The biathlon event in the Winter Olympics is roundly agreed to be an odd juxtaposition of skills. You ski, you shoot, you ski, you shoot-but why? Is it for alpine assassins? Restless hunters? I dimly recall the announcers commenting on the difficulty of steadying a rifle with an aerobically pounding heart, how this demands the ability to control one’s heart rate, or the effect of the heart rate on the nerves, and that’s where the challenge lies. I can think of far more exquisite ways to test the ability of people to separate their hearts from their nerves, but perhaps these would not televise so well. Perhaps it is best to stick to skiing and shooting and call that a biathlon.

For the less traditionally athletic set, however, there are other feats of strength that go together in pairs. For example, drinking a large, spicy Bloody Mary and then running wind sprints could be a biathlon of sorts. This sport is still in its exhibition stage, but I do believe I’m the reigning champion.

I happened upon the format of this alternate biathlon quite by accident. It had to do with CheapTickets.com, and their cheap but sinister plans for my air travel.

Next time I buy a plane ticket, I will factor in the unfavorability of the dollar against the pound before I consent to fly through London. On either end of my tour of Filthy Couches of Central Europe, I connected through Heathrow. This connection cost me hours of worrying that my liquids would be confiscated and my entire body would desiccate, not to mention upwards of USD$30 in coffee and sandwiches. On my return trip through Heathrow, I was so disgusted by the amount I paid for a panini and an espresso that I was immediately moved to spend more money on a cocktail to calm my frazzled nerves.

England was not even part of my trip abroad, and yet here I was with the Queen’s head rattling in miniature in my pockets and Boots pharmacy beckoning me to buy unnecessary homeopathic ointments. I needed to liquidate these un-exchangeable pound coins and mentally prepare myself to spend eight hours on a plane. What this transatlantic flight demanded was a nice, nourishing Bloody Mary. And I was going to get one, right over there at that raw bar in the middle of Heathrow Airport. What was a raw bar doing in the middle of Heathrow Airport? No matter. There were Bloody Marys at that raw bar. I could see their tall, crimson form, even at twenty paces with my contacts dry as a cokehead’s mouth.

I sidled up to the raw bar and waited expectantly. For several minutes I went unserved. I sat up straight and cleared my throat, rubbed my eyes. Was whatever it was that had scared those three little German girls on the bridge in Munich back in full force? Was my mascara smeared in such a way that I appeared to have a black eye? Did I finally have a black eye, which would constitute my fourteenth bruise of unknown origin? What did it take to get a freakin’ Bloody Mary in this place? I was feeling belligerent, and after nearly two weeks with what has to be one of the world’s larger punk rock bands and its equally large entourage, somewhat entitled to be served alcohol immediately. If there was one thing I had come to count on in the last two weeks, it was the ready availability of alcohol.

Eventually, someone took my order. Eventually, someone poured some vodka into a glass. But then there was no action. Apparently, there was no tomato juice. Someone was getting some, just a moment. The vodka sat in the glass, diluting by the minute with crushed ice. Where was the tomato juice and where was my Bloody Mary? Was it too much to ask? Trapped in a rock club at dawn, forced to scale a barbed-wire fence, the beneficiary of only a handful of actual beds or showers in the last two weeks, my body bruised, my journalistic integrity questioned, my modesty compromised, my immune system shot to hell, yes, true, all the result of my own free will and doing, but still, as the victim of many self-induced hardships now held prisoner in Heathrow Airport, about to be packed like a sardine into the germ-ridden depths of coach class and unceremoniously returned to a semblance of a normal life, wasn’t I entitled to one little glass of spiced, alcoholic tomato juice to ease the pain and send me on my way?

In the last two weeks with the punk rock band and its entourage, I had witnessed more than one explosion of frustration and entitlement. These explosions both terrified and fascinated me, as I fear confrontation but like to get my way. I was on my way to just such an explosion when tomato juice was produced, my Bloody Mary was mixed, and I was presented with the alcoholic vegetable drink I craved. It was a little bland, but I spiced it up with liberal doses of Tabasco and black pepper and commenced to slurp it down. Another truth reinforced by living life with a punk rock band was when in doubt, add something else to the mix. I was just stirring the peppery bottom of my Bloody Mary when I thought to at least glance up at the big board of departures and check on the status of my flight.

