On semifinals, new friends, and my seven-year character arc.

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If I had to pick a theme for this whole Jeopardy! saga, it would be redemption.

I first tried out for the show when I was in 8th grade. Back then, though, I was still homeschooled. Suffice it to say I was the most socially awkward little thirteen-year-old this side of the Mississippi (and certainly the youngest person to don a sweater from Coldwater Creek). No wonder I didn’t make it on the show.

That same year, the spelling bee happened. I’d competed in the local homeschool spelling bee a few times before. In fourth grade, I got first place in the grade level and subsequently lost to the fifth grade winner, who went on to the county level. Seventh grade, I got second in my level. But eighth grade was where ish got real. I ended up winning the middle school title, winning the county bee, and going to the regional level (which, back then, was one level below the National Spelling Bee).

I muffed “stalag” and “plumicorn.” It haunted me for months.

It sounds pathetic, I know, but the thing was that I didn’t know how to lose. Never mind the fact that I was coming off two victories – I’d basically spent my entire life being sheltered from competition (note:  in no way am I blaming this on my mother, because homeschooling was genuinely the right thing for me for a good long while). I never had the experience of going to elementary school and not being the teacher’s pet, or not getting the most gold stars, or being picked last for teams in gym class (which I would’ve been, let’s be real). It literally didn’t compute with me that I could genuinely lose at something.

Public school was the start of a sea change for me in both those respects. Ninth grade was one big social-skills immersion class. I got a lot better at not being awkward really quickly, but that’s not to say it hasn’t been a continuous process. It really has. I still cringe at some of the ridiculous stuff I said and did as a senior in high school. (To be honest, the whole thing’s a bit dreamlike now. Remembering high school is almost an out-of-body experience, like I was sleepwalking the whole time and didn’t notice until later.) It was a big lesson in learning how to not be the best, too. I spent high school not being ranked #1 in the class, getting salutatorian rather than valedictorian, and losing to Broken Arrow in marching band competitions more times than I could count. I thought all that had taught me my lesson, and it certainly helped. I got one more kick in the pants, though, in the form of organic chemistry. Gen chem came super-naturally to me, so I thought ochem would be the same way.  LOL NOPE.  My GPA didn’t end up dipping as a result of that rude awakening, but I definitely had a lot of near-meltdowns and brutally honest self-reflection moments.

When I got The Call, it was closure for me in one sense. I felt like I’d finally shed my awkward-homeschooler skin – enough, at least, for the almighty Maggie Speak to deem me fit for national TV.

And then I lost my semifinal game.

That morning in the green room, when Tucker, Laurie, and I found out we were playing each other, we all just went oh. We had all bonded really quickly, thanks to Tucker’s bow ties, and at that point I definitely felt closest to the two of them. So to find out that only one of us could advance was a little crushing. We all wanted everyone to win.

Thirty seconds later, pretty much simultaneously, we were okay with it. We decided we were going to be happy no matter what the results were, just because we liked each other that much.

Thing was, it was a darn good game. Tucker, Laurie, and I all had really close scores at the end of DJ. I didn’t make rash guesses. I got the Phillis Wheatley question. Sure, I botched the Leviticus clue, but I didn’t bet enough on it for it to ultimately matter.  And it didn’t really matter that I put Roget instead of Webster for Final Jeopardy!, because Tucker got the question right.  Math-wise, I was screwed either way.  Besides, I have to admire the poetic justice of second-guessing myself in FJ after Sarah did exactly the same thing in quarterfinals.

But honestly, the game itself wasn’t the important part to me. I got to play with two people I genuinely liked, and I definitely felt more relaxed because of it (which is why I talked slower in my interview!). It was an honor to lose to Tucker. It would have been an honor to lose to Laurie. I love them both to bits, and I’m so glad I can count them among my friends. And I’m glad I can say the same for the other contestants as well. During the other semifinal games and both finals games, I got to be part of the most supportive audience ever. We cheered loudly for everyone. We supported everyone. Our Facebook group has been incredibly lively ever since its creation. We constantly do Google hangouts. Two days after we all got back to our respective homes, we started talking about reunions.

