‘If something can go wrong, it will.’
At one point or another, we have all heard that famous adage from a fellow named Murphy, and how it applies in principle to some Law that he developed in the arse end of nowhere, Ireland. My question for Mr. Murphy, is how was it that I suddenly became his chosen apostle to have that tacked on to another adage in that ‘When it rains, it pours’. Thanks for nothing, big lad!
It was October 26 when I decided that I would follow through with plans to attend the 9th annual Irish Books, Arts, and Music (IBAM) Festival in Chicago, Illinois. Having been there the year before through a personal invitation from the Director of this beautiful and wonderful program, Mr. Cliff Carlson, and one which celebrates and highlights the contributions of Irish artists throughout the various genres that are intricately woven within the title of this prestigious event, I thought that I would indeed give it another go. My efforts to get there though became more than an arduous task and one that I did not know if it would ever happen.
Leading up to IBAM, I had been writing furiously and managed to pen a couple of brand new books which would be featured and launched at the Irish American Heritage Centre. The excitement of having two, newly released, fresh of the press, crisp and colourful books in my hands to showcase to their audience and the amazing staff and volunteers who bring about this fabulous event this year would be a tremendous welcome back. Or so I thought. But what would become painfully obvious is that auld Murphy had other ideas in mind for me, so he did. And without advanced warning!
His Law made its presence known when I went to pick up the first print run of books. Peering between the pages of one, my immediate reaction is that it must have been put together by a Paddy Irishman, or perhaps someone was trying to take the mick out of me. The inside of the book had been glued to its cover upside down. That being bad enough, I would also come to see that the laminated covers, brightly reflecting the overhead lighting directly above me, appeared to have significant flaws to them. I was stunned to see that the edges were peeling like the plastic wrapping that encases slices of cheese which are one molecule away from being the same product. Plastic. This simply was not acceptable to me, as I am a perfectionist in my approach to everything. Nothing less than the best will suffice for this lad. I am the bain of my own existence if I do say so myself.
Needless to say, the printer set about immediately to address my very valid concerns and that they would have the order rectified just in time for my departure for Chicago. Sure enough, and true to their word, they did although they had to undergo several other processes to ensure what I had hoped for is what I would get. Problem solved. Except for damn old Murphy, who still had a change of plans in mind for this unsuspecting author.
Frantically packing the night before, my father kindly offered to drive over early the next morning to ensure that I was at the airport on time for my red eye departure. Not a problem. Unless you are trying to pack two boxes of books into one’s suitcase and stay within the magic number of 50 pounds. This dreadful effort all in the name of the airline not charging me the price of a second plane ticket to board my luggage should it be over that threshold by any sort of a miniscule measurement. Thus, would someone please enlighten me as to why they call it the friendly skies?
Packing suitcases has become like a human game of Tetris for me from all of the travelling that I have done. Carefully selecting which piece of the puzzle fits where, only to find each time that my prizewinning combination has been completely wrecked after arriving at my destination. This is from the way my luggage was handled by baggage handlers at the terminal, and by taxi drivers who are eager to dump the suitcase into the boot of their car and back onto the road so that they can go ahead and collect their next fare. I have yet to learn to not give a damn, but always find myself undergoing the same process each time. To hell with yet another old adage that states, ‘A stitch in time saves nine’. That definitely does not apply to my standards.
Going with less than two hours of sleep that night due to my excitement of heading out to the Windy City and showcasing my latest display of Irish penmanship and creativity, my father pulled into the driveway and was ready to help me load up my cases. However, the excitement would soon give way and be met with several disappointments. Or as Murphy says, ‘If something can…’
The first being that the cup of morning java from a place that stays open 24 hours, only to serve me coffee that was likely still in the brewing pot 23 hours earlier. It was freezing, and disgusting. Trying to choke it down me while nibbling on their English muffin filled with plastic cheese, circular egg, and rubbery bacon made to be the same size as the egg and the muffin itself was a bit of a chore. I ate the sandwich but had nothing to rinse my gub with since the coffee was so dreadful. And so it began...
