Recently, I had the pleasure and privilege to take a 2-day business trip to Houston. The following account describes why I will never go to Houston again in life.
The Flight Out
I flew on Continental. This was the first time I flew on Continental. At the time of my trip, Continental was the only major U. S. airline I had never flow on. Flights from San Francisco to Houston are surprisingly long (4 hours). Plus, you lose 2 hours on the way out. So, I had booked a flight leaving at 2:00 and ariving at 8:00. Except, of course, that the flight didn't leave at 2:00. The flight left at 4:30.
More on the details of the flight in a second. First, let me note my current working theory about how airlines determine arrival and departure times. As you and I and every sentinent being knows, there are literally hundreds of variables that can affect whether a flight makes it from point A to point B in a given amount of time. Winds, weather, equipment problems, slow ground crew, drunk pilots---all of these things can make flights late. For this reason, you can imagine that the process of determining flight arrival and departure times can be a very complicated process. I have now determined that the airlines have come up with a very scientific method for calculating arrival and departure times to publish to us, the flying public. The airline analyzes all of the variables, determines the effect the variables might have on the timeliness of the flight, and then ask this question: "If absolutely everything worked out exactly right, when would this flight arrive and depart?" And once they figure out the answer to that question, they publish those times.
Now, back to the flight. Thankfully, I had an aisle seat and there was no passenger in the middle seat. I remember the good old days, where people who were 6'4" could reliably count on getting exit row seats, provided we showed up an hour before the flight left and politely asked. Now, of course, airlines have decided that the better thing to do is to sell these seats for $15 each, more or less. Tall? Athletic? Too fucking bad. Anyone who believes the airline industry gives a leper shit about customer service has not flown in the last 6 years.
Sitting on the window in my row was an Asian man somewhere between 40 and 55 years old. For the first half of the flight, he was an ideal flying partner: didn't try to talk to me, didn't go to the bathroom, just sat there. Then, about 2 hours into the flight, I was listening to some Todd Barry (great comedian), and I suddenly smelled something......odd. Sour. Pungent. I couldn't quite place it. Then, like a punch with the meaty fist of the bridge troll, I was assaulted by aromas of fried sweaty ball sack, pig intestines baking in the sun, and sheep piss mixed with cat shit. My eyes watered. I threw up a little in my mouth. And I immediately looked around to determine if someone had thrown feces at me. And I noticed my Asian travelling companion staring, quite hard, out the window. Now, it was 7:00 at night in the timezone we were currently over, it was pitch-black outside, and we were flying over 100% cloud cover. If you want to replicate the view my companion was studying so hard, wait until nightfall, lock yourself in a windowless closet, put on a blindfold, and close your eyes. This is what was captivating the Asian gentlemen, who had apparently just instigated a biological attack on the 3 surrounding rows.
Now, I'll be the first to say that I, too, have farted in the past. And, on occasion, the result has been quite unpleasant. And, on a very few instances, I have test-ballooned a fart while in public, and discovered that it was not ready for prime time. I think we have all done this. And when a mushroom cloud emerges from your ass, you know not to continue down this path of destruction. And so, I presumed that I had smelled my last from my travelling companion. Perhaps he would excuse himself and pollute the bathroom. Perhaps he would suffer. But, certainly, obviously, he wouldn't fart again. Right?
Wrong, asshole. For the 2 remaining hours of the flight, the Asian gentleman proceeded to crack the top of another fresh bottle of eau de dumpster scum and hobo toejam just about every 10 minutes. After the first half-hour of this, I found myself in a real quandry. Most people who have met me know that I don't care much about what total strangers think about me. Fuck 'em. But everyone has their limits, and there was no way I was going to have the people in the adjoining aisles thinking that I was the source of this horror. So, how do you communicate to those nearby "Look, I smell that as well, and I want you to know that it absolutely isn't me"? After several solid minutes of pondering, I came up with this solution. Every time I detected a fresh assault, I swore. Out loud. Not screaming, mind you, but in a normal volume. "God damn!" "Jesus!" "Son of a bitch!" Etc. And I shook my head, as if to say "What nasty bastard would keep farting in the middle of an airplane?" The entire time, the Asian gentleman kept staring out the airplane window as though he was conducting a cartographic study. Or painting a picture, entitled "black cat sleeping on coal pile at midnight."
