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This Store is Lovely Our Plane’s Going to Explode

How a bomb threat put a damper on my otherwise enjoyable weekend


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Dogs sniff our luggage for bombs.

Photo by Sam The Cooking Guy

Wednesday
I arrive at a Dallas hotel. Kimpton originally built this hotel. Kimpton builds hotels out of old Priuses glued together with organic chia seed paste. I wonder why Kimpton sold it. Ghosts. The chairs in the lobby are literally shaped like coffins. I wonder what sort of idiot would tempt the Gods of Foreshadow and sit in a coffin. They’re comfortable.

Thursday
I’ve come for the grand opening of the new store by PIRCH, the San Diego-based kitchen and bath retailer. Good people. Their headquarters in La Jolla has a gym with a personal trainer for all staff. If an employee gets the urge to toss a stapler at a coworker, the trainer can help them burpee through that anger. Tonight, we’re having a dinner party in the middle of the Dallas store. It’s after hours. The mall is closed. As a one-time juvenile delinquent, I feel this might end in a standoff with mall security—us with our wine, them with their twist-tie handcuffs. (What are those designed to detain? A bag of bulk quinoa?). The store is so white, so peaceful, almost airbrushed. It is the Helen Mirin of kitchen show rooms. We’re surrounded by Gaggeneau, Thermador, Jenn-Airr—world-class kitchen tools that, like Mila Kunis or parking in Little Italy, is merely aspirational at this point in my life. At dinner I sit next to PIRCH’s director of merchandising, Duane Jeffers. He is impeccably dressed. I’m wearing a red-and-white checkered shirt. It looks like I’ve come to Texas in Hee Haw costume. I am the human picnic table. The five-course meal by James Beard Award-winning chef Tim Byres is fantastic. Throughout dinner, a lanky fashion model tells us stories about her ex-boyfriend, a prodigious weed smoker, and how his innovative business ideas foretold significant brain damage. I get a tour of the store. The “bath” area is designed like a spa. The shower heads are fully functional. What a simple, revolutionary idea. In most kitchen showrooms you have to look at the box and say, “Well, I like the way it looks in this picture, honey—see how the water is coming down on the nice-looking gal there on the box? She seems reasonably happy with the flow and pressure.” So you buy it only to realize water comes out like a fire hose and is only good for recreating de-lousing scenes from old prison movies. You can actually take a shower at PIRCH if you want to. Seriously. People can reserve the space and have a spa day. What a strange kitchen and bath store. I want to live here. “Sometimes people will send their spouses under the shower head and turn it on,” says a sales manager. Divorce is so easy.

Friday
I work all day in my hotel room. That many hours in circulated air does something to a person. I feel vacuum-packed. Air-embalmed. I consider going out that night and exploring Dallas’ culinary scene. Instead I call in to my fantasy football draft—an annual ritual with friends of 20 years. I feel vaguely developmentally impaired for doing this. What’s that you say? DeMarco Murray is available this late in Round 2? Room service is my favorite restaurant.

Saturday
It’s the grand opening party. Sam the Cooking Guy is here. We’re doing a show together called “Critic and the Cook.” The concept is that Sam cooks and teaches people valuable lessons and I act like a free radical in his performance chi, interrupting with stories about being a food critic. Dallas customers have never seen a kitchen and bath showroom like PIRCH. Well-dressed people walk around in a state of stupor. Mass appliance lust. The people who created PIRCH—James Stuart, Kevin Burke and CEO Jeffery Sears—are going to be famous retail men. They're currently No. 32 on Forbes' list of America's Most Promising Companies. I write an action item in my notebook: “Launch 32,000 square-foot retail store, sell quality goods.” There’s a machine that dry-cleans your clothes at home. It’s no bigger than an air-conditioning unit, fits snugly into your wall of choice. I decide I badly need this in my life. I tell everyone I meet about it. That machine, with its eucalyptus scent inserts, will be my moral compass in major life decisions from here on out. My Jesus Gadget.

Sunday
12 PM: Sam and I are flying back to San Diego. It’s a direct flight on American Airlines. We’re in first class. I’m of coach class breeding, but I’m not complaining. I politely decline a complimentary Bloody Mary.

1 PM: The flight attendant says something on the PA system about Phoenix. “Did she say Phoenix?” I ask Sam. “No,” he says. The attendant enters first class and explains to a passenger, “We have to divert to Phoenix because of a suspicious item in cargo.” Oh. Due to the specificity of her language—an “item”… “in cargo”—it doesn’t appear to be the sort of fake bomb threat that happens when couples break up and one of them goes to whiskey instead of counseling. Her words suggest someone has found the surprise (SUSPICIOUS ITEM) in a fairly specific place (IN CARGO). That Bloody Mary sounds good. I have in-flight internet. I start to write the ole “it’s probably nothing, don’t worry, but I could explode, so goodbye” email to my family. I think of my three-year-old daughter. It would’ve been nice if she would’ve had a dad. Halfway through the email, I stop. No sense in killing both my daughter’s parents.

1:04 PM: I’m stuck in a metal box 10,000 feet in the sky and there might be a bomb under my seat. I’m somewhat surprised I’m not freaking out. I’m not sweating. There’s pride in that. I would’ve pegged myself for more of a pants-wetter in crisis situations. I start to think about what happens when a bomb explodes on a plane. Thanks to the internet, I once saw an expert explain this in great detail. The plane in question literally split in half. The front half fell directly to the ground. The back half basically became a giant PVC pipe attached to a jet engine—with people inside. Now just blue sky where the front half of an aircraft had been, the plane and its people (very much still alive) flew directly upward toward heaven. Then it tilted and flew directly downward. The people were still alive. This thought is unpleasant. I feel the adrenaline literally crawl from my chest cavity, down my arms and to the ends of my fingers. Feels like mercury slowly poisoning my blood. Or ants. Please let the bomb be directly under my seat cushion. Or even the cushion itself.

