Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Eat One Lousy Foot!
Santa Fe Adventure 5

I drag my bags to the front desk, thinking about checking them and then going upstairs for my last free lunch, but decide to skip lunch today and get to the airport early. Since I’m going home on the same pocket sized plane, I *need* to get a bulkhead or emergency row seat. I pass the registration table - half filled with the Script Consultant’s books - she’s sold several... I am dragging every single CD I brought with me back to Los Angeles because it didn’t seem right to do a commercial for them during my class. I dump my luggage by the fireplace, track down Larry and ask if it’s okay for me to leave my post cards on the table for the weekend. Then go in search of Transpo Gal... again, wishing I could stay later so that I could go to the big BBQ party that night where the producers and agents and managers would be. One manager e-mailed me to say he was also going to be at the event, and maybe he’d bump into me. That seemed promising to me... too bad I wouldn’t be there.

While looking for the Transpo Gal, this guy comes up and says hello... and I think he’s a student for a moment until he introduces himself as the manager. Cool. We have a good conversation - though I am at the tail end of whatever energy I’ve been cruising on, and no matter how much coffee I have drank - I am having trouble keeping my eyes open and my brain working. So, for all I know, I babbled about nothing and he just pretended to be interested in me.

There’s this thing that happens to me if I’ve been burning the candle at both ends to do something... the minute it is done, exhaustion kicks in. Same thing if I really have to go to the bathroom, I can hold it until I unlock my apartment door - then it’s a race to the bathroom before I wet my pants. Once I can see the finish line or have passed it, my body shuts down (or my bladder opens up - depends on the situation). So my conversation with the manager *seems* to have gone well, but I was too tired to be a good judge. The best thing seemed to be that the manager guy “got me” - he didn’t hate that I already had some sort of career and didn’t discount all of those dreadful credits of mine - instead he seemed impressed that I’ve been earning a living writing scripts that actually got made for the past two decades. He wants to talk when we get back to Los Angeles...

Transpo Gal zips by and tells me that we’ll be leaving soon, she just has to find Ian - who will be going with us. I try to imagine Ian in that pocket sized plane... can’t.

I drag my bag out to the curb in front of the hotel... and that’s when a producer grabs me. The producer knows who I am, IMDBed me, and has a script that is in serious need of a rewrite. This is *not* the rewrite gig I already had before I left Los Angeles, this is a whole new gig. The producer tells me a little about the project while I’m waiting for the large boat-like Lincoln Continental to show up or Ian to walk out... and the story sounds interesting... but the most interesting thing is that this is a $50m theatrical film. Someone else who will talk to me more when I get back to Los Angeles.

Ian comes out of the hotel, the Lincoln pulls up, and we are off to the airport.


Except we are not going to the airport. Ian wants to go to the Train Station, which is not really on the way to the airport, but is on the way out of town (away from the hotel). We drive there, and I talk to Transpo Gal, and learn about her and her husband and her stepdaughter and her short films. This is part of my job as a screenwriter - to interact with others of the human species and learn interesting things about their lives which may help me create a character later. Mostly, this involves *listening*. The A-TEAM movie came out over the weekend, and I interviewed the writers for Script Magazine, and part of interviewing people is making them feel comfortable enough with you that they forget you are interviewing them and think you are just having a conversation. In that interview, many folks said things they later asked me not to include in the interview. They spoke honestly... and may have been too honest. So anything they may have said that might have insulted a studio exec or someone else involved in the film did not make print.... but I made them feel comfortable enough to tell me those things. And that is part of my job as a writer.

So while Ian sat in the back seat, I listened to Transpo Gal talk about her life in Santa Fe. When we got to the Train Station, Ian looked at it and changed his mind. He wanted to go to Town Square instead. This required us to retrace our steps, driving back through traffic to Town Square... while I was looking at the time and now wondering if I was going to make my plane. I mentioned this, and Transpo Gal told me that Santa Fe was a small airport (noticed that on the way in) with only a handful of flights every day. No crowds to deal with, so getting there an hour before the flight probably wasn’t required. “Yes, but my bulkhead seat!” I did not say outloud.

