As you read this I will be somewhere over the Atlantic, winging my way to Europe where I will be joining the ROYAL PRINCESS. Probably not sleeping. I don’t know why. I envy people who get on a plane, close their eyes after the safety briefing, sleep soundly until the flight crew shakes them awake just before landing. I’ve tried pills, alcohol, meditation, neck pillows, yada yada yada . . . and nothing. I can start dozing as soon as we start pulling out on the runway, but once we are airborne I’m wide awake. So hopefully KLM will have some good movies.
Kudos to Princess for not flying me to Rome via Atlanta, Detroit, Newark, London, Rome – typical Holland America routing – but putting me on the DIRECT flight from Panama City to Amsterdam, and then on into Rome. You didn’t know KLM flew direct to Panama? Well, it does! Tocumen Airport in Panama City is becoming a major hub for the Americas as more and more people want to avoid the hassle of connecting in the US.
KLM is a funny airline in many ways. The flight crews for their flights always arrive all at once and march through the airport like 25 or 30 soldiers in lock-step formation dressed in their baby blue outfits. Corny, but people notice, so I guess it’s a kind of advertising. I used to think KLM flight attendants were kind of curt, until I spent more time in Holland and realized that it’s a language thing. If you know a language, but don’t really know the nuances and tonal variations, saying the correct thing, with a slightly off tone can come across totally different than intended. I was on KLM when I was in the travel business and going to Holland to become a “Dutch Specialist” on a travel agent familiarization trip sponsored in part by KLM. We were flying coach (it wasn’t that good of a trip, to be in business or first class) and all seated in the forward section of one of the rear cabins . . . where there is more leg room and often where folks with babies end up because they can hook little cribs into the walls of the rest rooms. So, typical fam trip, two or three guys and a ton of women. KLM is doing their best to make us happy . . . translation, lots of booze . . . and one of our gals notices that the hole where the crib locks in opens directly into the rest room and gives a head-on-view, so to speak, of gentlemen using the rest room. So our people, having already enjoyed what amounted to an open bar, are queuing up for a look, taking measure, and like Olympic judges scoring . . . when the KLM crew comes over to find out what is going on . . . and they are lining up and giving scores. And the poor people in the front cabin didn’t have a clue!
The last time, I think, that I was on KLM to Schippol (and to pronounce it like the Dutch do you have to clear your throat like you are collecting a great gob of phlegm to spit out) we had just landed and I was semi-comatose from sleep deprivation. As I was in the great line filing out from seat 312 E I heard what sounded, I thought, like a Dutch attempt at my last name. When I asked at the jetway they said that yes, they had a message for me, I was to call my wife as soon as possible. My heart dropped and I thought, “Something’s happened to one of the kids.” When I got Nikki on the phone she quickly informed me that she and the kids were fine, but . . . as she put it, “This is something you need to deal with. I can’t make the decision.”
When I was a young pastor in the South Bronx I became surrogate father to a number of kids and the one who was most “my” kid, was a kid named Efrain. I met Efrain when he came into our drug program . . . totally strung out on heroin, with tracks up and down his arms. He was 11 years old, and looked more like 8. Back then a kid that young strung out on heroin was somewhat of a novelty. He didn’t really fit in any program, so he became like my son. I remember crawling over snaking fire hoses and pushing past NYFD guys into the tenement where Efrain’s family lived to find out if they were still alive, coming under the not-so-friendly fire of NYPD (actually with Luther Van Dross’s mother, Mary Ida) to try and find Efrain when bullets were flying, and smuggling Big Macs into the hospital when Efrain almost died. Somehow he survived. For a year or so he lived with us in Milwaukee, and then went back to New York. When he was twenty-two he landed a very responsible job managing one of the old porn shops in Times Square. He sent me a picture of him at the counter, looking very proud and important. He had to manage the staff, which was more demanding than you might think. This was one of those places where you put a quarter in and the window slid up and you could watch a live girl . . . so he not only had to manage security, inventory, money, but also a staff of working girls. So Efrain made his twenties . . . and as has happened with all my Bronx kids, you lose track of each other.
Unfortunately Efrain, like a lot . . . maybe most . . . addicts, went back on drugs, unbeknownst to me. My wife was calling because somehow one of Efrain’s brothers had managed to track me across the states through the churches I had served to California. Efrain was in the hospital, dying of AIDS and he wanted to see me before he died. After all these years it is still tough to think about. I called his brother and they didn’t think Efrain would make it through the night. There was no way I could get there and all I could say was, “Tell him I love him . . . and I’ll see him someday.”
So KLM memories are definitely mixed.
When I leave on a trip I like to leave everything in order. Clean house. Clean desk. No unfinished business or projects. I work hard to have schedules, countdowns, so everything is in order. But it doesn’t work out that way! Ever. It seems I always leave a swirl of chaos in my wake which my poor wife is generally left to sort out and clean up.
What I need now is someone to feed me, clean my clothes, pick up after me, shine my shoes, give me fresh towels and put towel animals on my bed. When I got married I thought that was what a wife did . . . now I know better and know that’s what a room steward does! I’ll talk to you from the ROYAL PRINCESS!
POSTSCRIPT: A funny thing ended up happening to me on this flight. Somewhere over the middle of the Atlantic I got up to go to the bathroom. The next thing I knew I was on the floor waking up with three Dutch stewardesses hovering over me! For the first, and only time in my life I had passed out. The first thing the stewardess who had been serving me drinks asked was, “DId you by any chance take a sleeping pill before we took off?” Bingo! Bad move.