I was flying back from vacation a couple of weeks ago. When I got to the airport, the airline offered me a couple hundred dollars to give up my seat to someone else. My eyes immediately rolled to the back of my head, my pupils replaced by dollar signs. OK, that didn’t really happen, but I definitely heard a “ch-ching” old-fashioned cash register machine sound. I hear it in my head. Yeah, I accepted.
I had to wait around a little longer, going backwards through security, having immigration unstamp my pass. Some random foreign country version of a TSA guy handed me a half-filled bottle of water, almost like the one they took away from me when I was going through, but I’m positive it was a different brand. Whatever, it was a nice gesture. Or a cruel joke. I was really thirsty, actually. They don’t let you bring water on the flight. Your mouth gets super dry from being in the airport and then breathing in the recirculated recycled air on the plane while you wait for the plane to take off, and then the flight attendant finally gets to you, and you want water so bad, but they just give you a tiny little plastic cup and then they disappear, no way to get any more, and so it’ll be just a huge tease, a momentary reprieve from your insatiable thirst, but not enough to really get some actual moisture back into your mouth, your nose, your sinuses, and besides, you always forget that international flights give out booze, and you go for that shot of whiskey, and if feels great for a minute or two, but even this slight buzz is a tease, because there’s more where that came from, but they’re drinking it all in first class. And now you’re really thirsty, and your mouth just tastes gross.
I waited some more and this awesome airline gave me straight up cash, terrific, a bonus, a nice little after-the-fact vacation discount, and they put me up in a ridiculously nice hotel. When the cab dropped me off, also comped, it was close to one in the morning. The front desk guy told me how sorry he was, that the kitchen was closed, that he could have somebody send up some sandwiches and fries and soda, and I’m just like, what? I didn’t order any food. And then I take a look at the hotel voucher and it said, “all meals included.” It was just getting better and better.
Even though I wasn’t hungry at all, and I was really tired, I felt bad saying no. Hotels this nice live to serve. I imagined me saying, “No thanks, I’m full, and tired,” to the front desk man, and he’d say back to me something like, “Very good, sir,” and I’d go up to my room, and he’d have to go to the kitchen to tell the chef, who started automatically making sandwiches as soon as I entered the hotel, who could’ve gone home when the kitchen closed like an hour ago, the desk guy has to tell him, “Sorry Chef. He’s not hungry.” And the chef looks down at his half-constructed meal and says, “Goddamn it all. What a waste. All for nothing,” as he throws everything in the trash and stomps out.
And the desk guy would be thinking something like, man, I wish I could have eaten that sandwich. But big hotels almost always prohibit this type of behavior, because they don’t want employees to get in the habit of constantly making “mistake” meals, and, oh well, if nobody’s going to eat it, I’ll take it. Why let a good meal go to waste? Why indeed. And the desk guy looks longingly at the trash, briefly considers going for it, it’s not even touching anything, and he’s starving, but this only lasts a second and he literally slaps himself out of it, storming out of the kitchen.
But as he heads back to his counter, who’s standing there but his boss. “What do you mean he wasn’t hungry?” the boss demands. “We aim to serve! Did you offer him something else? Complimentary robe? A discounted massage? Where is that pea-brained chef? Get him in here!” And the chef, who was almost at his car, gets called back inside and he and the desk guy spend the next forty-five minutes getting chewed out by the manager, a real crash course on customer service.
So I said yes to the sandwich. It was awesome. Definitely not just something thrown together. Melted cheese. Fresh lettuce. It was delicious. The fries were fresh-cut potatoes, not frozen. I can always tell the difference.
After a great breakfast, I made my way back to the airport, went and had my passport restamped, (“What is all of this unstamping and restamping business here?” said the customs official, not really interested in any response) gave the same half-bottle of somebody else’s water back to the same guy security guy who, I could tell just by the way he was looking at me was thinking to himself, touché. Damn it if I don’t like this guy’s style. And then I heard an announcement. It was the airline. They had overbooked my flight and were offering a couple hundred bucks to anyone willing to give up their seats.
And I thought to myself, I should totally do this. I should keep doing this. I should see how long I could keep this going. It’s already turning out to be more lucrative than my job back home, and I could spend more time writing stuff like this. But I can’t always find a good spot to charge my computer, so I’ll write it out by hand, like I’m doing right now, and then I’ll have to sit down and type it all out later, which I’m doing right now, which is mind-numbingly boring, and tedious, and a lot slower than you’d think, on account of my awful handwriting.
And then I thought, they can’t possibly keep putting me up at that five-star hotel every night. I get the first night, as a nice gesture or whatever, but that’s going to add up quick. Are they going to eventually make me stay in the airport? It would make it easier, like I wouldn’t have to keep entering and exiting and reentering security, stamping and unstamping, passing that bottle back and forth, which, I’m pretty sure that guy might have poisoned by now, just hoping I’ll take a sip in a moment of thirsty weakness.
And then I thought, that would be a great idea for a story, or a movie, about a foreigner who winds up living in an airplane terminal, having all sorts of wacky terminal adventures. I’d have to think of a clever name. But this thought only lasted for maybe five seconds. The idea was terrible. And plus, who would act in it? I’d have to find the biggest hack in Hollywood to sign up for a project so dumb.
I said, “no thanks” this time and got on the plane. Takeoff was delayed for like four hours due to unspecified technical difficulties, until finally they cancelled the flight. It took forever to get everyone off the plane, to get their luggage, rebook everyone’s flights. And nobody got any hundreds of dollars. Nobody except those people who gave up their seats before the flight got cancelled. I should’ve done that. I could’ve really gone for a sandwich right then, because I was on the plane forever, and there was no food or drink, and I was so hungry and really, really thirsty.