As I write it is 11:23pm Sunday night. I have just completed seven days and four engagements that took me from NYC to Tupelo, Mississippi, through Memphis, Indianapolis, Detroit, and Toledo to Bowling Green, Ohio. After a night's rest it was up to Syracuse, New York, and then on to Phoenix, Arizona.
I spoke to radio audiences, campus GOP'ers, the Conservative Party of New York State, and to a statewide Federation of College GOP'ers, and oh yeah - Baldwin and I did two shows back to back from remote locations. It was fun, exciting, exhilirating. I made new friends. I saw a seashore lighthouse in the middle of an Ohio cornfield. I met the future and hopefully first African American Conservative Mayor of Syracuse. I signed somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 books. And I took 14 airplane rides, drove some 600 miles in one day, and made a whole bunch of new friends named Wildmon, Hooser, Bender-Bolitho (engaged couple), and witnessed a deadlocked convention delegate fight end peacefully with honorable actions taken all the way around.
I dined with subversives, had my long time pastor's lovely bride tell me I was 10 years older than I actually was, pizza-partied with proud conservatives, took everyone's monopoly money in Texas Hold 'Em, met a candidate for Congress that you should give a generous donation to--Jesse Kelly, found a whole bunch of college conservatives from Arizona that DON'T think Meghan McCain is the cat's pajamas, (in fact one of them confided in me that the idea of Meghan McCain and pajamas was just something they'd rather not picture) and learned that New York State's number one conservative lives in Brooklyn NOT somewhere upstate.
It was a long seven days, but it was good, and the friends that have come my way are ones I will hopefully grow old in appreciation for.
I also had the chance to tell audiences across this nation that when Republican party leaders tell you that the "winds will be at our backs in 2012" and therefore "that's why you should take hope," it just made me wanna smack 'em on the head like a V-8 commerical and remind them that the other side is already working on election strategies for 2012... and the winds are pretty finicky anyway.
I also had the chance to remind conservatives that truth is and always has been on our side. I spoke without any notes at any of the stops. And more importantly I did not need a teleprompter. I don't need one. I already know what I believe, therefore it is not incumbent upon me to have to "remember" what I tell one group.
Truth sets free, there IS a God, our rights are authored by the divine, and because of that our politics can not exist without a moral component attached to them. This was my message, it was sometimes delivered with harsh bellowing tones, but it always seemed to be embraced, and many thanks came my way at the end of each session.
I was also very greatly encouraged, because I was reminded that the next generation IS concerned about their future. The spending by the current administration is like an anchor around their necks, they are awaking to that reality and they really aren't going to take it anymore...
And after all of that - came my plane ride home this morning.
I missed my Lovely Bride so much that instead of waiting around Phoenix until 3pm PST I thought I would try to go standby on the 5:40am flight. Big thanks to new Arizona Federation GOP President Andrew Clark for getting up early and dropping me at the airport around 4:15am. (That guy's gonna go places...)
Arriving at the airport the lady first told me that all the seats that had been available on the plane at roughly 11:30pm the night before were now taken and the stand-by list was 18 names.
Turns out those were all airline employees trying to jump seat to their different locations and I was given priority. Only catch... It wasn't a non-stop back to EWR. Instead it connected through Charlotte but would still put me on the ground in NYC at 3:15pm some 3 hours earlier than my original flight was scheduled to leave Phoenix.
The flight to Charlotte went off without a hitch. In fact the lady had been kind enough to put my 6'2'' frame in an exit row seat with the extra leg room. A small act of comfort for which I was truly grateful!
Touching down in Charlotte we had all of 35 minutes before boarding would begin on the exact same plane and continue on into New York.
Just enough time for me to hit the store, get some Claritin for my allergies, down a Hit-Me energy shot for the B vitamins, and get some lunch.
In Charlotte the Chicken chain BoJangles is very big. And in keeping with my latest crave of southern cuisine I ordered up a "Cajun Filet Chicken Biscuit." (Shout out to Pastor Ray for introducing me to the delicacy, and to Connies in Tupelo who still makes the best ones ever.)