Murphy 1. Greg 0
We pulled up to the airport with my father doing his always dutiful and most helpful of efforts to get me a trolley for my bags. I must honestly give him credit for thinking of my best interests, even though I informed him several times that I would not be in need of a trolley since both of my suitcases have wheels attached to the bottom of them and are multi-directional.
Murphy 2. Greg 0
Going through our usual process of saying cheerio including ‘all the best, have a great trip, see you when you get back’, off my dad went. Walking into the airport, I went up to the terminal and tried to avoid having to follow the implemented process of travelers having to print their own boarding passes at the electronic screens bigger than their hand-held cell phone devices. This, all the while knowing full well that the menace of a machine was going to tell me that it could not find my ticket since it was booked through an online airline rewards program.
Regardless of my protests to the agent floating about seamlessly pressing buttons, entering airport codes, destinations, scanning passports, tagging overstuffed bags all the while telling them that my ticket will not print and that I would need to go to the counter where their colleague was staring at the computer in front of them, they directed me to follow the prompts on the automated terminal.
Murphy 3. Greg 0
Sure enough, after seeing that I was getting absolutely nowhere, this was immediately followed up by the same agent telling me that I would need to go to the counter and speak to his colleague as my booking reference could not be located within their system. It can be said without hesitation that sons of Ireland, including myself, are never at a loss for colourful word choices. In this instance.
Murphy 4. Greg 0
Handing my passport to the counter agent, things seemed to go off without a hitch. Perhaps Murphy and his law were starting to grow weary; could it be that he was searching for and would find another exhausted traveler to annoy? My trip truly hadn’t begun yet this was just the beginning of my trials and tribulations.
Once my tickets were handed over and my suitcase was dropped onto the conveyor belt, I went through to the line of security and began the pre-screening process. Lo and behold, everything went smoothly. Could it be my lack of good luck was finally changing?
In all the years I have been travelling as an author or attending Irish Festivals to do speaking engagements, I have never had an issue. I’ve always been wished the best of luck with book signings by the Customs agents that I am greeted by. They go through their process in explicit detail, but provide me their stamp of approval and off I go. Except this time.
I immediately recognized the Customs official and the lump in my throat felt like it ballooned to the size of a grapefruit. The reason is that the last time I had flown to the Windy City, which was only a month before, I was attending the screening of a debut movie by my fellow Irish author from County Tyrone, that being Emerald City, as was written and directed by Colin Broderick. Along with J.P. (John) Sexton, we met Colin at the Dublin, Ohio Irish Festival in August, signed books alongside of him, celebrated in a lot of mad Irish craic, banter, and humour, and had promised Colin that we would fly there to support him and his fellow cast and crew members for the screening.
However, I had previously met that same Customs official and went through a grilling of about 25 questions of how I knew the people that I was going to see, when I first met them (including friends), and other questions that are not normally posed during a pre-screen. Perhaps the new border restrictions being put in place by the Administration was being squarely directed at an Irish author who works full-time each day as a Social Worker. Perhaps not. Nevertheless.
Murphy 5. Greg 0
Yup. You guessed it. Murphy would rear his ugly head again and started to cause more grief for me. After presenting my boarding pass and passport, the grilling of questions from the previous month continued. Where was I going? What was I doing there? Who was I speaking to? Who invited me? And countless more.
I answered each question fully and honestly, only to then be directed to a secondary pre-screening area. This is where I was informed by another Customs Officer that I was not allowed to board the plane with the books that I had so carefully stacked like Tetris blocks the night before, which had deprived me of pleasant dreams and a wistful sleep. In the three years I had been doing book launches and signings, I was never told that they were to be shipped in advance and that they would have to be left behind or that I would not be allowed to enter. My suitcase was removed from the boarding area. Sweet Mother of God.
