Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Expensive Free Trip AKA "The Shark Story"


This is a long story, but worth the read...

In the fall of 2003 I had the good fortune of participating in a very bizarre vacation with my best bud and "brother from another mother", Chad. Life is never boring with Chad. Anyone who has ever met him can attest to that fact. You never know what may happen when you are with him. That's why I'm always ready for an adventure when we are together. We've been friends since we were in grade school and became best buddies in junior high. Our friendship has withstood some serious stuff: divorces, death, girlfriends, college, and adulthood. Other than my wife, I can't think of anyone who I have more fun with than Chad. We both understand that life happens and you have to roll with the punches. This story is a perfect example of that...

A year earlier, I entered him into a raffle and he ended up winning the grand prize of two tickets for a four day, all expenses paid trip to Fort Lauderdale, FL. Since I entered him in it, I was the lucky recipient of the extra ticket. Florida, here we come! On the evening before our trip we decided to celebrate our vacation with a bit o' karaoke at “Wild Times” bar. Neon signs colored the smoke that hovered at eye level, tall mugs were scattered across the table, and the sounds of loud and off key singers were mixed with white noise conversations and a smattering of "thank God that song is over" applause. Chad, whose joyfully inebriated expression was like a googly-eyed Muppet, introduced me for first time to this "new girl" Kari, who would eventually become his better half. Towards the end of the night Kari told me she would drive him home, so I said goodbye and headed home for a good nights sleep. Chad was in good hands (I had a feeling about this girl) and had a few hours to sleep it off before the flight, so I had no reason for concern. It all should have gone smoothly. It didn't. I wouldn't be telling this story if did, would I?

My girlfriend (and my eventual better half) Carly and I arrived at Chad's house at 9:40 AM the next morning to pick Chad up for our flight. I hopped out of the car, flew through the doorway of his townhome, and charged up the stairs, all the while yelling at Chad to get moving. But what I saw when I turned the corner caught me completely off guard. Chad had a toothbrush in one hand and a swimsuit in the other. His pants were around his ankles (underwear on thank God) and his t-shirt hanging around his neck!

“WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?!? WHY AREN’T YOU PACKED, MAN?!” I yelled.

“I don’t have time for you to yell at me.” He whispered, still feeling effects from the night before. “I just looked at our flight info and the plane leaves at 10:20. We have thirty minutes to get to the airport or we'll miss our flight. I forgot to pack, so I was working on that until you scared the hell out of me.”

I looked at my watch and groaned. It was 9:50 and there was no way in hell we were ever going to make this flight even if it was only 10 minutes away. Chad was determined to try. He grabbed an arm full of clothes, dropped it in the suitcase, and zipped it shut. From there, we hopped into Carly's Honda Prelude and jetted off to the airport.

The tires squealed as Carly squeezed into a spot along the drop off zone. As Chad crawled out of the car to unload our luggage, I turned to kiss Carly and was surprised to see a smirk on her face. “You’re loving this, aren’t you?” she asked with a smile. Apparently, my expression was easy for her to read. Chad and I were on an adventure and I couldn’t wait to get started. It was like a scene from a movie. I could picture us running to the gate with bags in hand, colliding with people on the way while the song “Wipeout” by The Sufaris played its nonstop drumming. “You are never going to make this flight.” she continued, bringing me back from La La Land. With a kiss and a wink, Carly said good bye and jumped in her car. I was feeling all mushy inside when reality literally grabbed hold of me. Chad yanked me by my shirt into the airport. “Come on! We can still make it!” he bellowed.

We trampled up to the ticket counter and I glanced at the clock. It was 10:00 AM. We had a chance to make it! All we had to do was move quickly through the ticket counter and security. “Good morning Gentlemen. What can I do for you?” The woman from behind the ticket counter asked, dressed in the standard royal blue sweater vest and poofed-out scarf. She was incredibly chipper, which immediately annoyed Chad, who by this time was upright only because the ticket counter was there to support him.

“We are in a hurry and need to get on our flight. Here are our driver’s licenses. Please hurry!” Chad demanded.

The woman shook her head and sighed. “I’m sorry sir, your bag is too large to carry-on. It will have to be checked.”

Chad looked baffled. “Are you kidding me?! Fine! Just check it, but let’s go please!”

The woman’s expression turned grim. After typing for what seemed liked days, she informed us that we had missed the time frame that allow us to get through security. If we wanted to rebook a different flight today, it would cost us $100.00, plus tax, per ticket. With sweat flowing down his head, Chad's complexion went ghost white. He mumbled something about going to pass out and stumbled his way through the makeshift turnstiles, still having the presence of mind to hand me his credit card to charge the transfer fees. I handed her the card with a chuckle and said the only thing that could come to mind: “He’s not feeling well today.” “Oh, that’s a shame.” she said sarcastically. While Chad recouped outside the airport, she went through her computer and found us a one stop flight to Fort Lauderdale.

