beignets and coffee.


The postcard.

The postcard.

I drove myself to Newark Airport with all the details of the birthday bash for Sandy all wrapped up and ready to go.  Somehow, I had managed to pull off planning an entire show – three bands, with all the necessary promotion, plus arrangements to record Footstone’s set – without Sandy finding out about it.  At some point I did have to tell Footstone that I was going to record their set; the sound guy had all sorts of questions about microphones and equipment, and since they were questions I couldn’t answer, I needed some help from the band.  I think by that point, they wanted their music out so badly that they would have done anything to help get it out there.


I boarded the flight with no problems and took my seat.  I was flying alone, as was my custom – a lot of the people at my company would book their flights together so they could share expenses and headaches, but I kind of had my own system.  My coworkers would often share a limo, but the idea of driving around northern Jersey as the limo picked everyone up for the flight, then doing the same thing as it dropped people off, was miserable to me – I preferred to keep the pre and post-flight bullshit to an absolute minimum.

Once we were in the air, I grabbed my CD Walkman and put it on.  The soundtrack for the trip was one of my favorite records at the time, Crappin’ You Negative by The Grifters.  I had first heard The Grifters due to the appearance of “Black Fuel Incinerator” on the outstanding compilation Why Do You Think They Call it Pop?, which was released on Pop Narcotic records, a New England label owned by Bill Peregoy.  I was lucky enough to have become friendly with Bill online, and his label had become one of my favorites.  The Pop compilation was outstanding, featuring tracks not only from The Grifters but from Small Factory, The Dambuilders, Monsterland, Polvo, Helium, Wingtip Sloat, and others – it was a “Who’s Who” of indie pop music at the time.

But I digress.

I was about midway through the record when I heard the little beep over the airplane’s PA system, indicating someone was about to talk to the passengers.  Usually this happened when the pilot was about to tell us that we were about to hit some turbulence, so I lowered the volume so that I could hear.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your pilot speaking,” the disembodied voice began.  “We’re just passing over Philadelphia and unfortunately we’ve discovered that we’re having a little problem with the aircraft.  It seems our engines are not getting fuel from the main fuel tank for some reason, and so we’re going to have to turn around and put the plane down back in Newark.  Nothing to worry about; I apologize for the inconvenience.  You’re going to feel a little bumpiness as we turn the plane around and descend back into Newark.  Please fasten your seat belts and remain seated for the rest of the ride.”

Almost immediately after that, the plane banked to one side as it began to turn around and head back.

If it’s possible to actually feel the silent tension of a hundred or so airplane passengers, that’s exactly what happened.  Suddenly all magazines folded shut, all Walkmen turned off, all carry-on luggage was immediately stowed.  Tray tables and seat backs were returned to their upright positions, and all the passengers began to watch intently out the windows of the plane.

When I flew, I insisted on sitting in an aisle seat, in an exit row.  I’m a pretty tall guy, and I’ve got long legs, and the aisle/exit combination afforded me the most leg room.  The guy next to me, in the window seat, looked at me.

“That’s bullshit,” he said.


“It’s bullshit.  It’s something worse.  The pilot is never going to get on the mic and tell us that there’s a serious problem with the plane.  It’s always ‘everything’s fine, no need to panic.’  Feel how quickly we’re accelerating?  And losing altitude?  Something’s wrong.”

“Naw,” I said.  “Calm down.  He said we’re over Philly.  Last time I checked, Philly had an airport.  If it was something serious, that’s where we’d be landing.”

“How the hell do you know where we’re landing?” he asked.  “The pilot says we’re landing in Newark.  For all we know, we’re landing on the Garden State Parkway.”

The people around me heard all this and got even more tense.  And the guy kept yammering, talking about how there was something serious.  I tried ignoring him, and a man in the row in front of us turned around and shushed him.

“I’ve been on hundreds of flights,” he said.  “This has never happened.  You do know that airplanes need fuel to operate, right?  And if they don’t have fuel?”  He made a motion with his hand like an airplane, then crashed it into his lap.

“Okay, that’s enough,” I said.

The plane made lots of twists and turns, and the ride was very bumpy.  Soon, I could see the lights of Newark on either side of the plane.  “See?” I said to my seat-mate.

“Talk to me when we’re on the ground.”

The plane came careening down the runway.  Out the window on either side of the plane, I saw ambulances and fire trucks, racing down the runway with the plane, lights flashing, trying to keep up as the plane touched down.  We bounced once or twice and then jerked forward as the pilot slowed the plane down.  Soon, we were stopped.

The guy in the row in front of us turned around and looked at the guy next to me.  “Hey,” he said.  “Fuck you.”

I couldn’t get off that plane fast enough.  

