God Bless the Bloated Road

It’s not often a person can brag they went around the world in a month, but here we are.

It wasn’t just me, but my entire family that went on this journey and we never left our kitchens.

I left December a few pounds heavier after the culinary road trip that took us to Germany, Italy, Mexico, Brazil, and of course, the deep south.

Every year at Christmas my family picks a food theme that will cleanse our collective palates of turkey.

This year we chose Mexican food, and my Mom’s house was full of tacos, enchiladas, guacamole, queso, enchiritos and sweets – all homemade. We are amazing when we travel together, and even moreso when we cook together.

Nobody messed up, and there will be nobody to bring paper goods to the next event, so we’ll probably travel to the Sandwich Islands next year.

A week later, the culinary adventure continued in South Carolina when my daughter (who is not Italian, that I know of) greeted us the first night there with her homemade spaghetti. The next night they took us to Brazil with some great steaks, then off to Germany when my son-in-law made Schnitzel.

When it was my turn for the trip’s itinerary, I chose our roots.

This means I went all the way to the redneck branch of the family that likes to sit on the porch with our crazy and a mason jar full of … homemade (of course) beverages.

That’s right, my leg of the trip wasn’t to a glamorous place, unless you consider banjos elegant dinner music. I took us to the woods where Spam and potatoes are fried together openly and with no shame whatsoever.

And it was good, as long as you don’t consider my husband’s opinion about Spam and the people who eat it.

We ran out of year before he could take us to his country where the food is brown and vegetables that aren’t spelled p-o-t-a-t-o are not on the menu.

It just occured to me what I really got for Christmas. Pounds – delicious ones and a lot of them. And I have just enough time to get into shape before our next trip.

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Not loving the new car smell just yet

The password for 2018 is “Irony,” apparently. I was going for “patient,” but I got both.

After all I wrote last week about the new year being a metaphorical new car, my 2018 began (not ended) with a busted-up hoopty, one that I shall refer to as American Airlines.

Now I’m thinking things can only get better, right?

After spending the last week 2017 with our kids in South Carolina, my husband and I flew back on New Year’s Day, sort of.

I try to begin each new year with a word and this year’s word was “patience,” which comes after “irony” in the dictionary. I just didn’t know it would be tested immediately.

Enroute to the Greenville-Spartansburg airport Monday, I got the first text alerting me at 1:40 that our 4:00 p.m. flight had been delayed until 4:19 p.m. Thus began my emotional affair with America Airlines, and it didn’t end well.

In all, American Airlines and I had a very short romance that felt like it lasted forever.

Ten hours and 19 text alerts of flight delays later,  we finally took off for Dallas after midnight. On a school night.

The day was a intimate study of human nature under stress, with responses that ranged from quiet indignation to rage, and that was just my husband. At the end, I was just angry they had taken several precious hours with my family from me; as well as sleep.

Shared rage usually brings people together, and this held true in Greenville that day.

As the crowd at our gate dwindled with people taking alternative flights in order to catch their connecting flights, I got to know the 50 or so people who chose, like us, to wait it out.

We laughed, we cried, we rage-Tweeted American Airlines.

A couple tiny samples:

“So, @AmericanAir, hi. After 13 flight delays in six hours, we’re still stuck in South Carolina … because we chose you. It’s not me, it’s you. #breakingup “


“Hi, @AmericanAir! It’s me again. Up to 17 flight delays now. Can you have someone work for me tomorrow? Also, is your slogan “If we aren’t on time, just wait longer?”

Spoiler alert: Nobody from AA showed up to work for me Tuesday. Also, it appears I accurately guessed their slogan.

Luckily, there was a bar at our gate showing two huge college football playoff games, that everyone at the gate shuffled in and out to see as they took turns standing in line at the customer services deck to find out that

A) there was a massive crew shortage;

B) after that was resolved, the parking brake of the plane coming to take us away “came out in the pilot’s hand” at DFW and had to be replaced;

and C) they were very sorry about the … ‘extended travel time,’ which is like calling the flu “an extended cold.”

Since most everyone on my flight was receiving text alerts (cheating cheaters) from American Airlines, every time all of us heard our text tones, the entire gate had a collective anxiety attack, with smatterings of creative curse phrases, open weeping and wishes of ill tidings to AA’s home office.

Being a firm believer that the customer service clerks had nothing to do with the fact that the parent company completely screwed the holiday pooch, I went out of my way to be nice to them. Besides, there was a line a mile long of people taking their turn to express their rage, while the people who were responsible sat at home watching the Rose Bowl.

