Gather round, internet, for I have a tale to share with you. This is the kind of story that would be better heard by a roaring fire, each of us holding goblets of mead, a man in a horned hat rattling clam shells in the background.
And like all great epics, it requires illustrations befitting the scope of the hero’s journey. Just as it would have been anticlimactic if the pages of Beowulf were interspersed with iPhone selfies from Heorot Hall, this story cannot be sullied with real photographs. It requires the pen of a great illustrator to capture the sweeping drama that the words contain.
There is, of course, only one artist up to that task: Heather from Mama Knows.
So it is with great pleasure that I bring to you the story of the first 24 hours of the media tour for Something Other than God, with illustrations by Heather.
* * *
3:00 PM, WEDNESDAY, APRIL 30
I arrive at the Austin airport to head to the EWTN headquarters in Birmingham, AL, for the first part of the media tour for my book.
(If you heard the words “media tour” and thought of anything glamorous at all, you have the wrong picture. Mostly it involves dodging wasps in my garage while I talk to radio hosts on the phone.)
It is a little tradition of mine to get a chopped brisket sandwich every time I’m at the airport. I think about skipping it but decide to get one anyway — a decision that will soon be important to my survival.
A call comes in from area code 205. I stare at it with that look of trepidation and suspicion that crosses my face every time I get a call from a number I don’t recognize. My plan is to agonize about whether to answer it until it stops ringing, as I usually do, but then I realized that that’s the Birmingham area code.
It’s EWTN’s travel coordinator, who informs me that my flight is delayed by two hours, meaning that I’ll miss my connection in Atlanta.
I have a tweet all typed up in my head saying, “WHO WANTS TO PARTY IN THE ATL?”, but the coordinator says she’s going to get me on a later flight.
I talk to a gate agent who rattles off a series of options involving confirmed flights, standby flights, and renting a car and driving. Prioritizing them is like working on a Mensa puzzle for the clinically insane.
We painstakingly walk through each option and get it all figured out.
I call the travel coordinator to tell her what we got worked out. While I was talking to the local employee, she was on the phone with the airline and got a different, better schedule for me.
I rush back to the gate to figure out which changes took — mine or the EWTN coordinator’s. It results in a level of confusion that makes me certain that my brain is now melting, and we discover that somehow I was kicked off the Austin-Atlanta flight. We scramble to get me back on that flight.
I call the rental car company to tell them that I’ll be about four hours late. I perceive that this will be a short call where I go through their standard routine for handling this kind of thing.
The customer service agent reacts as if I have called to request a fighter jet instead of a compact car.
I get on the Austin-Atlanta flight to find myself in an aisle seat, which is one of my least favorite experiences in the world. And, of course, both of the window seat people in my row shut their windows.
I try to imagine why they would do this to those of us in non-window seats. It must be either:
a) We appear to be vampires, and they think we’d enjoy the “flying coffin” experience.
Those are the only two options I can come up with. I know it can’t be that they have no interest in looking outside, because we are in the sky — the freaking SKY, people — and if you’re not excited about seeing the moon rise over the clouds, you’re not technically alive.
Half way through the flight the plane begins to lurch and shake, and I instinctively glance toward both windows. They remain closed. The plane may very well be being attacked by gremlins like in that one episode of The Twilight Zone, but WE’LL NEVER KNOW because THE WINDOWS ARE SHUT.
I spend most of my layover in Atlanta trying to make sure that my suitcase will actually get to Birmingham. I consider getting something to eat, but most of the restaurants are closed, and I just can’t bring myself to pay $10 for a suspicious-looking salad. I’ll just eat when I get to the hotel, I think. (Ominous foreshadowing here!!!)
I get seated on the flight to Birmingham to discover that I have been given a middle seat. You can read what I think about middle seats here.
I consider trying to Jedi mind trick the guy in the seat next to me by saying hypnotically, “I’m willing to sacrifice my middle seat for your window if you really want to, ” but I’m so tired I’d probably I’d probably interrupt myself in mid-sentence and sob and scream, “I just want off the hell-plane!!!”
