Maslow’s hierarchy

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Micky says, “Ha ha! You’re fucked.”

Let’s get one thing clear: I am not a Dis-nerd. Okay? I do not collect pins, I don’t take pictures with characters, I do not even understand how fast passes work in a world of smartphones. But I am a Disney operations fanatic. My favorite character is the custodial staff. Last week was my 4th Disney Running weekend (2 in LA and now 2 in Florida). If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my modest Disney Running experience, it’s that the price of admission is that you will have to compromise on your basic survival needs: food, water, shelter, rest, bathrooms… When I signed up for Disney’s Dopey Challenge I thought I knew what I was getting myself into. I was in way over my head. The running was fine. The rest though…

I arrived in Orlando on a redeye following 2 nights of crummy sleep. To say I was exhausted would be an understatement. I was in that wandering catatonia where you get tunnel vision can do things like forget about babies in the back of hot cars. I got to the hotel, took a brief nap to pull through till bed time, and then headed down to grab a quick bite before the expo.

I was staying in the All Star Sports resort, one of the cheaper resorts with no frills. The only dining option was cafeteria style with a couple of counters with different themed bland food: one for pizza, one for sandwiches, one for dessert. There were only about 2 people ahead of me waiting to order when I got in the sandwich line, but the workers were giving the kind of lethargic service that only a minimum wage can bring. As people ordered, the lunch lady’s eyes rested about 20º off the diner’s left shoulder with heavy-lidded, dead-eyed apathy. Once the customer placed their order (“Chicken quesadilla, please.”) she would walk off with no indication of whether or not she had heard, and randomly rearrange service trays in the display case for several minutes before coming back and giving the next person the chance to order. About 10 or 15 minutes later, you might get a sandwich that vaguely resembled what you were expecting. I saw people ask if this was in fact the grilled cheese, and if so what was that pink stuff inside and then wander off a minute or so later when the only response they could get from the server was an irritable grunt. Thirty minutes later I walked away with some really disgusting food and ate it as fast as I could. About 4 minutes later I had polished off all I could swallow and was back in line for a cup of coffee.

giphy1I needed this coffee worse than anyone has ever needed a cup of coffee in their lives. I could only get through today without wandering out into traffic with the help of caffeine. I went over to the drinks stand and flipped the spigot on the 5 gallon urn of coffee. Nothing happened. I tried the urn next to it. Empty. There were a total of 8 giant urns of coffee on the drinks island and each and every one of them had been emptied to the last drop. It took every ounce of self-control I had not to throw the cup across the room and break down into a toddler’s temper tantrum. I had been in this cafeteria for about 50 minutes when I had planned to spend no more than 15 and I really needed to get to the expo to pick up my packet in time meet my friend at the airport.

The Disney expos I’ve been to in the past have always been the same as any large marathon expo I have ever done. You are always packed tight with people and it’s kind of a pain to have to climb over people to get at the Body Glide, but it’s never been an experience that stood out as being either good or bad. But this expo was something else. People in the main pavilion were packed cheek by jowl, just like everywhere in the convention center, but here they seemed to have coalesced into what looked like a long, snaking line that took up an entire area the size of maybe half of a football field. What the hell was this?

I’ll tell you what it was: it was the line to get into the building for the Dopey Challenge packet pick-up. Me and Coach Liz from Texas (who I had barely managed to find) waited for nearly an hour to pick up our stuff, and by the time I had my number I barely had 30 minutes to source some race nutrition and get back to an uber pick-up spot. We wandered around looking for where the giphy2vendors might be, and found another enormous line. After some asking around, we found out that that was the line to get into the building where they were selling the Disney branded swag. Fuck. That. The last thing I was about to do was stand in another long line to pay a ridiculous mark-up for a pair of sweatpants with a grouchy Tinkerbell on the ass and some sassy phrase about not wanted to run printed down the leg.

Luckily, the non-Disney vendors were in a different building that didn’t have a line to get in, so I was able to find a bunch of Shot Blocks (not my favorite brand, but the first I saw) before I had to race back out to the street to get an Uber to the airport to pick up my friend.

My friend… let’s call her “Snow White”… is a Disnerd. She is an annual pass holder. She collects the pins, knows the names of the obscure characters, and knows the geography of the parks like she knows her home town. She wears costumes. She is also a planner and offered to take over the planning of the trip. But since I knew that the needs of a Disney runner would be hard to appreciate for a non-runner and I was on a budget (sorta), I had been reluctant to relinquish planning of the trip. Of course I’d been too busy to dedicate any attention to it, and had planned almost nothing. Big mistake.

Running 50 miles in 4 days, plus walking around the parks all day is hard enough on the body. So ideally the runners would be able to take good care of themselves, eat healthy, rest during the day, go to bed early and recover well. But the races all start at times that require you to wake up in the middle of the night, and Disney food is just the absolute worst. If Hanna Barbera animators were to draw Disney food, it would just be uniform brown-grey slurry with the outlines of geometric shapes in it. That I was expecting. What I was not expecting was that I wouldn’t have trouble even getting access to food, water, shelter, rest.

According to Maslow’s psychological theory, for humans to do the things that distinguish us from the beasts, we must meet our basic needs: things like food, shelter, water, clothing, sleep. Things like learning, kindness, meaningful relationships, intellectual thought and a feeling of accomplishment can’t happen until we’ve met these basic needs. For the next 5 days I would be reduced to a state of survivalist thinking that would leave me little better than the beasts. I would have the top half of the pyramid, but without its base the accomplishment of running 48.6 miles would ultimately feel meaningless. Without friendship, love and support I almost certainly would not have made it through.maslow

Food

I plan out every detail of someone else’s life for a living, so when it came to my vacation I just wanted to go with the flow. So I had purposely avoided making too many reservations. Catastrophic fail. We set out for Disney Springs (the downtown area with only retail and dining, where you don’t need park tickets to get in) a little after 5 pm. Since all of the restaurants in this section are not Disney-owned, they keep a certain number of tables unavailable to the Disney apps so that walk-ins can still get a table. I thought we might have to wait for up to an hour, but we’d still get to eat. We picked a restaurant and walked up to the hostess’s desk to find out how long the wait was. “We have no more tables tonight,” the woman said with an icy fuck you smile.

Oh shit. Snow White checked her Disney apps. Of the dozen or so restaurants in the area, there were only 3 with reservations still available in the next 5 hours. The time of the reservations was about 9pm. I had eaten around 12:45. I was starving. I was also exhausted, and a 9pm reservation meant not getting back to the hotel until after 11; way too late for my 3am wake-up. I despaired at the idea of another night of less than 4 hours’ sleep.