The big board of departures was hanging from the ceiling in the midst of a vulgar Christmas display. As I looked for it, I noticed that the entire terminal was decorated for Chirstmas. The momentary bliss of my Bloody Mary forgotten, I immediately started feeling bileous about the combined insults of Christmas, airports and the weakness of the U.S. dollar. Why was I getting so agitated, I wondered. Maybe it was because I wasn’t under my usual airport self-sedation. I had been saving a half a Xanax in my Altoids Tiny Tin[TM]/stash box, but when I opened the box to put more drugs inside it the half a Xanax disintegrated and blew away in the wind, like a little narcotic magic trick. I willed the Xanax back into existence, but to no avail. The Xanax was just a few more parts per million in the dust of a German anarchist compound. It was just me and this Bloody Mary against the Atlantic now.

Ah, airports. Ah, Christmas. This airport was also a mall, and everyone in the fucking place was on the lookout for an Arab with too much toothpaste. Judeo-Christian consumerism was the true religion of the world, and here in this airport it all melded perfectly into one mass of retail outlets, fossil fuel consumption and xenophobic suspicion. And it was costing us all so much money just to participate in it. This fucking Bloody Mary alone cost five quid. Ah, but “quid.” What a great word. The British, so full of great words and questionable food. Wasn’t I supposed to be thinking of something, performing some task? My flight, the flight, checking the flight. There it was. American Airlines Flight 131. I hate to say the name of my flight, even to myself. It reminds me of how it will sound if it crashes and becomes a famous flight. TWA Flight 800, we all know that one. American Airlines Flight 131, they’ll say, and if I die my family will have to become friends with the other families. They’ll see each other at memorial reunions and throw flowers into the sea from a pebbly beach in the south of England. My face will be in a montage on the cover of Newsweek. My brother can date and eventually marry one of the other surviving siblings; they’ll be a sidebar in Newsweek. I wonder if I’ll cling to the other passengers as the plane is going down, or if I’ll be very placid and meditate in my seat. Stop being so morbid, Weinstein, said my left brain to my right brain. Well I wouldn’t be if that Xanax hadn’t disintegrated, retorted my right brain. Weren’t you going to give that Xanax away anyway? That’s right, I was. But still, it disintegrated before my very eyes. It was depressing. No, it was illuminating, don’t you see? You wouldn’t have it now anyway. Exactly my point–nothing is permanent. Whether we crash into the sea or live to make another connecting flight, everything passes, becomes dust. Spices, cookies, drugs, us. But I’m not enlightened, so it hurts. But look on the bright side–so too will this dreaded transatlantic flight pass, now if I can just find the gate–Fo-cus, and look at the board. There it is. AA 131 New York. Gate 18. FLIGHT CLOSED.



So began the second event in my biathlon. Bloody Mary acquisition and drinking behind me, leading the pack at the split, I began my sprint.

Have you ever run four hundred yards at top speed after drinking a very spicy Bloody Mary and sleeping maybe a total of four hours in the last two days while drinking and smoking continuously? Because that is a sport. My personal physician has a saying that I, too, like to live by. It goes, “I don’t run unless someone is chasing me.” I’ve amended it to, “or unless I’m chasing a widebody jet I’m expecting to take me home to my bed.”

In Heathrow Airport, I ran. I ran fast. I ran fast through the corridors, past Lounges A through E, past the VIP Lounge, past the signs for Gates 28-55 and 1-27, dodging people of all nations and persuasions, dodging beeping carts, dodging my own quickly bifurcating personality. I ran fast, I ran far.

I ran all the way to the wrong gate. I knew it as soon as I got there, panting, and saw that the line was uniformly comprised of South Asian businessmen. Somehow I sensed they weren’t all going to New York. In my haste and fatigue and drunkenness and disgruntlement, I had run to the same-numbered gate my flight had left from in Berlin several hours earlier. I was no longer leading the pack and had in fact made a fatal error. Once a sure shot for the gold, I was now going to have to scramble just to medal in my only event, the Bloody Mary British Airport Biathlon.

I turned around and ran the other way. I ran and I lept. I lept over little green men, laser beams, rocks, the fallen bodies of my comrades. I ran and I lept and I swore. I swore under my breath and I swore at the top of my lungs. At some point, I felt a strange and euphoric sensation, a departure of my soul from my body. I felt kind of…high. Was this what they meant, about the running and the high? A week earlier, hiking above the deserted mountain towns of the Swiss Alps, I had felt a similar sensation, but after hours of inhaling clean, evergreen-scented air. Was this “running” such a powerful drug that it could induce such a feeling after just a few minutes? Could I put it in a box and carry it around with me, taking it out when I was feeling bored or curious or despondent or fiendish? Were these flight attendants real people or were they made of plastic and could I topple them like dominos by smashing into them hard, BLAM! Better not, slow me down. The pack, the split, the flight, the gate!

The searing, horrible pain!

