Have Happy Day

By Slade Ham

Memoir

It was early April that year and I was excited. I was going back to Asia for the third time, to see the cherry blossoms in bloom and hop from base to base telling jokes through most of South Korea and Japan. My itinerary was complicated, and the first leg in particular left very little space for a mistake. In a perfect world I was supposed to fly from Houston to Detroit, Detroit to Tokyo, and finally from Tokyo to Busan, South Korea.

But that’s in a perfect world.

In Real Land where I live, the problems started as soon as I boarded in Texas. They waited until the cabin door was closed to inform us that there was a minor computer issue. “It should only take a few minutes to correct,” the pilot’s voice crackled out over the intercom.

A baby cried somewhere in front of me. Sweet Jesus. Already? The mother fed it a bottle and rocked it to sleep. A few minutes slowly became sixty. I had a window seat, and that window was already beginning to fog up from the lack of air circulation. It’s been an hour, I thought. It can’t take that much longer. I’m a borderline claustrophobic person by nature and being stuck in the back of a long metal tube on the inside of a row wasn’t helping. The massive woman in the aisle seat was the size of an adolescent rhinoceros so getting out and walking around was going to be a challenge. At least I’m not in the middle though, I told myself.

That seat belonged to a man in his forties who, while having said nothing to support my theory, appeared to carry himself with a holier-than-thou attitude. I immediately didn’t like him. Some people have a cocky look on their face by nature. Maybe it was the way his facial bones were structured or how his eye brows arched, but he looked like someone who thought they should have a butler. “Simmer down,” I wanted to say. “You’re back here in coach with the rest of us.”

An hour and a half.

The speaker rattled again, this time with worse news. “This is your Captain again. Umm… we’re going to try to get this computer restarted one more time… umm… and if that doesn’t work we’re going to have to bring a crew on board to replace it. Just sit tight though. It shouldn’t be much longer,” the Captain lied.

Two hours.

Time was crawling. Shit. I remembered I only had a three hour layover in Detroit before my flight to Japan. This was going to cut things way too close. I pulled my notebook out of my backpack and tried to write to distract myself. The man in the middle was starting to get nosy. He pushed his glasses up with his finger and then tried to covertly read what I was writing with his peripheral vision. A blindfolded, stillborn chimpanzee would have known what he was doing. I adjusted my writing to compensate. Flipping over to a fresh page, I started a new paragraph:

“If you don’t stop reading this I will stab you in the ear with my pen and hide your body under the large woman to your left. They will never find you, do you understand me? Yes, I am talking to you. Don’t look away now, motherfucker. And when I’m through with you, and I get off this godforsaken plane, I will hunt your children down and eat them. You read that right. I will eat your children. On bread. Like a PoBoy.”

Three hours.

My layover time had officially been chiseled away. Unless we made into in the air in five minutes I was going to miss my next flight. I took a deep breath when I heard the intercom buzz. “Captain Adams here one more time. Just wanted to update you folks on our status. It looks like they have the problem under control. We apologize for keeping you on the plane this long, but it should only be a few more minutes. Sit tight.”

“Lying cocksucker!” someone yelled from the back. We all laughed, but there was no heart in it.

The beluga whale at the end of our row wasn’t doing so well. People that size don’t like to move a lot but they don’t like to be trapped either. The armrests were not being kind to her hips in an irresistible force/immovable object sort of way. The manner in which she seemed to have gotten stuck in her seat reminded me of a video I once saw where a double-decker bus failed to make it underneath an overpass.

Three and a half hours.

All I could focus on was the fact that I had to get to Detroit. I had to. The baby was crying again, now awake from its nap. Middle Man was fidgeting uncontrollably next to me but he avoided making eye contact. The sack of mattresses next to him was snoring, though she was wide awake. Her breaths came in erratic gusts, each one sounding more laborious than the last. More crying sounds cut through the thick air. It was miserable. I hope this plane blows up, I thought to myself.

Four and a half hours.

We were all beaten. Even the flight attendants had given up any semblance of professionalism. Ties loosened and sweat dripping, they dragged a beat up water cart down the center aisle. “Just say something if you want some more water,” one of them muttered. “I can’t help you otherwise.”