Shelter

…And it was miserably, bitterly cold. The temperature had dropped to around freezing, which may not have been a big deal to all of those who had come down from the cold snap in the northeast, but for me and the Floridians it was a crisis. If you live in a place where there’s weather, you cannot imagine how unpleasant the heat or cold can be for someone from palm tree country. There were tales of iguanas freezing and falling from trees. I mean, the iguanas weren’t falling on people in Disney World, but it was cold enough that the local fauna was expiring in strange and curious ways. At Disney World you are outside all day long, in buildings thoughtfully designed to stay cool in the hottest of weather. We were freezing.

Clothing

I understand that there is a strategy to cold. You need to dress in appropriate layers and materials, and strategize to minimize your time outside. But I only noticed the change to the weather forecast about half an hour before heading to the airport, and I’d prioritized cramming in extra running clothing. All I had for walking around was a hoodie. With the crowds everywhere we could barely get in the doors of all the shops and restaurants, let alone find a warm place to sit and wait for our reservation.

After over an hour of wandering around Disney Springs trying to stay positive by talking about how the cold was good for weight loss (a subject that I will some day experiment with here) and waiting for our 9pm reservation, reason won out and we grabbed some takeout from the street food stand and ate it on the bus. It was not what I wanted, it tasted disgusting and had not a single vegetable in it, but it was food.

Rest

We managed to get to bed by 10, but my superpower-level insomnia kicked in. giphy3For hours I tossed and turned thinking about all of the sleep that I was losing, and how there would be no chance to catch up. The Disney races start obscenely early in order to clear all of the runners out in time to open the parks. That I understand. But to get to the 5:30am start, they required that I be at the shuttle stop in the lobby no later than 4am. Later in the week, the shuttle cut-off would be 3:30 for the half and full marathons. Since it would only take about 15 minutes to get to the start from any Disney resort, that meant that they were insisting that all racers sit at the start flirting with hypothermia for one to one and a half hours before they could run. This was Disney: best in class for managing crowds and experiences. How could they not come up with a better solution than to require people to get up before 3am for the better part of a week?

Day 1: The 5K

Shelter

giphy4I finally dropped off into a fitful sleep a little after 12:30, leaving me with about 2.5h of sleep before my 2:55 alarm. I have done unseasonably cold races in the past (CIM in 2013, Boston in 2015), and they have always let you stay on the busses to stay warm while waiting for the start. This morning we were turned out in the cold. The temperature was just below freezing, with the windchill bringing it down to the mid 20’s.

Coach Liz, an old blogging buddy was also doing the races, so I hung around outside the Team in Training tent waiting to meet up with her. I alternated between huddling into a tight ball to keep warm, and doing some dynamic stretches so that my muscles wouldn’t seize up from the shivering. A couple of minutes before 5 we headed toward the corrals. When I got to my corral (corral A) there was an evil troll guarding the entrance. She was viciously screaming that corral A was closed, and that we would need to go to corral B. It was 5:04am! I was okay with starting in the second corral, but isn’t the point of having corrals that you know exactly how many runners will be in each one so that they won’t be oversubscribed? If you sent 30% of the corral A runners to corral B, then wouldn’t corral B be too crowded to fit into the main starting area? Some runners jumped the barriers, and the Gate Troll bellowed in a very un-Disney-like voice. I went over to corral B where I quickly found a conga line of runners working their way through the crowd to the front, where they were letting runners into corral A anyway. The whole thing was just so… un-Disney… so… Mickey Mouse!

A 5K is so short that it’s barely enough time to warm up. I was so cold and tired that my thoughts kept gravitating to thoughts of, I can’t wait until this is over and I can be warm and rest. But I had been looking forward to this experience for months and had paid an arm and a leg for it. Come here! I told myself every time I found my mind wandering to the finish line. This was too important to not be present for the experience.

PhotoPass_Visiting_WDWRUNDISNEY_407743783337Whether it was from the cold or just that I had let laziness take over and had hardly run over the holidays, my running felt ungainly and uncoordinated.I felt like an old person or a stroke survivor that could be taken out by the slightest of blemishes in the pavement. I did not have faith that if the ground wasn’t exactly where I expected it to be that I wouldn’ fall in a dramatic and unflattering way. Still, time-wise I ran better than I expected. I will not share the times here because I have been capable of so much faster in the past and my pride won’t let me share that information to be judged.

I rushed through the finishing area and huddled on the bus waiting to go back to the hotel. The race was so short that by the time I got to the bus there were people who hadn’t even started yet. We had to wait for quite some time for the later corrals to clear the course through the parking lot before we could even leave, but at least it was warm and I had a banana and some tortilla chips to eat.

After the race I took a shower and managed to catch about an hour’s nap before Snow White woke up and it was time to get ready to go to the parks. But first I insisted that we get off Disney property so that I could get some sleeping pills. I knew from Disney experience that we would have little margin for error with later nights and earlier mornings, and I could not get through this experience stringing together night after night of short nights’ sleep. The map said that Walgreen’s was only a mile or so from our hotel, but nothing is ever so easy with Disney. It wound up being a 15 minute uber ride to the store, and then on the return our driver’s directions had us driving through road construction and neighborhoods before dead ending in a Magic Kingdom back cast parking lot. Another look at Google Maps showed why: it had been routing him around the enormous traffic jam to get into the park.

Luckily, Snow White and I are good at recognizing when a plan that is no longer working and coming up with alternative solutions. We navigated our way to one of the hotels on the monorail system, and continued toward the park entrance from there. Then the monorail broke down. For over 20 minutes we stood hugging each other and shivering in the monorail station designed to funnel wind over the platform to cool passengers on a hot day. It might have been nice to wait inside the hotel, but as time went by a larger and larger group piled up behind us and we were loathe to give up our spot in line. This was dog-eat-dog Disney.

Shelter 

PhotoPass_Visiting_MK_407720202962Since she’s a Disnerd, I had promised Snow White that I would dress up in costumes “in the style of” Disney characters. Our Up costumes were the warmest, so I was dressed as Dug and Snow White dressed as the old guy. Our costumes were a thing of beauty, but since our outfits had been planned long in advance, we hadn’t included modifications for the cold. Once in the park, Snow White would take a cue from the kids in strollers and buy herself a blankie to wrap around her as we walked around for the rest of the day. By the time I came around to buying my own, most of the stores in the Magic Kingdom had sold out and I wound up with a crummy “learn your letters” patchwork pattern. I relish looking uncool, but only when it’s my choice.