Back in the terminal, an announcer came back on and told us that they would be repairing the plane, and putting us right back on it to head to New Orleans.  That freaked me out a little, so I called home and told Sandy what happened, told her I loved her, and then got back on the plane.  About half the passengers had elected to stay behind and take a later flight – on a different plane.  I, however, needed to get to New Orleans for a dinner meeting.

The plane landed just fine, but I missed my meeting.

Once in New Orleans, I had a week to experience the sights and sounds of that great city.  My first night I experienced the hurricane, the local drink favored by tourists.  I ate crawfish (nasty), alligator (blah), had beignets and coffee at the Cafe du Monde (awesome), and discovered the praline (best candy I’ve ever eaten).  I drank – way too much.

One night my coworkers were ragging on me in their typical style, talking about what a bush-league business traveler I was.  Mostly, they ragged on me because I was 15 years younger than the youngest of them.  

One of them looked at me and asked “Ever hear the story of the old bull and the young bull?”

“Never have,” I replied.

“There’s an old bull and a young bull, standing on a hillside.  Down at the bottom of the hill, there’s a herd of cows, grazing in the grass.  The young bull looks at the old bull and says ‘Hey, I’ve got a great idea.  Why don’t you and me run down this hill and fuck one of those cows?'”

“Yeah?” I asked.

He continued.  “The old bull looks at the young bull and says ‘I’ve got a better idea.  Why don’t you and me walk down this hill, and then fuck ’em all?”

From there, the conversation degenerated into a discussion about my “rookie” status – about how they were all “road warriors” taking me under their wing, showing me the ropes.  About how I didn’t know how to travel, to eat, or – and I considered this a challenge – to drink.

“Tell you what,” I said.  “You boys don’t think I can drink?  Let’s go out tonight.  I will be the last man standing.”

And we did.

And I was.

It took a long time, though – one particular guy was tough to put down.  We were sitting in a touristy piano bar, drinking double shots of Dewar’s and chasing them down with pints of beer.  One by one, my coworkers called it quits, but this one guy was proving to be pretty difficult.  Finally, after what seemed like hours, the waitress came over and asked “Another round of Dewar’s and beer?”

“Yeah,” I stammered.  “And also bring two shots of Southern Comfort.”

“Southern Comfort,” he said.  “I can’t drink that shit.”

“I’ve been drinking this Dewar’s all night,” I said.  “I don’t remember complaining.”

“You’re not complaining because Dewar’s is good.”

The waitress brought our drinks over, and I threw back the Dewar’s and took a few sips of the beer.  He drank his Dewar’s – slowly – and then started sipping at his beer, eyeing the SoCo.  Finally, I grabbed my shot and downed it.

“Let’s go,” I said.  “Drink it.”

“I can’t drink that shit,” he said. “I can’t even stand the smell.”

“Are you done?” I asked.  

“I can’t do it,” he laughed.  “I’m not saying I’m done, but I won’t drink it.”

I waved the waitress over.  “Two more shots of Dewar’s.”

She brought over the shots and I grabbed his shot of SoCo, downing it in one gulp.  Then I drank my Dewar’s shot.  He stared at his shot.  “The smell of that SoCo has got my stomach doing backflips,” he said.

“Bullshit,” I said.  “You’re done.  Let’s go get a cup of coffee and some beignets.”

“I’m going back to the hotel,” he said.

I walked with him back to the hotel and dropped him off, then stumbled around the French Quarter by myself for a while (something I later learned was dangerous).  I made it back to my room in time to catch a couple of hours of sleep before heading off to the trade show.

~ by Al on August 2, 2009.

3 Responses to “beignets and coffee.”

  1. I agree with the guy next to you, but he should have kept his mouth shut. I don’t fly much, but I’ve had a few bumpy flights and fuel issues, and the pilots do always try to minimize it.

    I have a friend who survived a plane crash (lots of broken bones, plastic surgery to the face, knocked-out teeth, and lifelong anxiety) – if you listen to him tell his story of the crash for fifteen minutes, you’ll never feel the same comfort when flying again. Every time people talk about how much safer it is to fly than to drive, I think of that guy. Blech.

  2. I flew a lot early in my career. Eventually I developed a crippling fear of flying that I could not shake, and actually made a decision in 1999 or so to never get on an airplane again. I suppose I’ll touch on that issue later in this story, since there are times when it’s relevant.

  3. I support your decision. When I was a kid, my brother worked for an airline, and my parents flew for free. I didn’t, but they took me with them all the time – we flew somewhere in the country almost every month or two for about a decade.

    Back then, I felt invincible in a plane, but as time has gone forward and not only do you see or hear of so many crashes, rough landings and near misses, but you just see how fallible people are, and machinery too – I’ve become like you. I flew to Doug’s wedding in 1998, took a couple more flights in the early 2000’s, once a couple years ago to Tucson, but I like it less every time.

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