Five hours.

My flight to Tokyo had now been in the air for almost two hours. “Good news,” the Captain interrupted. “We’ve resolved the problem and are cleared for takeoff.”

One hundred and seventy-nine people sighed in relief; the fat lady just kept trying to breathe, period.

*  *  *

Eventually I made it through Detroit and into Tokyo, trudging into Narita Airport around 11:30 at night. The airline informed me that while the last flight into Busan had already taken off, they would happily fly me to Seoul for the night. “We get for you hotel, and drive person will arrive to transport you,” the lady behind the counter said in broken English. “Here ticket. Go enjoy. Have happy day.”

I didn’t know that the entire country of Korea goes to bed well before midnight. I learned that fact upon arriving at Incheon Airport in Seoul. Apparently they’re like Monchichis in that regard; at ten o’clock, someone takes the jewels out of their bellies and they fall asleep. The airport was huge, and totally empty. I was Tom Cruise in Vanilla Sky if, too tired to run through Times Square, he had skipped directly to the screaming-at-the-sky-and-spinning-in-a-circle part. How could the airport be empty? Where was my driver? I still had to get a hold of someone in Busan and let them know that I wasn’t going to make it, but the only contact information I had was for a man mysteriously named “Mr. O”. I had that, and a phone number with a thousand digits.

What I did not have was any Korean won and the Currency Exchange had long since closed. Delirious, I stumbled down the massive hallway and tried to make sense of the logograms that surrounded me. My exhausted mind translated them based on what they appeared to be: picnic table, telephone pole, tree house. I was getting nowhere.

One lone, lethargic sentry waited by the exit near an eerily silent baggage claim. He led me to a phone and then left me alone to report my story to Mr. O’s voicemail, because Mr. O, like all of Korea, was sleeping. I had been traveling for nearly thirty hours. Where was my ride to the hotel? A voice echoed my thought even as it occurred.

“Hotel?” I heard someone say.

I was certain that I was imagining things because there was no one there. “Hotel?” the voice said again, and then a four foot tall Korean appeared from behind what had appeared to be an abandoned counter.

“Yes,” I said. “Please.” I didn’t even care if he was the right guy or not. I just wanted to stand under a hot shower and maybe take a nap.

“Come. We go fast,” he grinned.

“Yes,” I replied. “Fast is good.”

He led me to a van, threw my bag in the passenger side, and then clambered into the driver’s seat. I slid open the side door and crawled into my own seat in the back, fully prepared to doze off until we reached our destination. I heard the ignition fire up as my eyes closed, and then I snapped them back open again when Korean rap exploded from the speakers. The van tires squealed, kicking up dust, and we shot forward in the dark outskirts of Seoul at the speed of sound.

He could barely see over the steering wheel. I pulled myself forward against the G force to see how fast we were going, forgetting that the speedometer was showing kilometers. I heard some mechanical part fall off the van and I spun around to watch it disappear in the darkness. The man laughed at the sound and then sped up even more. Through the windshield I could barely make out the road ahead as it flew toward us. Among the other deficiencies, we apparently only had one headlight as well, like the Wallflowers. The tail lights of another car appeared ahead, but only for a moment. He bump drafted them, cut the wheel sharply, and whizzed past, throwing his hands in the air like Bastion on Falcor’s back in The Neverending Story. “Mansae!” he yelled.

Terrified, I moved to the center of the bench seat and put on all three seatbelts.

I crawled out of the van when we arrived at the hotel, shaking but relieved and ecstatic to still be counted amongst the living. Before I could tip the man or even thank him, he pushed my bag out after me, yelled something else in Korean, and then rocketed off into the night.

“Have happy day,” I chuckled.

I’ll never know exactly how fast we actually went. I know we covered what I estimated to be 1100 miles in about eighteen minutes, and I couldn’t help but wonder where this guy had been when I needed to get from Houston to Detroit thirty hours earlier.

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SLADE HAM is a stand up comedian. He has performed in 52 countries on six continents, a journey that can be followed in his book, Until All the Dragons Are Dead. One day he hopes to host a travel show and continue to trick the world into paying him to do the things he loves to do. Slade is also an Editor for The Nervous Breakdown's Arts and Culture section. He keeps a very expensive storage unit in Houston, TX.