Food (and caffeine)

There was no way that I was getting through this day without coffee, so even though it was nearly noon when we got to the park, I insisted that we go to Starbucks. That meant waiting in another line for more than 30 minutes. Once I got to the front, I looked at what remained of the picked-over prepared food items for something decent that could hold us over until we got a proper meal. I had eaten nothing all day except a banana and a single portion bag of tortilla chips from my post-race snack box and I was starving, but all I could find was a couple of hard boiled eggs that tasted slightly off for me, and a container of cut pineapple for Snow White. Then we headed to Space Mountain.

giphy5If we had understood that our next few days would more resemble a week in disaster zone than in Disney World, we would have thought to grab some sandwiches to go before getting in the 3-hour standby line for Space Mountain (there were not fast passes left until after 9pm for the entire park). Quickly we passed a line-guarding cast member and our fate was sealed. It would be 2:30 before we stood on another half-hour line to get food that reminded me of my elementary school cafeteria. I knew that Disney food was terrible, but I’d forgotten how few options there were for people with dietary restrictions. Then we wandered the restaurant for long minutes looking for a place to sit.

With our basic needs met by 3pm, we agreed with each other that we would practice gratitude for the rest of the trip, and would not let crowds or other cranky people ruin our time. Had I been with anyone else in the world, I don’t think we would have succeeded through everything that happened in the next 3 days.

Safety

The parks were more crowded than either of us had ever seen them. Everywhere we went, the crowd was so thick that the person behind had to walk with a hand on the leader’s shoulder so that we wouldn’t get separated. Walking past the Pirates of the Caribbean the entire crowd clotted to a halt. This wasn’t on the parade route, so we couldn’t figure out what was wrong. When we finally worked our way through, we fund that even crowds packed shoulder-to-shoulder through the entire park wasn’t enough to convince Disney to give their street sweeping a pass for the afternoon. The two street sweepers working their way around their route was enough to halt traffic through all of Frontierland.

I have heard that the parks have a maximum capacity after which they won’t let anyone else in, but I couldn’t believe that that capacity was greater than the number of people in the park that day. “Jesus, what would happen if there were some kind of emergency and we had to evacuate,” I asked Snow White. “Not even Disney could control a crowd like this if people panicked.”
“This is the kind of situation where people are trampled and killed…” agreed Snow White. “…And it would be the children.” We both took a moment to let that sink in.

Disney is the kind of company that knows exactly how many people are in its parks at all times. They would have figured out how much X number of runners would swell the crowds in each hotel, restaurant and park. They know exactly how many people their restaurants and dining halls can serve, how many people it takes to overwhelm the Fastpass system and what kinds of crowds translate into what length of wait at their rides. This seemed like a shameless money grab. I was starting to get really angry with Disney. If I had saved up to take my family on The Disney Vacation, spent all that money, and brought my kids to an experience where they couldn’t even get to the line to meet their favorite characters, or go on more than one or two rides, then I would be devastated. I was starting to feel taken advantage of.

Next we went to try to get onto Splash Mountain, my favorite ride. The line was a little bit shorter because of the cold: only about 90 minutes. But after waiting for an hour we realized that to make our 4:30 dinner reservation (the only time we could secure when we wised up the night before), we would need to get off the line. So we had paid roughly $100 each on tickets for the opportunity to go on one ride, and spend a whole bunch of money in the stores and restaurants.

Our bellies stuffed with back-to-back meals only 2 hours apart, Snow White and I headed back to the hotel for an early night. I slept a glorious but inadequate 6 hours before it was time to get up and do it all again.

Day 2: The 10K

Now that I had had the chance to learn from my mistakes I was a little wiser and let myself sleep until 3:15 before quickly getting dressed and slipping out of the room for the 4am shuttle. Back to the start I went, and back out into the cold. The weather report had said that each day would be a little warmer than the last, but weather reports lie. Everything about the weather this morning was identical to the last, including the temperatures in the low to mid 30’s and down in the 20s with wind chill. I read somewhere that what separates man from the beasts is his ability to learn from experience and improve his circumstances over time. Unlike the frozen iguanas, I now had a mylar blanket which greatly improved my quality of life. I was also wearing a $8 sweatshirt that I had once bought at Walgreens to be a throw-away, but had unexpectedly stuck with me for many happy years, and despite fitting badly and being a terrible color was one of my favorite sweatshirts. Even though this would be my last day with my beloved hideous Walgreen’s sweatshirt, I was thankful for its warmth. Of all the sweatshirts I threw away this week, it was the cheapest and warmest.

Just like the day before, I waited for Coach Liz at the Team in Training tent, but I was not going to make the mistake of getting locked out of my corral and yelled at again. So after a brief hello, I headed over to corral A and huddled on the cold pavement under my mylar like all of the other baked potatoes waiting to run.

I struck up a conversation with some of the potatoes around me, and mentioned how shocked and disappointed I was by the crowds. “I haven’t been to Disney World since 2009, but I have been to Anaheim 4 or 5 times in the past 5 years and I’ve never seen it like this!” I complained.
My fellow foil-wrapped runner was from south Florida, was an annual pass holder and had been running Run Disney events for years. “It’s just not the same park as it was 10 or 15 years ago,” she told me. “There are just no off weeks over the winter anymore. And if you go on Christmas or one of the other big days when they hit capacity and close the park, forget it!”
“You mean that yesterday wasn’t at capacity?!” I asked. I couldn’t believe that they would be greedy enough to add even more people than that into the park. Disney security is extraordinary, but to allow crowds like that just seemed to be asking for disaster.

Just like the day before, they let us into our corrals, then fire works, then we started running. Ten kilometers is the perfect distance to wind through Disneyland and see everything. But with Disney World property covering an area the size of San Francisco (fact checkers: I learned from my Uber driver, so blame Armando if it’s not accurate!), it wasn’t quite far enough to get us out of Epcot and back. So instead we ran 3 boring miles around the parking lots and service roads before we got 3 exciting miles weaving in and out of the park.

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We sure put a lot of faith in feet, don’t we? Look! Mine aren’t even underneath me.

I did my best to stay positive, but my positivity muscle was pretty tired from the disappointment of not getting to go on some of my favorite rides yesterday. And anyway, I was a little concerned that I couldn’t feel my feet. The cold was making me clumsy anyway, and with everything below my knee being completely numb from the cold I was afraid that I was going to trip and fall. After several minutes of that lumpy in-between state where it feels like you have folds in your socks, I finally got full feeling back in my feet exactly at the half way point. For the rest of the morning I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude for my feet and all they do.

Now that I was whole again and we were running through the World Showcase with all of the lights and music, I started having fun again. To my surprise, I was effortlessly running mid-8-minute miles, a pace that hadn’t felt easy in years. Plus, another dream was coming true that was almost as exciting as feet…

Bathrooms

photopass_visiting_wdwrundisney_407802949016.jpgBathrooms aren’t on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, but perhaps they should be. When people and animals can’t get access to bathrooms, they do desperate things. With about a mile left in the 10K, my body gave me a glorious gift: the opportunity to poop! I’m as bad at pooping when I’m stressed as I am at sleeping, and with all the Disney food and dehydration I knew it was a possibility that I might not poop for the entire trip. But here, like a gift from heaven, I had the urge to poop!

