He woke up with his head pounding, hung over from another Friday night of heavy drinking.
Not unusual. He met some buddies after work, they started with German beer, moved on to shooters of Tequila. That was the last he remembered.
But when he turned over, his wife wasn’t in bed. In fact, it wasn’t his bed. Not his bedroom either.
His eyes focused slowly on the unfamiliar room: Where the fuck am I?
His clothes lay on a chair near the bed. A chair in front of a desk. He rubbed his eyes and looked again. He was in a hotel room for Chrissakes.
Oh God. What did I do?
He went into the bedroom and washed his face. The towel said this was a Hilton. Hilton?
Back in the room, he looked at the card next to the phone. It said he was in the San Francisco Airport Hilton Hotel.
San Francisco? How the hell did I get here?
According to his watch, it was 10:30 a.m. Eastern time. He picked up the phone and called his wife back in Virginia. She was hysterical.
“Where have you been? Are you all right?”
Yeah, I’m all right. I’m in a hotel.
“Well come on home.”
Well, that might take a while.
“Why? Where are you?”
“San Francisco, California? What on earth is going on?”
I don’t know. I’ll call you and soon as I’m on my way.
He showered, put on his clothes from the night before and called United Airlines. Yes, they had a flight leaving in two hours. He’d better get to the airport right away. He went down to check out. According to the bill, he checked into the hotel at 2 a.m. San Francisco time and used his Visa card to pay. The hotel shuttle took him to the terminal where he bought a one-way ticket to Washington’s Dulles Airport.
Tell me, he asked the airline clerk, did you have a flight from Washington out to here last night?
Could you check to see if I was on it?
I need to know if I was on the flight?
“Sir, are you telling me you don’t know if you were on one of our flights?”
He called his wife and asked her to meet his flight. The plane, thankfully, was mostly empty and he asked for a pillow to sleep. He wanted a drink to ease the pain in his head but thought better of it.
Back in Washington, he wife took one look at him and decided not to raise hell about his little trip.
First, let’s find my car.
“My God, I hope you didn’t drive last night.”
The keys are in my pocket.
They found the car in the first lot they checked, the daily lot right in front of the airport. The ticket was on the front seat and said he checked in at 9:16 p.m. the night before.
At home, he called every airline with direct flights from Dulles to San Francisco. One checked their Friday night flights and couldn’t find a reservation in his name . Another told him to request the information in writing. He did. Nothing.
He waited for a charge for a flight to San Francisco on a airline ticket to show up on his credit card bills. Never did.
His drinking buddies said he left the bar early after seven shots of Tequila, saying he was heading home.
He never drank with them again, never downed shots of tequila again or woke up in strange hotel rooms.
But on a recent night in a crowded meeting room in a church in Arlington, Virginia, he told fellow AA members the story of his drunken trip to San Francisco eight years ago, a trip that led to the first step towards recovery from a lifelong battle with alcoholism.