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Stranger Danger to Friendship!

About a month ago I had the trip of a lifetime ahead of me: my friend Heidi’s wedding in Missoula Montana. It was going to be the best on many levels. For starters, Heidi is hilarious and makes me laugh and makes YOU laugh. Also, I’d heard Montana is similar to Colorado and things similar to Colorado come second only to actual Colorado on the list of things I love. This wedding was also going to serve as a reunion of my improv team who hadn’t been together in two years. And, AND there was going to be a lake.


There was only one thing that stood in my way of my dream weekend: two plane rides. I don’t like flying and I know it’s a total control thing so I’ve learned to leech on to any kind of power can.


I love choosing and being in control of where I sit on the aircraft. Families traveling with small children, be warned! I will not switch seats with you, I don’t care if your 3 year old has separation anxiety. I love scheduling my travel plans and loosely basing my flights on historically consistent weather patterns. Late afternoon flights into Colorado are a no go because of their dependable thunderstorms. And evening flights in general are out because nothing feels like a trip into eternal darkness (ie death) like a night flight.


However small, these choices give me a sense of security and power during my travels. Some things that work directly against this are: flight delays, flight cancellations, grounded planes, confused pilots/flight attendants, twitter theories of control system breeches, and small planes. I really hit the mother load when I encountered all of these in one day; Travel Day from Hell 2015 starring me as a panicked version of myself.


My friend Amy and I were set to leave for Missoula on a 6am flight – which I loved because not only did I *choose* that flight, but I actually like the airport in the early morning. Not enough has happened yet to piss everyone off and people are…not cheery, but sleepy which in an airport setting is as close as you get to friendly and courteous behavior.


We got to our United gate just as it was announced that their system was down WORLD WIDE and there would be no take offs until further notice. Grounded planes – check. Social media was abuzz over rumors of a system hack. Twitter theories of control system breeches – check. The person behind it could be a zit-faced teenager in his mom’s basement sucking down Red Bull and tapping away at a keyboard OR a psychopath with a good internet connection and a plan to crash every plane in the sky. But as a nervous flyer with a Hollywood imagination, I came up with my own theory that it wasn’t a person at all, but the machines revolting against us.


We waited for a few hours and watched the sun come up; there’s nothing quite like feeling your inner anxiety rise with the sun. Flight delay – check. Eventually they started boarding our plane and I tried to push everything that happened that morning out of my mind. I told myself what I always tell myself: that the people working for the airlines would never let us fly if it wasn’t 100% safe. They’re professionals and experts and they know what they’re doing. Except for the flight attendant who was trying to find seats for a large family of 6 who could only produce 5 tickets. And the pilot who came over the loud speaker to apologize for the delay and assured us we’d “be in LA in no time” (we were in LA) only to then later encourage us to “sit back and relax on our flight to Chicago.” (we were going to San Francisco.) Confused flight crew – check.


We landed in San Francisco and our comfortable 45-minute lay over got much more comfortable when we saw that they cancelled our connecting flight to Missoula while we were in the air. Cancelled flight – check. We got into the United customer service line and immediately hit it off with the group of four twenty-somethings standing in front of us. As Americans, nothing bonds us together more quickly than a flight cancellation. United was the enemy; we knew it, the people in front of us knew it, the couple behind us knew it, even the customer service employees knew it. One United employee walked in, took her seat behind the desk, took one look at the disgruntled, never ending line of travelers, turned right around and left. I think she quit her job that day.


After intensive googling and kayaking (the travel app not the sport), it became clear that there were no flights that would get us to Missoula that day. Possibly not even the next day. We joked with our four new friends, also headed to Missoula, that we should all rent a car and drive. That quickly turned our flight searches into car rental searches and by the time we reached the front of the line we’d all silently agreed to enter into a long distance road trip together. Our United representative could not have been more on board with our plan and she was really pushing for this road trip. It was like match.com for stranded passengers looking for road trip partners except with a lot less questions.


Yes, these three guys and one girl were total strangers. But the girl verbally disciplined a kid who was loudly berating his mother. A serial killer wouldn’t do that and a girl who hangs out with serial killers wouldn’t do that, right? It didn’t matter, we agreed to a flight from San Francisco to Salt Lake City (small plane – check) and a 9-hour drive from Salt Lake City to the beautiful if horribly inaccessible Missoula, Montana with these four friendly strangers.


But they were great! One of the guys offered to drive the whole way because he’d done the drive many times in the past (he knew which gas stations had the best bathrooms), and another guy had four different kinds of phone chargers! And they were even cool and stuck with our plan even after I noted that the truck of our 7 passenger van was “big enough to fit a body!”


Amy and I took some lackluster safety precautions. I told my mom I was “taking a drive” and Amy video chatted her parents, rotating her phone to show the people we were traveling with. We were in the back row, though, so only the backs of their heads were documented, essentially useless for identifying purposes should this turn into a kidnapping.


It’s worth noting that I also do not travel well by car. I’m OK if I’m driving, but if I’m the passenger, I’m constantly pressing an imaginary brake pedal to the floor. So sitting in the third row of this van, the furthest I could get from control of the vehicle (and the music selection), was not ideal. I was surprised by how chill I was being with this whole situation!


But as it got dark, everyone was told to be alert and watching for large animals jumping into the road. I was shaken but they all assured me that we were fine, we were in a large van, it wasn’t like we were “in a Kia Rio.” That only increased my driving anxiety because by 1am we were right in line with the plan of dropping Amy and I at the Missoula airport to pick up our second rental car, a Kia Rio.


But after an hour drive on the dark, rural roads of Charlot, Montana in a Kia Rio, we made it to the wedding venue. I had a shower and slept on a cot with a sleeping bag that was meant for a child. And that is where it all REALLY began. And by “it all” I mean my love for and obsession with Montana.


Everything after the child’s sleeping bag night was wonderful, beautiful, perfect, fun, and mostly near a lake. The wedding was great, the ceremony was great, the reception was great, we danced until 4am to such hits as “Bitch Better Have My Money” and “Shake It Off.” One guy’s heavy cowboy boots inspired us all to abandon dancing and opt to stomp aggressively and in unison instead. We drank IPAs until the wee morning and drank water out of a gasoline container (that had been very thoroughly cleaned.)


I was so happy I made it to Montana, it was worth the entire ridiculous 20 hours of travel. It was also worth the debilitating flu I got the morning after the wedding. The flu that prompted my friends to beg the hotel staff to let me stay in the room several hours after check out. The flu that wouldn’t allow me to open my eyes, or stand up. The flu that forced me to switch my flight to the next morning, get a hotel room, order Johnny Carino’s plain pasta to my room and watch Lifetime. I wasn’t the only victim, by Thursday, a full 4 days after the wedding, it had taken down at least 15 people. Take that,lady at the hotel who said I couldn’t party!


In the end I did make it back to Los Angeles and thanks to the air sickness bags, I found a new thing I can control on flights. I can throw up WHENEVER and WHEREVER I want!

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