You are allowed to use the park bathrooms during the race, but I was running so well that I decided to risk waiting until the finish. I crossed the finish line and quickly collected my medal. No bathrooms. I entered the blanket area. No bathrooms. I thought for sure that there would be bathrooms near the medical tent, but I was wrong. Oh god! I worried. Am I going to squander this gift?! As I walked, I could feel the window of opportunity on my little miracle starting to close. I got my water bottle and snack box, and there were still no bathrooms. No bathrooms before gear check either. I started jogging through the finish area, running past all of the photo backdrops with my medal banging against my stomach, my mylar cape flowing behind me, and my snack box and water bunched under my chin where my hands were holding my blanket shut. Finally I reached a porta potty and… well… succeeded.

With the day’s biggest accomplishment achieved, I continued on to the bus where there was no waiting this time. That was good, because this time the bus was modest with the heating.

Food and Caffeine

When I got back to the room I showered and made the arrogant decision not to nap. I would regret that later. Instead I worked on this report for about an hour before waking up Snow White. I was hungry for breakfast, but we had big plans for the day and I wanted us to get into the park as soon as possible so that we could possibly go on more rides. But first we had to pick up Snow White’s chEAR packet. The “chEAR” program is a program where people who love their runners very much pay a shitload of money to wake up ungodly early with the rest of us and watch their runner run by for 5s in the Magic Kingdom. Snow White is the best friend there ever was, so she had signed up for the program.

PhotoPass_Visiting_EPCOT_407756570710We put on our costumes (Cinderella and Gus) and boarded the bus to the expo. I planned to suggest that we get food and coffee once she had her packet, but when we got to the desk Snow White had forgotten her photo ID. We walked all the way back to the shuttle stop, waited for a shuttle, went back to the room, got her ID, waited for another shuttle, came back, walked all the way across the expo again and picked up her packet. By this time the morning was gone and we had to hurry to get to Epcot in time to meet our 12:40 Fast Pass appointment. Even when there are no lines, nothing in Disney moves quickly. Obviously there was no time for coffee and lunch. We made it to the ride, but by the time we were out it was close to 1:30 and all I’d eaten all day were the bag of tortilla chips and a banana at 6:30am. I was starving, and so I ate every vegetarian option on the cafeteria menu… which was 3 items: some cole slaw wrapped in a piece of naan (apparently this is what they eat in space), french fries and macaroni and cheese. At least there was a vegetable on my tray, although I couldn’t quite identify which one it was.

Rest

That morning Snow White and I had had a discussion about the rides in Epcot. We agreed that Spaceship Earth was lame and a little bit racist, so we just planned to go on the other space ship ride with the name we kept forgetting. We decided that we were too old for the Frozen ride in Norway. “…And there’s one other ride in one of the countries,” I mused, “but I forget which one.”
“There isn’t another ride, just Norway.”
“No, there totally is… I just can’t remember which one.”
“There isn’t, but that’s okay. We’ll just pretend there is.” Snow White is not one of those people that needs to be right, but being  magnanimous gives her great joy.
A little while later I ejected, “MEXICO! There’s a lame ride in Mexico. I forget what it is, but I’m pretty sure it’s there.”
“There is no ride in Mexico.”
…and it went on like that.

PhotoPass_Visiting_EPCOT_407757081443Now that we were fed, we wandered the World Showcase half-assed shopping and looking for more snacks without lines. Until we got to Mexico. “Let’s go in and see if there’s a ride…” I suggested.
“Okay,” said Snow White in that tone of voice you use when you mean, Okay, but you’d better not be a sore loser when you’re wrong.
The indoor plaza in Mexico was crowded, and it was hard to move around inside. “Holy shit!” said Snow White. “There is a ride! It’s the Three Caballeros. No wonder nobody ever talks about it. Do you want to go on it?”
“Sure,” I said noncommitally. I didn’t want anyone to think that I was gloating about being right. But let the record stand here: I was right, and I knew something about Disney that she didn’t. That will drive Snow White nuts, but not as nuts as it will drive her that I am announcing it here (nanny-nanny-boo-boo!).

We walked around trying to find the back of the line, and then we realized that everybody in the entire shop WAS the line. “Forget it. Let’s just go walk around,” one of us said.

I probably should have been trying to rest up for the roughly 40 miles I would have to run over the next couple of days, but I had come all the way across the country to Disney World, paid hundreds of dollars for my park tickets, and who knew if we would ever be in a situation where we weren’t crawling over crowds again? Anyway, it was too cold to sit still.

After a dinner in France that was basically just processed carbs and cheese (this is the last time you will ever catch me complaining about eating processed carbs and cheese), we headed back to the hotel for an early night. As we got ready for bed we accidentally got into a respectful and heated debate about something silly. By the time we’d settled the matter, it was past my bed time and I was riled up and AWAKE.

Despite taking a sleeping pill, I lay in bed alert and awake running back through my arguments about the stupid thing we’d been debating and jealously listening to Snow White sleep peacefully. Snow White is a virtuoso at sleeping and can fall asleep instantly and stay that way through all kinds of lights, sounds and movement. I am the opposite. No matter what routines and sleep aids I use, I can be woken up by someone else’s anxious thought from 3 rooms away. I finally dropped off into a fitful sleep after midnight, and was only dozing when my alarm went off a couple of hours later.

Day 3: The half marathon

While I was beginning my miserable and desperate quest for sleep, Snow White had looked up her own race morning instructions and found much to both of our surprise and dismay that she had to be on the same bus that I did no later than 3:30 in the morning. It was annoying to have the racers show up at the start nearly 2 hours before the first runners started the race, but it was absolutely absurd to make spectators show up in Epcot that early, just so that they could take another bus to the Magic Kingdom to see us run by some time around 6:30am – a full 3 universally recognized sleeping hours after they were required to hop on the shuttle.

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I love this image. I look like I’m in the middle of being punched in the jaw by my invisible friend.

I have a policy of never requiring that anyone watch me run unless they want to. There are few things less interesting and rewarding to watch than a road race. I was already touched and thankful to Snow White for the gesture, and I was mortified that Disney was making it so hard on her. Don’t forget that it was also freezing. Any other friend would have told me that they would see me for breakfast in the hotel, but Snow White makes being a good friend a competitive sport. With this move she had won game, set and match. I would never be able to return the friend favor.

I had skipped breakfast on the shorter runs, but with 13 miles to cover I figured that I should eat something this morning. By the grace of Micky there was a microwave in the cafeteria and I was able to make some oatmeal and eat one of the bananas that Snow White had started collecting for me (more friend points that I will never repay).

