Improbable vs. Probable, and the role of Preparation

Full Disclosure: I’m out for blood. In this particular instance blood in the form of restitution. I am not writing this post solely to achieve this goal, I’ve got to write about something, and the gift of Level 9 Paranoia is unapologetic about its ability to infuse itself into nearly any inane occurrence I might experience out there in my world. So, do I want to rave on like a lunatic about how disappointed I am to have arisen this morning to find that Jet Blue didn’t make good on its promise to deliver our luggage yesterday evening? Of course I do. There’s not much of value in that one bag that my wife and I had co-packed with just enough possessions to cover our four day journey to Austin to see our family and a few friends. Also, I am far from cranky about it. I’m super appreciative that we made it to our destination in one piece. And, if I have been informed correctly, since it has been twenty-four hours since we arrived, and we still don’t have our stuff, we can and will submit our receipts (up to sixty dollars) to Jet Blue in order to cover the items we deemed essential to not losing a whole day to the incompetence of someone, somewhere-who made sure our bag took a trip from John F. Kennedy Airport to Seattle, via Long Beach, and then back.

Since the minute my wife delivered the news about our missing bag to me while I stood in a long rental car line, I’ve been wearing a pretty shiny optimism hat about the whole thing. And while I’m a little saddened that no one from Jet Blue bothered to phone us last night to tell us our worldlies still weren’t on the way, and actually hadn’t even left the airport yet, I’m living the advice I had tattooed on my arm five or six years ago and surrendering to however this plays out. And in the mean time, we’ve been having a sick-good time out at LBJ. It’s hard to be upset when you are surrounded by so much love, beauty, and are saddled atop a bright yellow crotch rocket (sans wheels) skimming across the lake while taking in the smiles of family and strangers. I’ll live without this bag, and live well-and if you’ve stayed with me this far, I’ll be grateful that this more than probable scenario and inconvenience is all that came to pass. Because, on the 3rd of July and a few of the days prior, I had an infinite amount of less-than-probable situations playing out in my head that revolved around one of my favorite things to do: travel via flying machines and deal with all that entails.

The LAST thing I’d given any significant thought to was having Jet Blue lose our bag, even as I am aware that it happens to people every day. I don’t care why it happens, it just happens, and no amount of uprising against the airlines and their inability to make absolutely sure your bag makes the same journey you do, is going to completely remove the chance of it happening from the travel-equation. Will I check luggage again? Yes. I’ll roll the dice again, confident that lightning does, indeed, strike twice-but dammit, I like my liquids and gels, and I also enjoy the illusion of roaming freedom that I experience when my hands are free of any handles, cups, bags, satchels, and the like. It’s a physiological feeling that works a psychological number on me in airports and even out in the world-for me, no matter where I am headed, having my hands free of any responsibility leaves me feeling really really swell about dealing with all the other improbabilities my conjuring mind might claim to foresee.

I’m not going to bore you with every little twist I dreamed up before getting on what hopefully won’t be our last successful flight. For one thing, my laptop’s charger is in that cursed but well-traveled piece of luggage. And, if you’ve been paying attention to me here, than you should have a pretty good idea of what kinds of things I had prepared for, and then you can laugh extra hard at me for having given zero thought to the most obvious of them all.

The TSA New Author Program

Like many fine Americans, I tend to think the rigmarole in place at our airports is an offense to the human spirit. I’m not going to belabor its effectiveness but Vanity Fair did a great eye-opening piece on it for those still in the camp of ‘TSA as necessary annoyance for our protection.’ Recently, on a trip to LA, they added the act of dipping some sort of chemical detecting stick of paper into my already opened Diet Coke that I had purchased within the airport, right as I walked down the gate ramp just a few feet from the plane itself. So, they are thorough, I’ll guess you could give them that.

Yesterday, on our way back from Mexico, our layover in Miami found us right back in that all too familiar line, shoes in hand, laptops out, jackets off, nothing in our pockets. My wife and I did what we were told, as did hundreds of others, amid the thick air of animosity and frustration that tends to hover amongst the guiding ropes that pre-lead us to all of our favorite destinations. I’ll admit, back in my drinking days I found all of this much less of a hassle, you could have stuck me with a cattle prod and I’d have thought very little of it, but with a sober brain I am able to see the whole experience for what it is: a major pain in the ass.