With full knowledge that it was 10:15 and our plane was still on the ground, we decided to get something to eat at the airport while we searched for a ride back to his place. At this point in our story I will begin a running tally of our “free” trip. So far, we had spent $220 on tickets and a meal in the airport that I am convinced was nuked in the microwave 30 seconds before I ordered it. All Chad could do was blankly stare into space and internally beat himself up for reading the flight time wrong as I dug into my dried out chicken sandwich and potato appetizers. We eventually got in touch with his roommate Meredith who, after laughing uncontrollably for five minutes, offered to shuttle us round trip from and back to the airport. It was a frustrating situation but I wasn’t mad at all. I was having a great time.

We eventually departed Minneapolis at around 3:30 p.m. From there, we landed in Detroit and waited for four hours for our connecting flight to Fort Lauderdale. During this entire time, Chad was racking his brain out loud for ways we could have made our flight:

1. Check the flight time the night before

2. Pack carry-on items and find a bag that would actually work as a carry-on.

3. For the $200 he had spent to rebook and transfer our flight, he could have thrown away the suitcase and the items within and bought $200 worth of brand new clothes.

On our connecting flight from Detroit to Fort Lauderdale (which we almost missed because we didn’t hear the boarding call), Chad fell asleep and started to mumble. Without warning his head started flailing around like a bobble-head doll on a dashboard. He started screaming “No! No! No!” Rather than wake him up I was beside myself with laughter. The passengers on the plane were all laughing with me, snickering and pointing at his flailing body. I eventually regained my composure and tried to wake him. I shook, pushed, pulled, but nothing would wake him up. I did the only thing I could think of...I socked him on the shoulder as hard as I could which made him scream, let out a sigh of relief, look at me, and immediately fall back to sleep. At that point, I just gave up and listened to him snore for the rest of the flight.

We arrived in Fort Lauderdale at 11:45 PM, almost ten hours after our original arrival time. As we rattled down the highway in rental car shuttle, we could hardly wait to get to our hotel room and end this preposterous day. It was 12:30 AM by the time we reach the rental car building in downtown Fort Lauderdale. According to the travel agent we had a midsized car on reserve waiting for us whenever we arrived, free of charge. That all changed when we got to the customer service counter.

“Hi, I have a midsized car reserved under the name Capra.” Chad says.

"After so many hours, we release your reserved car to someone else. We do have 7 Minivans in our lot. Would you like a minivan?" the rental agent asked.

Chad is fuming at this point. I can actually see the steam coming out of his head. “Since we don’t really have a choice, I guess we’ll take the minivan.”

I secretly I love mini vans for some odd reason, so I was excited to ride in this stupid thing. We signed an agreement and took the keys, but not without paying $145 for the "free" car because the "all expenses paid trip" did not include the fees and taxes, nor the under 24 fee of $25 a day with the car rental. We had to pay a three day “reservation” even though we didn't get the car until Friday morning. Let’s bring back the “free trip” calculator: $220 dollars in previous expenses + another $220 in “free rental car” fees, giving us a total of $440 dollars thus far.

As we boarded the “chick magnet” mini van, I prepared to lighten the mood with a little traveling music. I unzipped my back pack and scrounged for my CDs. Unable to find them, I emptied all of the contents of my bag onto the floor of the van. Twins cap, suntan lotion, a pair of pants, but no CDs. Oh my lord...I left $300 worth of music on the airplane! We headed back to the airport wondering when something would go right on this fiasco of a vacation. Chad dropped me off at the entrance and I bolted out the door to lost and found. Much to my dismay, there were no CDs returned and the likelihood of them arriving at all was as they put it “Slim to none, and ‘Slim’ just left town.” Trip calculator: $440 previously mentioned expenses + $300 worth of music = $740 total thus far. Are we having fun yet?

While I was on the hunt for my music, Chad enjoyed a little peace and quiet for the first time that day, but it was short lived. The calm and soothing silence of the ocean waves gave away to a screeching megaphone from behind the van.

“You are in a ‘No Parking/No Stopping’ zone. Please move your vehicle immediately!” a police officer screamed from three feet away.

Chad leaned his head out the window and calmly asked the officer if he could explain the situation. There was no response from the megaphone, so Chad assumed the officer didn’t hear him. He opened his door and innocently began to climb out of the car. Before his foot hits the pavement, the officer explodes onto the megaphone again. “Stay in your car, Sir!” Chad darted back into the driver’s seat and waited. As the officer to approached the mini van, he reached into his back pocket for his ticket pad. Chad pleaded his case by rehashing the entire days’ events, but the cop just smirked as he handed him a parking violation.

