Angela’s mother had come down to Florida to help during the first couple of weeks after we brought our new daughter Karen home from the hospital, and I was glad she did. I loved her mother very much. Angela, of course, was thrilled. I had a business trip planned, and I left several days later. Now, Angela and her mother could enjoy their time together taking care of the new baby.
Now, this is one of those incidents, which is fuzzy in my memory. I hope it’s fuzzy in Angela’s memory too. At the end of my trip, I was at the airport waiting for my flight by sitting in the bar getting pleasantly drunk. When my flight was called, I boarded the plane and ordered a drink from the flight attendant. I ordered several more as we flew to our layover in Houston.
During the stop, I got off the plane, went to a bar in the airport, and had several more drinks. Knowing that my flight to Tampa would soon depart, I stumbled back to the gate and wandered on the plane. I thought it strange no one stopped me or asked for anything, but this was many years before there was any airport security. No big deal, I thought. I found a familiar-looking seat, sat down, and after a few minutes, slipped into an alcohol-drenched sleep. Later, I didn’t know how long, I felt someone shaking me. I came out of my mini-coma and said, “What the hell is going on?”
The flight attendant who was grasping my shoulder said, “Sir, I’ve been trying to wake you for ten minutes. You must put your seat belt on. We are about to land.”
“All right,” I said, “you don’t have to dislocate my shoulder.”
The flight attendant walked away in a huff, and I buckled up. I looked out of the plane window and tried to adjust my foggy vision, and I started searching for the lighted bridges spanning Tampa Bay. From an airplane, the nighttime view of Tampa was always lovely. As I searched the ground several thousand feet below, I didn’t recognize anything. Then, as the plane banked hard to the left, to my surprise, I saw a vast expanse of tall buildings. “Shit,” I wondered, “did they build all this stuff while I was gone?”
Moments later a flight attendant came on the intercom and said, “We are now making our final approach to JFK in New York City. Please ensure your seat belts are fastened and your tray tables are in their upright and locked positions.”
“Holy shit,” I yelled. I frantically waved at the flight attendant who was sitting in a jump seat a few rows ahead of me.
She looked annoyed, but she got up and came to me. She stood there with her hands on her hips and a frown on her face. “What is the matter, sir?”
“Lady, we’re going to the wrong city.”
“No sir,” she said, “this plane is going to New York, as scheduled. Please let me see your boarding pass.”
I dug in all my pockets, found my boarding pass, and gave it to her. She scanned it quickly.
“Sir, you got on the wrong plane. How did you do that?”
“Easy. I walked on the plane and sat down in this seat.”
“Did no one ask for your boarding pass?”
“Nope. The only person on the plane was a guy with a vacuum cleaner, and all he asked for was for me to lift my feet.”
“Sir, I’m afraid we both have made a mistake. After we land I’ll take you to the ticket desk and we’ll get you to Tampa.”
Sure enough, after we landed, the flight attendant escorted me to a large check-in desk and explained my situation to the ticket agent. The agent checked the computer and said, “You’re lucky. I found a flight on another airline to Tampa this evening. It will depart in two hours. Because of our mistake, I’ll arrange for your ticket at no charge.”
The agent handed me the ticket and directed me to the appropriate gate. Now, I had to call Angela to tell her I wouldn’t be in Tampa until later. I was dreading the call. I reached Angela at home, not long before she was to leave to pick me up.
I heard the phone connect, and I said, “Hey, it’s me.”
Angela said, “What is it? Where are you?”
“I had a little trouble in Houston.”
“Are you in jail?” she hissed. She assumed I was in jail, because she had already bailed me out of the St. Petersburg jail when I was charged with public drunkenness—again. A couple of years earlier, Angela and my parents had to bail me out of the Hernando, Mississippi jail too—drunkenness again. “Shit, three jails in three states,” I thought. Of the three, the St. Pete jail had the loveliest accommodations.
“No, of course not,” I said, “I’m in New York.”
“What are in the shit are you doing in New York?”
“I’m singing at the Metropolitan Opera.”
Angela growled, “What happened? What do I do now?”
“I got on the wrong plane in Houston. You stay home. I’ll get a cab when I get to Tampa. It will be later tonight.”
Angela didn’t respond and, instead, slammed the receiver down. When I got up the next morning, Angela and her mother were happily taking care of Karen, but it was tense around the house. When I had to have any conversations with them, they treated me like I was Benito Mussolini—after he had been shot and hanged upside down.