The ten grand I won will help pay for grad school, and that’s great. But what’s even greater, to me, is that I came away from this experience with some of the best friends I’ll ever have.

That’s the other thing, the other bit of closure for me. Thirteen-year-old me wouldn’t have bonded so much with the others. Thirteen-year-old me would have seen them as rivals. But now, in my current regeneration (if you will), they’re my dear, dear friends.  This character arc of mine, this long and painfully awkward journey to some form of maturity, ended in about the best way possible.

I can’t wait to see where my story takes me next.

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Thoughts on thick skin, Twitter hate, and trolling.

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(Sorry, everyone – I know I promised you all a happy post about the Pacific Ocean, but this is more timely.)

How do I handle it?

I’ve been asked that question a couple times since Monday’s Twitstorm. I’ve been asked how I developed such thick skin, how I can troll the people calling me a “dumb b*tch” with such cheek, and how other people can develop similar resilience. At the time, I had no ready answer. I’m still not sure I do.

But a couple things have occurred to me since then, and I’ll explore them here. Part of it is about perspective, and part of it is about understanding what breeds Internet hate.

Let’s tackle perspective first. Generally speaking, I don’t like having enemies. I’m not the sort of person who thrives on conflict. I’m not an anger junkie. But in the context of random people tweeting about how much they hate me, my definition of the word “enemy” merits closer examination. I’ve never met any of these people in my life. The most intimate interaction I’ll ever have with any of them is retweeting them. When they watch me on TV and when they tweet about me, there’s the barrier of a screen separating us. We’re very much removed from each other.

In a few words, they really don’t have any power over me. They’re not even worth calling “enemies.”

That helps a lot.

This isn’t my first experience with Internet-disseminated hate, either, although I’ve not really been the recipient of such hate before. I’ve been a denizen of Tumblr long enough to know that people send anonymous hate all the time. Some people are affected pretty horribly by it, but I’ve also seen people opining on how pathetic it is. “Do you really have nothing better to do than to send people anon hate?” they ask.

Granted, the concept of anon hate is more malicious on Tumblr because the haters send it directly to the people in question, whereas I basically sought out my haters. I still think, though, that the point stands.

Another aspect of Twitter hate (that also applies to Tumblr hate) is the forced reliance on self-censorship. The click of a button – tweet or ask or submit – is the only thing between you and the rest of the Internet. It’s never been easier to express your opinions. Which, of course, spawns a tendency for the Internet to become a logorrhific cesspool. If you don’t believe me, then disobey that old adage and read the YouTube comments. Any video ever on feminism would be a good place for your education to start.

I honestly think the presence of Twitter hate reveals more about the haters than it does about anyone else – specifically, their lack of prudence. Not being prone to more charitable impulses is one thing. But not keeping it to yourself? Not thinking for a second that if you can’t say anything nice, you shouldn’t say anything at all? Not thinking that there’s a chance your words could come back to bite you? Not even considering that your words could hurt someone?  Those things are in a league of their own.

That’s why it’s so important to me that I troll the haters. Retweeting them, letting them know that I know what they say about me, is a form of public shaming. It’s my attempt to remind them that words have consequences, that you never know who’s paying attention to what you’re saying.

Lastly, to the haters:  you’re lucky it was me. You’re lucky I’m not more fragile. If you’d been targeting someone more affected by this stuff than I am, you might have a lot more to answer for. “Awkward,” several of you said after I trolled you.

If you’re not more prudent in the future, things could get way more than just “awkward.”

The Quarterfinal Game

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Now that I’ve had my watch party for my Norman friends (and seen my episode five times – totally feeling like Phil Connors right now), I feel like I can finally post this.  Warning:  spoilers positively ABOUND in this post.  So if you haven’t seen my episode yet, don’t read this.  Watch it.  Go on, I’ll wait.

This post'll still be here when you get back, don't worry.

This post’ll still be here when you get back, don’t worry.

I’ll start with the non-spoilery bits.  It’s no secret that mine was the first game of the whole ding-dang tournament.  When Corina called me after James and Sarah, back in the green room, my first thought was just oh.  To be honest, I was hoping to stay in the green room for at least a little while longer, so I could watch movies and get to know my fellow contestants more.  But no, I was being thrown right in.  I mostly managed to suppress the trepidation.  Mostly.

