As some of you that read this blog know, my “real” job is as a midday jock (Disc Jockey) for 98.9 The Bear in the tropical paradise of Ft. Wayne, Indiana. So a quick bit of backstory for the tale you’re about to hear: the radio station had an on-air contest, the grand prize for which was a trip to Las Vegas with yours truly. The winner would be taking a guest, and so would I. Since my lovely Sweet Baby could not take the necessary time off, I chose my friend and beer-league goalie Nick Farkas. Farkas is a seasoned traveler, making trips all over North America in his role as a union representative and adventurer. The trip was to take place between Saturday, February 1st and Monday, February 3rd. A quick trip. Essentially two night in Vegas. Sounded wonderful.
12:20pm – I text our winner, Eric, to tell him we’re on the way to the Ft. Wayne International Airport. He responds that he’s actually flying out of Detroit, since it’s closer for him. I wish him well and tell him we’ll hook up out in Las Vegas. For some reason, he and his buddy are staying at a different hotel: the Hard Rock Casino. Farkas and I are at the Embassy Suites. Hmmm. Okay, that’s cool. I didn’t anticipate spending much time in the room anyway.
1:06pm – I receive a call from an unknown 800 number. The caller leaves a voicemail. I check it. Uh-oh…bad news: our flight has been pushed back. We arrive at the airport, my lovely wife drops us off. Nick and I go in. Looks like there’s been a problem with the plane getting here from Atlanta. Fucking Atlanta. (This is a bad bit of foreshadowing.) I inquire as to any other flights to Detroit (for our connection to Vegas) as I’m concerned that we’re really going to be pushing it, time-wise. Our Detroit-to-Vegas flight leaves at 3:30. We originally were scheduled to leave Ft. Wayne at 1:45. As the clock creeps towards 2:30, I know it’s going to be close. I am told that there are seats on a flight to Atlanta that evening, then to Vegas. However, another airline employee says that no, that isn’t the case. I tell the airline guys that we’ll soldier on, and worst-case, we catch a later flight out of Detroit. I call and leave voicemails to my bosses advising them what’s up and promise to keep them posted.
2:20pm – Halfway through security, a TSA guy comes running over saying “WHOA! WHOA!! I can’t let you fly!” He explains that the boarding pass that I’ve shown him…and that he has signed off on…is for Sunday the 2nd. I think that’s got to be mad. He read it wrong, maybe. I look at my boarding pass to see that he’s absolutely right. Somehow the airline has misunderstood or something, and has us flying out of Ft. Wayne the following day. Fuck. Farkas and I grab our crap, get out of line, and stumble sock-footed back to the ticketing desk. One dude says “uhh…I thought you were leaving tomorrow.” I explain that I’d JUST TOLD HIM that we were trying our luck in Detroit. His supervisor straightens it out, prints new passes with our original flight times, and away we go. Again. Through security.
2:35pm – We sit on the goddam tarmac for an eternity. Finally, we’re airborne. One last check of the flights out of Detroit shows that the departure has been pushed back to 3:40. That’s good news, as minutes count.
3:20pm – The plane lands in Detroit. Looking good. Then we taxi. 3:30pm. I look up exactly how far our departure gate is. Holy shit. Imagine a capital “H” on its side. Got it? Our plane would be pulling into the lower-most, furthest-to-the-left gate. Our plane to Vegas was in the upper-most farthest-right end of the “H.” Fuck and fuck. Okay. We’d run.
3:30pm – Farkas and I (along with a couple of guys in Chive gear who are are also heading to Vegas) perform a “Flying-V” to get out of the gate. Luckily, we’re all carrying our only luggage. We run. And run. There’s a weird sensation that occurs as you sprint down one of those moving sidewalks and then reach the end: it’s deceleration trauma, as your legs think the ground beneath you is still moving. Of course, it isn’t. My knees are already shot, so this jarring experience each time is annoying and painful. It happens again and again and is unnerving each time. I look back and see Nick is falling behind. He stumbles, puts his hands on his knees. He’s spent. He’s done, and we’re halfway through the tunnel to the other side of the “H.”
I ask if he wants me to run ahead. He nods assent, then bravely tries to pick up the pace again. I leave him, running as fast as my leopard-skin creepers will carry me. Up the escalator, taking a hard right, moving sidewalk, floor, moving sidewalk, the gate is ahead, none of my travel companions is nearby. Not sure what happened to the Chive guys. Don’t care. See the gate. Rush to the desk. Look at the video monitor…
It’s gone. The door is shut.
A Chive guy runs up behind me, tells me that I must’ve been “flying” through the terminal., adding that “I took the tram, and you beat me by thirty seconds.” He mentions that he’d seen our plane pulling way from the gate literally as I arrived. Wouldn’t have mattered. Farkas was still back there somewhere. Then I see him, and he knows from my face that we’ve failed.
3:45pm – The gate agent is a delightful, helpful lady. She informs me that there might be a couple of seats on the 7:55 to Los Angeles; the flight continues to Las Vegas. I tell Nick that I’m running down to the help desk immediately, in case the seats disappear. He elects, wisely, to stay there at the gate and rest.
3:50pm – Another long sprint, only to find a sea of humanity at the Delta help center. I see the Chive guys talking to an agent. I finally get one of my own, and she steers me to the bank of old-school black wall telephones. I pick up a handset, talk for a while with the female voice on the other end. No flights. None at all, not even on their “partner” airlines. She mentions that there’s a 6am flight to Atlanta, then to Las Vegas. We’d be getting in around noon, Vegas time.
Fucking Atlanta. Fuck. I ask about where I’m supposed to stay, am given a number to call for a “discounted” hotel.
4:10pm – I grab a couple bags of complimentary Cape Cod Kettle Cooked Chips and two little Aquafinas. I consider taking the whole damned basket. As I walk back to Nick, my phone rings. Jeff Davis. Jeff is an independent promoter. He works with record labels and brokers deals with radio stations to “promote” artists/bands. Often, he gets the record labels to pay for things like hotel stays as a way of saying “thanks for the support!” Indies are the only thing standing between a radio station and payola charges. They’re the middle-men, the brokers. They keep things above-board and within FCC and FTC regulations. Anyway, Jeff asks how things are going. We chat. There’s really nothing he can do, and I know it. He wishes me luck.
4:45pm – We wait outside in the brisk Detroit air for our shuttle to the Days Inn near the airport. And wait. And wait.
5:30pm – The Days Inn. With the airline “discount” it’s sixty bucks. The station petty cash will have to pay for it, cutting into our “fun money.” Whatever. We check in, throw our bags in the room, head downstairs to the bar for something to eat. Trish the Dish (nobody calls her that) is our waitress. She seems amiable in that hard Michigan way. Starving, Nick and I order a basket of shrimp and some burgers. We guzzle a couple of Labatt Blues while we wait. Then we wait some more. Nick playfully hints that we’re sort of hungry. Trish points to the order window and says “See how many orders he’s got on his wheel?”
Okay then. Wonderful. I love Detroit. Finally, a couple of beers further along, we see a plate of shrimp in the window. Our hopes are dashed when a different waitress grabs it and hands it to a guy who JUST SAT DOWN at the bar. Vegas feels so very far away. Finally, we eat. Nick showers. I text Eric and tell him that we’ll be in tomorrow, good luck, holla if he needs anything. I hit the sack, knowing that we’re going to be up at 4am. It’s about 8:30pm in Detroit, Michigan