINE. I’ve clapped along because I felt like a room without a roof. I have done the Cupid Shuffle after drinking enough champagne to believe myself a channel for Eartha Kitt levels of sexiness. I have hit the buffet, asked for cake seconds and encouraged intoxicated men to do the Worm. Because why not?

One thing I have not done? Get in line to catch the bouquet. Let the other ladies take their superstitious turn. In my 20s, I caught myself a grand total of three castoff flower bunches and guess what? Didn’t up the odds of matrimonial success one whit.

So this weekend is wedding number 5. And I’m ready to Electric Side myself back onto the dance floor. Upon reflection, the coveted, raucous guest is where I always should have left it.

Cheers!

The Beehive State of Affairs (August 29, 2013)

I didn’t enter the world allergic to bee stings. Time was, the pierce of an angry wasp’s lance didn’t accomplish much more than giving some pain and briefly slowing my tomboyish romps. However, through repeated encounters in a variety of strange venues (a sting on the inner thigh in fourth grade whilst sitting on the school toilet, stepping on a bumble bee during an enthusiastic tetherball game at a neighborhood block party, drinking yet another surly insect out of an abandoned can of Coke), the allergy developed over time. For this reason, I carry two EpiPens with me wherever I travel. Because you never know.

This past weekend I journeyed to Salt Lake City, Utah to attend the annual conference of the National Federation of Press Women. I was a first timer, representing the Illinois affiliate as chapter President, and slated to receive two awards at the conference’s concluding banquet for my 2012 work: an honorable mention for theater criticism, and amazingly, recognition as the best personal blogger of last year. The latter of these trophies is especially humbling due to the high volume of competition as well as the tremendously personal nature of my writing in this forum. To be championed simply for articulating the most authentic version of myself is an honor of the highest magnitude.

I had no idea as my Southwest Airlines flight touched the Salt Lake City airport tarmac, that Utah was known as “The Beehive State.” Blame ignorance on a parochial school education that prioritized memorizing the books of the Old Testament above national geography. I assumed the nickname was a simple tribute to the can-do pioneer spirit of the state’s first Mormon settlers, until I encountered countless gardens and urban farms planted past and present in service of LDS naturalistic ideals. Wherever copious plants and flowers go, the pollinating swarms follow, and I spent many of my sightseeing minutes fleeing potential assailants while running uphill in insensible shoes.

In periods of quiet wonder and reflection, many of which I enjoyed as I wandered about the clean, well-planned downtown area of the city, I thought about the team efforts, the worker bee collaboration that led to my presence in that place, moment and time. Because there’s just no pretending I arrived there on my own. In fact in some cases, certain advocates (I am looking at you little sister), dragged me kicking and screaming into following my dreams. The professors, mentors and supervisors who took chances on me when I had no pedigree to warrant them, the loved ones who cheered me through successes and picked me up after embarrassing falls, the partners who suffered through erratic work schedules and meager pay, the strangers who commented and emailed their appreciation. Hell even the hecklers made me a better writer: more focused, determined and articulate in defending a rhetorical point. It truly takes a village to build a successful communicator.

I am not religious. I immersed myself in all things LDS on my trip and while I admire much about the Church’s civic pride and genuine commitment to helping others, there’s also much about the ideology I find objectionable. That said, the trope of the beehive led me to think of collaboration in a new way, no longer an idea from which to literally run, comprised of threatening organisms bent on killing me. Instead I am able to view it as a pleasant image, to hear the telltale buzz with welcoming ears, an ideal of cooperation easily accessible to one self-aware enough to recognize the shoulders they’ve stood upon to access places of pride and accomplishment. I don’t need an EpiPen to protect myself from the love and fortification of my support network, or even the jeering of detractors. Whether flowers or stings, I build strength and immunity to press forward.

Sucking Air (August 10, 2011)

 

 

american-airlines-sucks

 

American Airlines is the nation’s largest carrier, having gobbled up competitors such as TWA in the Aughts, and despite flirting unsuccessfully with the acquisition of US Airways in late 2009. According to Wikipedia, American “is the world’s third-largest airline in passenger miles transported, passenger fleet size, and operating revenue.”

As a child growing up in the 1980s, I could sing the airline’s commercial jingle in my sleep, “We’re American Airlines, something special in the air!” A ticket to board an American Airlines flight must have been something magical! When I was a grown-up, I would find out by God!

The company now uses the tagline, “We know why you fly.” However, if my experience of this past weekend is any indication, the carrier must think the purpose of my travels is to experience a frustrating lack of communication and a desire to sleep on the floor of Boston Logan Airport on the eve of my 33rd birthday.