(It was not a 28-minute flight; we went back a time zone.)
After getting my suitcase, I dash to the rental car place, which closes at midnight.
They explain that they gave away the compact car I requested. They do not give me details about this new car, and I do not ask.
I head out to the lot, but I don’t see my car. There’s a massive pick-up truck that they probably keep around if they need to tow multiple shuttle vans at once, but no rental car.
Then I look at the stall number on my keychain, and back at the truck.
That’s my rental.
Whatever you are picturing for this truck, it’s wrong. Picture something bigger than that.
Still too small.
Okay, now you have some idea of the enormity of this thing — though it’s still way off.
I start the truck, which sounds like the Death Star roaring to life, and I manage to pilot it over to my hotel.
At the hotel parking garage, there is a bar hanging down that says MAXIMUM HEIGH 6′ 6″. It doesn’t seem like the truck will clear it. This is the first time in my life that one of these things has been relevant to me, and I pause to consider what to do with this information.
I decide that this silly bar is no match for me, so I rev the engine and push on through the gate. As the bar clunks against the roof of the truck, I cackle at its inability to stop my massive vehicle, thinking, Y’all are gonna need more than a dangly little bar to stop THE MONSTER TRUCK!
I hurtle through the garage, but notice that the ceiling seems to be getting closer and closer. I slam on the brakes just as the garage seems to be closing in on me. I jump out to inspect the situation and see that there is approximately a millimeter of space between the roof of the truck and concrete block holding up the roof. If I had gone an inch further, it would have gotten stuck.
I think of my words when I entered the garage, and note that while the dangly little bar did nothing to stop the monster truck, the six-feet-thick concrete beam in the ceiling worked just fine.
Imagine if the Empire State building had a steering wheel. Now imagine if your job was to drive it through the streets of Manhattan and into a parking space. That gives you some idea of what it was like to back the truck through the parking garage — since I couldn’t go forward without getting stuck — and squeeze it into a parking space.
I check in at the Doubletree, and the lovely employees at the front desk offer me a warm cookie. I am about to decline since processed sugary stuff tends to make me feel oddly like The Incredible Hulk on valium, but then it dawns on me that their restaurant is closed, therefore so is room service.
I look at the cookie and realize that this is my dinner.
I have show tapings first thing in the morning, so I set my alarm for 6:15 AM and collapse into bed.
6:30 AM, THURSDAY
I catch sight of myself in the bathroom mirror. It’s not good. The only way to describe the face I beheld in the reflection after my grueling night of travel would be “hungover Yoda in a red wig.”
I apply a quantity of makeup normally reserved for professional clowns and head out to the tapings.
The tables in the restaurant by the lobby are empty and there is only a lone, half-empty coffee dispenser. I interpret this to mean that I missed the breakfast buffet. Feeling mildly woozy from hunger, I check the clock to see that I don’t have time to stop anywhere — especially since it would take an extra half hour simply to park the monster truck.
I would later discover that the breakfast buffet was booming during this time. It was supposedly in their main dining area, which I never did find despite asking where it was multiple times.
I was left with the impression that this hotel had some kind of bat cave restaurant, where super-guests could move a secret book on a shelf, and the wall would swing open to reveal and lavish spread with fruit, bacon, sausage, and chefs whipping up fresh omelets. The rest of us had to be content with dribbles of stale coffee from a canister in the main lobby.
On the way out of the garage, the parking lot attendant flags me to roll down my window through bouts of hysterical laughter. “Dang, girl, why’d you buy such a big truck?!” he says. I explain that there was a mishap at the rental car company, and this tickles him even further.
As I power the truck over a curb to get out of the garage, I catch sight of the parking attendant in the mirror. He is texting someone and laughing so hard that he’s about to drop his phone.
The incident makes it occur to me that everyone is going to think this is my truck.
Everyone is going to picture me pacing around a car dealership, evaluating all my options, then stopping at the giant vehicle that has its own gravity field and saying, “This — this is the one for me.”