As I walked down the hotel hallway, the same couple that I had seen the previous 2 mornings walked down the opposite hallway and we met in the middle and took the elevator together for the third time in a row. Then I headed to the lobby to reheat my coffee and make my oatmeal in the microwave. I had been nearly alone in the kitchen on previous mornings, but now there were dozens of people in the cafeteria, and a line for the shuttle filling the lobby. Even at 3:15am there was no way to avoid the crowds.

I can barely remember this race. All I can remember is that I couldn’t wait for a nap. I broke the run into 1-mile sections, stopping at the water stops in the odd miles and eating half a sleeve of Shot Blocks on the even miles. I usually don’t run a half marathon with any nutrition either, but because of the week’s difficulties I thought it wise to fuel like I would with a full marathon.

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…and this one that caught the face I make every time one of my friends tell me that the fanny pack is back in style

Maybe it was because of the snacks and maybe it was just the fatigue mixed with the groundhog day repetition that made the 13 miles pass faster than I was expecting. Usually I spend the first 10K of a half marathon wishing I could just get the easy part over with already, miles 6-10 confused about exactly how many miles I have left, and the last 3 miles falling to bits because I paced myself wrong. But considering how run down I felt, I finished this race feeling alright.

The Magic Kingdom fell at about Mile 5, which is usually the peak of tedium in a half marathon for me. However, this time when I entered the park I knew that Snow White would be waiting for me at Cinderella’s castle. As I ran down Main Street USA and the spectators started to get thicker, I was overcome with gratitude for her being there. I started to get choked up even thinking about how excited I was to see her. Running when you’re trying not to cry is the worst because you can’t breathe.

When I came through the castle, I was scanning the spectators for her hat but she spotted me first. I heard my name being screamed and saw her on the opposite side of the course. I  tried not to cut too many people off as I pivoted 90º to grab her in a sweaty hug. “This is my best friend! Aren’t I lucky as hell?!” I said to the impassive woman sitting next to her, who was trying not to show that she was eavesdropping. I’m always disappointed that my shouting and outbursts of emotion aren’t shared by random spectators. Maybe it’s because running makes my mouth go all sticky and gummy and I kind of sound drunk. Maybe it’s because that lady was a stupid person. I don’t know what else we said to each other before I ran away, but I hadn’t had a high like that in a race since… I don’t even know when I’ve been so excited to see someone.

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Holy cow! Confirmation that all that work that I did to improve my running form actually worked!

Before we could run to the finish we had to run a quick little loop out into Epcot, toward the lagoon, then make a sharp U turn to run back under Spaceship Earth and to the finish. I had a wrapper in my hand and swerved to take advantage of a trash can. Wuh oh. Maybe I wasn’t feeling as fresh as I thought. The agility required to quickly change directions and speed left me feeling disoriented and moving like a tranquilized elephant. As I made the U turn I felt like I had all of the nimbleness of a tank. At the end of a half marathon you’re used to thinking about your energy level in the context of whether you have enough left to get to the finish line, not what you’re going to feel like the next day. Tomorrow I had to run a marathon. Gulp.

As I approached the finish line I made sure to stay on the side close to the grandstands. I didn’t know where Snow White would be or what she would be doing, but I wanted to make sure that if I had any energy left I could gather it up into a reaction that would adequately express my gratitude. I passed the first grandstand and didn’t see her. Then I passed the second and started to get worried that I might have missed her. But then I realized, Snow White would never be anywhere but the best spot. She would be at the bleachers closest to the finish. And sure enough there she was, holding a sign, jumping up and down and screaming my name. I don’t know what I did. I think I smiled and sped up. And then she started running alongside me through the crowd. I don’t know how she managed it without crashing into anyone, but if Snow White is running at you at 7 miles per hour screeching and waving her hands above her head, then you make way. “You’re running so fast!!!” she shouted. Shit. I was just trying to finish, but Snow White is competitive as hell. I didn’t want her to be disappointed in me. I sped up to try to run faster than her. That seemed like the right answer. And then I was over the finish line again, back to the routine of medal-blanket-water-food.

Snow White brought me a pair of leggings and I bravely tried to put them on while still standing without taking my shoes off. Doped elephants should not attempt such feats of coordination. I got on the ground and put the other leg on the safe way. Then I tried to take my wet shirt off. The sleeve got stuck on my arm band and refused to come off, so I was stuck thrashing around in the cold with my shirt over my head and my sports bra and belly exposed to half of Disney World. “I need help! I need help!” I howled as I thrashed and spun. Wet clothes off, we went back to the shuttles to find some breakfast.

Food

We grabbed a quick one-hour nap when we got back to the hotel so that I wouldn’t completely fall apart in our last day in the parks. Then I insisted on grabbing some food at the hotel before we moved on with our day. While I had been willing to skip breakfast after the shorter races, refueling was important today. We were getting better at strategy and beginning to progress from the quality of life of beasts to cave men.

Today we were headed to Animal Kingdom. We debated whether to go on the Everest rollercoaster or the Avatar ride, and decided to go for the Avatar ride because I’d never been on it and Snow White likes science fiction. Flight of Passage is the ride with the longest lines in the whole park, and the boards said that we would be in this one for the next 4 hours. But now that we were getting savvy at living in the Disney Refugee Camp, we knew what to do. I got in line, and Snow White stood in the 45-minute line for food at the nearby cafeteria. This one had something that you could not find anywhere else in the park: fresh vegetables! The problem was, they did not offer food to go. Luckily, Snow White is the most creative person I know. “I want this kind of food, water in bottles and four empty soda cups,” she told the cast member taking orders. Then she transferred our kale and tofu whatever-they-were into the cups, grabbed some forks, and met me at the line.

Eating a dish that was mostly green vegetables was probably not enough calories to make up for all the running I had already done and what I had still to do the next day, but as something green and full of vitamins hit my stomach I could feel my body rejoicing. There would always be time for more snacks later, right? Right? (More on this later…)

We also had plenty of water with us, but since it would become increasingly difficult to get out of line and to a bathroom, and there is nothing worse than going on a simulator ride where you’re thrown to and fro with a full bladder, I drank sparingly. I was not parched as you get on a hot day, but I had the cold kind of dehydration where my lips and entire face feel chapped, and I get that scratchy feeling in the back of my nose. I knew that I should be drinking more water, but I was in Disney World, Dammit, and I was going to go on at least one ride a day if it killed me!