I was actually feeling fairly centered as I walked into the studio behind Sarah.  I wasn’t really nervous at all.  I don’t know if I was in the Zone or if my brain was just on autopilot.  It was a lot to process, though, so for the time being, I just didn’t process it.  I think the only time in that five-minute stretch that I actually felt something other than purposeful detachment was when the camera panned to me.

“A junior at the University of Oklahoma from Tulsa, Oklahoma…”

It was really happening.  I smiled so hard I think I almost split my face open.

Then Alex came out, and I just went right back to not processing anything again.  I’m pretty sure if I’d tried to process the fact that my second honorary grandfather, the unflappable Canadian who’s been on my TV for as long as I’ve lived, was standing less than thirty feet from me, I would’ve passed out right then and there.

The game started.

Actually playing Jeopardy! in real life is so different from sprawling on the couch at home and shouting out the answers before all your family members.  While they were setting up the podiums, before the game, I adopted what I call my Guitar Hero Power Pose – not a wide second position, like Jack Black talks about in School of Rock, but definitely second position, feet planted as firmly as I could manage, shoulders square.  I felt solid, sure I wasn’t going to fall over, which was good because the nervous shakes were definitely threatening to come over me.  I realize now that I adopted this same position when I was standing in the Pacific Ocean the previous day and the waves came rolling with surprising force at me.  It’s funny, actually, because during the game I kind of felt as if I was standing in the ocean again, trying to stay upright while waves of trivia smacked into me.  I’ve tried so many times to come up with a good analogy for what it felt like to be up there, but the best I can do is this:  try playing Wii Ping-Pong while standing in the Pacific.  Imagine that you don’t just have to hold yourself up, you can’t just concentrate on that, but you also have to remember to ring in and try to get the hang of the buzzer timing (which, by the way, is hard).

I don’t remember many of the clues, but I do remember the interview segment well, in part because when Alex was walking over to my podium, before the show came back, he said to me, “You know, all I can see on that shirt is ‘Klahom.’”

To which I replied, “You’re not the first one to notice that.”

Anyway, we went back on air, and I told the story of the children’s book on basset hound genetics I wrote.  (One of these days, I’ll make a post on here that’s comprised entirely of pictures of my basset hound Ella, so you all can see just how cute she is.)  The game resumed.

Then the Manx question happened.

I knew the island in question, somehow, and I also knew the type of cat (thanks to a very brief obsession with cats when I was maybe ten that never compared in scope to my obsession with dogs).  James rang in before me, though, and I thought frick.

“What is a Mannish cat?”

Phew.  I got another chance.  Then Sarah got in over me.

“What is a lynx?”  Also wrong.

My time to shine, y’all.  I rang in.  “What is a Manx cat?”

Bam.  Moolah in the bank.

I emphasize this particular clue because the next time someone got a Daily Double, the judges decided to have a little conference.

They replayed the Manx cat question a couple times, so I got to hear how oddly strangled my voice sounded.  I still wasn’t processing much of anything, but in the back of my mind, I was faintly worried that they were going to count either James’s or Sarah’s answer right.  Eventually, Maggie and Glenn hopped on stage and turned us contestants around so we couldn’t see the board.  This judges’ conference thing was apparently going to take a little longer than a few seconds.  They talked to us some.  I talked with them, but I honestly can’t remember anything anyone said.  It’s as if I was magically not processing things even more.

We didn’t find out what the judges were talking about till later.

One of the only things I remember clue-wise about Double Jeopardy! (even now, after watching the episode) was getting the Daily Double.  (What can I say, I’m tired right now.)  I took a miniscule risk – $600 – because my strategy was to play for the stumpers.  My first Daily Double, which I muffed, is where I developed that strategy, actually, and it served me well later.  But more on that in a bit.  I saw the clue and instantly thought crap.  My mind immediately went to the African capitals, so I was bouncing among Algiers, Tripoli, and Cairo.  I don’t remember which one I ultimately said, but the correct answer was Carthage.