In other words, to put it academically, American Airlines sucks.

Sunday morning I awoke in my high school chum Euridice’s apartment in Medford, Massachusetts to the soothing sounds of light rain. Though the showers intensified somewhat as we enjoyed a leisurely brunch downtown, followed by some mall walking (insert old fart joke here), I was only minimally concerned about flight delay. There was no accompanying lightening or thunder and though, like Pavlov’s dog, I have been trained to have my time wasted by airport security and airline personnel at the slightest provocation, I expected I would be on my way back home at some hour close to the 6:50 PM scheduled departure.

I arrived at Logan’s Terminal B in plenty of time to check my bag and wade through security procedures, only to discover as I started the self-check-in process that my flight had been cancelled. Five hours earlier. And in a surprise twist, the cancellation was due to equipment failure, rather than Mother Nature.

Let’s get over the fact that I am an American AAdvantage member and the bureaucratic apparatus of the carrier sent me neither email nor phone call nor text to make me aware of this schedule change. Let’s try and sidestep the disheartening news that American had no other flights from Boston to Chicago that evening and that they swore the best they could do was put me on a 2 PM plane the following day.

What really irked me was the mass confusion, poor customer service and utter lack of willingness to issue refunds or assist with accommodations for the night. At 6 PM I was staring down the barrel of having to ring in a birthday, which I already bore a humbug attitude toward, drunk (because really, what else could I do?) and alone on the cold, industrial floor of an East Coast air travel hub. Can you imagine anything more pathetic? No, then how about the scene of weeping mothers and fathers, forced to call their scattered homes to inform children, spouses and parents that they were unable to return, in some cases, before two days following? I haven’t witnessed so much misery first person since my sister Jen finally realized at the age of 10 that there was no Easter Bunny.

As a former corporate travel agent, I was aware that there is but one carrier that does not share its booking system with any of the other major airlines. That is of course Southwest, the only operation that has yet to institute charges for checked bags, the sole provider of air travel who issues comfy leather seats to all passengers without some other bullshit upcharge, and the only company who appears to conduct customer service training for its call center and onsite personnel. It is not by accident that the carrier is one of few that regularly turns a profit. In May 2011, Southwest Airlines was ranked as one of the top ten companies in MSN Money’s 2011 Customer Service Hall of Fame, and its flight completion record is currently 98.8 percent as of first quarter 2011.

Why do I highlight all of these distinctions? Because unlike at the American counter, where I and my fellow strandees were treated like gum on the bottom of a shoe and provided zero resources in our time of hardship, after running three terminals over to the Southwest vestibule, I encountered something like human compassion.

I had the forethought to book another flight by phone (where I was pointedly wished a “happy birthday” by the friendly rep who assisted me), but was advised to go to the counter afterward to try and get standby on a yet earlier flight. The customer service representative was unable to grab me a seat herself as it was too close to flight time.

Did I mention that this last minute one-way ticket cost me a mere $330? That’s not chump change to a struggling writer, but more than worth it in the long run to get home to my cat Jordan, my work and my life before an additional 24-hours elapsed. Compare this to a figure of $618 for a comparable ticket on American.

Southwest’s flights were delayed that evening, but they did take off. Icing on the cake: the fees for alcoholic beverages were waived once my plane finally taxied off the runway. The flight crew knew we had all suffered enough, were feeling quite cranky and a little liquid calm was bound to make everyone’s experience just a bit less stressful.

At the risk of sounding like Andy Rooney, I am forced to bemoan the perceptible and lengthy decline of airline service. It’s not just the endless delays, lack of food and nickel and dime surcharges for EVERYTHING. It’s not the increasing invasiveness and dehumanizing effects of airport security, for which the carriers issue yet another fee. It’s that we pay so much, and are hassled so incessantly, for the privilege of being treated like shit and shoehorned into a seat we would deem capital punishment in any other environment.

If I must fly, and at this point, I would prefer Amtrak, or even dare I say it, Greyhound, it won’t be as an American Airlines passenger. Think I am alone in my aversion to the carrier? Check out these links:

  1. http://bigfatmarketingblog.com/2009/03/24/american-airlines-sucks-and-im-not-the-only-one-who-says-that/
  2. My personal favorite:http://www.dougboude.com/blog/1/2007/06/American-Airlines-YOU-SUCK.cfm
  3. http://www.travelblog.org/Topics/22463-1.html
  4. http://sobeale.blogspot.com/2008/11/american-airlines-sucks.html

Southwest, thank you for making a pretty terrible night just a tiny bit easier to swallow – with a red wine chaser.