PhotoPass_Visiting_EPCOT_407769842458After we finally got our turn to ride on the back of a banshee, we only had time to grab a snack before we had to leave the park to meet our dinner reservation. We found a food stand, but all it sold was some sort of nasty meat on a stick. The next had all things that Snow White was allergic to. Finally at the third one, a macaroni and cheese stand, we shrugged and got in line. Macaroni and cheese sounded unappetizing to me, but they did sell pretzels and that sounded okay. We got at the end of the long line and settled back into waiting mode. The line quickly got long enough that it needed wrangling, and a Disney cast member had to come and move us because we were blocking the path. Nothing was simple on this trip. Even paying $5 for an overpriced pretzel. Soon people started getting to the window and then walking away empty-handed. Something desirable had run out. Guess what it was. The pretzels, of course. I knew that I had to keep eating if I wanted to be somewhat recovered for tomorrow, but I wondered if there would be any nutritional value in anything on their menu that could be converted by the human body into actual running. I ordered a bag of potato chips.

Shelter

Any transition in Disney takes over an hour. We had to walk out of the park, find the right shuttle, wait up to half an hour for the shuttle to show up and then walk long distances on the other side to our destination. Disney streets are made for wandering, so it can be hard to orient yourself and find your destination. It took us what felt like a mile of wandering to find the restaurant. I was beginning to feel very run down from standing out in the cold all day every day and constantly seeking what I needed to survive. I couldn’t wait to get home to a place where I could move between warm indoor spaces with reliable food and water in my warm car that I could leave in parking lots near the entrance to my destination. Even in San Francisco where parking within 10 blocks of your destination is not guaranteed with half an hour of circling, the quality of life would be improved. I struggled to keep my pessimism in check, but when you removed the backdrop I could not think of anything that separated this experience from an honest-to-god refugee camp except that we had all paid to be here.

After dinner we did our best to be in bed early, but the best we could do was lights out at 8:45pm. Just one more early morning wake-up, and then I could go back to a world that included modern conveniences.

Day 4: Marathon

This was now the fourth day of Disney Refugee Camp and all remaining pixie dust had worn off long ago. I would have skipped the marathon if Oscar hadn’t talked it up so much on the Facebook groups. As Maslow points out, man cannot experience accomplishment if he cannot meet the needs in the lower rungs of the pyramid so a marathon would more resemble a grim death march for survival than overcoming adversity for a spiritually gratifying goal.

PhotoPass_Visiting_WDWRUNDISNEY_407955843192As I began running, I did not know how I would mentally get through the next 4-5 hours of effort and discomfort. The only thing keeping me from walking large segments was the fact that I knew that Snow White would also be having a long morning, and was depending on me to bring it to an end. Already by the time I saw her at around the 10K mark in the Magic Kingdom I had settled into the marathon shuffle where you have no control over pace. I stopped and told her, “It’s going to be a loooooooooooooong morning.” I hoped that that sentence would express the depths of my fatigue and despair. When the woman next to her snickered, I realized there was no way to impress upon them the grim death march that I had ahead, and the long wait that awaited her.

PhotoPass_Visiting_WDWRUNDISNEY_407955843186I tried never to think past the next mile. As long as I was moving, I asked no more from my body. I had a giant painful knot in my right calf that made toeing off difficult, and my hamstrings were so tight that my stride length was reduced to tiny inches. There would be no putting off walking in this marathon, so I broke the race only into the space between walking breaks. For the first half, I walked only the water stations. After the 13th mile, I walked the water stations but also let myself walk for a minute at every mile marker. Sometimes, if a water station was visible from the mile marker I was able to continue running until I reached it and take my minute there. I counted that as a success. Only after Mile 20 would I let myself walk for more than a minute each mile, walking the distance between where my watch registered each mile, and where the race mile markers were (about a quarter mile difference by this point).

I’ve had several very bad marathons over the past couple of years, and a funny thing happens in the later miles. When you start out a bad marathon and feel rough between miles 5 and 10 it feels like you will never finish. But once you finally reach the second half of the race, even though 13 miles, then 10, then 8 sound like an insurmountable distance, it is still surprising to see that the distance does in fact go down and you do get closer to the finish, however slowly.

PhotoPass_Visiting_WDWRUNDISNEY_407955843174As we ran through the Wide World of Sports around mile 20, we passed the world’s least inspiring MC. “Don’t you hate all the people from the north that brought this cold weather with them?” He asked 3 times in a row. No, sir. I don’t hate anybody. I know that I did this to myself.

“Well aren’t you glad I’m not telling you that you can do it? You’re running now. You were running 2 miles ago, and you’re still going to be running in 2 miles,” he went on in an Eyore tone. Actually, mister, I could really use some enthusiasm right now since mine done run out about 17 miles ago… He went on about how much this event sucked as I ran past his station. I gave him a dirty look. Yes, we were all tired and we did all feel horrible, but having a man with a microphone who wasn’t even running point out all the things that were miserable about our lives wasn’t helping. This was not the Disney magic that I was expecting and needed to get me through the next hour and a quarter. This whole trip felt as jaded as the announcer. It felt like Disney was saying,

We know you’ll pay whatever we charge. We could probably find creative ways to make the logistics of this race run more smoothly without making it more unpleasant for you than it has to be, but who cares? We know this race will sell out anyway, no matter how many spots we make available. We control your hotel, your transportation, and even your spectators so we’ll just treat you like cattle. And we know that you’ll pay $100 to get into our parks no matter what kind of experience we deliver, so who cares if all you get to do when you’re inside is go on one ride and stand in interminable lines to give us more money for crappy food or overpriced branded crap like blankets.

I might go back to Disneyland, but I resolved to never come back to Orlando again. As I ran away from the range of his speakers, The World’s Least Inspiring MC changed the subject. “And how about that Bitcoin, huh? We all have that friend who’s trying to get us to invest in Bitcoin, but something about it just doesn’t seem right…” Until now I had done my best to leave my Silicon Valley douchiness at home, but here finally was someone I didn’t feel bad about thinking elitist thoughts about. Thanks, random dude with a microphone. Where did you get your finance degree? This has been very helpful. I hope to get to come back to you for all of my investing decisions, and how kind of you to give it away for free. Twerp.

PhotoPass_Visiting_WDWRUNDISNEY_407955843184Finally, after what felt like my entire life we were back in the World Showcase, headed toward Spaceship Earth and the finish. In each of the countries the fine young students who worked there had come out to cheer us on. In England the last in a line of fresh faced Brits wearing wooly coats and silly hats was a lad that couldn’t have been more British if he drank tea and crumpets off of Herrods china wearing a tweed jacket in a thatch-roofed country home somewhere in Pucklechurch. For the first time all week someone looked me in the eye and I felt like he actually saw me. “Carry on, love. Won’t be long now…” he said, in a way that was so British it would have made the Queen sound inauthentic. My spirits soared. If someone ever meets this bloke, please make him uncomfortable with the warmest American hug you can summon for me because his words buoyed me to not walk but run (okay, well “plod”) the final mile to the finish.

