Monday, August 22, 2011

Vacation Becky: The Return of the Honey Badger

Vacation Becky is a hell of a lot more fun than Real Life Becky. Ask anyone. Real Life Becky is a bundle of nerves and self-consciousness, confined by typically artificial bonds of to-do lists, worries, overzealous exercising, dietary constraints and fears of aging. Vacation Becky is the absolute antithesis of all that. She is a honey badger (see NFSW video clip above) who does what she wants, worries about no consequence and is the type of bon vivant that typically adds to the entertainment of any group gathering.

I was reminded of how much I enjoy my vacation self, so unlike the real me, this past weekend on a friendly group camping trip to scenic Shelbyville, Illinois – population 5,000. What can a group of citified gal pals and gay men get up to in the still, unmolested country? Quite a lot as it turns out. And as the normally-reticent-come-yes-girl ringleader, I left a certain CoCo Chanel/Anna Nicole Smith imprint of white trash glamour that South Central Illinois will not soon forget.

It all began with breadsticks drowning in a lake of butter and covered in rock salt, not unlike the kind you might find on a Midwestern highway in the depths of January. This was the conclusion of a late Friday afternoon dinner with my traveling companion Laura. As she marveled at the delicious grotesqueness of my wish for more carbs to soak up the excess butter pond, she remarked that this sort of culinary abandon seemed outside of character. This is the moment when I acquainted her with Vacation Becky, and warned her that there was a lot more to follow.

We arrived late Friday evening at our cabin in the woods (for neither Vacation nor Real Life Becky do roughing it very well), to a raucous chorus of already inebriated whoops from the homosexual peanut gallery. We came ready to party with a trunk full of booze and chips (Ah Chili Cheese Fritos! How I love thee!). Picture bonfires, cocktails and inappropriate loud laughing well past the campground’s “quiet hour.”

Over the course of the weekend, Vacation Becky, as also known as CoCo/Anna, put boring Monday-Friday Becky in a headlock and engaged in the following:

  1. Wildly shameful flirting with brawny local teen boys.

  2. The purchase of a thrift store string bikini (Original tags on of course. Even Vacation Becky is a borderline germaphobe).

  3. The eating of newly procured pork rinds right there at the counter of Shelbyville’s local Family Dollar store.

  4. Jumping off a pontoon into lake water for the express purposes of peeing.

  5. Drinking a bottle and a half of wine on aforementioned pontoon, then passing out for a solid 30 minutes before reviving to finish the rest.

  6. Eating thinly vetted fried shrimp and coconut cake at a Sunday breakfast buffet.

  7. Looking eminently confident and sexy while engaging in all of the above.

Just who is this wild, adventurous minx who cares nothing for public opinion and how do I incorporate her into my weekday life? Or perhaps it’s better than she is only released from her cage for long weekends and holidays? Maybe Vacation Becky is most safely enjoyed in small doses.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Sucking Air

American Airlines is the nation’s largest carrier, having gobbled up competitors such as TWA in the Aughts, and despite flirting unsuccessfully with the acquisition of US Airways in late 2009. According to Wikipedia, American “is the world's third-largest airline in passenger miles transported, passenger fleet size, and operating revenue.”

As a child growing up in the 1980s, I could sing the airline’s commercial jingle in my sleep, “We’re American Airlines, something special in the air!” A ticket to board an American Airlines flight must have been something magical! When I was a grown-up, I would find out by God!

The company now uses the tagline, “We know why you fly.” However, if my experience of this past weekend is any indication, the carrier must think the purpose of my travels is to experience a frustrating lack of communication and a desire to sleep on the floor of Boston Logan Airport on the eve of my 33rd birthday.

In other words, to put it academically, American Airlines sucks.

Sunday morning I awoke in my high school chum Euridice’s apartment in Medford, Massachusetts to the soothing sounds of light rain. Though the showers intensified somewhat as we enjoyed a leisurely brunch downtown, followed by some mall walking (insert old fart joke here), I was only minimally concerned about flight delay. There was no accompanying lightening or thunder and though, like Pavlov’s dog, I have been trained to have my time wasted by airport security and airline personnel at the slightest provocation, I expected I would be on my way back home at some hour close to the 6:50 PM scheduled departure.

I arrived at Logan’s Terminal B in plenty of time to check my bag and wade through security procedures, only to discover as I started the self-check-in process that my flight had been cancelled. Five hours earlier. And in a surprise twist, the cancellation was due to equipment failure, rather than Mother Nature.

Let’s get over the fact that I am an American AAdvantage member and the bureaucratic apparatus of the carrier sent me neither email nor phone call nor text to make me aware of this schedule change. Let’s try and sidestep the disheartening news that American had no other flights from Boston to Chicago that evening and that they swore the best they could do was put me on a 2 PM plane the following day.

