A Luckless Longshot: How I Got to Vegas

Sunday, May 8, 2011

"You got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em.  Know when to walk away and know when to run." - Kenny Rogers, The Gambler
When I arrived at Dallas-Love Field just before 9 a.m. without having had a sip of morning coffee, my friend Halle assured me it would be fine - that a Starbucks awaited inside the terminal.  It was the first gamble I took that day - hedging my bets that everything would work out just fine.  Instead of a Starbucks, I found a 1960s-style lunch counter with a white plastic board above it with little press-on red plastic letters where I took my chances a cup of coffee that might've been brewed in preparation for President Kennedy's arrival.

And while I slugged coffee and tried to get internet set up, I took stock of my fellow passengers - two teenagers whose true love was evident in their matching Hollister hoodies and attempts to intertwine themselves on the ill-padded terminal chairs; a man I was quite sure was Wilford Brimley; and my kryptonite - a gaggle of small children playing tag.  By the 20th time they sailed dangerously close to me, I could feel myself getting ready to Hulk out on them, tweeting "Children in Terminal 31, please be advised that I do not like children. Consider yourself warned to steer clear of me. #itrip #eviloldlady." Instead, I stood to go to the restroom.  Perhaps my nerves were frayed from strong coffee and inconsiderate little people, but I found myself standing inside the men's room.  Oops.

Soon I received a text from my mother.  Wait, wait, wait.  A text.  From my mother?  This is a game-changer.  It was to inquire about the weather.  In Dallas, it was sunny and cool, but the airline, in its infinite wisdom, had chosen to route my significantly westbound flight to the east via Memphis.  Where a giant storm system was gathering.  Which would explain why our Memphis-originating flight landed at the airport right about the time that we were supposed to be departing.  And why we promptly loaded the plane, buckled in and prepared...to sit on the tarmac for an hour while the Memphis airport shut down to let the weather system pass.  As luck would have it, the rambunctious children were just across the aisle from me chowing down on foul-smelling Sour Cream and Onion Pringles.  I considered using the air sickness bag.

I was still (stupidly) optimistic at this point, imagining that the closed airport in Memphis meant that my connecting flight was also safely trapped on the tarmac awaiting me, my laptop and camera, and correctly routed checked bag.  But the odds were against me, and as we taxied to a stop at the terminal in Memphis, I checked the flight status of my connection to see that it was also taxiing on the runway...and off into the great blue sky without me.

Inside the ticket agents hustled us to these fancy machines that scanned our ticket barcode and spit out our fortune: "You will be making an unforeseen travel detour in Salt Lake City."  Because even though the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, going east and north to get west and south is the logical way to go.

And so I found myself having the second meal of the day in an airport.  This time a barbecue sandwich from Jim Neely's Interstate Barbecue which, though delicious, was a gigantic mess that I attempted to inhale while talking to my sister who kindly entertained me through dinner and wished me luck for the last (insert extremely sarcastic inflection on "last") leg of my travel.  That's what I told Mom when I called her to tell her we were boarding the plane on time and that this little eensy weensy snafu in my travel seemed to be over (insert eye roll indicating I realize how Pollyanna I am).

We did board the plane on time.  And once boarded, I sent the following tweet: "Sweet Lord, there is a small child in front of me on a 2.5 hour flight. #serenityprayer #arewethereyet."  Little did I know that by the time boarding ended, there would also be a small child behind me.  I took Dramamine.  Which may explain why I remained calm when the captain announced that the weather front driving the storms into Alabama and Georgia was causing high-speed winds that meant every plane had to take off from one runway.  (Insert 45 minute delay.) 

When I woke up somewhere over the Colorado Rockies, I checked the time and watched the minute hand creep toward my 9:40 p.m. departure time.  But the flight attendant with her almost hypnotically calm voice kept telling us that Salt Lake was aware of our connecting flights and would make adjustments accordingly.

What you find out when you arrive is that "adjustments" means sending the plane without you.  For the second time, I found myself grounded when I should've been skyward.  At 10 p.m. MDT, they were shutting that place down.  No more flights to Vegas or anywhere else. 