1:10 PM: Sam has a cooking class later that evening. He needs to calculate how long we'll be delayed, decide whether to cancel, alert attendees, etc. This gives him something pressing yet unemotional to concentrate on. This is a really nice thing to have when there’s a bomb under your ass. Thinking about things like your family or unfulfilled life dreams is not recommended. So I start to daydream about that home dry cleaning machine. The machine won’t miss me or develop emotional issues and start dating potheads because I’ve been ripped from its life. It really helps.

1:15 PM: Descending to Phoenix. The desert heat always makes it turbulent when you land a plane. When you’re told you might die of explosives, each jolt of turbulence is extra special.

1:25 PM: We land in Phoenix. “I’ll bet you they’re going to let us pull into any gate we want,” Sam proposes. Instead, we drive right by the gates to a remote, unpopulated corner of the airport. If you’re hosting a party and a soda can drops to the floor, you place that soda somewhere off to the side. If it explodes it could get all over everyone. There are cops and FBI and bomb dogs waiting for us. They don’t seem too eager to come aboard and say hello.

1:30 PM: People are most amusing when highly stressed. A female passenger moans about how inconvenient the delay is going to be for her day. After the pilot cuts the air conditioning, a man loudly bellows: “Oh, come onnnnnn!” He says this in the same way you might complain about a lollygagging bank teller. I’m personally OK turning off the AC. Make us wear angora sweaters and hug each other. Pour coffee on my crotch. Just kindly get me off this plane before it explodes.

1:45 PM: The police come on board. “Two in the front, two in the back, in case someone runs,” says the main officer. Run? Why would someone run? We not only have a suspicious “item” but also a suspicious “someone”? Is the suspicious item strapped to this someone? The police look nervous, stiff. How someone might look if you said, “OK, I’ll throw rocks at the rattlesnake and then you grab it by the neck.” I feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the police; this is not a common feeling I have for law enforcement. I turn to watch as they pass us, their hands hovering above the guns at their hips. My seatbelt falls and makes that loud CLANG CLANG CLANG sound that airplane seatbelts make. Sounds remarkably like gunmetal. Maybe that’s why the officer wheels around with panic eyes, his hand making a quick half-move toward his gun. He casts me a glance that clearly says, “Are you ****ing kidding me? I could have shot you, idiot.” The look is very appropriate. As my hippie friend might say, “I receive that look, officer."

1:50 PM: The police lead a Caucasian man off the plane with his carry-on. The man is sweating profusely. He looks like he might enjoy Oklahoma Sooner football and taters. He doesn’t look very bomby. They never do, I think, echoing that cliché people tell TV news when a quiet neighbor inexplicably mows his lawn into the shape of a swastika. Right outside the plane door, I hear the police tell the suspect, “Show us your iPad.” He hid the bomb/box cutter/sirin gas in his iPad? It must not be an iPad Air. Probably an older model. I hear the man laugh nervously. But I can’t make out the rest of the conversation because an older gentleman sitting in front of me is on his cell phone, loudly complaining how this silly bomb nonsense is an inconvenience to his day.

2:00 PM: They finally let us off the plane. We place our luggage in a single-file line on the asphalt. Bomb dogs sniff each piece. Three busses have come to take us to safety. Across the electronic display on each bus, it reads: “Special Event.” A lot of things are special. Kids. Athletes. Art. Maybe I’m not appreciating the specialness of a bomb threat. Or maybe “Holy Shit It’s a Bomb!” is beyond our busses’ capabilities.

2:20 PM: The internet is fast. A news report about what happened is already out there. It explains who that sweaty man was and why he was sweating. It seems the president of Sony Online Entertainment John Smedley was in coach class. He had internet service during the flight. A Tweet popped up on his tablet that read something like "There's a bomb on your plane and you're doing to die." The name "Smedley" just sounds villainous. And what was the Sony president doing with an iPad? Now that we're all safe, I Tweet at him on behalf of Flight 362 and request free Sony Playstations for the trouble. He doesn’t respond.

6 PM: They put us back on the same plane. Apparently the experts have deemed it safe. But didn't the experts also deem it safe before we took off the first time only to change their thinking? I would've preferred a different plane. Maybe even a different airline or a Volvo. Something safe.

6 PM: We land in San Diego. News cameras are everywhere. The passenger who had been the loudest and most annoying during the ordeal stands in front of them, recanting our tale. I sneak by and see my mother’s car parked at the airport curb. Through the backseat window I can see my daughter, Ellie. She’s got some sort of shmutz on her face. I love that face.

Monday
I catch a segment on Good Morning America about our story. Computer animation shows two fighter jets flying behind us to ensure we landed safely in Phoenix. I’m fairly certain none of us were aware of the jets at the time it happened. I’m momentarily confused. How could fighter jets help if we exploded? “That’s cute,” answers a friend. “They were there to blow you out of the sky if your pilot took a wrong turn.” Oh. Makes sense. Good plan. I picture Maverick and Goose on our tail, fingers poised above the LAUNCH MISSILE buttons. Or does it say DESTROY or ELIMINATE or BYE-BYE GORBACHEV/SADAM/OSAMA? I'm not certain. Sitting on my couch, I feel the adrenaline literally crawl from my chest cavity, down my arms and to the ends of my fingers. Feels like mercury slowly poisoning my blood. Or ants.

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