No wonder I got it wrong, honestly.  To me, Carthage is a town in Missouri.  My family always stops at a Wal-Mart there and takes leg-stretching/bathroom breaks while en route to see our relatives in Iowa.  (Shoutout to Oma, Opa, Angie, and Bill!)

Then came the end of Double Jeopardy!   “Today’s Final Jeopardy! category is…”

~bbbrrrring~

“Islands.”

For the first time in the entire show, I thought something I shouldn’t say on television.

The break between Double Jeopardy! and Final Jeopardy! is, without question, the longest effing break in the game.  They give you a lot of time to consider your wager.  The flip side of this is that they also give you a lot of time to freak out.  That’s about what I was doing.  I attempted to do some wagering math on the scratch paper they provided, but I was so nervous that everything I’d ever read about wagering strategy just flew out of my head and went on an island vacation.

Crap, I kept thinking.  All the geography I reviewed was world capitals, and that was desultory at best. I didn’t review with maps very much at all.  Crap, crap, crap.  I definitely didn’t trust myself to get a geography question right if it wasn’t about world capitals.  (There was one little voice in my mind that kept going WHAT IF IT’S A QUESTION ABOUT ONE OF THOSE PACIFIC ISLANDS YOU CAN NEVER TELL APART? PALAU OR TUVALU OR VANUATU?!, but I mostly shut that train of thought down.)

I was acutely aware that the presence of wildcards would complicate things.  If I wagered low enough (I was at an even ten grand, and so was James), I could maybe still stand a chance at getting a wildcard spot.

So I decided to play for the wildcard instead of playing to win.

“$0,” I wrote on the screen.

It was about then that we found out what the judges must’ve been talking about (or maybe they had another judges’ conference about it – I’m not sure).  Earlier, James had replied to a taxonomy question with “Class.  [big awkward five-second pause]  What is class?”  The judges let him have it at first, but then they decided he waited too long, so they docked $800 from his total.  I was now in the lead by an uncomfortably slim margin.  They gave us an opportunity to change our wagers.

I still wagered nothing.

After what seemed like an absolute frakkin’ eternity, we resumed the game.  Alex announced the change to James’s score and revealed the clue to Final Jeopardy!

It was a video clue.  All we saw at first was this island shaped roughly like an arrowhead, and Alex said we were supposed to identify it.  In that instant, I thought how on earth are we supposed to ID that?  There are no cities marked or anything.  Then the map panned out, and we saw the bottom of the boot of Italy.

Now, I mentioned in this post that I suck at geography and said it would come into play later.  Well, this is exactly where it came into play.  I immediately wrote down Crete.  Not because I was 100% sure it was the answer, but because no other answer occurred to me.  The only other island in the Mediterranean I could think of was Corsica, and I knew Corsica wasn’t shaped like that.

When the think music stopped, Alex went to Sarah first.

“What is Crete?”  She had written Sicily and crossed it out in favor of Crete.  Nope.  She dropped from $6200 to $1400.

Then Alex went to James.

“What is Fiji?”  Again, nope.

He’d risked everything.

I was still fundamentally not processing what was going on, but I had enough presence of mind to mentally raise an eyebrow.  I had expected everyone to be much better at geography than me and just know this right off the bat.  What in blazes was happening?

At this stage, I was just having an extended oh-crud moment for missing the clue.  And of course, Alex revealed that I had put Crete.  Wrong answer, nerd.  Congratulations, you have officially sucked at geography on national TV.

It was also then that he revealed the correct answer was Sicily.  Sarah had crossed out the right answer.  I immediately started kicking myself.  Oh my god, Whitney, really? the voice in my head was moaning.  Why, WHY did you not remember Sicily?

“And what did she wager?…  Nothing.”

It was only when Alex said I’d won that the penny dropped.

I won.

That was pretty much the only coherent thing I thought.

I managed to get through the post-game chat with Alex and subsequent interview without making too much of a fool of myself (although I’ll freely admit I was a little starstruck when I met Jimmy McGuire, who was the one interviewing me), and then I made my way to a seat in the audience.

I made semifinals.  I’m playing again tomorrow.  I’m guaranteed ten grand.

It was slowly sinking in.

Next time:  we turn back the clock, to the previous day.  I see my first ocean, among other things.

Monday, part 1: SMOKED SALMON!