We walked into our house at 5 a.m., and I was at my desk in the office at 6 a.m.,  reminiscing about the last all-nighter I pulled when Prince Charles and Princess Diana married … in 1981. Turns out the royal wedding was a much happier event.

Ultimately they offered us the equivalent of less than an airline ticket in AA miles so that we might get to enjoy “extended travel time” with them again in the future.

I don’t know what they offered the lady who was almost out of insulin or the women who had infants and toddlers to keep happy during this imprompu extended vacation, but I suspect it wasn’t enough for them either.

Next time, I’m driving my own car since I know both the crew and parking brake are pretty reliable.

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Pin the Tail on the Donkey, Atlanta style

If you have ever wondered what it’s like to drive for the first time in Atlanta, Georgia, this is for you.

Imagine being shot out of cannon in a rental car on which you declined extra insurance, in the dark, and you have questionable night vision. That’s the good news.

Then imagine your mother talking to your sister on the phone for almost the entire trip from the airport to the hotel even though you are pleading with her to get off the phone and help with navigation.

I should stop there but I won’t in the interest of public service.

My mother and I travelled to that great city via airplane for my niece’s wedding last week, and for the first time ever I rented a car, got in it and drove it out of the airport much like somebody who has been blindfolded, spun around and pointed toward a donkey’s butt.


Pretty much.

The very kind people at Alamo Car Rentals gave me a portable GPS device which was clearly last updated in 2010, and showed us to be sitting in the middle of an open field instead of the parking garage we believed we were in.

The highlighted route the lady in the GPS kept talking about was nowhere near the little car icon and I didn’t have a clue how to get there, so I did the next best thing, which was to go to the garage exit.

In the meanwhile, I had my mother call my sister and mother of the bride, Kellie, who lives in the Atlanta area and let her know we were starting to the hotel which was 40 minutes away according to the very optimistic GPS.

Mom: Kellie wants to know which direction we’re heading.

Me: Whichever direction the exit to the airport is facing. (Translated: I have no idea.)

Shortly after,  an invisible slingshot catapulted me onto Interstate 85, hopefully in the northerly direction. I was too busy trying to avoid being killed, and mom was too busy talking to Kellie to read the direction on the GPS.

Mom: Kellie wants to know if you can talk to her.

Me: Not and live to tell about it, no.

Mom: Kellie wants to know where we are.

Me. I don’t know. You should get off the phone and help me out here.

Mom: Kellie wants to know if you can talk now.

Me: No.

I began sensing a theme and we were only 10 minutes into this ride.

So, my mom relayed the message from Kellie, that we should be in the left two lanes in about 20 miles to exit onto Interstate 285, a fact I needed to know so I would be even more confused than I already was.

Eleven minutes and 50 questions from Kellie into the ride, my GPS finally showed us to be on an actual road. Which road, I don’t know, because my mother was still on the phone and much too distracted to assist me with keeping us alive.

Twenty miles from the airport, I learned two things: my headlights weren’t on, but my left blinker was and had been since the airport.

The blinker, I could find. The lights were a different story.

I began screaming, “ (colorful words, redacted), my lights aren’t on! Where are they?” Note to those considering renting a Hyundai: Familiarize yourself with the headlights before you get into traffic. They are not logically placed.

It’s difficult to find the headlight switch while driving 70 in heavy, unfamiliar traffic, especially with  your hands clutched into the 10-and-2 positions of the steering wheel, and your chief navigator having a leisurely conversation on the phone while you scream (beg) for help.

Kellie, who was still giving my mother directions to get in the left two lanes, didn’t know where the headlights on a Hyundai were either.

Mom: Kellie wants to know if you know where we are.

Me: Tell her we are in the seventh circle of hell. Now please, get off the phone and help me.

About that time, I thought I heard somebody yell, “BLESS YOUR HEART” from the left, faster, lane, while giving me the Georgia good luck sign, which I needed.

Luckily, the lights turned on when a spasm in my calf caused my knee to accidently locate the headlight switch, so I had that going for me.

Mom: Kellie wants to know if you can talk yet.

Me: Tell her I’ll call her from the asylum.

Kellie and Mom hung up just in time for Mom to point out the turn into the hotel.

I don’t know how I got there without her.

Against all odds, I found the donkey’s butt.

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First Class for a Day

I flew to South Carolina a couple weeks ago, and during the trip experienced a paradigm shift regarding air travel.

I’m normally pretty frugal about flights and always try to find the least expensive flight, because seriously it’s only three hours of my life, right?