50 responses to “Have Happy Day”

  1. Ducky Wilson says:

    Damn, I got all kinds of aggro reading this. I’m sure my blood pressure rose a few points. Flying used to be fun. I drive everywhere now. Though obviously not to Korea.

  2. Richard Cox says:

    Hahahaha. That’s some funny shit, man. I mean it’s funny now. It probably wasn’t funny then. I love the idea of typing threats to Curious George sitting next to you. I’m going to use that one the next time I’m working on something on a plane.

    But I have a few questions. 1100 miles in 18 minutes? That’s almost Mach 5. What sort of engine did the van have? Were the tires rated for that speed? Can you even travel 1100 miles and still be in Korea?

    I appreciate the humor, Slade, but I think your math is a bit off.

    • Slade Ham says:

      This van was amazing. It utilized a combination of turbojet and ramjet systems and ran on Mickey Thompson slicks. As for the predicament of going 110 miles across Korea, let’s just say he took the long way.

      As for the invasion of my privacy, I really enjoy doing that – though I’m hardly ever as cruel as I appear in this entry. Still, people find it quite embarrassing to be busted in such an unorthodox manner. It amuses me to no end 🙂

  3. Matt says:

    I agree with Ducky; flying used to be fun. Now it’s just a pain in the ass. Why I take the train everywhere I can.

    Every time I try to write on a plane the lookey-loo next to me always takes it as an opening to start in with “Oh, you’re a writer? Well let me tell you about this idea I have….”

    • Slade Ham says:

      I keep my earbuds in on planes even if I’m not actually listening to music. It keeps unwanted questions, and questioners, at bay. As a comic I always get “let me tell you a joke”… Grrrr. Isn’t it frustrating?

      I love trains. LOVE them. I don’t get to take them often though. I rode the Shintaken from Tokyo to Hiroshima once, which was amazing, but other than that I only get to ride them in Canada. The Canadian rail system is obviously much less expensive than air travel and quite comfortable. I really wish the US had a more efficient system.

      • Matt says:

        I’ve tried the earbuds thing, and even then people seem to just feel compelled to babble on at me as if I’m listening. It’s frustrating. Last time I flew I finally had to tell someone “Look, the reason I’m wearing these things is because I don’t feel like having a conversation. There are people on this plane who care about your Christian rock band. Just not me.”

        • Slade Ham says:

          “There are people on this plane who care about your Christian rock band. Just not me.”

          Hahaha. I know the feeling all too well. Aside from the headphones, you can always pretend to speak a different language entirely. I used to use Spanish, though I only speak enough to convince other people that don’t speak it that I do. I got called on that one time by a bilingual gentleman.

          It’s easier to try a language no one could possibly speak. Mutter a line from Star Wars and act confused. “Ven twi no twi Jedi. Die wanna wanga. Nee Jabba no badda.”

          And then go back to your laptop…

        • Matt says:

          Gotta be careful with that last one. Talking in a strange language can lead to you being led off the plane in handcuffs.

        • Richard Cox says:

          And you’re likely to encounter a Jedi wannabe who’ll call bullshit on that, too.

        • Matt says:

          Or just bean you in the head with his lightsaber. And then you’ll both be taken away by the Sky Marshalls….

        • Slade Ham says:

          My guess though, is that anyone fluent in Jedi probably lacks the people skills to initiate a conversation with a stranger 🙂

  4. I’ve only flown once since having babies. I flew once with our son when he was four months
    old and I was a wreck because I didn’t want him to be the baby that cries on flights that everyone wants to kill. He actually slept the entire way there and back – phew. But, I still have not flown since – that was almost five years ago. Your piece here reminded me that maybe, y’know, just maybe I’m onto something.

    • Slade Ham says:

      I’ve learned to be so much more tolerant of children on planes. I attribute it to having nieces now, and a ton of other friends with children. I was much less understanding when I was younger. If I could get by without ever flying again though, I would.

      It’s a truly miserable experience even when everything goes perfectly.