We dropped off Ian at Town Square and then headed to the airport. I asked why Ian wanted to go to the Train Station in the first place, and found out that he had changed his flight out a half dozen times and even changed his day of departure a few times. This completely fit with other things I had observed at lunch - took him a while to order and he seemed to change his mind a few times. The result was, when Transpo Gal dropped me at the airport my flight would leave in about 40 minutes. Of course, the line at Security probably wouldn’t be very long, right?


I have lived in one bedroom apartments that were larger than the Santa Fe Airport. There’s a ticket counter. There’s a coffee shop. There’s a single gate. There’s a dinky waiting area on the other side of security. I race in with my bag, notice that there are about 4 people in line at the counter and 2 people in line at the computer check in machine, and pick the computer. Fidgeting while waiting. Looking at the time. Once I get my boarding pass and check my bag, I still have to get through security... which is closing up! I get to the front of the line, punch in my name and destination... and after getting to the very end of the process it tells me it can not check my bag because it is 30 minutes before departure.

I jump to the longer line in front of the human at the counter...

The plane to LAX leaves at 2:30. The only other plane out of the airport today is Dallas at 3:45. The people in line are all going to Dallas - buying tickets. Except for the people directly in front of me - this couple wants to go to Dallas, but they have some sort of ticket voucher for a plane going somewhere else and want to use it, and there are rules which must be bent to do this and the one person behind the counter doesn’t have the authority to bend them... so she keeps trying to phone someone who can approve of all of this... while time is ticking away! I’m going to be stuck in Santa Fe overnight!

What’s more, this couple seems to not have their ID in hand and have to search through carry on bags for it, and do that as slowly as possible, and anything that they mighty have done to prepare they have not done. It is now 10 minutes until the plane flies away and leaves me in Santa Fe...

The woman behind the counter returns and says she can’t give a yes or no, her supervisor will have to do that and he’s at lunch. Will be back in 10 minutes. At this point, I fear that they will want to wait at the front of the line until the guy comes back. Instead they decide to wait in the coffee shop - probably where the supervisor is having lunch. My turn... the phone rings and the woman behind the counter answers it. 7 minutes until my plane leaves. I untie my shoes and undo my belt and unzip my computer bag so that I can *run* through security like OJ in those car rental commercials, before he began killing people and then looking for the real killers. She hangs up the phone and I explain that I need to check my bag and get my boarding pass because the computer won’t give it to me because of the cut off time.

“It shouldn’t have done that, the plane for Dallas doesn’t leave for an hour and –“
“I’m not going to Dallas, I’m going to LAX.”
“Well, that plane is about to take off.”
“Yes, I know. I need to check this bag and get my boarding pass.”
“I’m not sure you’ll have enough time to get through security and everything.”
“Let’s try - it’ll be a challenge for me.”
“Well, you’ll have to be pretty fast,” she looks at the clock behind her as another minute ticks away, “you’ve only got 5 minutes.”
“Can you please check my bag.”
“You need me to check your bag?”
“Yes. This bag. On the scale. Here is my credit card for the fee.”
“Oh, we only take cash at the counter. For a credit card you have to check in at the automated check in.”
I rip through my wallet and pull out money. “Here - exact change - now check my bag please.”
“And your name again?”

I manage to RACE through security, carrying my shoes and belt to the boarding line. Bulkhead or emergency row seat on the pocket-sized plane? Not enough time to arrange that... more pretzel time.