Returning to the gate area with my chicken biscuit and diet coke, the seats at the gate were all spoken for so I squatted "Injun Style" out of the immediate path of traffic but in a quiet enough spot to enjoy my carpet picnic in peace. As I devoured the final bite of the smallish sandwich my zone was called and I boarded.
I don't get to sit towards the front of the plane all that often so when I have a chance to I'm pretty pumped about it. It means that I won't have to wait as long to get off the plane when we land. And let's face it--who among us just loves those uncomfortable sweat filled filthy moments standing next to other people breathing their stale breath, smelling their various aromas, and standing with your head cramped up against the overhead compartment because you're too darn tall to stand up right?
For this final leg of my travel I was seated in row 7, only two rows behind first class, and an aisle seat, which for me meant, more legroom! Ahhhh!
I also appeared to be in a certain degree of luck because the middle seat on my side of the aisle was empty and boarding was nearly compelete. But alas, just before the doors were closed my new friend Julia, a tiny little thing from Central Jersey made her way on to the plane and grabbed that empty piece of real estate.
After she did came the first chapter of drama that I felt was completely avoidable.
Across the aisle from me were three middle aged African American women of some girth. They too were obvious fans of the Chicken chain BoJangles. Everyone on the plane knew this because as the boarding was taking place the women had boarded before their zone was allowed, plopped themselves down in their seats, and each opened up an extra large carton of the BoJangle "Feast."
Having seen the menu, I could recall that the "feast" included, three large pieces of chicken a generous serving of fries or mashed potatoes, what seemed like an impossible large serving of cole slaw, and of course, extra large buttermilk biscuits.
The ladies who lunched, continued the meal consumption until well past the time the flight attendant had instructed us not once but three times to stow tray tables, and to secure our carry ons. When the flight attendant finally attempted to force compliance with the policy the women grumbled, gruffed, complained that they were "hon'gree" and then finally agreed to obey.
Of course as soon as the flight attendant walked away muttering under their breath and bickering about why they were the only one's given a talking to.
Sometimes I talk to people on plane rides, sometimes I don't. Whatever the case today Julia and I struck up a conversation about the similar plights we face as parents of children with special needs and disabilities. It was an interesting conversation from two people who had seen a lot and could identify on some level with what the other had gone through.
The flight from Charlotte runs only a little over an hour, and before we knew it we were dropping from the cruising altitude and into the Newark Metro getting ready to land at EWR.
Many of you will not know that the greater NYC metro had back to back days of 90 degree plus weather the past couple of days, and when we dropped from the cruise altitude the plane began to feel very warm, and the ride got bumpy. It was also extremely odd that instead of beginning a standard approach the plane was on a wide circling vector. (I saw the brand new Giants stadium pass underneath us three times...)
The captain came on the radio to tell us that the cause for the turbulence was due to the "thermal layer" caused by the unexpected heat wave. He also explained that the circling vector was due to slow ground traffic at the airport.
I'm not sure if it was the heat, the turbulence, the flying in circles like water in a toilet bowl... but something began to give.
Julia and I were just finishing up our conversation when from behind me I heard an odd sound, and looked to see what appeared to be the lady directly across the aisle from me padding her tongue with a napkin.
Though it seemed odd, I turned back quickly and continued my conversation with Julia.
And then it really started to blow... not the wind... but the BoJangles Chicken Supreme feasts.
Starting with the lady closest me, again with my back to her all that could be heard was, "blaaaaauuuuggghhhhhhhhh, blllaaauuuggghhhhh, blauughghghghgh."
Evidently the visceral sight of seeing one previously eaten BoJangles Chicken Supreme feast was enough to cause the sizable citizen in seat two to repeat the exercise, and then politely waiting her turn, came seat number three.
Julia being the committed mother of a disabled child peered around my shoulder to confirm what was in fact happening.
I told her I was afraid to look... She strongly encouraged me to just keep looking her direction.
It might be of interest to point out that these lunching ladies had also given every ounce of possible grief they could muster up to the flight attendants working the flight. They crabbed when not given the entire can of soda, they crabbed when they were told to sit down because the captain had turned on the seat belt sign, and they had thrown a near fit when they had been told to stop eating until we had taken off.