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As I’d predicted the night before (prior to conking out around 9 pm), I had a bit of a hard time getting out of bed the next morning.  I’m glad I did, though, because for breakfast we (Angie included this time!) went to Aroma Coffee and Tea Co.

Aroma is on Tujunga Avenue, one in a line of cafés and boutiques that all exude rich hipster.  They abut a neighborhood filled with gorgeous houses of a moderate age, including a couple haciendas (a style to which I’m partial).  We circled the block in an attempt to find a parking place, gawping at all the pretty houses, before parking just shy of Tujunga and walking the rest of the way.  As Mom explained en route, all the big head-honcho producers and directors frequent Aroma.

We stepped inside and looked at the breakfast menu, and I about had a fit of joy.  Why?  Because they actually served smoked salmon.  I’d fallen in love with smoked salmon during my three weeks in England (more about that here).  The stuff I bought at Target and the stuff I found in my favorite sushi didn’t really cut it for me, so I was feeling pretty smoked-salmon-deprived at this stage.  But anyway, we all ordered breakfast and lattes.  I amused myself while everyone else ordered by giggling at this:

Blood orange soda

That’s blood orange soda, if you can’t see it too well.

Ah, Project Runway.  Gif courtesy of tumblr user netscapeme.

We sat out back, on the patio.  The sky was clear, and it was just a brilliant day in general.  Mom took the opportunity to snap a few pictures.

Dad and Claire

Dad’s on the left, and Claire’s on the right.

Dad and me

Our food came somewhere in there.  I got really emotional over the smoked salmon.

Smoked salmon

That’s a poached egg on top of smoked salmon on top of a potato pancake. I’m drooling just from looking at it.

My breakfast was excellent, as was my vanilla cinnamon spice latte.  Everyone else’s breakfast was just as excellent.

Also, I’m pretty sure this guy was at the table next to ours.

Aasif Mandvi.  If you’ve seen The Internship, this guy played the Google boss. Image from monstersandcritics.com.

Eventually, we left Aroma.  A kind passerby took a picture of us outside the place.

Dad, me, Mom, Claire, and Angie outside Aroma, looking quite spiffy.

That’s actually Claire’s coffee. Somehow, Dad got stuck holding it.

Before this trip, when we were still in the planning stage, we’d talked about spending Monday at Universal Studios.  That… definitely didn’t happen.  Mom suggested we go to Mulholland Drive and just putter along there for a while.  Nobody had any objections, so that’s where we went.

Fairly early on, we spotted a scenic outlook and parked there.  This particular scenic outlook not only had an excellent view of LA, but it also allowed us to see the Hollywood sign.  Of course, we took a lot of pictures.

View of Los Angeles from the Mulholland Drive Scenic Overlook

The view.

A rather steep dropoff, populated heavily with poky-looking bushes and grass.

Yikes.

The Hollywood sign, viewed from a distance

Claire and me holding hands while jumping off a low bench thing

Scenic, right?

After we’d had our fill of precarious rock formations and Dad had wiggled the car out of our now-very-tight parking spot, we drove on.  We didn’t stop at any more scenic outlooks, but that didn’t stop me from taking more pictures of the views.

View of Los Angeles from Mulholland Drive

Dang.

I’m pretty sure I was the only one paying any real attention to these.  Mom, Claire, and Angie all professed to be nauseous, and Dad was driving.

Mom and Angie did freak out, though, when they saw a fire station.  Not for any reason you might think of, I guarantee it.  No, they freaked out because they’re both in the Emergency! fandom.  (Here, enlighten yourself.)  “Is that station 51?” they kept asking each other.  As it turned out, it wasn’t.

Eventually, we ended up near Bel-Air.  Dad parked the car at another scenic overlook (for what reason, I don’t remember), and the rest of us stayed in the car.  Mom, of all people, was the one to cue up the Fresh Prince theme song on her phone and play it.

By this point, we were pretty thirsty.  LA has no QuikTrips, either, so we were at a bit of a loss as to where to get something to drink.

Then Mom had a brilliant idea – Santa Monica Pier.

Next time:  I’ll interrupt this travel-writing streak to talk about my quarterfinal game.  Get excited.