Murphy 6. Greg 0
After receiving a scolding, I was directed out of the secondary screening area and back out to the front counter. Here, I would be met by the same airline agent who directed me in the first place to use the automated terminal and enter my flight information against my protests from prior experiences. There, they all stood standing, bewildered at why I was now back at their area.
Frantically explaining my plight, I was amazed that they showed compassion and were shocked to hear what had just happened. They could not comprehend it either and would have to refund the $25.00 that I paid to have my suitcase on their flight in the first place. Was Murphy actually about to get one scored against his reign over me? Not quite.
The agents informed me that there was still time I could board my flight provided my books could be dropped off. Wonderful. Thank you very much for that piece of very enlightening news. I am going to IBAM as a returning Irish author to do a book launch, signing, and speaking engagement with nothing to show for it other than the one sample of each book that would be permissible according to the Customs official. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph! How in under God’s name would I pull this off? Was it worth the effort?
I phoned my dad and asked that he immediately return to the airport. He had driven forty minutes to drop me off, only to drive another forty minutes back home and had just walked through the door in the nick of time to hear my frantic phone call asking him to come back and pick up my books. This between my panicked breaths of trying to tell him what the hell just happened, yet there was no time to waste. I told him I would wait at the same platform area where he had dropped me off eighty minutes before.
If anyone has ever had an experience of going through a process of possibly missing a flight which was scheduled to leave on time, they could certainly relate to this. Looking at their watch or phone screen every ten seconds while pacing a trench into the hardened concrete path outside of the airport. It is a feeling of complete helplessness and one of utter despair. I am sure that if Murphy was standing beside me, he would have been crippled with laughter at my anxiety. Go ahead you miserable sod. Chalk up another point!
Murphy 7. Greg 0
The only way that time could be passed at this point was to call the person at my destination point who was wondering what the hell was going on by my texts. I had stated that my books were not allowed in and I might not be boarding the plane after all.
While trying to explain this in panicked detail, an officer of the Mounted Police type approached me to ask what was going on. Thankfully, I immediately recognized him as he was a friend of mine since our two sons had played hockey together on the same team the previous year. I explained everything while I frantically scanned the horizon at every single vehicle entering onto the grounds of the airport to see if one of them might just be by some magical chance, my father. No such luck. This was met with me being informed that time was ticking down and I had fifteen minutes before I would need to be at the gated area for boarding. Sigh. No pressure whatsoever!
As time ticked on and the blood from my body ebbed away, I repacked my suitcase and placed all of the books into it minus the three sample editions that I would be allowed to bring with me and placed those with my laptop. Such a sad looking carry-on bag that I had now, which only carried the weight of my change of clothes.
Airport agents came out to check on me and let me know that I needed to hurry up, as well as to see where my dad was. After what felt like an eternity, I finally saw the familiar shape of his headlights at the top of the road. This really wasn’t a moment for celebration.
Without wasting any time, I quickly loaded my suitcase into the boot of his car and informed him I would call him after landing. This would hopefully give me a chance before catching my next flight and explain what needed to be done to ensure the event at IBAM was not a complete disaster.
Scrambling back into the airport, through the airline agents, and on to security, I went through the entire screening process again only to be met by three Customs agents who informed me to hurry up and get on the plane as the gate was closing. This, all the while ensuring that I had no books with me other than what they would allow. I wasn’t about to tempt fate.
I raced down the ramp to the airplane which, to my horror, was completely full of passengers who had already boarded and were impatiently waiting for me. And since my seat was in the third row from the back of the plane, I would have to walk down the aisle and past each row of faces staring back at my reddened face, both from running down the ramp to the gate as well as from being flustered from my experiences. I silently took my seat and closed my eyes, hoping in that very moment my life would fade to black.
Murphy 8. Greg 0
As the flight attendants went through their pre-departure checks, the plane pushed back and would have to go through a de-icing process since an ice fog had settled in the area that morning. I was fine with this, as I’d been through this several times before. And, after torturing myself a few days earlier watching a program called Airline Disasters, I would rather that the wings were not iced prior to our departure. I’m sure that everyone else felt the same way.