PhotoPass_Visiting_WDWRUNDISNEY_407955843187After every marathon we all swear that it will be our last. When I crossed this finish line, I had no feeling of accomplishment. I don’t even really remember feeling relief. When you can cross a marathon finish line with the same lack of emotion as you can walk through the front doors of a supermarket, it’s time to cool it for awhile. As I collected my final medals, however, I remembered that for the first time in a very, very long time I didn’t have any more marathons on the schedule. Only then did I have the flood of summer-vacation-like freedom. I’m not saying that I’ll never run another marathon again; I’m sure that I will. But right now I don’t have any commitments hanging over my head that will keep me from doing what interests me most. I’m not quite sure what that will be this year, but right now it sure as hell isn’t the marathon.

Shelter and Rest

Earlier in the week I had decided to extend my hotel reservation by an extra day so that I would be able to shower and nap after the race. Now that it was all over, I couldn’t wait to be clean and warm and nap most of the day away. We grabbed a quick breakfast so as to maximize our chilling time before we each had to head to the airport, and then headed up to the room. When we got there, our wrist bands wouldn’t open the door.

Normally a situation like this would have made throw a screaming temper tantrum, but after a week in Disney Refugee Camp, my standard of what was fair had been brought down to nearly nothing. Instead of feeling sorry for myself, I just sat on the ground outside the room and under my mylar and was thankful that I still had Snow White here to go down to the lobby for me. It didn’t occur to me that this was just another string in a long series of bad luck. This was just the way my life was now: that even getting into a room that I’d paid for was not something I could take for granted. Eventually, after 4 employees tried to help us they sent up someone with an old fashioned key to open the door. Once I got out of the shower, the technician showed up to take the lock apart and try to fix it. When I started to doze off as the lock was in half a dozen pieces, it occurred to me that this might take awhile… and maybe it was within my rights to ask him to come back later. Once he left, I was asleep in seconds.

Epilogue

Rest, a Home

The rest of this story is not about running, but is still a terrible customer service and travel story that needs telling. If you came to read about running, you can stop here. I know I take a long time to unwind a story, and you are very patient for getting this far. But if you like reading stories about service that is just the worst, have I got a tale for you…

I slept about an hour before I woke up to Snow White beginning to pack. Her flight left first, and she couldn’t wait any longer. Since I was already up and packed, I figured we might as well split an Uber. Anyway, I wanted a hot meal and even airport food was better than Disney food. So around 2pm I managed to source 2 pieces of pizza at the airport cafeteria before going to check my bag. This would be the last chance for a hot meal — or any meal that didn’t come in a bag — for 16 hours. But I didn’t know that yet.

The airport, like Disney, was overwhelmed with people. As I stood in line to show my ID at security, I watched the estimated wait time on the screen go from “17-24 minutes” up to “27-34” and not long after change again to “38-45” without the line appreciably moving. I handed over my ID to the grumpy looking checker, and then stood there awkwardly for long minutes trying not to stare at her lazy eye as the line to go through the X-rays did not move an inch. Eventually someone did something that I wish they would do more often in crowded airports around the country: they gave up. They told people to leave their shoes and jackets on, leave their laptops in their bags, and just file through the X-rays in a procession, and not to stop unless instructed to do so. This was a “Code: Fuck It.”

When I got to my gate, they made some vague announcement on the local PA about “…for maintenance, and at this time we don’t have any more information to share with you.” I thought that the emphatic and defensive tone he used when saying he didn’t have any more information was strange, but I was sitting at an open charging outlet across the room and hadn’t heard the whole announcement. I wasn’t worried yet. The status board said my flight was on time, and I still thought that I was flying an airline run by human beings with basic human decency and a minimum of intelligence.

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Frontier Airlines is like the mad tea party of airlines.

However, when the time for boarding (5:10pm, according to my boarding pass) came and went and the door to the jetway still stayed firmly locked, I started to get a little worried. It was now 6:30pm, and I wanted dinner, but I was afraid to leave my gate in case they made an announcement. The screen by the service desk still said my flight was on time, but the status board that lists all the flights no longer even listed mine… Did Frontier note even know which of their flights were in the air? They did not.

I went to the one coffee shop in the gate to see if I could find some food, but there were no vegetarian options left except pastries. After a week of Disney slurry I was not having an almond croissant for dinner, so I bought some nuts and Chex Mix at the news stand and camped out next to a more comfortable electrical outlet. It was going to be a long night.

Eventually a plane pulled up, and to my great relief started to board. I stood near the boarding line, waiting for them to call my group, which is why I heard the full announcement when they got on the microphone to say, “THIS FLIGHT IS NOT GOING TO SAN FRANCISCO [insert silent YOU IDIOTS], IT’S GOING TO PROVIDENCE. IF YOU’RE GOING TO SAN FRANCISCO, YOUR PLANE IS NOT HERE YET. PLEASE SIT BACK DOWN.”

“Then why does the board say San Francsico?” Asked a pissed off passenger.

“Sir, we don’t have control over what the boards say…” said a flight attendant in a pedantic tone, as if this were the most obvious thing in the world and controlling the information boards was as impossible as controlling the weather. WHAT?!?!

Around this time the other passengers reached that point of fed-up where they began talking to strangers. Someone pointed out that this was a frequent tactic of shitty airlines to wait until all the other airlines’ flights had left and then cancel our flight, so they wouldn’t have to pay to put us on another airline. Meanwhile, Snow White had already landed in New Jersey and gone home. I was texting her my woes and she pointed out that I still had a hotel room, and if I could just get on a flight tomorrow maybe I could sleep in a bed tonight.

So I called customer service to see if I could get on a flight for tomorrow. When I got to speak to a representative, I explained my plight and how I wanted to solve it.
“Well it says here that your flight is scheduled to leave at 7:45 tonight,” she said, as if I were overreacting.
“Yes, ma’am, but it’s already 8:45 in Orlando and there’s no plane, so I don’t think that’s accurate, do you?” This was insane. Not only did they not know where their planes were, but they couldn’t even tell time or understand time zones.

To take a flight the next day I would have to return for a 7am Frontier flight the next morning, meaning that once I managed to collect my bag back and take an Uber back to the hotel it would likely be 10:30 or 11, and then I would need to be up again at 4 to get back to the airport to check in. My alternative was to refund my ticket, get back to the hotel at 11pm and take a flight that was twice as expensive on another airline that would get me back to San Francisco at midnight Pacific time tomorrow. I just wanted to go home. So my fate lay with my current flight.

Finally, when I thought that I would be living in the Orlando airport for the rest of my life, a plane finally appeared. I have never seen a flight board so quickly, and I don’t know what their “Code: Fuck It” procedure was, but we were on that plane with everyone seated and tucked in in about 10 minutes. I’m sure several passengers were left in the airport bar waiting for an announcement that never came.