Finally, the flight landed, I collected my bags, caught a cab, and headed out into the vast nothingness/somethingness that is Houston. The nearest hotel to my meeting place was a Marriott Residence Inn, so that's where I was staying. I got to the hotel at 10:30. I was pleased to discover that there was a BBQ restaurant in the parking lot of the hotel. This was a nice surprise for 3 reasons: (1) there are few BBQ places in SF; (2) Houston, like LA and all of Texas, is city-planned in order to ensure that nothing is within walking distance of anything else, and I had no car; (3) I was hungry. The desk clerk informed me that the restaurant closed at 10:00. I actually responded like people do in badly-written TV shows: "What? I think I misheard you. When does it close?" I then managed to leave the front desk without saying "You've got to be fucking kidding me." Which, I think, demonstrates a lot of self-restraint.
Now, it may be that living in SF has spoiled me. But I want to go on record that the only people who would believe that 10:00 is a good time to close a restaurant are semi-retarded half-apes who have spent too much time huffing gold spray paint behind the Golden Corral. Or Bush voters. (Sorry, couldn't resist.) Thus defeated, I retired to my room. And made another discovery: because this is a Residence Inn, there is no room service. But there was a fireplace. In a hotel. In Houston.
My Cab Ride
The next day, having successfully completed day 1 of my meeting, I called a cab (Yellow Cab Cooperative of Houston) to pick me up and transport me the 2 miles back to my hotel. I then waited for 55 minutes for the cab to arrive. For a 10 minute trip. The people at the cab dispatch office believed this was not an issue. They had a hard time believing that I was displeased. Obviously, I was some kind of perfectionist asshole. Welcome to Texas! :)
The cab driver proceeded to seranade me during my cab trip back. Well, not really. But he did sing along to the radio the whole way back. Well, not exactly. It was more like yodelling. But not as good. Think about the way Canadians say "eh?" Take that sound. "Eh." Now, imagine just keeping up that sound, "eeeeeeeeeehhhhhhhhhh" while a song is playing on the radio, and varying the pitch to sorta-kinda-not really even closely match the pitch on the radio. For 10 minutes. 3 songs. I was actually starting to envy deaf people.
My Flight Back to the First World
I say this about Houston: the air is blue. No, not that blue. It's blue in exactly the way that diesel exhaust is blue. Exactly the way that diesel exhaust is blue. Mmmmmmmmm. Carcenigenorific!
By some absolute miracle, Continental managed to take off and land nearish to the times they said they would. But, my adventure was not quite over. I had changed my flight home. And, for some reason, the Continental website would not recognize my reservation, so I couldn't chose my own seat. By the time I arrived at the airport to sort it out, the only seat I could get was a window seat. My condition improved, because once again, there was no one in the middle. On the aisle, there was an Asian woman, between 30 and 40. I should have recognized that this was a bad omen. But I was exhausted, and not paying attention.
With about 45 mintues left in the flight, I smelled something.....odd. Sharp. Tangy. The Asian woman had thrown up. Now, thankfully, she had done so in the little bag the airline provided. No problem. Or so I thought. I soon discovered that, apparently, the insides of those bags are lined with a thin, perfumed film that dissolves when wet. To mask the smell of vomit, I guess. The problem is that the aroma they chose was bubblegum. The result was that it now smelled like someone had puked bubblegum. Bad call. I carefully breathed through my mouth for the next half-hour and hoped for no encore. I got lucky, got out of the plane, into a cab (no wait) and home.
I propose a truce. I will not mess with Houston, and I ask that Houston not mess with me. I will not visit Houston, and I ask those who live in Houston not to come to SF. We're just from separate worlds. It's better this way.