The Great Mandel

A couple of years ago, I made a trip to Washington D.C. with some of my fellow elected officials regarding the high flood insurance premiums that were about to wreak havoc on our local economy. Our legislators didn’t seem to understand the ramifications of their actions… but that’s not what this story is about. It’s about our journey home.

Two days into the trip, a blizzard was bearing down on us and flights out of Washington began to cancel. Several of our colleagues were able to leave early but Commissioner Kiker (Larry), Mayor Mandel (Alan), and I were not able to escape early, so we decided that we would meet at 8am the next day and go to the airport together.

At 4am the next morning I woke up and looked outside. The usually busy street had disappeared, the cars parked there buried under several feet of snow and more was still coming down. Being a native Floridian I’d never seen anything like this and apparently neither had the people at the airport, because when I checked my email I found that they had politely informed me and thousands of other people that all flights had been canceled. For a week!

Now, the hotel we were staying at was nice, but the thought of staying there a week completely freaked me out, so I got dressed and went down to the lobby. I found Larry and Alan sitting in the cafe staring intently at their computers. I plopped down at the table. “Well, should I go to the front desk and extend our stay?” As Alan typed away at his computer, Larry said “I don’t know. The only flight I can find is out of New York City today at 4pm.” I yawned and stretched, thinking it was useless. “Well, that might as well be Los Angeles!” “Hey…” Larry said pointing over at our friend Alan, “He says he’s got it all figured out.” Alan looked up from typing. “We just take a train to New York!” Larry and I looked at each other and then started laughing. Alan took off his glasses and looked at us and with a big grin “What?” I started counting down fingers one at a time. “Here’s what! We have to get packed, check out, somehow get to the train station and then to New York City, then somehow get to JFK, and to our gate before our flight leaves!” Then I pointed at the window. “Oh! And there’s a blizzard outside heading straight towards New York too with no planes, cars or even people walking anywhere in Washington D.C.!” Alan was unfazed. “Look, Union Station is just five blocks away. We’ll just walk there, take the train to Penn Station in New York, get tickets on the Long Island Railroad to Queens, transfer to the JFK Shuttle and then take that to the airport!” He leaned back, smiled and put his hands out to his sides like he had just finished a magic trick. “Simple, but Larry has to buy the tickets for the plane and I have to buy these train tickets right now!”
Larry shrugged. “Well, I’ll try anything at this point.” I looked at them like they both had antlers growing out of their heads, then around at the hotel. (7 damn days.) I stood up. “That’s the dumbest plan I’ve ever heard in my life! Let’s do it!”

A half hour later we were trudging uphill in our suits and dress shoes, through the abandoned streets of Washington in windy, snowing, white out conditions, dragging our suitcases in calf deep snow, following Alan to where we hoped the train station was. Somehow we got there alive and then rode the near empty train through the blizzard all the way to New York’s Penn Station. Larry and I ran after Alan through the maze of tunnels and the crowds of people to the right ticket booth, to the right tunnel, to the right train, to the right stop and onto the right shuttle where he got us off at the right stop and the right gate. I was amazed! We made it with three hours to spare. But the storm was bearing down on us again, so we stood in the large crowd watching the flight information waiting for our flight to get canceled, again. All of a sudden Larry said “Hey look! There’s a flight leaving for Fort Myers in 30 minutes!” And then, he and Alan took off on a dead run. I stood there for a stunned second and then took off after them yelling. “Are you guy’s nuts? It’s not a train! They aren’t going to just let you walk onto it!

When we got to the gate they were already boarding and when Larry asked if there were seats available, the stewardess working the counter quickly shook her head no. Alan turned to us and said in a low voice. “We’ll get on. Give me a minute.” Larry and I went over to a couple of chairs about 50 feet away and watched Alan. Larry elbowed me in the ribs. “Watch the master.” I couldn’t hear him, but as Alan talked to the stewardess, he shrugged. He smiled. He laughed. He leaned forward and talked some more. And then… she smiled! Alan waved to us frantically and we followed him right onto the airplane, into our seats and back home! Magic!

