Travelogue: Leaving Las Vegas

Sasha Talcott is Opinion Editor of The Daily Californian for exactly two more weeks. Respond to her or submit your own Travelogue at [email protected]

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This column is, literally, about my many attempts to leave Las Vegas. The airport, that is. I'm sorry to say I never actually made it onto the strip. Instead, I was stranded in the terminal for 12 hours, trying to catch a flight home. It's a long and unbelievably painful story, but essentially it boils down to this - my vow never again to fly America West airlines lasted for exactly nine hours and 11 minutes, until my family received $4,000 in free plane tickets. Now, I will be flying America West for the rest of my life, and everything is hunky-dory again.

I had flown to New York with my mother, grandmother and younger brother to attend my cousin's wedding, intermingle with some seriously dysfunctional people and play tourist. Of the three, I'd say we did the first most successfully. The wedding itself went off without a hitch. With a characteristic blending of about five major world religions, the bride floated down the aisle in a flowing white dress, meeting the groom under a large, flowered chuppa. Watching their friend stand under the traditional wedding canopy, the 10 bridesmaids, who had sniffled all the way through the wedding march, began to cry. They were outright sobbing by the time the groom smashed the glass and the rabbi shouted, "Mazel tov!"

But although the wedding and the decadent black tie reception brought an auspicious end to our trip, it all went downhill from there. We were scheduled to take the red eye flight from Newark to Las Vegas, then catch a connecting flight to Oakland. None of it ever happened. Due to rainy weather that only the air traffic controllers could see, our flight out of Newark was delayed for hours. We sat in the terminal, cursing our luck - then sat more on the runway, as the pilot waited for permission to take off.

Our plane touched down in Las Vegas at 1 a.m. Pacific Time - 4 a.m. in New York. We had missed our connecting flight by, at most, 10 minutes. Our return trip already had the elements of a Greek tragedy, and it wasn't even half-way over. Half conscious, we stumbled over to the customer service desk and got in line, trying to rebook another flight out that night. We waited. And waited ... and waited. Thunderstorms in Phoenix had forced the airport to close, and air traffic control had rerouted all the planes to Las Vegas. With ammunition from thousands of disgruntled Phoenix travelers, the line wrapped around through the terminal, snaking past other weary travelers and finally ending up at the foot of an escalator. It was 5 a.m. before my family got to the front of the line, but I didn't know that. Leaving my mother to deal with our travel arrangements, I had dozed off on the hard airport floor, using my purse as a pillow.

That was how I woke up at 6 a.m., five hours after I had fallen asleep. I stretched my cramped muscles and staggered into the airport terminal. There, I found my 78-year-old grandmother playing the slot machine. Her eyes were glazed over from a strange mixture of sleep loss and adrenaline, and she seemed mesmerized by the glow of the twirling symbols and their neat, mismatched rows. Like a woman possessed, she jammed the coins in the slot and pulled the lever, never taking her eyes off the spinning dials. I lightly shook her shoulder to break the machine's spell, and we went off to find the American Airlines ticket counter.

At 5 a.m., America West's pugnacious customer service representative had booked my family onto a 10 a.m. American Airlines flight into San Jose. When we got to the ticket counter, however, the American Airlines representative had no record of our reservation. Somehow, America West had screwed up yet again. This time, however, it was far more serious - with the loss of our American Airlines seats, we officially had no ride home. We trundled back over to the America West line and, after an hour of negotiations, they were able to book us on an 11 a.m. flight to San Francisco.

That was all very well and good until the San Francisco flight turned out to be overbooked. Secure in our hastily secured middle seats, we were able to smirk at other frantic passengers, all of whom were desperate to get on the plane. That's when the stewardesses started raising the ante. They started out by offering one $600 round-trip ticket but, when no one budged from their coveted seats, they boosted the amount to $1,000. Eight round-tip tickets for the four of us. That was when we decided that a free flight to Mexico City, Vancouver or New Orleans was worth three more hours in Las Vegas.

Not that our little airport stay didn't have other benefits. We had stood in so many customer service lines that we earned more than $30 each in food vouchers. As a result, we gorged on everything from cinnamon buns to Starbucks coffee. And, hell, I've got material for this column. But, even with all that, all I can say is, if I'm ever again in Las Vegas, I'm going to make damn sure I can get home.


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