Aside: All of this bicycle riding I have been doing recently has caused me to lose weight. This is great. I am also feeling better... and can obviously go for several days with minimum sleep because my blood is actually circulating. But I have lost over 2 inches around my waist, and my trousers will fall off without a belt. I mean, if I take off my belt, the fat ass that used to keep them up is no longer there to do that... and they fall down. You can cue up the Pants On The Ground guy’s hit song if you wish. But before going to Santa Fe, I decided to buy 3 new pair of trousers that reflected my slimmer waist and smaller ass. So the one *good* thing about running from security to the gate without first putting on my belt is that no one in the airport got to see my underpants. They were not the “forward thrusting” underpants, so even had my trousers fallen down, it would not have been much of a show. But I am actually going to make my plane, and that pigtailed gal who unloaded luggage by hand when we arrived was racing to put my bag on the plane. It was all going to work out! I was headed home.


Except we are sent back to the tiny waiting room. It is too hot the fly the plane.

Too hot to fly the plane?

We file back into the miniature waiting room, No vending machines, not enough chairs... and the Dallas people are now starting to crowd in with us. There’s one guy who has his luggage on the seat next to him... while a dozen people are standing. And what would a story like this be without a ticking clock? There are huge glass windows facing West overlooking the plane... and as the sun begins to set the burning hot light will shoot through those windows and incinerate us like ants under a magnifying glass. Or, at least make it a lot hotter in here.

As more Dallas people cram into the tiny room our body heat doesn’t help matters. Also, the waiting room past security is designed for short term waits, and it is not airconditioned. The coffee shop and front desk are airconditioned because people (employees with a union) spend a lot of time there. Because it is all one big building, some of the front desk airconditioning makes its way over here... under all of the right circumstances. That does not describe today.

The Dallas plane lands, people exit, and it is still too hot to fly the plane.

We question this, and are given some vague answer about runway length and plane weight and altitude and heat... and none of it makes sense to me. I’ve flown into Phoenix which is much hotter than Santa Fe. Maybe it’s that altitude thing. They tell us this happens all the time - we just have to wait for it to cool off.

I try reading a book... and am just too uncomfortable. I’m squashed in here and it’s hot and I have had no sleep and no lunch and just want to go home and go to bed. Pretzeled into that pocket sized plane is beginning to sound good... at least it’s cooler than here.

As time passes - hours - the sun begins to set and it gets hotter and hotter in this little room. At one point, they offer anyone on the Dallas flight $300 and a free airplane ticket if they postpone their flight until tomorrow to bring down the weight of the plane. Hey, the Los Angeles people got here first - give me $300 and a free ticket and I’ll fly home tomorrow! But they are not offering us anything... not even food and water.

There are no bathrooms in this waiting area. If you have to go, you must find the armed TSA guard and get him to open the exit door, then enter the ticket counter area as if you were deplaning, use the restroom, then go back through security. You must take all of your carry on luggage with you, because the rules say no unattended bags - not even after those bags have gone through the ex-ray machine. A college girl sitting near me has to go, and takes her backpack and her computer bag and her purse and everything else with her... and then has to go through all of the crap at security to get back in. But what choice do we have?

The toothy gal with pigtails comes in every half hour to tell us it is still too hot to fly, and they are watching the temperature, and as soon as it cools off we will all fly out of here. Los Angeles plane first, then the Dallas plane - which is now several people lighter.

After waiting over three hours, they decide it’s close to cool enough to fly, and... Call to board the Dallas plane! Hey, we got here first!

The Los Angeles passengers jealously watch the Dallas people board the plane. The good news is that the waiting room is now much less crowded - no one’s butt is in my face - and everyone has a place to sit.

A half hour later, the Dallas people are deplaning and going into the ticket counter area. Still too hot to fly, so they have canceled the flight. Everyone gets a hotel voucher and rebooked on tomorrow’s flight out. Just think - they *could have got* $300 and a free ticket to anywhere in addition to this.

The toothy gal with pigtails tells us that their flight was canceled but the Los Angeles flight is still a go - we just have to wait for it to cool off.

