Bob Bond said he missed the boat. And was he happy. It wasn't that his flight connection to Houston was late, which happened to a friend of mine years ago. Or that he overslept in his hotel room. He actually never made the reservation. But he almost did. It was because of a family wedding that he dropped the cruise idea. If he hadn't, he would have been among the living who spent five days floating aimlessly in the Gulf of Mexico on Carnival's good ship Triumph. And Bob admits he's told many friends and acquaintances of his near-miss.
"What is it about human nature?" asked my old flying partner. "There's something about being on the edge of disaster and living to tell about it, that gives people a head rush."
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And she's right. People have the best time sharing their worst time. Go to any cocktail party, and you're apt to hear what a terrible experience someone had on his last flight. But little annoyances can drive people to the edge. If a flight is delayed an hour, passengers become irate. Run out of coffee on a two-hour flight and someone will write a hate letter to the airline. But let it turn into a two-day sojourn, and it makes them members of an elite crowd of survivors, which gives major bragging rights.
Mike Caswell still gets mileage out of a horrible trip to Italy 20 years ago when he played chicken with a moving Ferrari in Milan. The Ferrari won. Doctors pieced his broken back together. He was strapped to a stretcher that was secured to three first-class seats on one of our flights to New York.
Heavily sedated, he was every fight attendant's dream passenger. We figured he'd sleep the whole flight.
Then the fog rolled in.
Hoping the fog would lift long enough to allow the flight to take off, the captain kept everybody onboard. We served meals, showed the same movie twice and Mike slept.
Seven hours later, we deplaned the passengers and sent them to a hotel for the night. Mike went back to the hospital.
For the next two days, we repeated the same scenario, only Mike was no longer sedated. He wasn't the perfect passenger anymore, but who could blame him.
The fog lifted on the third day and we left for New York with nothing to serve, but some cold sandwiches and beverages -- similar to airline service today, but rare in those days. But I digress.
But here's what's interesting. No one complained. They clapped when we landed, hugged us when they left and many still send Christmas cards to us -- even Mike.
And it will be the same for the passengers who survived such deplorable conditions for five days on the high seas. Not that anyone would ever want to trade places with them. But they'll get more mileage from telling their stories at cocktail parties than they will ever get from a frequent-flier program. And you can bet Bob Bond won't miss that boat.
• Gail Todd, a freelance writer, worked as a flight attendant for more than 30 years. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.