Actual Real-Life Palm Trees and Other Strange and Magical Things

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I think the only thing that could’ve prepared me for leaving LAX was my experience going through Heathrow.

Back when I was in Heathrow, London was getting ready for the Olympics, so the whole city was buzzing.  I’m sure Heathrow’s normally really busy, but it was unbelievably crowded then, what with all the people flying in and all the vehicles necessary to transport them.  LAX was about that busy.  Cars and noise and people absolutely everywhere.  I’m a city girl at heart, but even I was a little overwhelmed.  I was surprised I didn’t almost get hit by a bus.

We (meaning Mom, Dad, Claire, and me – Angie hadn’t arrived yet) had to take a shuttle to get to the car rental place.  Between silly selfies with Claire and Mom, I gawped at the first actual real-life palm trees I’d ever seen.

Palm trees

Yeah, bad lighting, I know.

Before this, the only palm trees I’d ever seen were the probably-fake ones in Woodland Hills Mall.  I was a little floored.

Once we got to the car rental place and picked out our vehicle of choice, we started out for the Hilton Universal, the hotel where Jeopardy! was putting me up (and where my family had insisted on staying along with me, bless them).  Early into the journey, I saw this.

Randy's Donuts

Did anyone else recognize it instantly, or am I just weird like that?

But yes, that’s the same Randy’s Donuts that appears in Iron Man 2 and prompts this line from Nick Fury:  “Sir, I’m gonna have to ask you to exit the donut.”  Naturally, I freaked out a bit.

For some reason, I’d never imagined there would be actual mountains in California.  I guess I’d imagined it would be all beach, all the time.  It can’t have helped that the closest things we have to mountains in Tulsa are the Ozark Hills, and even those are on the complete opposite end of town from where I live.

Mountains

“They’re so… so BIG!”

Then we actually got to the Hilton Universal.  After finally figuring out where the parking garage was, we entered the hotel.

I have never felt like so much of a country hick in my life.

This was easily the swankiest hotel I’ve ever been in.  It smelled like glamour and Benjamins.  I literally had to force myself to close my mouth so I wasn’t just wandering around agape.  They had those water coolers with thin slices of citrus fruit floating at the top, too.  I hadn’t seen one of those since staying at a hotel just outside London, a year and a half ago.  (“I’m going to go get some of that water so I can feel more cultured,” I said to my mother as I trotted across the lobby for a drink.)

I was on the 18th floor out of 20-something, which was absolutely fine by me.  I love heights and scenic views.  (I hate the idea of falling from heights, but whatever.)  I got to my room just in time to get a decent picture of a great view.

Tail-end of a sunset

The bed was so soft, I’m surprised I was even able to get up again.

Soft

Eventually, though, I did get up, and we (minus Angie, who still wasn’t due to get in till later) went to dinner at the Saddle Ranch Chop House.  We ate on the heated patio, I definitely didn’t finish my burger and fries, and there were complimentary s’mores.

Making s'mores by an open fire pit

Claire and Dad both like their marshmallows well-done. I was too leery of the flames to make mine anything more than rare.

So basically, I was having a hard time believing this whole thing was even real.  I felt like I was in Narnia.  “This is very important,” I said to my family.  “Does anyone else remember a wardrobe?”  Sadly, I’m the only one who thought that joke was funny.

Next time:  the first of two posts about Monday, the sightseeing day.  Highlights include Mulholland Drive, Bel-Air, and smoked salmon.

Guest post: Will I Stay or Will I Go?

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It’s a momentous occasion, folks.  Today I welcome my first guest author to the blog – Tucker Pope, my fellow Jeopardy! College Championship contestant.  He insists his travel story is more dramatic than mine.