In an immediate karmic payback for my fleeting violent fantasies of knocking down some flight attendants, I was nearly felled at Gate 15 by an unbelievable stitch in my abdomen. Now this was more like my usual experience of running, not to mention romance. Not so much a clarifying high as a series of strange aches and pains. Not unless someone is chasing me, indeed. I had to look into that strategy, with regards to running–and romance–if I ever recovered from this latest searing, horrible abdominal pain. This had to be it–I had hit The Wall. Some people hit it at mile 20 of the marathon, others at Gate 15.

My momentum was so great that as I doubled over in pain, my feet were still churning beneath me like a cartoon character. Time slowed, stopped. “Wow,” I thought, as I heard my pounding feet and heart. “I was going really fast.” Gate 18, from which AA Flight 131 was in fact leaving, was visible at the vanishing point of the infinite corridor. Gate 18 FLIGHT CLOSED. I had to see it for myself, had to meet whatever fate that awaited me there. Would they slam the door to the jetway in my face, or would there just be one of those little nylon barriers that replaced the velvet rope, zipped wordlessly into place before my prostrate body? Or would there be no one there at all, would I be alone under a buzzing fluorescent light as five hundred strangers ascended to their cruising altitude?

Suddenly, I felt an acute desperation and sense of abandonment the likes of which I’d never felt before. The thought that American Airlines perhaps ran several flights per day from Heathrow to JFK and I might somehow get on another one did not cross my mind. I had missed my chance to migrate with the flock, and now I was all alone, stinking of several days worth of sweat, made more pungent by the fresh sheen of the sprint. I was going to be sniffed out within seconds and ripped apart by carnivores, leaving a trail of blood on the airport corridor carpet. The remains of the Bloody Mary, red and alcoholic as they were, would probably be misidentified as my blood, and my family would be informed that I, like poor Snowden, was made of stewed tomatoes.

Just as a lover who rejects us can instantly catapult themselves from a passing fancy into an object of obsession, my departed flight was now poignantly lost to me. Having dreaded AA Flight 131 for the past several hours and at some level, for the past several weeks, in truth since before I even left New York on AA Flight 132, I now missed it and loved it and mourned it, even though I never really knew it. As I pressed my fingers into the flesh of my belly, trying to cut the stitch off at the source, I was hit with the full force of the lost flight and the reality of my continued existence, at least for the foreseeable future, with no clean clothes and a dwindling cash supply, in Heathrow airport. Alone, dirty, drunk, tired, broke, sweaty and in pain, and my iPod battery dead to boot. Ah, well. I’d been down this low before. Lower, even. But first, like anyone who lost something they never even knew they needed, I had to see for myself that it was really gone.

Side stitch and all, I limped on toward Gate 18. The screen said, FLIGHT CLOSED, but the flight attendant at the gate looked placid and welcoming.

“I’m on this flight,” I gasped. “To! New! York! And I gotta-! Get-! Onnit!”

“We’re not even boarding yet,” she said pleasantly. “Just have a seat, ma’am.”

“But, the sign-! Said-! It was-! Closed!”

“Oh, it does that sometimes,” said the flight attendant. “It makes mistakes.”

“But you almost KILLED me,” I wanted to howl. “My nerves are shot. My body is debilitated. I’ve been in a punishing punk rock immersion program for the better part of two weeks. It’s like the opposite of a spa. I had to take the cure in the Alps. I’ve come hundreds of miles. I have suffered. I have bruises. I have felt pain, and euphoria, a dissolution of morality and ego. I need a massage, a Xanax, a punch in the face. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to vomit my Bloody Mary on your polyester uniform and have a stroke!”

But I was meek and relieved as much as I was indignant and enraged. “I didn’t miss it?” I squeaked.

“No ma’am,” said the flight attendant, fuchsia lips pulling toward a smile, fuchsia nails clattering on the keyboard.

I’ve always hated those dramatic airport-running scenes at the end of movies that end with such improbable gratification of the most distant of romantic hopes. But now I had lived it. I had dashed through the airport, not toward true love, but simply toward home. Thinking I was too late and knowing it was impossible, still I ran, fueled by determination and stupidity and an unwillingness to give up hope.

I could see how this experience, like all of my experiences, was going to be used justify more idiotic behavior in the future. It already had implications in the immediate present. My airport sprint, while nauseating, did pass the layover more rapidly and more important, helped me to discover a fine new athletic event. I maintain that the Bloody Mary airport biathlon should not only be an Olympic sport, but an element in the President’s Physical Fitness Challenge. Any child who cannot drink a Bloody Mary and run four hundred yards of crowded carpeted corridor is not ready to assume the adult responsibilities of American citizenship. The future of the nation depends on our vigilance.

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