When I was kid, there was this hippie musical mashup thing called Free To Be You And Me. It wasn’t exactly a proper musical, or an album, or a movie. It was this flowery 1960’s collection of sketches, songs, love and a little propaganda. For example, one of the songs was called “William Wants A Doll.” Looking back, it was rather progressive for its time.
My favorite song on Free To Be You And Me was called “It’s Alright to Cry.” It was one of those intentional dichotomies where they chose a huge NFL defensive tackle named Rosie Grier to sing it. I remember the chorus going something like:
It’s alright to cry
Crying gets the sad out of you
Raindrops from your eyes
It might make you feel better!
I found the song to be equal parts fascinating and off-putting. Pretty much in line with my feelings for the whole production. Free To Be You And Me was released in 1972… I was three. Although I didn’t do it often, I always took comfort in knowing if I needed to cry… it was alright; even for giant football players.
Fast forward thirty-seven years to the summer 2010. My cousin Diana was getting married in San Diego. As the daughter of my father’s only brother, we decided to make the holding of the blessed nuptials the anchor event for a full-blown family reunion. From the outset, the whole thing felt a little odd since the wedding was on a Thursday, but whatever, it’s California, I’ve learned not to ask questions. The plan was to fly out on Wednesday, do the wedding on Thursday, and spend the following five days doing what tourists do in San Diego; zoo, beach, etc.
My parents, my sister and her two boys would also be traveling from Rochester NY to San Diego, so you might think we’d all travel together, but to be honest I don’t really enjoying traveling with others, it doesn’t matter who; I’m just curmudgeonly like that. At the time, the best way to San Diego from Rochester was on Continental through Newark. My parents and sister booked a flight leaving at noon, my wife and I opted for the last flight out at 5:00.
In the summer of 2010, my children, one girl and three boys, were 10, 9, 7 and 6.
As I stated earlier, I really don’t like traveling with other people. I started out in business in 1992 and since then I have completed more than three hundred flights… mostly by myself. Luckily, when traveling with my wife and kids, they basically follow my lead like a compliant stream of little ducklings.
We arrived at the airport with plenty of time to check our bags, get through security and have a little snack before getting on our first flight. As we stood in the zig-zag leading up to security, I advised the children about how important it was that they listen carefully, honestly answer any questions asked of them, and obediently proceed through the steps of the process in an orderly fashion. I used my best “I’m not screwing around” parenting voice.
They passed through flawlessly, it was when we got to the gate our troubles began.
Our layover in Newark was supposed to be just shy of two hours – just the right amount of time to move four kids from one gate to another while grabbing a little fast food dinner along the way.
We arrived at the gate in Rochester, and the status board read, “DELAYED.” After a little asking around, we learned there were severe thunderstorms all throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey, making a mess of all the air traffic in and out of Newark.
I hopped on my laptop, connected to the airport WiFi and started looking for options. Every minute our flight was delayed was a minute closer to missing our connection in Newark… the last flight to San Diego that would get us to the Thursday wedding.
I found a flight out of Cleveland (a 6 hour drive) early Thursday morning that would get us there in time, but the good people of Continental had no interest in helping solve a problem they referred to as “an act of God.”
So we sat, watched the clock, and waited.
When we finally boarded the flight to Newark, it looked like we would have about 6 minutes to make our connection. A nearly impossible feat for an able bodied adult, and completely out of the question with four children in tow.
As we left the ground, all we could do was hope our next flight was also delayed.
I mention “able-bodied” adult for a reason. What I’ve failed to mention up to now was this… a few days before this adventure, I tore a hamstring in my right leg playing company kickball, making me look very much like Javier Bardem in No Country For Old Men.
As we landed in Newark my wife and I decided I should sprint for the connection with the two oldest kids, figuring if we made it we could hold the door long enough for the others. We cleared the gate and began what looked like a poorly executed PSA for the Special Olympics across Concourse A. Of course, the gate was not nearby, in fact it was about as far away as it could possibly be.
We hobbled along for a couple hundred yards when a nice man in a golf cart took notice of our pathetic display and offered us a ride. We hopped in, told him where we were headed and off we flew. Once we were up to speed, the driver turned to me and in a thick Indian accent said, “The horn is broken, so I have to do this.” He then proceeded to stand up while driving and yell, “BEEP BEEP, OUT OF THE WAY, COMING THROUGH, BEEP BEEP!”
I couldn’t help but laugh at the absurdity of it all.
The shouting continued for several minutes, and as the gate came into focus, my worst fears were realized, the gate was empty, the plane was gone.
I thanked the driver, dismounted from the golf cart with the two kids, and the three of us began to limp back towards where my wife and the two youngest would be walking. Our paths finally crossed right in front of Continental Customer Service, which was housed in an odd little cubbyhole between two gates.
As I waited in line for my turn to be yelled at, my wife lined up all four kids along the wall of the cubbyhole, asked them to sit, and in the very same voice I used at security said, “We’re probably going to miss the wedding. If you all cry maybe we won’t. So please feel free to cry. Oh, and if anyone asks you… you’re in the wedding. I don’t care what you say your role is, get creative, make something up.”
My wife then joined me in line and said, “that there might not work, but it’s not going to hurt our cause.”
It wasn’t long until it was my turn at the counter. I explained our situation and offered alternatives I was willing to entertain, including flying to LA and renting a car to cover the last 100 or so miles. The agent spoke very few words, but typed furiously on his terminal, you know, like they do. As he typed I looked over my left shoulder at my four children and sure enough, full blown tears on three and one laughing into his pillow pet, which looked enough like crying for the task at hand. As I turned back to the agent he said, “Mr. Nazarian, you’re going to San Diego, right?” As I nodded in the affirmative he continued, “Well, I can’t say I understand it, but they want you back at the gate.”
Without hesitation, we grabbed the bawling children and left.
When we got to the gate, there was a single flight attendant at the door rushing us through almost like we were on the lam and she was the sentry at a safe house. She did not even scan our boarding passes.
What had happened was this. The plane had pushed back from the gate at the scheduled time so the airline could log an “on time” departure, but the plane had only made it 50 yards, where it sat, number 49 for takeoff. The guy in customer service had messaged the flight crew about my crying children and something about a wedding… so I-Shit-You-not, the brought the plane back.
Once we were on board, the madness continued. All of our assigned seats had been taken by aggressive a-holes who were unwilling to move, so the six of us were scattered all over the plane. Emily was with the 6 year old, the seven year old was two seats away from me and the nine and ten year olds were together. Once we were settled, I passed my credit card to each child telling them they could pay for the in-flight satellite TV, and watch whatever they wanted for the next 6 hours. Luckily, all they cared about was the Disney channel.
Lewis, the nine-year-old, chatted up the flight attendant, letting her know our entire tale of woe and how our car seats didn’t make it one the plane along with our luggage. When we landed in San Diego, that flight attendant chased us down at the gate and took us to the room where they keep all the unclaimed car seats, so our kids could travel safely until our luggage arrived.
The wedding was lovely, the reunion was fun and a great time was had by all. At the San Diego Zoo I found out my credit card had been turned off because they suspected 5 satellite TV purchases on a single flight was likely fraud. Once I set them straight, that was easily resolved.
They say parents should never use children as weapons in any conflict, but as far as my wife and I are concerned, when you’re up against the airlines and “acts of God,” Rosie Grier had it right… it is definitely alright to cry.
Now, for your early 1970’s hippie, feel-good, singing defensive tackle moment of the day, I bring you the original It’s Alright To Cry. Enjoy!
Copyright © 2018 – Stephen S. Nazarian – All rights reserved