Now that I was on a plane headed to San Francisco, my body finally started to relinquish its stress and let me doze. As I felt the plane level off after take-off, before we had even reached cruising altitude my eyes snapped open. My house keys!

Bodie’s family had been kind enough to offer to drop me off and pick me up at the airport in my own car to spare me a trip up to Marin (about 45 min north of the airport, and 90 min north of my house without traffic) to drop off and pick up Oscar. When it became clear that I would not be landing until 2 or 3am, we decided that I would just take an Uber home when I landed in San Francisco and we could use the train to meet halfway the next day to exchange the dog and car. But now that I was in the air and could not reach the ground for the next 6 hours, I realized that the keys to my house were also on the ring with my car keys and I would not have a way to get inside. No matter how I thought about it, my only recourse would be to take an Uber up to Marin in the middle of the night and wake Bodie’s Mom… let’s call her “Flower Child.”

giphy7Not long after I realized that my ordeal wasn’t over, the flight attendants came down the aisle with the drinks cart. “Would you like to purchase any drinks?” she asked me.
“You have got to be fucking kidding me,” I said. “After everything that you’ve put us through, you have the nerve to charge for drinks?!” Usually I have the self control not to drop F-bombs in customer service negotiation situations, but I had reached my limit.
“It’s not my decision,” she told me icily. I sat there with my mouth agape. “So would you like to purchase any drinks,” she asked snottily. Her tone unmistakably said, This conversation is over and you’re not going to win. To my dismay I saw both of my middle fingers fly up and heard myself say, “Go fuck yourself.”
She didn’t even ask the other people in my row if they wanted drinks, and moved on down the plane. The fact that she was running away was how I knew that I had her. They had a plane full of pissed off people, many of whom would now lose a day of work or had lost their ride home from friends or on public transportation. We had all had to spend money in the gate that we did not plan to spend because of this delay. The very least they could do was have the human decency to make a small $5 gesture that acknowledged, “We messed up. This kind of service is unacceptable.” There were other passengers on the flight who were also angry enough to be screaming cuss words out loud, so the good behavior of the entire plane was at the boiling point. The only power they had was the trust that we would all behave like civilized people and follow the rules. They had not followed the same rules of etiquette and good behavior.

I stood up and calmly took a bottle of water from the cart, and then I sat down and took a long gulp.

When the flight attendant got back to the cart, I saw her look at the cart and then look at the bottle in my lap. “Did you take that water bottle,” she said. It was not a question.
“I did,” I said calmly, making eye contact with her. I was about 10 years older than she was, and I was going to use my age to my advantage. “And I do not intend to give you any money for it,” I said in a patient, measured tone.
She stood up, looked around, and pushed the cart back to the front of the plane.
Next, the older flight attendant came to my seat. He was about my age, but there were only 3 of them and 160 of us. “Did you take a water bottle from the cart?” he asked.
“Yes I did.”
“Those bottles are not for sale. These are the bottles for sale.”
“I don’t see how that matters since I don’t intend to pay anything for it,” I told him. I took pains to keep my tone firm but neutral.
“Ma’am. That is theft. This is your red card, if you try anything else on this 6 hour flight, I’m going to have you arrested when we land. Theft is illegal.”
“I don’t believe I’ll be needing anything else,” I said, holding his eyes so that he would know that that was beside the point. Just push me, asshole, I thought. I wanted nothing more than to pour out all of my anger from the evening onto this petit Napoleon. I knew that once I made a scene, other passengers would take my side. Not all of them, but enough that they would lose control of the plane. I wanted everyone to have free drinks and to see the snotty flight crew stripped of their power. If making a scene wasn’t enough to show these snots that it was unacceptable to treat people poorly, I was ready to get “arrested” in order to bring all of the fury of a PR nightmare on par with the United bumping fiasco down on their heads. To my disappointment, he walked away. It was a hollow victory. Once he was gone, the girl across the aisle from me leaned over to offer her solidarity.

Needless to say, sleep was scarce in my seat that didn’t even recline. I drank my war spoiles, and also the full bottle that I had in my bag the whole time. I made sure to make eye contact with the flight attendants wearing a confident, neutral expression every time I passed them.

The flight landed at 1:45, and by the time I collected my bag from baggage claim (never check a bag!), it was past 2am. I went outside to catch my Uber, and it was raining hard to suit my mood. I tried calling Flower Child over and over, but no matter how many times I called, it went straight to voicemail. The Uber driver dropped me off at her house, and I walked down the driveway with a sinking feeling. There were no barking dogs. As long as they weren’t dead, our dogs would be barking. I knocked on the front door. Nothing. I knocked again. Nothing. I knew immediately what had happened: Bodie’s “Grandma” lives across town, and Flower Child frequently sleeps over there when both dogs are over in order to give her cat a break. I didn’t have her mom’s house number.

This was where I surrendered to it. I had Flower Child’s mom’s phone number, and also Dr. Flower Child’s, but right now I needed to sit out in the rain at 3 in the morning for a few minutes and cry. I had been keeping it together through all the sleep deprivation, all the lines and the waiting and the running and the hunger and the bad luck and all the dehumanizing treatment. I could not be brave anymore. I just wanted to go home and sleep in my own bed with my dog.

giphy8Then a light came on. Oh shit. I had woken the neighbor up, and now a stranger was going to see me crying in the middle of the night like a drunk person. I knew I wasn’t making much sense as I tried to explain the situation, so I understood why she made me wait out on her porch while she called Dr. Flower Child. My identity confirmed, she let me inside their house and told me to call Dr. Flower Child myself and explain the situation. As I thanked her, I saw her tweenaged daughter hiding in the back of the kitchen. I was mortified.

I sat in the Flower Children’s front entrance area and cried until she showed up a little while later. I was crestfallen when I didn’t see Oscar, but what could you expect when you drag someone out of bed in the middle of the night? When I refused her offer to spend the night, she rummaged through the fridge and insisted that I take the first fresh vegetable that she could find: a carrot. I have to admit, it was a delicious carrot. Then we went out to the car, where to my overwhelming relief, the dogs were waiting.

I don’t know how I got home in the dark rain without an accident. I was slapping my face to keep awake, and my car hydroplaned on the freeway several times. I walked through my front door at 4:45 in the morning and finally my 5 days at Disney Refugee Camp were over. No human being in history has ever been so relieved to climb into their own bed.

Afterward

Now, of course, I am sick. But to take care of myself I have access to vegetables, medicine, hot tea and water. I have warm clothes on my back, a bed to sleep in at night, and a routine that lets me climb into it early. I cannot really control the overflow of work that has come to me in my absence, but when I am too sick to go into work, I can opt out and work from home. In short, I am human again.

 

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