I ask why, if this happens all the time, do they schedule flights in the afternoon when it is most likely to be too hot to fly? Why not fly to and from LAX in the morning or evening when it is cooler? I’m told the airport is only open in the late morning and afternoon. That makes no sense at all to me. Sure, from an employee angle you get all of your American Airlines and TSA people working a 6 hour block or whatever, which is probably cheaper than a split shift... but if it’s a regular problem that planes can not fly in the heat of the afternoon?

One of the guys served in Iraq, and says they would cool off planes with water tankers when it got too hot - why don’t they wheel up a tanker truck? And why keep the plane parked in direct sunlight?


Many of us are hungry, but the coffee shop has closed for the day. Some people decide to go out to the vending machines... but can not find the armed TSA guard - he’s on a break. When he returns, the college gal asks if she can leave her stuff in the waiting room - because it’s only this small group of us and the airport is closed and she doesn’t want to lug all of her stuff and then go back through security and... Well, it seems that rules are rules. She must take all of her stuff. That group goes out to the vending machines, one of which is broken. I know this because I can hear them pounding on it. Eventually one of the TSA people - they can go back and forth whenever they want and leave their stuff behind - goes to check and the pounding becomes much louder. The TSA guy says he almost broke the machine, but managed to get the candy bar out. From then on, any vending machine purchase is accompanied by loud pounding (off camera). Often swearing is involved. Once people get their candy bar, they must go through security all over again.

The sun is setting - and it is getting hotter and hotter in the waiting room. I’m wondering if the air conditioning shuts off at a certain time. We are sweating. I now know the home towns of everyone in the waiting room, what they do for a living, why they were in Santa Fe... and some of their secrets. Great material for characters in upcoming screenplays. One of the women is going to LAX to go to Hong Kong on business - so we talk about Hong Kong. One of the guys is a motivational speaker who has... er, HAD... a connecting flight at LAX to take him to a city where he is speaking. Though he is speaking tomorrow night, he *must* fly out today or he will arrive just in time to do his speech... and that isn’t going to work for him. Another guy is going home to London, and his problem is that he is flying Virgin Airlines from LAX - which is not a partner with American... and if he misses his London flight American can not instantly put him on a plane. There’s paperwork involved. We talk a little about London.

After waiting over 4 hours in the blazing hot sun, the toothy gal with pigtails brings us a bottle of water.

I joke that I’m going to call Dominos and let them send the pizzas and soft drinks through the ex-ray machine.

One of the guys who lives in Santa Fe, thinks this is a good idea - and calls his room mate to get him to bring him some Taco Bell food. The armed TSA guard tells him that won’t work - the airport is closed and locked at this time and they are not letting anyone inside. Plus, the unattended luggage thing - the guy would have to come through security with the Taco Bell bags, and to do that he would need an ID and a Boarding Pass... and they aren’t selling any more tickets for this delayed flight. The guy calls his roommate back and tells him to forget it. By then, the roommate has already bought the Taco Bell... and will be forced to eat it himself.

The threat of cannibalism is getting stronger. We are like those plane crash victims in the Andes who were forced to eat each other to survive... only our plane never left the gate.

So, if you are going to cannibalize people - is it best for all of us to pick one victim and eat all of them? Or to do some sort of pot luck thing where each of us donates a body part we could live without? Which of the passengers looks tender and juicy? What body part could I live without... that other people might want to dine on?

After 5 hours they bring us each another bottle of water - the last ones, we’re told. This is good because it will help me wash down passenger #17's foot, which is a little chewy. By now the sun is burning through the window, and I can feel myself getting a sunburn. If I had only brought along sunblock... but that would be a liquid that wouldn’t make it through TSA security. We are all burning up, tired and hungry and cranky and if I were not sweating like crazy I’d probably have to piss... but going through security is just too much hassle. The armed TSA guy - who is really nice - warns us that the rules say every so many passengers must go through a pat down and have their luggage torn apart, and we are getting close to that number again (someone had to go through this in the previous candy bar and bathroom run). We have empty water bottles, and there is serious talk about using them as bathrooms. I mean *serious* talk about it. The women are trying to figure out how they could do that.