After taking the ticket, Chad regrettably asked “Since you’ve already given me my ticket, can I at least stay here five more minutes until my friend comes back? Otherwise, I don’t know how we will find each other." The officer stopped mid-stride and glared at Chad. “If you don’t move your vehicle right now, you will be arrested!” That was all Chad needed to hear. He jammed his keys in the ignition, started the van, and began to pull away. I arrived in the nick of time and jumped into the car before we sped off into the night. “I just got a ticket.” Chad calmly stated as he hands me the parking violation. I don’t recall the amount of the fine, but I do know Chad still has said ticket in his possession and has gone on record stating that he will never pay it. Once again, we take out the calculator: $740 worth of previous expenses + an guesstimated $100 parking violation = $840 total thus far.

At 1:30 AM we finally checked into our hotel without incident and headed up to our room. I kicked off my shoes and flopped on the bed, eager end this day. Chad was wide awake for the first time the whole day, so he decided to take a stroll on the beach before going to bed. Even though I was exhausted, I decided to accompany him on his late night stroll which turned out to be a wise move.

As I wandered slowly behind Chad on the beach, this guy started walking toward him and asked for a cigarette. He was a shorter man with a spiked hairdo and a ponytail. His eyes were wide and glossed over and he was extremely anxious and fidgeted uncontrollably. He had on a tank top and jeans that were so baggy it looked like he was levitating over the sand.

“I don't have one. Sorry buddy.” Chad replied. At the same time, I said "What" because I didn’t hear what Chad said and I thought he was talking to me. This pissed off the stranger who then turned his attention to me. "I said ‘Do you have cigarette, dude? What the f*&# did you say ‘What’ for?” Chad tried to chime in saying I was talking to him.

"He better be talking to you." the stranger threatened. "You’re not in Kansas anymore Toto. Gotta watch your back ‘round here, you never know who got a gun." he mumbled as he continued his search for his nicotine fix.

Chad and I sat down near the ocean for ten minutes and said nothing. Finally, Chad broke the silence with what I would call one of the greatest complements I have ever received in my entire life:

“I just had the worst "non-death" day of my life. I can honestly tell you that I am glad that you were with me today. Anybody else would have been so pissed off about everything, but you just laughed all day. That was the best part of my worst day.” I just smiled at him and didn’t say a word. It was 2:00 AM by the time we went to bed hoping things will be better the rest of the weekend.

The following is an excerpt from an email Chad sent out recapping our trip which sums up the next two days better than I could:

Saturday: Josh and I went deep sea fishing. Josh caught the bait and I caught the shark :) I caught a duskie shark that was 7'1" about 270 lbs. It took me 1 and 1/2 hours to reel in. It was awesome!! I am getting it mounted and sent home because I never plan on going deep sea fishing again :) Saturday may have been the coolest thing that has happened to me. I have been thinking about it and I can't think of anything I have done that is more exciting than catching a shark :)

Sunday: Things were fine.. nothing real dramatic. Josh and I were at the airport about 1.5 hours early. ;-)

Chad received his shark a few months later. The wooden crate it came in was heavy, so Chad had asked me and our buddy Randy to come over to help lift it out and into the house. Once we got it out of the box, it was light enough for Chad to carry with one hand – it was made of fiberglass. Chad had been misinformed and assumed he would get the actual shark. Duped again.

Final trip total: $840 + However much it costs to mount a shark and ship it to Minnesota = An expensive free trip. In over 20 years of best-friendship with Chad, nothing will top this story. Others may come close, but won't ever quite capture the "wacky comedy" vibe. As I've said before, I can't make this stuff up...

Peaceful and Funny Things,

Josh

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Sleepless Thoughts

It's 11:00 and I want to go to bed. The problem is if I do I will keep my sweet wife up and that is not acceptable. She would prefer I come to bed because she worries. She doesn't care whether I keep her awake. But I know she going to worry about me regardless of what room I'm coughing in and she also needs her sleep, so I tell her to snuggle in and I will be there soon.

For the last few weeks, soon has been 3:00 AM. It's not like I want to be up, but every time I lay down, I choke on whatever is running down my throat making me hack and shake during the wee hours of the morning. I can feel it burning in my chest like someone is holding a match right below my lungs...the urge to cough. Even though I just did a therapy, it won't stop. A tickle in my throat and the constant breathlessness are so frustrating. So I sit here wasting time on the computer...checking Facebook, researching fantasy football, and incessantly checking my email even though most of the people I know are in dreamland right about now.

During nights like these I think about all sorts of things...money worries, being out and about with this H1N1 virus floating around, wishing I still had my hair, how my digestive enzymes never seem to work, hoping I don't get sick this fall (especially before the trip to Lambeau Field), how happy and envious I am of all the new dads that surround me, whether I am doing the right stuff in my life...I run the gamut. I wish my brain had a switch that I could just flip on and off. Why don't we add a permanent off switch to the whole CF thing because if I had one of those I would be asleep right now instead of writing on my blog.

Peaceful thoughts to anyone else wishing for some ZZZZZs,

Josh

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Peaceful Things ~ Josh
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