Tuesday, April 15, 2014

No. 51 – Too Late the Hero

Performer: The John Entwistle Band
Songwriters: John Entwistle
Original Release: Too Late the Hero
Year: 1981
Definitive Version: Left for Live, 1999.

I’ve mentioned a few times that I’ve developed a fear of flying, or, rather, crashing. You know what the perfect antidote is for a fear of flying? Depression. When you’re depressed, you don’t care whether you live or die, so you aren’t afraid of crashing.

When I flew home from the SABR convention in Boston in 2002, it was like riding a bus: I wasn’t afraid at all. I think that was, until further notice, the last time I had no fear when I flew. Allow me to explain the circumstances.

I saw no need to rent a car in Boston, but I wanted to get out of the Park Plaza Hotel and wander around a bit for dinner. About a block away was an Italian place that was supposed to be good, so Friday night, I hiked over.

I can’t remember the name of the place now, but it was packed. I had a 90-minute wait, the hostess informed me, unless I wanted to sit at the bar. I saw a chair open there, and it looked kind of informal and cool. Besides, it’s a bit awkward to ask for a table for one, although I’d done it a few times since my breakup with Debbie. I took the bar seat.

One of the bartenders set me up and began to chat me up. Her name was Francesca, and she was pretty attractive, but I didn’t read much into it. That’s what waitstaff do—particularly when they learn that their customer is from out of town—they chat them up. Welcoming service equals a better tip.

But we kept talking and talking. The food was great, the wine—for a restaurant—was good, but the company was better. I figured it was just a game, but nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? So at the end of the evening, I asked Francesca if she wanted to meet up for a drink somewhere else when her shift ended. She smiled and said she couldn’t that night, but how about tomorrow? How about OK!

A one-night stand as a weary traveler—assuming I could pull it off—was precisely what the doctor ordered. During the ballgame the next night, even though I concentrated on the proceedings for the article I planned for SABR, everything I did was in front of the backdrop that I would meet up with Francesca later.

That night, Francesca said, I should come late, like after midnight. She had to work closing but thought she could get off work earlier. Even though it was after 11 by the time the game ended and I hiked back to the hotel from the Fens, I still had to kill a little time, so I didn’t look too eager.

Finally, it was after midnight, and I made a beeline to the restaurant. I sat at the bar, and Francesca again greeted me warmly, but it didn’t take long to realize that things were different. This time, she seemed a lot busier and had less time to chat, even though the restaurant was less crowded than the night before.

Well, I didn’t have anything better to do, like, say, sleep. So I sat and drank wine and waited and waited and waited …

Well, you know where this is going, right? Exactly, nowhere. It was after 1 when Francesca came over and apologized, but she couldn’t get off work early and wouldn’t be leaving until at least 3. I didn’t doubt that that wasn’t the case. Why would she say that she wanted to go out with me unless she really did? Did she think I wouldn’t come back? I felt like a sap anyway.

I was scheduled to fly out late Sunday, because the minor-league committee was supposed to meet that morning. When the meeting was moved up to Friday, I had nothing to do and a lot of time to do it in between checkout and flight time.

I stored my luggage and wandered around to find a lunch place then wandered over to a nearby field where an exhibition of 1880s style baseball took place. I had a pretty good funk going when I finally walked to the T to fly home.

The flight to Boston was the first time I’d flown since 9/11. Of course, now I was flying out of one of the airports that the hijackers used, so the security was amped up to 11. There was no food and no bathrooms after checking through security, so I hung out in the entry concourse until about a half-hour before boarding. I figured I could make it from then to when the plane was at cruising altitude before I had to use the bathroom again.

As I went through screening, I got pulled out of line for a random inspection. Can’t be too careful, can we? Whatever. They went through my briefcase, took everything apart, I had to turn on my computer to prove that it wasn’t disguised as a bomb—the whole ten yards. My plane was starting to board, and the line was starting to shrink as I put my briefcase back together.

I got in line, but as I handed the person at the gate my ticket, she asked me to step aside. Umm, did you not just see someone just go through my stuff 10 FEET AWAY? Apparently not. This time, they took me behind a screen, had me take off my shoes and gave me the wand—while going through my bag again. I’d forgotten that the 9/11 hijackers consisted of mostly white guys with blonde hair and blue eyes, so I must have fit some profile.

As you might well imagine, I was steaming at this point and ready to get the Hell out of Boston. The airline employee apologized and told me to have a nice day. I told her to perform a physically impossible act. OK, I didn’t really, but I definitely thought it, and I said nothing in return.

The plane was small, with rows of two seats on one side of the aisle and one on the other. I had a single, which meant I had a window and an aisle seat all in one, which fit my mood. When I got to my seat, someone was idly chatting with his friend across the aisle—while sitting in my seat. I was in no mood and told him more or less, with little pretense, to move it.

When I buckled myself in, I literally didn’t care whether the plane crashed. I channeled my anger into my essay for SABR, and considering it was published, I suppose it all worked out in the end.

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