      • Yeah – I am same. So much more tolerant. In other areas too. I used to judge parents when I saw their kids crying in public, now I feel really sorry for them and offer help, as I have been the one with the child laying down in the parking lot of Lowes having a tantrum because they want to do their own carseat, but then they won’t do their own carseat. It’s so fun…

    • Matt says:

      Every time I’ve sat next to a kid on a plane I’ve wound up just playing with them all flight long. Kids can often be way more interesting to interact with than their parents. Last long flight I had (out to Tennessee, I think) I spent a fair chunk of the five hours playing Army Men vs. Dinosaurs vs Spaceships with the 7 year-old in the seat next to me. Great flight. The dinosaurs were victorious way more frequently than one might imagine.

      In retrospect, I probably should have charged his parents for a few hours’ worth of daycare.

      • Are you trying to compete with Duke for the manny position that totally Greg and I keep talking about? Because, you know, it’s still up for grabs!

        Dom and Prue are absolutely more interesting than me and totally killer Greg. Mostly because we’re exhausted. Remember that people! Parents do not have it easy. And traveling on a plane – I can’t even imagine. What you did, Matt, was a mitzvah – wracking up some good karma points. But I would have paid you – at least in airplane cocktails.

        • Matt says:

          I’d be a great manny! I LOVE kids (probably because I kind of still am one)! I’d teach them about animals and nature and all sorts of fun, disgusting stuff!

        • Slade Ham says:

          That’s what I’m finding about myself, Matt. I think the older I get, the more I want to reaffirm my Pan-like tendencies. I become that guy at every holiday gathering. The adults end up in one room doing adult things, and I roll around on the floor with the kids.

          I did something similar on a Toronto subway not that long ago. I’m pretty sure i was a welcome respite for the obviously exhausted mother.

          Of course, that’s different than five hours trapped on an airplane.

        • Matt says:

          True.

          Several of my coworkers have toddlers all about a year old or so. Couple of them brought their kids in today, and I spent the first hour of the morning playing with them. Totally made it worth coming in on what’s a no-work day for just about everyone I know.

  5. Lorna says:

    I so love to laugh at your misery. For the record, I thought you were kind of a judgmental jerk when I first began to read your blog and I didn’t think you were going to be kind to my comments. I quickly learned that blowing sunshine up your ass makes you much less judgmental. 😉

    I continue my preference to label you a modern day Mark Twain. I love what your writing does for my imagination. And I’m not just blowing sunshine.

  6. Slade Ham says:

    Haha, did I really come across that way? I’m not denying it, mind you, just asking 🙂 If I did, in my defense, it might have been because MySpace in particular always seemed to garner such a judgment-worthy audience…

    Nevertheless, thank you 🙂

    • Lorna says:

      Well to be fair, I was judging you in your judgement of others. Kind of like the pot calling the kettle black. What I thought I noticed was an intolerance towards dumb females and while I may be ignorant in many areas, I didn’t want to labeled dumb so I refrained from commenting for quite a while. I am mostly referring to the comment area of the blog, not the blog itself.

      You are welcome. Sunshine is free. 🙂

      • Slade Ham says:

        Hahaha, I can hardly hide my disdain for “dumb” people regardless of gender. You dear, have never been endanger of that classification 🙂 Ever, ever.

  7. Greg Olear says:

    Your endings are always the best part.

    And: Korean rap?

    • Slade Ham says:

      Yes.

      Unexpected Korean rap.

      It’s really not that bad actually, but at the time it was the single most obnoxious sound I had ever heard in my life.

  8. Irene Zion says:

    Slade,

    You have the amazing ability to make a perfectly horrible experience into one that makes me laugh so hard my ribs are really hurting, (and you may not know this, but I have several broken ribs at the moment.)

    I absolutely love what you wrote for the middle seat guy to read. I wish I had the nerve to do that.
    Well, if I don’t do that kind of thing now, at my age, when WILL I do it.? Okay. next time I get a nosy neighbor on the plane I’m writing some glorious threat. Yeah. Might as well do it now.

    • Slade Ham says:

      It really is one of the most fulfilling things you can do, AND it’s totally justified. Be creative!