The gauntlet has been thrown down.  Decide for yourself. 😉

Take it away, Tucker…

~~~

I have my own story to tell about a trip I took to LA to be on a little TV show called Jeopardy!

I got to take things relatively easy the morning of my travel, as my first flight was at 10:45AM. I was set to take a 90 minute flight from Lubbock to Houston, then have an hour-long “layover” in Houston, then finally a three hour flight to LAX. I was worried about being able to get all the way across the airport in that hour, while also needing to be at the gate ahead of time, especially considering that I would have to go 3 terminals over. But I had faith that United would be able to get me there on time.

When I got to the airport that morning, the line for United was longer than any other check-in line. After 10 minutes of the line not moving one single iota, I quickly realized just how utterly useless the two desk workers were. Luckily I erred on the side of caution and got to the airport two hours ahead of time. Another 10 minutes and a total of 2 passengers checked in later, one of the workers changes the time displayed for when my flight will leave, adding an extra 45 minutes to the original departure time. Panic time. Fast forward 30 minutes, and I finally make it through the second worst line of the day as well as security, which was mercifully short. I finally get some breakfast and get to my gate a mere 45 minutes before my original departure time, leaving me a lovely 90 minutes to freak out about what was going to happen once I got to Houston. I got to ask myself wonderful questions like “could I still make it in 15 minutes?” and “should I call the Jeopardy! people now or once I miss my flight?” or even the ever naïve “would United be kind enough to hold the plane for me?” When I asked the flight attendant if there was any way they could hold my connection for me, she told me, without missing a beat, “you’ll just have to get on another flight” in the most condescending, you-aren’t-that-important tone I’ve ever heard in my life.

So I get on the ground in Houston, sprint to the tram (running with a backpack is hard y’all), ride it to the terminal, continue to sprint to the gate whilst trying to not run through any hapless travelers, and get there to find my plane is still on the ground. Whew. I take a deep breath, walk up to the counter, and start to hand my boarding pass to the gate attendant, only to be told that I was too late, I had missed last call, and my seat had already been given away to a standby passenger. I then learned that the “I am a legitimately ticketed passenger on this flight, can’t you let me on” argument will only further anger the already unnecessarily irascible United employees. I should note here that this is my first time flying any airline other than Southwest alone, and I was thoroughly unfamiliar with how these troglodytes operated. I followed their instructions and went to the customer service desk. Except I didn’t actually go to the customer service desk. No, no, I got in line for the customer service desk, which at this point extended to, near as makes no difference, the horizon.

Cue the calls to Jeopardy! I was told that this is why we had a travel day the next day. I was booked for a flight the next afternoon. I was told to just go to a nearby hotel and wait out the rest of the day. (I really didn’t want to spend any more time in Houston than I had to. I make no secret of the fact that I hate it.) But I was stubborn and stayed in line. I discovered that nearly every other person in line with me was also going to Los Angeles, most of them for the BCS National Championship game the next day. Basically, I was screwed. After nearly an hour in line, I finally got to the desk. After handing my now useless boarding pass to the lady behind the counter, she alternated between typing away at her little antiquated computer and looked alarmingly befuddled for about 5 minutes. She put me in the stand-by line for the next flight to LA. She also kindly booked me for a flight two days later (aka day one of filming). I talk to a good friend of mine whose mother works for the airline, and she tells me to try a less busy service desk to get better assistance. I do that, and the lady at the other desk tells me that I am 15th in line for the next flight, and that I have a good chance of making it on. I call my parents and everybody else to tell them the good news. At the gate, I find my name on the standby list…..all the way down at number 45. Double damn.

Irate, I go back to less crazy service desk to ask what happened. A very kind lady, whose name I wish I had taken down, tells me that another flight’s standby list had been rolled over on top of the most recent one. I began to beg her to find me a flight to literally anywhere in California. San Diego, Santa Barbara, Orange County, San Francisco. Literally anything. She then gets this wry smirk on her face and says “You would think that with a last name like yours, you would be able to work a miracle,” to which I respond “Well, none of my attempts at working one have gone well today.” She paused and went back to typing. Her smirk changed into a full-on grin. “I might be able to change that,” she said. She told me she put me first on the priority standby list. Nobody was going to bump me down; I would be getting the first open seat on any plane to LA for the rest of the day. The only caveat was that it wasn’t for the next flight, but for two flights later. I was ecstatic. So ecstatic, in fact, that I went straight to the gate and sat there for the next two hours. I was not going to let anything come between me and the next plane. I finally left Houston at 7:00PM local time, after 6 of the most hellish, stressful, infuriating hours of my life. When I finally plopped myself in my (undersized) seat, the elderly woman next to me said “You can relax now, you’re finally on the plane,” as if she knew what I had been through. When I landed in LA, I finally met up with my parents who had already been in LA for 7 hours, been kind enough to pick up my bag for me (it somehow made it on my original flight), and had dinner with family.