People on the EWTN campus turn when they hear the roar of the engine approaching. Some of the staffers probably recognize me since I’m scheduled for so many shows that day.
I consider hanging my head out the window and yelling, “It’s a RENTAL!”, but I realize that the upshot of that would be that everyone would think that I actively chose to rent this behemoth.
Since it would be too much to shout the whole story about the rental company giving away the compact car I requested, I just avoid eye contact and double-park the truck.
I meet Fr. Mitch Pacwa, the host of EWTN Live. I know from his Wikipedia bio that he speaks English, German, Spanish, Polish, Hebrew, Arabic, French, Italian, Latin, Koine Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Ugaritic, so it does not surprise me when he begins by making a joke in German.
I briefly consider suggesting that maybe a better role for me on this program would be to refill his coffee while he talks.
I head back to the Doubletree to do the show Bookmark, which is recording on-site at the Catholic leadership convention. Patrick Madrid tweets pictures.
I finish the Bookmark taping. Now it’s time to get back in the truck and return to EWTN campus for a round of live radio interviews.
There’s no spot that will fit the truck at EWTN, so I circle the parking lot as if the captain of a naval battleship. The minutes are ticking away until the air time of the live radio show, so I ditch the truck in a reserved parking space. I have to pull it partially onto the lawn by the prayer garden in order to make it fit.
A startled staffer sees me climbing down from the cab and seems to recognize me. I realize the utter futility of trying to explain how I ended up in this situation, so I decide to own it. I swagger away from the truck as if to say, “Yeah, that’s right! That’s how we do it in Texas!”
I still have not eaten. I feel like I’m the host of one of those survival shows as I add 20 of the tiny half-and-half cups to each mug of coffee. I feel like I should look at a camera and say, “When you find yourself on the brink of starvation on your media tour, forage for high-calorie creamer to stay alive.”
An extremely generous employee humbly offers me his own lunch after we record the first radio show. I am tempted to shove him aside and say “ENJOY YOUR WATER!” through mouth-fulls of food as I devour the contents of his McDonald’s bag, but I assure him that I’d be happy to get something from the vending machine.
I find the vending machine, and almost drop to my knees to behold its contents. And then I see that I only have a $20 in my purse.
There is a kitchen somewhere on the labyrinthine EWTN campus, but I don’t have time to find it before the next show.
I thought I could hold out on food, but now I’m getting woozy during the interview. I think I might see the Blessed Mother.
I’m hearing the voice of God tell me things. About cheeseburgers.
After the recordings, I rush out in search for food. I can’t count on getting the truck into a restaurant parking lot. I remember that some drive-thrus have those hanging height warning bars (that, AS I HAVE RECENTLY DISCOVERED, are not there to stop large trucks in and of themselves, but rather indicate the height of nearby concrete ceilings).
My only hope is to make it to the hotel.
While on the road, I notice that all cars make way for me, even when I’m the one with the yield sign. I suddenly realize that this is a really, really good time to be driving a monster truck.
I’m trying to change lanes so that I can exit for the hotel, but a car won’t let me in. I turn the blinker off, then on again, and delicately wave. He still won’t let me in. Little does he know, there is no chance that he is going to make me miss this exit and add another ten minutes to my time without food.
I rev the engine and inch toward his lane, as if to say, “I need to get over and you don’t want to let me over but you’re in a Toyota hybrid and I’m in a vehicle primarily used to tow 18-wheelers, so I GUESS WE’LL BE DOING IT MY WAY.” He acquiesces, and I make the exit.
I call room service, and my order probably gives them the impression that I am hosting a party for ten sumo wrestlers.
My order arrives, and I eat it as if I am a gold medalist in Competitive Eating at the Olympics.
I pass out on my bed and take a long, hard, well-earned nap.
A huge thanks to Heather for perfectly capturing this day with her illustrations — check out her blog to see more of her creative genius.
And if you didn’t get the diamond studs reference in the Yoda picture, see this post.
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