The plane sat for a while a few feet from the gate and did not move any further. The confusion of this would be interrupted by an announcement from the captain that there was failure in the left engine. He explained they were waiting for instructions from their headquarters in Atlanta to figure out what to do next while ground technicians also tried to sort out the technical difficulties they were facing. They decided to turn the plane off as if they were simply removing keys from the ignition of a car.
Sweet Jesus. What the hell was Murphy up to now? I guess he felt that the ridiculous amount of trials and tribulations that had already occurred that morning needed amped up. Ten minutes later, the engines fired up and roared back to life again only to be followed by a second announcement from the captain.
“Ladies and Gentlemen. We were informed by Atlanta that we had to shut the plane down and start it back up. This seems to have resolved the issue as the engine light has gone out. We will depart shortly and apologize for the delay. We hope to have you in the air soon. Thank you for your patience and for choosing to fly with us.”
Are you kidding me? Shut the plane down and start it back up again? This has resolved the issue? The check engine light has gone out? What is this, a desktop computer that gets a command from IT to turn it off and on again?
By this time, I was of the opinion it was Murphy who was choosing to fly the plane and was rubbing his oversized hands with glee at the chaos and disruption he had caused. Bastard!
Murphy 9. Greg (and his fellow passengers on the plane) 0
As the engines warmed and the flight attendants went about the pre-departure checks all over again, there was a panicked voice that occurred in the back of the plane, two rows directly behind me. This being the very last row of seating.
“Sir. Sir. SIR. Are you okay? SIR? Can you hear me? SIR!”
The intercom rattled to life.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a medical emergency. If there are doctors or paramedics on board, can you please identify yourselves and make your way to the back of the aircraft. We need your assistance immediately.”
After what seemed to be an eternity, suddenly an assortment of paramedics and doctors, at least five, along with an Occupational Therapist who happened to be on the plane and were going to an all-female hockey tournament, headed past me and attended to the gentleman who had gone in to some form of distress.
The plane sat for at least a half hour before a decision would be made to pull back up to the gate and assistance was made to allow for the gentleman and his wife to exit the plane so that they could receive the necessary attention required. This involved removing their baggage from the aircraft which would take another half hour. I was sad for the couple since they wouldn’t make their trip, but was happy that they would receive medical care and felt that it was best this occurred on the ground rather than in the air.
Trying to put everything into some sort of perspective, it seemed at that moment my own difficulties as experienced that morning were meaningless and did not have much of an impact. Perhaps there was a reason Murphy put his Law into place. Or perhaps, I was going soft in the head thinking that he was being nice to me.
As the medical emergency was being cleared and their baggage offloaded, I decided to use the bathroom at the rear of the aircraft. Since I could not return to my seat, I was afforded the opportunity of speaking with two of the airline hostesses that were seated waiting for instructions. I decided to share with them my many disasters that had already occurred that morning. They too, could not understand why I would not be allowed to bring my books in with me, and suggested that I should look into it further. I guess Murphy didn’t single them out as he did with me.
Getting settled back into my seat, it would be another twenty minutes before we would finally push back from the gate and would be on our way over to the de-icing pad. Going through this process would also take a while, so much so, that two hours had already passed from when we had first attempted to leave our gated area. It was likely that many of us were going to miss our connecting flights. Welcome to the friendly skies. This however, also gave me a chance to see if I could ship my books overnight to Chicago in time for the festival.
Perusing one option, it would only be a paltry $450.00 for that to occur. Unless there was some sort of divine intervention, my newly pressed releases were not going to make it after all. Once again, my heart sank into my stomach.