After 6 hours of waiting, they bring us popsicles. One for each of us, but myself and another passenger end up with 2 that are frozen together. I hide my extra popsicle for fear that someone will kill me for it. The sun is blazing right through the window, now... magnified by the glass. We are all burning, and the popsicles are keeping us alive. My secret second popsicle melts before I can eat it. I tear a hole in the bag and drink the sweet syrupy water. Some gets on my face and dries in a red stain. I notice the London guy counting my popsickle sticks... and knowing that I got an extra... and plotting to bash my head in with his little rolling bag.

The college gal pleads with the armed TSA agent to let her leave her bags in the waiting room while she visits the bathroom. He’s nice, he understands, he knows it’s silly, but he must follow the rules. She must take all of her bags, and then go back through security. She grabs her stuff, he unlocks the door, and she goes to the bathroom...

They start up our plane.

The toothy gal with pigtails comes in and tells us it has just become cool enough to fly - well over 6 hours after we were supposed to take off. We grab our stuff, stand in line and show our IDs and boarding passes again and get on the plane before it gets hot again...

Meanwhile the college girl is going through security again... and gets the magic number. She is patted down and her luggage is torn apart. This just seems silly to me, as these bags have gone through security a half dozen times by this point and the airport is *closed* so there is no way any strange things from the outside world could have gotten into her bags. But it’s a race against time for her to make the plane, and she does just as they are about to close the cabin door. What would have happened if she had missed this plane after waiting close to 8 hours for it?

The plane door closes, I am *happy* to be squashed in the seat headed home. Two hours later I am at LAX on that shuttle that drives on active runways to get to the main gate, and after a half hour or so of waiting for my luggage, I’m on the blue shuttle van stuck on the 405 heading home... where I will sleep for a couple of days and then have some meetings on some projects including the assignment that just went to script.

Great to be back! Next time I fly into Albuquerque and rent a car or take a shuttle bus.


Hey - if you want to go to the Screenwriting Conference at Santa Fe next year, click back there for more info. It's a great event and lots of fun... as long as your plane isn't delayed due to heat.

- Bill

Dinner: El Pollo Loco - breast & wing and black beans and corn.
Bicycle: Medium - to an undisclosed coffee shop location.
Pages: 5 Pages on the new assignment.


Emily Blake said...

That was hilarious.

Have you ever glanced over your head and seen a big black cloud lingering there?

Jim Endecott said...

Adventures sometimes write themselves...


Rusty James said...


That wuz the best non-adventure ever.

Patriot said...

Bill, that was one hilarious post. It's one of those things that weren't funny at the time, but after the fact, well told, is side-splitting.
Next year make certain you insist on flying into Albuquerque. We will have someone there to pick you up in a '62 Chevy low rider - no air conditioner to make you feel at home - and bounce you up through the mountains into Santa Fe. He won't speak English so if you have to pee you'll have to point at it, gesturing wildly. Hopefully he won't misinterpret your wild-eyed desire and fall in love with you.
If that's okay, let me know and we'll arrange it.
- Larry -

Anonymous said...

man, I have a new definition for CLUSTERFUCK, unreal airport behavior... awesome adventure

aggiebrett said...

Hey, I've had nightmarish episodes in LAX, so it's not always a function of airport size.

Meanwhile, what's the closest "real" airport near Albaquirky? C-Springs? El Paso? Maybe you can hop a black flight out of Alamagordo into Area 51... maybe on a saucer (every seat is a bulkhead seat!).

Anonymous said...

I live part-time in Santa Fe and had no idea the airport could generate such misadventures (no wonder I fly out of the Sunport instead).

Anyway, a pleasure being on the mentor panel with you at SCSFe and then reading your extensive blow-by-blow of the entire conference. Let's get a beer if we both do the conference again, and I'll share my own stories on low-budget (and high-budget) producers.

wcmartell said...

Absolutely Terry!

- Bill

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