We made it through, with just enough time to spare to execute a little plan we’d hatched earlier in the week for My Dead Friend Sarah. We thought it would be fun to leave a couple of copies in various places – some hotels in Mexico, and one or two at different gates, with an inscription in the back that simply suggested that if the finder of the purposely-left-behind book read it and enjoyed it, that they pass it along to a friend. The cynic in me was certain nothing would come of this infinitesimal amount of guerilla marketing, but I was happy to drop off a few novels along our way to lighten our load.

Watching Ariele attempt to leave the book behind, in a most nonchalant manner, on one of the few seats available in the clustered pod of gates D-7 to D-1 was at first quite humorous. She is gorgeous, and from afar I looked on as many a lonely male traveller gazed upon her, a delectable mirage amongst the barren wasteland of broken spirits that tend to collect at our nation’s numerous gate waiting areas. It made the accidental act of leaving my to-be-discovered prose that much more difficult. But true to her skills of chicanery, after a few aborted attempts, she left the book alone on an empty seat and mere seconds later we were strutting down the ramp to the mechanical bird that would take us back to home.

I thanked her for her efforts, beaming triumphantly – allowing myself to think of all the wonderfully optimistic possibilites our ruse might invoke for just a millisecond, until the following thought snuck in through the backdoor of my brain and began savagely beating all that head-sunshine with a crowbar: Surely some goon manning one of the many airport cameras had also been drooling over my wife, and had witnessed the entire supposedly accidental book drop. No doubt he was making a mad dash, solo or with friends, possibly on Segways, to inspect the book immediately. Upon reaching the book they’d immediately see my name as author, and then through a walkie shout, “Code red, code red! I need you to check the AA travel manifest for one Peter Rosch! Pronto!”

As I crossed the threshold between ramp and plane, I readied myself for the inevitable outcome of our sinister doings. I was sure that within moments of cracking open American Way Magazine, I’d hear the pilot come on the PA and announce, “Folks, I’m sorry, we’re gonna have to head back to the gate momentarily – apparently some jack-ass on this flight thought it’d be cute to leave one copy of his precious first novel back in the terminal, in the hopes that what? Someone would give a damn? Anyway, TSA is waiting for this guy back at D-5, and we’ve most likely lost our place in the line-up out there, so I’d prepare to get comfortable with the idea of a long stay out on the tarmac. Perhaps you can rest easy once we’re out there, comfy in the knowledge that TSA will most likely put a full arm up this budding young author’s posterior. He is sitting in 16-A if you feel like taking a few swings at him while the air marshall escorts him and his cohort off the plane. Thanks Rosch, thanks a lot. We’ll be sure to tell people all about your book.”

With that very last thought, all the building panic inside me left my body instantaneously – I couldn’t hope to buy this kind of publicity for my novel. I buckled myself in, peering out the little oval window back towards the terminal – wondering if, possibly even wishing desperately, that maybe this time my level 9 paranoia might turn out to be bonafide fact. It wasn’t until we were zipping amongst the clouds at around 26,000 feet that I finally gave up on the idea altogether and moved my train of thought back to the all important task of evaluating strange noises being made by that damned flying machine.

Pre-Flight Preparations

- sketch courtesy of Ariele

I’ve written a book. It’s three or four drafts done. Thank you, thank you, stop, seriously please – your applause is appreciated. Sitting outside on my patio moments ago I decided I’d send the most current version of it to my mother and brother. I am not eager for their opinions, though my mom read a previous version and branded it mom-approved. I am flying on Sunday though, from LIR to EWR, and as such my motive behind sending this draft is clear, at least to me. I will ask that should the plane come crashing down, or explode on take-off, or disappear in The Bermuda Triangle despite our route coming no where close to it, or skip the runway and head straight into a crowded highway, where everyone survives except me due to exiting the plane only to step in front of a speeding cement truck – that mom or my bro take the time to get it polished and published for me. Of course the very same doom and gloom logic should dictate that I forward a draft every time I leave the house – I’ve seen one or two cement trucks here in Samara, and I can’t be positive, but I think one of them had a Howler Monkey behind the wheel. If I think about it long enough I am certain to cc each and everyone of you on that email – as inventing a scenario in which the great majority of my friends meet their demise that day as well, will probably consume sixty percent or so of the hours I have left before that fateful flight. The other forty percent of my time will be spent wondering if posting this was good or bad mojo for said flight.