I still can’t figure out how he got us home and so far, like any good magician, the Great Mandel won’t share his secret.

S’no Fun

You would think that since I’m a native Floridian and an avid boater, that I would also be able to water-ski. You would be wrong. Not that I haven’t tried. Quite a long time ago, my friend John tried to teach me and after dragging me the length of the Imperial River several times behind his boat (mostly underwater) he came to a conclusion. “Ben, you can’t ski!” And that was it for skiing. That is, until my sister invited me on a snow skiing trip to Vermont. Now, I had barely even seen snow, but since the ski resort pictures made it seem soft and friendly, and I didn’t see a boat dragging people helplessly behind it, I accepted.

After flying to my sister’s house in New Jersey, we all split up into different cars and left for Sugerbush Vermont. For some strange reason I was selected to drive one of the cars. Strange, because we were driving straight into an ice storm and I wasn’t even sure what an ice storm was. The poor people that fate chose as my passengers, discovered this little tidbit of information three hours into the trip when the windshield wipers became the size of frozen baseball bats and we had slid past dozens of cars left deserted in the ditch on the side of the road. “Hey Ben… You’re doing great! Man! Look at all the wrecked cars!” exclaimed my sister’s friend Sue, from the back seat. I gave a thumbs-up and said “Thanks. Not bad for never having driven in ice or snow before, right?” About the time they had all stopped screaming in terror, we started up a long steep hill and the four-wheel drive car in our group started pulling away from us. I tried to keep up, but every time our car’s wheels started to spin on the ice, I had to let off of the gas a little more. This kept happening until we were almost to the top and traveling about five miles an hour. Then, they spun once more… and we were stopped. I put my foot on the brake and we just sat there in the middle of the road as the temperature outside continued to drop. I had no idea what to do so I turned around and looked at my “snow experienced” passengers for advice. “Well, now what?” I said. And just as the words left my mouth the car began sliding backwards down the hill. This time when everyone started screaming, it seemed like the right thing to do, so I joined in. Luckily, we only slid about thirty feet before the car hit the shoulder of the road and the car and the screaming suddenly stopped.

The screaming had already turned to cheering when out of nowhere, a salt truck drove effortlessly past us, the road magically thawed and we were able to drive away. Soon after, we were at the cabin, the fire was crackling and we were all fast asleep under cozy down comforters.

The next morning I looked out the window at the thermometer to find that it was 40 below zero! I thought everyone had lost their minds, but they couldn’t wait to “get out there.” So we suited up and headed to the slopes, where I was, of course, the only one scheduled to take lessons on a mountain that had overnight, frozen solid.

By noon, I was zigzagging down the slope with my classmates, single file. I was at the very end and doing rather well until I realized that I was slowly overtaking the person in front of me. Try as I might I couldn’t get the skis to cut into the ice enough to slow me down, so I turned past everyone. The instructor wasn’t amused. “Very funny Ben… Get back in line!” Just ahead of me was a steep slope with a crowd of people gathered at the bottom. I had no desire to share the fate of the people that I had, just moments ago, laughed at as they plowed into those same people, so I turned to the left, perpendicular to the slope and mercifully, slowly came to a stop. Relieved, I sighed and waved to the others. “I’m OK!” I proudly yelled, pumping my ski pole in the air. Then… I started going backwards. “WHAT? NO!” I couldn’t believe it… I was sliding backwards down a hill again! “OH COME ON! NOT AGAIN!” I didn’t know what to do, so I just plopped down on my rear and stopped. Not pretty or dignified, but nothing broken either.

The following Christmas I opened a gift to find… rollerblades. I thanked the person that gave them to me, walked to the kitchen… and threw them in the garbage can. A person’s got to know their limitations.