At least it was until I flew into Charlotte in what was one of the worst flying experiences of my life. This experience prompted me to fly first class on the return trip home, something that made me wish I was a wealthy broad.

After flying from Wichita Falls, we landed at DFW (Dallas) in terminal B, and I set out to find terminal E which is like being blindfolded and spun around for 10 minutes or so when you’re at DFW.

I found terminal E 30 minutes later after taking the tram and then walking up and down escalators. I barely made my gate, which was rumored to begin boarding at 3:15 with a 3:45 departure time. Suspiciously – but predictably – the flight time board still read “on time” at 4 p.m., and we hadn’t yet begun boarding the plane.

In fact, we were all just standing at gate 28E, sweating and breathing each other’s air while staring at an electronic sign that was lying to us all.

This confirmed my theory that American Airline/US Airways does not have bad customer service, just ask them. Because in order to have bad customer service, you actually have to have customer service. We finally began boarding 30 minutes after the flight was suppose to depart.

After several stop and goes on the tarmac we finally took off one hour late, or as American Airlines likes to say, “right on time, late as usual.”

On takeoff, somebody in my close vicinity . . . farted. Not audibly, but definitely deadly, which is worse. I put my finger delicately to my nose, the international symbol that means, “I did not make that smell,” something I really needed the men seated on each side of me to know.

One of them already knew it wasn’t me, because I was reminded every 5 to 11 minutes the remainder of the flight that he had most likely eaten bad Thai food in the past 24 hours.

I bring my iPad with me on trips like this so I can write, and I tried. But while I was sitting next to him, breathing shallow as possible, I could hear Nickelback coming out of his earbuds, which ruins any inspiration to write, and eventually began to slowly suck my will to live.

Not surprisingly, soon after takeoff I developed both a raging headache and a sincere need for a cocktail. I pulled my debit card out of my purse and waited for the beverage cart to meander by because nothing washes down extra strength pain killers like vodka and orange juice. Also, I began digging through my purse to find my ibuprofin.

In a perfect American Airlines storm several things happened: 1) I realized I left my bottle of ibuprofin on my desk at work; 2) Stinky McStinkster struck yet again; and 3) My debit card disappeared.

At this point, I needed pain killers and a drink and I could have neither. The serial farter offered to bend over and check under my seat for my card, and I almost passed out.

The remainder of my trip was spent unmedicated with my own earbuds in place, listening to a recording of  nails on a chalkboard to make the pain go away.

I gave up looking for my card until we landed because in coach there is only enough room to pass gas, nothing more.

For those who are worried, my debit card was found hiding under my seat upon arrival to Charlotte.

After arriving in South Carolina, I did something I have never done before: I upgraded my flight to first class for the return trip home.

I had no idea.

Having never held a first class airline ticket in my tight little fist, I had no idea of the swankiness that awaited me.

They treat you nicer everywhere in the airport when you carry a first class ticket, like you’ve been sprayed with a pheromone that makes people behave inexplicably nicer to you, only that pheromone is a ticket and the nicer is most likely disingenuous, and drilled into the employees during training.

But, after the flight I had to Charlotte, I was willing to take a little fake brown-nosing.

I found it’s like being in a secret society, because when the TSA agent checking my ticket to get in the security line saw it was first class, he directed me to another security area with no line, with a wink and a nudge.

And, they treat you nicer on the plane, which I think sucks because the first flights I was looking at were double the price I paid, with no first class included.

I don’t want to sound all ridiculous, but it’s really nice up there. They give you hermetically-sealed blankets so you don’t get the Ebola (too soon?). We got real coffee cups up there as opposed to plastic in coach. But the best part was the leg room . . . sweet baby Jesus, the leg room.


Also, I suspect the seats also have charcoal filters in them for those Thai food fans on the flight, because I smelled nothing but open space and happiness.

And if I had wanted to have a cocktail, which I didn’t since it was 7 o’clock in the A.M. portion of the day, it was included in the cost of the upgrade. So my debit card would never even be in danger of me losing it under my seat.

The $99 upgrade gave me all of this, free luggage check-in, and apparently all of the coffee my heart and bladder desire.

Oh, and freedom from Nickelback and the ghost of bad Thai food.

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None of this Happened in a Turkish Prison


I love Texas. I love Iowa Park. But I have a long-standing policy to leave them both occasionally just to see what else is out there. 


 And although I didn’t even step foot outside this fine state until I was in my mid-20’s – something that horrifies me to this day – I believe travelling to different parts of the United States have made me a more well-rounded person, more empathetic and more open to other lifestyles and cultures.


