It is late in the evening of the day that Big Babe went back to Berlin after a three week visit to the Urban Bungalow. It was a period of intensity and hilarity, of conflict and connection, of sweet sibling bonding and new fellowship, especially between my two sons, separated by a daunting gulf of eleven years.
In my iconoclastic eldest child I discerned a diffuse dissatisfaction during this visit, a grumpy touchiness that signaled to me that he was possibly paused between stations along his life's journey, contemplating the next leg of the adventure.
He was tired on the drive to the airport and so I kept my conversation gentle. Yet when we hugged goodbye outside the Continental Airlines terminal at Newark, I found myself telling him to think about coming home soon for the first time since he left the U.S. to live as an expat American in Berlin.
After four years and much creative and entrepreneurial productivity, I believe it is time for this chapter of Big Babe's European adventure to draw to a close. It is not that I am ideologically opposed to his living abroad; I simply see his path as leading back home, at least for now. There is a process of professional education and building that needs to take place. Berlin, more than any other city I have visited, facilitates a form of long-range slackerdom. It is too easy to drift there, stoking a low-grade ambition, living comfortably in that exciting, low-cost cultural mecca.
As critical as I am about the American impulse towards overachievement, I want my son to be reanimated by the quest to succeed wildly in his chosen profession -- arts journalism.
Arriving home, I put myself on a marathon of productivity, playing catch up on some of the pressing tasks that took a backseat during the time of Big Babe's visit and the holiday season itself, which brought a great influx of family members. Once I was satisfied that I had set the requisite number of plates spinning, I set upon a dreaded task: getting American Express to reschedule my non-refundable/non-changeable flights and hotel for my January 25th trip to Charlotte, NC with Little Babe to see the Red Hot Chili Peppers perform to April 9th, when the band will be performing in Greensboro.
This switch had nothing to do with my personal preference. Instead, it was dictated by Anthony Kiedis, the band's frontman, who broke his foot so completely that, as a result, the band had to postpone its performances for two-plus months in order to him to recuperate.
As my flights and hotel were purchased through Amex Thank You points (which has ten million pages of rules about the complete and utter non-refundability/non-adjustibility of tickets) I spent about half an hour screeching insanely earlier in the day when I learned about Kiedis's injury... and that the January 25th concert in Charlotte, NC was postponed for April 6th, aka the first Seder night and Shabbos to boot.
Emerging from the shower, Big Babe came running out of the bathroom in a towel to see why I was carrying on so. The reason was that I had saved up 61,000 Thank You points for this adventure. The reason was that had I meticulously planned every last aspect of the trip for maximum fun with Little Babe, whose RHCP fandom got me into their music to begin with. The reason was that just earlier in the day, I sent article pitches out for a story about my impending adventure. It was supposed to be the last word in awesome, a mother/son road trip to remember. Now, everything seemed to be evaporating before my eyes.
Yet I harbored hope that some compassionate Amex agent might hear my plight and declare Kiedis's broken foot an act of God and therefore completely beyond my control, which indeed it was.
This clear-as-daylight extenuating circumstance, in turn, would compel Amex to bypass the million pages of non-refundability/non-changability of its Thank You rules, enabling me to change my flights and hotel reservation for the only other concert date in this leg of the Peppers' American tour that was available and feasible for me: April 9th in Greensboro, NC.
Yet when I called American Express, I did not get the caring, reasonable kind of customer service rep I had hoped for. Instead, I got some wacko named Steven who had an unhealthy love of rules, a mean streak and a condition akin to echolalia, where the afflicted individual cannot help repeating him or herself. Steve's echolalia had to do with death, illness or military service -- evidently the only three reasons why Amex might adjust or refund airline tickets or hotel reservations purchased with Thank You points. About fifteen minutes into the conversation, I looked something like this:
In addition to repeating the Thou Shalt Nots of Amex Thank You Points to me over and over, Steve went ahead and cancelled my reservations without my permission, telling me that it is not Amex's fault if I change my mind and don't want to travel on the dates I bought my original tickets. When I asked for the airline and hotel's numbers, he refused to give them to me, saying that there was no way to change my reservations. When I asked for his supervisor, he told me he didn't have one but gave me an email address where he said someone might respond to my query within two to three months.
It is late in the evening and I am falling asleep as I write. Suffice it to say that I ended up hanging up on Sadistic Steve and called Amex minutes later, whereupon a sane, compassionate and super-competant customer service guy named Kurt took my call and set everything right. Turns out that Steve was not just some bizarre automaton-like staffer, he also was a slacker, leaving no notes for his very real supervisor as to the nature of our one hour long conversation, failing to follow basic Amex customer service protocol and yes, canceling my reservation without my permission.
As a result, I got everything switched with only a minor adjustment fee. Yes, it took about 90 minutes with Kurt as he went back and forth from supervisor to airline to hotel and THREE hours from start to finish, yes, my phone battery burned out in the process and HOBB got mad at me because I promised to cook dinner and hadn't because I was totally consumed with my task at hand but at the end of the day, the awesome mom/teenage son rock 'n roll road trip is ON.
Little Babe and I will be spending the fourth night of Passover in Greensboro, NC with the Funky Monks themselves - the Red Hot Chili Peppers, our joint favorite band.
Anthony, Flea, Chad and Josh...if you guys are reading my blog, just know that what I went through today was totally worth it. I'll even bring extra matza to share with you guys. It's really tasty with cream cheese or chocolate spread. And Anthony, I hope that the healing process goes well. Little Babe's cast for his broken hand just came off yesterday morning. You two can trade stories of broken bones when we meet backstage after the show.
*Thanks to the supercool Lisa Alcalay Klug for her book cover, which appears above. It, more than anything else I could find, captures how cool it will be to hear the Peppers performing on Passover. Getting my reservation changed today feels miraculous, sorta like the splitting of the Red Sea. As I am prone to hyperbole, let me state that I feel as if I escaped from a Pharoah of sorts in the form of a customer service task-master, a petty-minded tyrant who creates a reign of terror through his tiny pulpit, magnifying his own authority by trying to make other people miserable.