      And I’m sorry about aggravating the ribs, but I’m really glad you laughed.

  9. Dan says:

    Great read Slade. I felt a little gay knowing what a Monchichi was.

    Remind me to tell you about Cairo traffic sometime.

    • Slade Ham says:

      I am a little shocked by the fact that I used a Monchichi reference actually. I’m almost 100% certain that I used it incorrectly, too. I think I mixed them together with Treasure Trolls. Still, Monchichi is a funny word. I’m glad I can share the shame of remembering them with someone.

  10. It’s weird to read another post about Korea on here… I feel threatened.

    The cherry blossoms are certainly a high point of life in Korea. The driver, however, is rarely enjoyable. I had a fast ride through Busan once in the back of a taxi, but otherwise you pretty much just brace for whiplash and hope you don’t go through the windscreen.

    And yeah, Korea shuts up around 10pm. It also doesn’t open until 10am… And like I commented on another post, they drink more booze than the Irish… Which explains a lot. Go to http://www.blackoutkorea.com and you’ll see pictures all taken about 7pm – peak drunk hour.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      I think I recognize the back of your head in one of those blackout pictures taken at McDonald’s, David. And, Slade, one day I will write a companion to this piece that involves a day-long wait in the lobby of a Budapest hotel for a driver to appear. I’m tempted to talk a little about screaming babies on airplanes and my feelings concerning them, but I feel bad about that after reading one of Steph’s comments above.

      Oh, and the death threats for the snooper is my favorite moment in the post, and an idea I’ll have to steal.

      • It probably was me. I wouldn’t be surprised if I had the curliest hair in Korea. The back of my head is highly recognisable. Which is #15 on the list of reasons why espionage is not for me.

      • Slade Ham says:

        That seems to be the popular opinion. I highly encourage stealing it.

        I’d love to see the Budapest story. While I enjoy traveling more than just about anything else in the world, the probability of something going nightmarishly wrong is quite high (including having to wait indefinitely) and it’s compounded sometimes by the fact that all the background noise is in a completely foreign language. It can be nerve-wracking.

        And we’ll just agree to leave the babies out of this, wink wink.

    • Slade Ham says:

      You’ll always remain the King of Korea around here, Dave. Having been multiple times, I enjoy your posts immensely. As for the drinking, I’m no stranger to soju. That is one of the strangest buzzes I’ve ever experienced.

      Those pictures are hilarious, particularly the guys by the canal. That’s a rough way to end a night – er, well, afternoon in Korea.

      • D.R. Haney says:

        Ah, I hadn’t noticed that Mr. Cox had already spoken of stealing the same bit. Great minds, etc. And if you ever want to visit a place more alcoholic than Korea, I recommend Poland. Oh, yes.

        • Slade Ham says:

          You know how sometimes when you read a sentence another part of your brain kind of jumps ahead and tries to complete it before your eyes get there? That’s what I just did… and I came up with 100 countries I thought you would say before Poland.

          Really. Poland?

          I’m going to have to visit there now.

        • D.R. Haney says:

          The women alone are worth it.

        • Slade Ham says:

          Sold.

        • Ah, Polish women… Now I remember what I was going to write about before I went off on vacation.

          But back to Korea: Soju is a strange drink. Anything that can land you unconscious for less than a dollar is generally to be avoided, and I’ve never found a drink that guarantees quite the same hangover as soju…

        • Slade Ham says:

          It is remarkably unique; its most surprising trait being the fact that you do not realize you are drunk until you try to stand up. Nothing compares, at all.

        • Yes! Absolutely… I’ve drunk bottle after bottle of the stuff and been fine, only to stand up and time travel straight through to the next morning’s brutal, brutal hangover…

  11. Simon Smithson says:

    “Maybe it was the way his facial bones were structured or how his eye brows arched, but he looked like someone who thought they should have a butler.”

    Oh, man, do I know that guy.

    Slade, as always, I remain delighted about your misery.

    • Slade Ham says:

      I thought the description was fitting. I have to find some non-miserable experience to write about, hahaha. I have good stories too I think. Somewhere. Maybe.

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