It also gives me the opportunity to meet people like my new Turkish friend, Isis.


I was going to write this last week, but I still had lingering concerns that somehow the Turkish government would find out about it and offer me lira to recant my story.  But  I can’t spend a lira anywhere in these parts that I know of, so I’m taking my chances.


While we were in Boston for my son’s graduation from UMASS,  we stayed at a hotel right in the middle of downtown in a very ritzy district. Expedia did not fail me and found us a great rate for this hotel. Well, a great rate for a Boston hotel anyway.


I woke up on Friday morning (graduation day) and the sun was beaming through the window like it was high noon on the prairie and I thought I had gone and missed graduation. A panicked look at the clock told me it was all of 5:30. And that was in the a.m. part of the day.


Not one to take a chance, I ventured downstairs in my sweatpants in search of coffee and meaning at this hour. Then I sat outside on a bench in front of the hotel and marveled at how many people function outside their homes before 6 a.m.


Before long I was joined by a man in a custom suit with a small badge on his lapel, and a very secret service-like earpiece. Feeling very proud that the hotel had given me my own bodyguard this soon in our relationship (they do value my business!), I looked at him and said, “You people in Boston wake up entirely too early.”


To which he replied, “I don’t speak English,” Only it didn’t come out that smooth. In fact, I was sure he had just depleted his entire knowledge of the English language.


Because I enjoy talking to people, I immediately switched to my second language, which is homemade sign language combined with English spoken v-e-r-y- s-l-o-w-l-y. Turns out neither of us are fluent in that either. But through the magic of making roof symbols with our hands, he learned I was from Texas and I learned he was from Turkey.


He knew the word “Texas”, bringing the grand total of English words he knew to five. Which was five more words than I know in Turkish.


The most I knew about Turkey previous to this incident is that they are famous for their baths and prisons, and I eat a bird named after them every Thanksgiving. After that, I’m completely tapped out on knowledge.


I had to. You know that, right?


I also found out his name is Isis, but I don’t remember the sign language I had to use to get it.


And since I didn’t know how to sign “What the hell are you doing in Boston?”,  I said goodbye and went upstairs to clean up.


The remainder of the day –when I wasn’t watching my son graduate, eating or shopping – was spent putting 30 years of journalism experience to good use. 


I was able to find out from hotel staff that the Prime Minister of Turkey was in town for his son’s graduation from Harvard the same day, and  I was lucky enough to get to make non-sensical hand gestures at one of his secret service guys.


He wasn’t the only member of the security detail in front of the hotel, but he was the only one who would make eye contact, which is pretty much all it takes for me. Just ask anyone who knows me.


We watched these guys all day – polishing cars, talking into their lapels and being hyper-alert to loud noises.


Later that night my daughter, sister and mom were out on what I now call the “Sit and Learn” bench in front of the hotel. My daughter was playing a game on her iPad, and the rest of us were discussing the odds of finding a baked potatoanywhere in Boston  when my new Turkish friend re-appeared. 


I introduced Isis to everyone. Actually, I just pointed at him and said, “This is Isis,” because it was late, we were tired, and nobody looked like they had the energy for a late-night round of charades.


He seemed very happy to meet them until my sister, Kim,  asked if he was . . . packing heat.


Isis didn’t understand the words “gun”, “heat” or “weapon”, so Kim made the international symbol for gun with her fingers. He pulled the right side of his suit coat back to reveal that he did in fact carry whatever the Turkish word is for big, scary gun.  Because seriously, what else would you use to protect the Prime Minister of Turkey? A slingshot?


After a moment of awkward silence,  Isis looked at my daughter, pointed to her iPad and said, “Candy Crush?” which brought his command of the English language to seven words.


He had the most innocent face, which is most certainly a facade since I’m reasonably sure that guys in his position have to be able to kill someone at a moment’s notice. But Isis, he looked as innocent as a little Turkish baby lamb.


Saturday morning found us back on the Sit and Learn bench, watching the Prime Minister’s drivers wiping down the fleet of Black Mercedes and BMWs, the secret service cautiously trying to avoid eye contact with us, and another crew loading up a large U-Haul truck with all of the items a Prime Minister with a shopping addiction could possible need.


Isis found us before they left and said goodbye – in sign language. 


The point is, none of that would have happened if I refused to get out, look around and ask questions. 


Of course, the Turkish government could already have begun loading my dossier with information I don’t even know about myself. But they’ll have to come to Texas to find me – until I leave town again.

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