~~~

There you have it!  Stay tuned for more Jeopardy!-related adventures 🙂

Hoppin’ off the plane at LAX…

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…and everything that led up to it.

Since I just got my first article (ohmygodwhat), I figure it’s high time to start telling you all about this awesome trip to LA I took.  Today:  the slightly harrowing story of my flight.

I was a bit slow getting off the ground, in more ways than one.  My flight to Dallas left at 11:45, but my parents and sister left at 6 am.  I had two choices:  either drive myself to the airport or ride with my family.  I chose the latter (which was good, because the weather that day was absolutely awful – I’ll get to that in a bit), but that meant I had to entertain myself for almost six hours.  I can’t even count how many times Mom told me I couldn’t fall asleep, else security would yell at me.

And how did I keep myself busy?  Well, among other things, I did crosswords, paced the gates about ten times, wondered if the TSA folks were recognizing me by about the sixth time around, took a lot of patently ridiculous videos that will never see the light of day (what can I say, I was doing it for the Vine), and got a latte with five shots of espresso.

The five-shot latte

Jet fuel.

You thought I was kidding, didn’t you?

I also encountered the best musical pun ever.  At one point, early in this six-hour wait, I was spacing out in a chair when I heard “Time After Time” emanating from the speakers.  I got really excited, because I will forever associate that song with this scene from Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion.  Then I promptly forgot about it… until fifteen or so minutes later.

They were playing it again.

In the back of my mind, I thought something completely rational, like “oh, they must have a loop of music and announcements and stuff playing.”  The rest of me, however, was freaking out, because that meant they were playing “Time After Time”… time after time.

Yep.

Finally, the flight started to board.  The lady scanning the boarding passes complimented me on my scarf.

Pre-takeoff selfie

To be fair, it’s a pretty awesome scarf.

I buckled myself into my aisle seat and eagerly awaited takeoff.

And waited.

And waited.

Mom had warned me beforehand that they’d had to de-ice the 6:00 plane, and that took long enough that they missed their first flight to LA.  I just figured that the airport would have their ish together by 11:45, and that my plane would’ve already been de-iced.

LOL NOPE.

We didn’t take off for another 45 minutes.

Originally, I was supposed to have an hour’s layover in Dallas, and my plane to LA would take off at 2.  Fine.  Dandy.  Whatever.  Except by the time I got off the plane in Dallas, it was probably 1:35.  Not so dandy.  I had to change terminals, too, which doubled the suckage.  At first I couldn’t find the Skylink, so that almost made me have a heart attack.  Then I chose the wrong Skylink, so I had to go through about six stops to get to my destination.  The entire time, I’m pretty sure my face looked something like this:

A picture of Daria Morgendorffer looking supremely displeased

I decided to make a run for it anyway.  So the second I got off the Skylink, I bolted with my suitcase careening along behind me, went down the escalator (let me tell you, that escalator could NOT move fast enough), and bolted some more.  Of course, my gate wasn’t right next to the escalator or anything, but rather waaaaaaay off.  I ran some more, got stuck behind slow people, slalomed, and finally reached my gate.  After pelting down the longest jet bridge of my entire life (seriously, I didn’t even know they made them that long), I got on the plane and got to my seat, completely out of breath.  It was the kind of out-of-breath that makes you feel like you’ve been stabbed, to boot.

I had exactly six minutes to spare.

And you know, because the universe likes to laugh at me, the plane had a bit of a technical issue that caused about a fifteen-minute delay in takeoff.  But it was cool, because I was too busy trying to figure out if the dude sitting next to me was actually Alan Tudyk.

(It wasn’t.)

But finally, after three hours of staring out the window and trying to figure out if we were passing over Arizona or New Mexico or what (remember that I’m awful at geography – it’ll come into play later!), we landed in LA.

One of the most exuberant selfies I've ever taken

MADE IT TO LA

Next time:  my first impressions of LA.