That's how I found myself at the ticket counter with William and Al, two gentlemen from Jackson, Mississippi who were also on my plane and also Vegas-bound.  William ostensibly had a speaking engagement the following morning - at a hooker convention, no less - that he simply could not miss.  He and Al were trying to make sense of the arrangements we were being offered: a stay in Salt Lake City and standby on the first flight of the day at 8:30.  Confirmation on a flight at 1:50.  And, oh, by the way, 18 passengers were on standby for 7 available seats.

I reached my limit.  Suddenly, I was Bear Grylls, Ash versus Vegas, and by God, I was going to make it to my destination.  While the terminal computers choked through flight schedules trying to find us better arrangements, I had out my iPhone charting the distance between Salt Lake and Vegas.  I figured with a rental car and a bag of beef jerky I could make it.  Six-and-a-half hours through unknown territory, but Bear would never shy away from such a challenge.  Even without the beef jerky, I probably could've made a passable meal from lint and stale french fries hidden under the rental car seats.  The chips were down, the stakes were high, and I was ready to place my bet.

I contemplated this new plan aloud to William and Al.  And to my mother, who I think I gave a near heart attack with my survivalist plan.  William asked the ticket agent about the road leading to Vegas, and she looked a bit concerned over my plan, but I wasn't.  I can handle a 10-to-4 drive through the mountains.  I will not be deterred by the "deer being down."  I'm going to VEGAS BABY.

William and Al, seeing my wild-eyed determination, sighed and shifted and then announced that if I were going through with it, they would go with me.  The woman at the counter said, "Are the three of you traveling together?"  And William replied, "Me and Al are.  Me and Ashley have been dating about 20 minutes."

But just as I gathered my bags and prepared to make a beeline for the Enterprise counter, William managed to finagle the number for Southwest.  And some woman, some angel of mercy, told him there was a 6:20 a.m. flight with 30 seats.  A part of me was relieved.  A part of me was disappointed - I was pretty jacked up for this insane roadtrip with my new friends William and Al and whatever supplies we could get at the closest 7-11.  My mother was 178 percent relieved.

I booked my ticket via phone while we waited for the shuttle bus to retrieve us from the airport, and William asked me questions to verify our compatibility - did I smoke?  Did I have a tattoo?  Seemingly, negative responses to these two questions sealed our relationship.  I was grateful for it, too, because there was one guy in the terminal who winked at me repeatedly until I gestured to William and Al in the baggage claim office and said, "I'm with them."

At the hotel, I tried not to look to critically at my lodgings as I arranged my bags and clothes for the next morning in the path of least resistance.  And then I laid down for a blessed 3 and a half hours.

When the phone rang in the Baymont Shores Inn at 4 a.m., I woke with a start, sat up in bed and wondered aloud in an alarmed voice, "Where am I?"  But there was no time to contemplate location.  I had 59 minutes before the shuttle would be pulling away from the hotel, and I had already reached my quota on missed connections.

The desk clerk called me at 4:57 as I was zipping my bag to tell me that the shuttle was leaving.  But I wobbled down the hallway like an overloaded pack mule and thrust my baggage into the hands of the shuttle driver who tried to convince me to wait 15 minutes for the next shuttle while I furiously shook my head no and squeezed into the van.  In the darkness, I heard William say, "I told him, 'We can't leave without Ashley.' I was going to kick his butt."  It pays to have friends, it seems, who understand in less than 24 hours that you're always late.

By the time I walked out to board my 6:20 flight, the sun was shining and a light breeze was blowing.  We took off and landed in what seemed the blink of an eye.  I slept as soon as I was safely strapped into an aircraft assured to get me to Las Vegas.

I landed at 6:35 a.m. PDT and found myself a taxi that I swear was driven by Shug Knight.  He drove me to the Luxor, a giant shiny black pyramid guarded by a replica of the sphinx on its front lawn.  I passed from the cool, bright early morning through the doors flanked by Anubis into cavernous darkness.  I blinked twice and looked up to see a bleary-eyed man drinking a beer and smoking a cigarette mid-lobby.  Welcome, I thought, to Vegas. 

And so I checked in and was told...to head to the 13th floor.  That sealed it.  Absolutely no gambling for me.  You gotta know when to walk away...and when to run.


mendacious said...

ROCK! totally brillz. i am sorry also you did not venture out with Al and Will into the great unknown. I bet you woulda been fine and had christmas card exchangers for LIFE. ;)

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