Murphy 10. Greg -50 (the book count that was denied)
We finally taxied out to the runway and made our departure. The flight did not take very long at all, but what I was not expecting upon our landing was the cross winds that the plane would now come into contact with. Gliding down to the runway, it felt as if the plane was somewhat flying sideways, touched down on its left rear landing gear, and stayed there for a moment before settling onto the right wheel. Finally, the nose of the plane came down hard and immediately thereafter, the brakes were not only applied, it felt as if they had been stomped on, sending us crashing into the seats in front of us. I had been quietly watching season seven of ‘The Walking Dead’, but sure as hell didn’t want to be chomping the TV screen on the seatback just as the zombies were doing with the flesh of the living. Chalk up yet another point for Murphy.
Lucifer 11. Greg 0
Taxiing up to the gate, flight attendants were trying to assist with what flights had already departed and to help the masses go to the counters inside the terminals to retrieve their new boarding passes. I grabbed my bags and followed suit, grumbling and muttering to myself as I exited the plane only to be met with smiles from the captain and his crew. Perhaps they were all delighted to have this flight behind them. I know that I certainly was. But I definitely did not anticipate what else Murphy and his Law had in store.
Heading up the ramp and in to the airport, I didn’t even look at the Arrival or Departures screens but went up to the counter along with hundreds of other passengers who had gathered trying to collect their replacement boarding passes. This looked like a mosh pit at a rock concert albeit without music.
I quickly found mine and went to an area to stop and see if the information I researched earlier online was indeed correct in that it would cost me a small fortune to ship my books to IBAM. Sure enough, the results were less than satisfactory. The next cheapest option was $400.00, but this meant my father would have to drive back to the airport again and ship them from there. Hadn’t I already wasted 160 minutes of his life that morning in making two return trips to the airport? I wasn’t about to press my luck in asking for a third attempt.
I called and informed him that although I had made it to the first destination, we were two hours late. I began explaining everything that had gone wrong already from why the books were not allowed in, to the left engine failure, the medical emergency on the plane, and then the de-icing. I also let him know about the cost that it would be for me to ship my books and that this option was not one I was about to attempt. Thus, I’d have to explain things to the festival organizers as well as those wishing to purchase copies.
Since everything else had gone from bad to worse and if it were not for bad luck, I would have had no luck at all, I thought that I may as well buy a lottery ticket from a dispensary beside me. They do say that God loves a trier. Obviously, Murphy loves a fool.
After doing so, I decided to look up at the departure screen and noticed that the flight I was supposed to be on and was under the impression that I had missed was DELAYED, and was still sitting at the gate. Seriously? Was my luck actually changing? Perhaps I finally got one up on auld Murphy and decided to tempt fate.
Murphy 11. Greg 1 Finally!
I ran down to the departure gate and met with the airline agent who was standing at the counter.
“Are you Greg McVicker?”, she enquired.
“Yes, I am. I did not think that I would make the flight because of our own delays in Winnipeg.”
“Well, we have been waiting for you and were wondering if you were going to join us. We had a bit of a mechanical issue with the boarding door and the flight has been delayed. Our technicians are working on it and should be departing shortly. I will open the door for you here; you can make your way down to the aircraft.”
My mind began racing. “Wait a minute,” I thought to myself.
“Did she just say that they are having mechanical issues with the aircraft? You’ve got to be kidding me. I made a flight that was supposed to have left already due to another failure? To hell with your stupid law, Lucifer. Murphy. Or whatever your name is. You’re still a bastard all the same.”
Murphy 12. Greg 0 (I lost the one and only point I had gained!)
Walking down to the gate, I was met by one of the ground crew who, with a Cheshire Cat type smile, informed me that I must be the luckiest passenger on the planet and was able to make my flight which had been delayed. I could not hold back any longer.
“Are you serious? Have you any idea what kind of a morning I have had so far and what I have had to go through to get here?”
By this time, I began wondering if the fellow with whom had just flashed his cheeky grin at me was actually Murphy himself. Perhaps he was a Body Snatcher, had made his way to the airport, and was delighted to watch how frazzled I was from all of the crazy events which I had gone through that morning and was finally unravelling at the seams. Perhaps I should not have watched the movie based on Jack Finney’s novel of the same name.