What really irked me was the mass confusion, poor customer service and utter lack of willingness to issue refunds or assist with accommodations for the night. At 6 PM I was staring down the barrel of having to ring in a birthday, which I already bore a humbug attitude toward, drunk (because really, what else could I do?) and alone on the cold, industrial floor of an East Coast air travel hub. Can you imagine anything more pathetic? No, then how about the scene of weeping mothers and fathers, forced to call their scattered homes to inform children, spouses and parents that they were unable to return, in some cases, before two days following? I haven’t witnessed so much misery first person since my sister Jen finally realized at the age of 10 that there was no Easter Bunny.

As a former corporate travel agent, I was aware that there is but one carrier that does not share its booking system with any of the other major airlines. That is of course Southwest, the only operation that has yet to institute charges for checked bags, the sole provider of air travel who issues comfy leather seats to all passengers without some other bullshit upcharge, and the only company who appears to conduct customer service training for its call center and onsite personnel. It is not by accident that the carrier is one of few that regularly turns a profit. In May 2011, Southwest Airlines was ranked as one of the top ten companies in MSN Money's 2011 Customer Service Hall of Fame, and its flight completion record is currently 98.8 percent as of first quarter 2011.

Why do I highlight all of these distinctions? Because unlike at the American counter, where I and my fellow strandees were treated like gum on the bottom of a shoe and provided zero resources in our time of hardship, after running three terminals over to the Southwest vestibule, I encountered something like human compassion. I had the forethought to book another flight by phone (where I was pointedly wished a “happy birthday” by the friendly rep who assisted me), but was advised to go to the counter afterward to try and get standby on a yet earlier flight. The customer service representative was unable to grab me a seat herself as it was too close to flight time.

Did I mention that this last minute one-way ticket cost me a mere $330? That’s not chump change to a struggling writer, but more than worth it in the long run to get home to my cat Jordan, my work and my life before an additional 24-hours elapsed. Compare this to a figure of $618 for a comparable ticket on American.

Southwest’s flights were delayed that evening, but they did take off. Icing on the cake: the fees for alcoholic beverages were waived once my plane finally taxied off the runway. The flight crew knew we had all suffered enough, were feeling quite cranky and a little liquid calm was bound to make everyone’s experience just a bit less stressful.

At the risk of sounding like Andy Rooney, I am forced to bemoan the perceptible and lengthy decline of airline service. It’s not just the endless delays, lack of food and nickel and dime surcharges for EVERYTHING. It’s not the increasing invasiveness and dehumanizing effects of airport security, for which the carriers issue yet another fee. It’s that we pay so much, and are hassled so incessantly, for the privilege of being treated like shit and shoehorned into a seat we would deem capital punishment in any other environment.

If I must fly, and at this point, I would prefer Amtrak, or even dare I say it, Greyhound, it won’t be as an American Airlines passenger. Think I am alone in my aversion to the carrier? Check out these links:


2. My personal favorite:



Southwest, thank you for making a pretty terrible night just a tiny bit easier to swallow – with a red wine chaser.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Another Year

I am weary, bone weary and sad from thinking and writing about politics. I need a break so it’s time to move onto my second favorite subject, which is of course….me.

I am having a birthday in less than six days.

No, save your good wishes. I do not feel like celebrating this year. This sounds implausible to the ears of anyone who knows me. After all, this is the same woman who wore a tiara all day every day, between the ages of 22 and 28: to the office, on public transportation. The venue and its appropriateness hardly mattered because the goal was to get attention, and this shameless pandering certainly did. I initiated a “birthday countdown” that began no less than a full month before the big day. If asked, I could produce a gift registry with lightning speed.

Adorable? An egomaniac? You be the judge. In my defense, I was never one for family holidays given that my immediate clan had a dependable way of serving dread, misery and tears with each Thanksgiving turkey, Christmas ham or Independence Day barbecue. Up until this summer, had I been queried about my favorite holiday, I would have answered “Halloween and my birthday” with utmost conviction. Halloween remains at the top of my list for its promise of allowing you to inhabit the look and persona of another without being arrested for identity theft. And my birthday was a source of pleasure because it was a day devoted to celebrating my entrance into this crazy world, no matter how imperfect my mark upon it.

Key word there: “was.” Let’s leave aside my almost pathological fear of aging and the encroaching sense that my best years and my fullest potential are already behind me. That’s still there of course, but the aversion to mon anniversaire in 2011 stems from taking stock of where I am: personally, professionally and as a human being, and not liking much of what I see.

I am estranged from a man that I still love very much. I don’t know that I’ll ever be over him and yet this changes nothing about our circumstances. I am thriving in my day job at a small publishing firm, but my freelance career is wobbly. Even worse, I seem to have no will or energy seek out new platforms. I am confronting a level of inertia and apathy that is completely unfamiliar.

Most bothersome of all, I am troubled by recent evidence that my moral compass needs new batteries. My separation and illness earlier this year seems to have left a bitter sense of entitlement in its wake. I have done and said things in recent months that would have caused blushing a mere nine months ago.

I need a plan. Hedonistic, self-involved indulgence is an ill-fitting costume I no longer care to wear.

So my birthday gift to myself this year is a healthy dose of measured silence and reflection.