As the colorful contributions of number three were being, (as had number 2 and number 1 before her) thrown to the floor and not in the customary bags provided by the airline for motion sickness emergencies, suddenly lunching lady number 1 found her voice.
Shifting her leg into the aisle, and at the top of her lungs, while we were yet circling Giants stadium for the fourth time she belts out, "Ms. flight attendant, heeeeyyyy, Jesus Christ we getting sick back here!" (Like we couldn't tell?)
Not satisfied that twelve flight attendants had not appeared with lysol wipes and mops she reiterated her concern, "Heeeeyyyyy, we be gettin' sick back here..."
Refusing to turn and observe the events as they were happening, I kept my gaze on the window just past Julia's left ear lobe. That was when she turned to me and said, "oh dear, that's gonna be a problem."
To wit the man sitting in the row in front of the lunching ladies, evidently overcome by the empathy pains, or the raw odor of partially digested Chicken feasts, dutifully grabs his motion sickness recepticle and uses in proper accordance with its intended purpose.
With the thermal layer turbulence, the heat that was warming the plane inside and the final attempt at landing the aircraft, my brain began to swim, my nostrils began to fill with smells I did not wish, and my soul began to pray. "Dear God, please just don't let me join them."
Now on the ground lunching lady one was growing more indignant than before, "Jesus Christ ya'll don't you be seeing how sick we are gettin?" (Uh no... had no idea.)
The flight attendant over the loud speaker finally responded that according to FAA regulations they were required to stay put until clearing the taxi-way. This was met by a combination of curses and Lord's name taken in vain that would have made normal people blush. But most of the normal people were just trying to hold their breath at this point.
As the plane finally pulls to the gate, the lunching ladies have lost any sense of decorum and are now speaking out loud to pretty much each other, the Good Lord, or their imaginary friends but let's just say that they were really worked up.
As the flight attendant begins to work her way to the row, lunching lady number one begins to lay into her, "I can't believe that you didn't do anything to help us, what's wrong with you? I can't believe that this airline would allow, blah blah blah..."
Once the seatbelt sign was unlit, I hopped right up into the aisle and noticed there was room in the walkway in front of our row. I asked Julia if she would like to quickly slip her way into the spot, which she did thankfully, and extricated her bag from the overhead compartment.
Unfortunately as quickly as she had lunching lady number one has now back her way pressing directly against me in the aisle.
Normally if someone is in the aisle the other side simply waits until the row clears and then hops out. It makes for orderly and well mannered departure process of the aircraft.
Now I'm wedged up against the side of what had previously been my aisle seat with my computer bag and backpack now IN my former seat and the backside of lunching lady one pressing up against me pinning me to the hardware.
As the rows began to exit, Julia and the first six rows all made it out safely, unfortunately I was now stuck behind all three lunching ladies as they heaved their 3 roller bags, 12 shopping bags, camera case, and each of their purses the size of a piece of luggage itself down from the overheads and begin bumping their way towards the exit.
All the while the colorful contributions of aromatic qualities that they had left behind, and on their clothes, and on the carpet, continued to fill the cabin of the aircraft whose AC had now been cut off all together.
As the lunching lady trio neared the front of the airplane, they start in again on the flight attendant, and when the pilot stepped out from the cockpit, they start in on him. Complaining about the circling, the heat, the turbulence, and their percevied lack of attention, they bring the traffic exiting the plane to a complete halt.
A man who appeared to be a former marine or military of some sort had been sitting behind them and kept his silence the entire time. But finally he could take no more.
"Ladies, this airline officials didn't shove that chicken down your gullets, give 'em a break, and get off this plane..."
The crowd finally could hold its peace no longer...
Of course they walked two across all the way up the gangway back to the terminal, but ultimately they did exit the door, and my quick little feet scooted around them and ran to the nearest restroom, washing my hands and face, and using a little anti-bacterial gel as an afterthought.
I was grateful when I finally made it to my car.
But I'm sort of traveled out for a while.
Please don't hate me for it...