I chose to not look at his name tag or his passes, because that would have truly and wholeheartedly done me in. There would have been either a scene of complete heart failure, or this author being carted off all the while screaming Irish expletives at the Body Snatching technician while watching four other aircraft mechanics trying their best to sort of the door on the opposite side of the plane that would not close. They were accompanied by four airline hostesses and one of the pilots. Things did not look good.
Murphy 13. Greg… has completely lost his mind at this point. So much for the superstition that 13 is very lucky in Ireland. On this very day, it was anything but a horrible curse!
As I stood watching in disbelief and, since all of the staff were blocking my entrance onto the aircraft, I thought I should walk back up the ramp, order a rental car, and drive for destinations unknown. Before I could make my move, however, the hostess looked at my ticket and waived me on to the plane. By this point, I was so exhausted, I figured I may as well continue. Murphy had gone thirteen straight rounds with me and scored a knockout.
Walking down the aisle and while looking at the seat numbers above me, I found that I would be sitting in an exit row, beside a door, which looked like the one behind me that did not want to shut. Well, this is getting a whole lot better. Looking to my left, there was a lady who was seated. I wondered if my friend, Murphy, would jump from the technicians’ body into hers so she too could have a laugh at my misery. She never looked up from her book.
About thirty minutes after I had boarded the plane, the captain came on to tell us that the issue had been fixed and that we would be departing shortly. Hallelujah! Finally, I would be able to put this rotten day behind me once and for all. And that moment for me could not come soon enough.
The flight itself went smoothly. That was, however, until we started making our final approach and had to cross partially over Lake Michigan to make our turn back towards the runway. Since I always had an interest in planes and having landed at this airport several times previously, I thought that we were coming in a little too fast. Could Murphy now be flying the plane too?
Sure enough, we hit the runway with a very hard landing. Much like the previous flight, the pilot stomped on the brakes which launched every passenger, including me, to sink whatever pearly whites we had remaining directly into the seats in front of us. The sound of metal grinding on metal from the wheel base of the plane below us was brutal. Welcome to the Law of Murphy’s Airlines. Where if something can go wrong, you are certainly guaranteed that it definitely will! Murphy had driven his point into my skull.
I phoned the lady who would be greeting me at the airport and was immediately asked if I had made it. My response was no, that we had to make an emergency landing in the lake and that I was standing on the wing, waiting to see if I should jump in with how this day had gone. That comment was met with laughter, which seemed to provide me with renewed strength and to maybe not be feeling so defeated after all although chances of that happening were slim to non-existent.
Walking through the terminal and since I now had no luggage to retrieve, I headed directly outside. It was nice to finally be on solid ground again.
While waiting to be picked up for the final leg of the journey to Chicago, I figured I would get the last word in against Murphy, order my books, and have them shipped via a rush order to the festival site. Calling the distributor, I learned that they could indeed do this for a small shipping fee which was no problem at all. Finally, I was about to get one leg up!
Jumping for joy while celebrating my changing fortune and after placing my order, I could not believe what was in store for me. I would go on to learn the books would arrive the day after IBAM wrapped up. Talk about rubbing salt into already gaping wounds.
In hindsight, I had the last laugh over my auld friend of misery. During the awards dinner the next night at the Irish American Heritage Center, Cathy Carlson brought me over and introduced me to Irish singer, Daniel O’Donnell, who received a lifetime achievement award for his contributions to music and television. It was quite a prestigious honour to sit in his company, and to have an in depth chat about his experiences growing up in Ireland which mirrored that of my own in that my father was away working for months at a time, just as Daniel had experienced with his dad.
In closing, to a wonderful gentleman who I am blessed to count as a friend and inspiration, that being Cliff Carlson, perhaps IBAM might consider presenting Murphy with a Lifetime Achievement award of his own which recognizes his mischievous ways of Law in that if something can go wrong, it will!
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‘If something can go wrong, it will.’