Tuesday, February 28, 12:01 a.m.: Can't sleep. What's the point? After all, I'm supposed to be at Denver International Airport by 5:30 a.m. to catch its first charter flight--and since I live west of Littleton and it's been snowing for hours, I probably should have started for DIA around noon Monday. Besides, the event itself--a day trip to New Orleans's Fat Tuesday celebration in the company of representatives from (and listeners of) KRFX-FM/The Fox--could well turn out to be fodder for nightmares. For my own safety, I stay awake.
4:10 a.m.: DIA, here I come. The road conditions are poor, but not as horrendous as I'd feared. Maybe this won't take that long after all.
4:36 a.m.: Wrong. Terribly wrong.
4:58 a.m.: I finally reach Pena Boulevard. I have to be getting close, right?
5:10 a.m.: Wrong. Terribly wrong. By now, I'm so tired and hungry that I almost decide to take the turnoff to Kansas City to pick up some ribs.
5:25 a.m.: In the terminal at last. Remembering stories about cracks in the marble flooring--reports that struck me as overblown--I decide to check for damage.
5:25:01 a.m.: Big chunk missing from the first tile I see. And from the tile after that. And from one ten feet away. I decide to stop looking for damaged tile.
5:37 a.m.: Three mini-sets from local TV stations--4, 7 and 9--abut each other on a pedestrian bridge, and cameras are pointed everywhere, at everything. Too bad there are virtually no actual passengers to videotape. The reporters are left to quiz each other ("So, Bob, what's it like to cover a story like this?" "Well, Dan..."). Meanwhile, columnist Gene Amole sits alone on a bench, looking grumpy as he waits to be asked about the evils of DIA for the 3 millionth time.
6:06 a.m.: Jack Evans, the Fox's operations manager, hands me my ticket and tells me to be at the gate by 6:30 a.m. in preparation for a prompt 7 a.m. departure. I kill the time by dodging reporters trying to interview me.
7:01 a.m.: I read in the DIA Visitor's Guide about the airport's technological wonders and how they'll help prevent delays. Meanwhile, we're not even on the damn plane yet. Fortunately for them, the Fox fans--the majority of the 160 folks booked for this journey--are too hyped up to notice. They jaw about partying heartily and gush over jocks Michael Floorwax and Rick Lewis (Broncos receiver Mike Pritchard and Rockies catcher Jim Tatum also are on the guest list). The DJs don't seem thrilled by this early-morning attention. Think Cher at a Sonny Bono press conference and you've got the idea.
7:43 a.m.: We're finally in the plane, but we're going nowhere fast (an unnecessary delay at DIA--can you believe it?). You see, the jet is literally unable to move away from the gate. A de-icing truck pours fluid on the tarmac, and the pilot spends fifteen minutes rocking the craft as if it were a Chevy stuck in a ditch before he's able to direct it to a de-icing pad. Then a second de-icing crew approaches the plane and does nothing. Two men behind me pass the time by discussing their plans for the day.
"Did you bring any drugs with you?"
"Are you going to take them?"
"What do you think?"
8:55 a.m.: At last we're off the ground. The passengers stop complaining and begin focusing on other priorities. "Beer me!" one man yells. "Beer me! Beer me! Beer me!"
9:15 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.: The stewardesses, wary of rebellion, begin handing out complimentary Budweisers as quickly as they can. When the beer supply is exhausted, they compensate with freebie Bloody Marys, screwdrivers and other mixed drinks. When we hit some turbulence, the fellow next to me, fresh from pounding three brewskis and a couple of rum and Cokes, widens his eyes, emits a putrid belch and leans his head against the seat in front of him. To his left, the line to the plane's single restroom stretches to half the length of the plane. "Hurry up in there!" bellows one desperate inebriate, doing a little pre-Mardi Gras dance in the aisle. "What, you got a magazine in there?"
11:34 a.m.: Amid much whooping and hollering, a flight attendant makes a hesitant announcement: "If any of you in the bathroom line can wait to go until we get to New Orleans, we'd really appreciate it. The toilet is kind of, um, overflowing right now."
12:34 p.m.: After landing in New Orleans around noon (much later than anticipated), the travelers board several buses bound for a hotel that is within walking distance from the French Quarter. But because of street closures precipitated by parades scheduled for that afternoon, the lead driver becomes lost. As he tries to regain his bearings, a young, extremely soused woman sits beside me and becomes inordinately friendly with great speed. I'm trying to figure out a way to gracefully extricate myself from this situation when Floorwax plops down near me. The woman immediately forgets about me and drapes herself on the excursion's star. Two minutes later, he's had enough. "You're wearing me out. Excuse me," he says as he sprints to another part of the bus. Everyone aboard expects the woman to respond by heaving all over herself, but she passes out instead.
1 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.: Five observations about Fat Tuesday, 1995:
1. The parades represented the best tourist bargain anywhere--because instead of selling you useless souvenir trinkets, the participants throw them at you. I came home with thirty strings of beads, six commemorative cups and ten commemorative coins--and I could have grabbed many times those totals if I'd been dumb enough to check a bag at DIA.
2. Best costume: A man dressed as an incredibly realistic, six-foot-tall penis. He stood proud and tall as he posed for pictures with drunken women, who had a great time simulating various hand- and mouth-oriented sexual techniques on his person. By the end of the day, the penis seemed noticeably less erect.
3. Best musical act: Seven dancers dressed as ducks, cavorting alongside a duck-outfitted instrumentalist playing "Amazing Grace" on the bagpipes.
4. Vomit, feces, urine, sperm and several unidentifiable effluents were everywhere you stepped. Attention, Centers for Disease Control: The bottom of my shoes could probably set off an epidemic.
5. At one point, a young man lost consciousness in a puddle of his own spew. Four young men quickly raced over toward him--and had a fifth pal take a photo of them posing with the guy. Who says compassion is dead?
8:47 p.m.: We're back on the bus, preparing to head back to the airport. To my surprise, the woman who'd failed to bag Floorwax is ambulatory, but she looks as if she's lived several years since the plane landed in Louisiana. A second young woman seems dead to the world as she lies across two seats, but when someone prods her, she twitches once or twice before collapsing again. It's alive!
11:41 p.m.: The flight back to Denver is largely uneventful, in part because most of the travelers aboard have joined Jim Beam on a guided tour of Slumberland. Then we near DIA. The plane descends through the blackness, pitching and rolling to get into landing position--but just as the landing strip becomes clearly visible, the jet veers into a surprisingly violent left turn. A few seconds later a stewardess takes the microphone and stammers, "You may have noticed that we haven't landed at DIA yet. There was another [airplane] on the runway."
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Had the air-traffic controllers noticed this little problem? Doubtful--but after the Fox plane circles for another ten minutes, someone is able to get the obstruction out of the way. As a result, I narrowly manage to avoid becoming a footnote in Michael Floorwax's obituary.
Wednesday, March 1, 12:01 a.m.: As we disembark, we pass by the flight attendants, who seem frankly unnerved at the prospect of this planeload of severely damaged Fox fun-seekers hitting the ice-slicked roads of the Colorado plains. "DIA has some really good coffee shops," one advises. A second staffer is more blunt: "Drive carefully," she says. "Don't go to jail."
Jail probably would have been safer.