“We have plenty of time.” David Vallejo told his friends “Just let me watch this.”
“David, New York is almost 8 hours away.” Patricio O’Higgins tried to break through the mental grip that the hotel television had on his friend, but was not successful.
“Noah, wake up!” John Fisher nudged the shoulder of Noah Bernstein, who was lying face down on the bed, but this failed to pull him out of the land of dreams.
“Another episode of Modern Marvels, next on the History Channel.” the narrator on the television said as fast-paced orchestral music played in the background.
“I fucking love this show.” David said, more to himself than to the other people in the room.
Patricio asked the obvious question “Can’t you watch it at home?”
“No.” David answered “I’m never up this early to watch it.” It was currently 5:00 in the morning. “They don’t play any of their old shows during the day anymore.”
“What do you mean their old shows?” Patricio said.
David replied “The shows that are actually about history.”
“Noah! Wake up!” John said “We got to go soon!”
Noah’s only response was a semi-human grunt, muffled by the pillow in which his face was half-buried.
Patricio said to David “They don’t have shows about history anymore?”
“Not really. It’s mainly just stupid reality shows.” David responded.
“Like what?” Patricio asked.
“Shows about pawnbroking and trucking in Alaska.” David said with a mix of disgust and grief in his voice “One of their new shows is literally just a guy slicing open appliances with a circular saw.”
After one last failed nudge, John gave up on trying to awaken Noah, so he turned to the others and said “We need to start getting ready.”
“Just one episode guys.” David replied “If we leave by 6:15 it shouldn’t be a problem.”
The narrator on the television announced “Chaos in Guadalajara, Mexico when the city streets explode…” Scenes of destruction were flashing across the screen.
David’s eyes became wide with excitement as he whispered “No way…”
The narrator went on “A major road in Southern California becomes a gigantic sinkhole…Chaos in Italy as broken dams bury a town in sludge…”
David grew a gigantic smile on his face, and his eyes acquired an almost hypnotized quality.
“Is this like your favorite episode or something?” Patricio said.
“It’s one of my favorite episodes.” David responded.
“Guys, we need to eat breakfast so we can check out and hit the road.” John pleaded with them, but was ignored.
With the same background music blaring, the narrator announced “Engineering Disasters Part 25, now on Modern Marvels.”
“Engineering Disasters was a sub-series within the series.” David explained to his friends.
Patricio said with a raised eyebrow “Part 25?”
“There have been a lot of engineering disasters throughout history.” David said.
“And you don’t find the subject a little repetitive after 25 episodes?” Patricio asked.
“Not at all. I find this stuff fascinating.” David replied “Give it a chance, I think you’ll like it too.”
“Hmm…” Patricio said, putting his hand on his chin thoughtfully “Perhaps I will watch just a little bit…”
John tried to interrupt again “Guys…”
David finally acknowledged him “John, I agree we need to eat breakfast soon. So why don’t you go get some food and bring it back to the room for us?”
John exhaled and said “Yeah I guess I’ll do that, if that’s the only form of progress we can make.” He walked over to the door “You three are all staying here?”
Noah was still effectively comatose in his bed.
He answered with a non-verbal grunt.
David was hopelessly entranced by the television.
“We begin at Charles de Gaulle airport on an ordinary spring morning.” the narrator said “Little did the people of Paris know that disaster would soon strike…”
David muttered “Yeah I’m staying here.”
Patricio’s attention was being slowly consumed by the glowing box as well. He said to John “Yeah, I think I’ll stay here too. Thanks in advance.”
“You’re a hero to the community.” David said.
John shook his head and stepped through the door of their hotel room, gently closing it behind himself.
The hotel at which they were staying was located roughly in the Middle-of-Nowhere, Ohio. The four friends were technically on spring break, but the weather outside felt more like late autumn.
They were driving from their hometown in western Chicago to New York City in Noah Bernstein’s spacious van. Their friend Peter Emmanuel, who was studying business at an elite university in London, was in New York for a brief internship with a major banking firm. His flight back to Heathrow was at 7:30 that evening. So David had the idea of driving there over the course of two days to see him off. The first day got them to Ohio. If they were disciplined on the second day, they would be able to get to New York and see Peter for a few hours. If they weren’t disciplined, they might miss him entirely.
John passed by the hotel’s indoor pool, which was one of the few luxuries provided by the humble and slightly run-down establishment. Another was the complimentary breakfast, promised to be plentiful and delicious on their website.
John grabbed a paper plate from the stack available and examined the steaming piles of scrambled eggs, sausages, bacon, and biscuits present for the taking. The smell was almost irresistible, and he figured his friends wouldn’t mind waiting, so he put some food on a plate for himself and looked for a table.
There were plenty available; only two tables were already occupied. In one corner there sat a 30-something man dressed in a business suit, sipping coffee and reading a newspaper. At the opposite end of the room there was a pair of women eating their breakfast together. Based on their age, they were probably college students. One was blonde, the other was a brunette and both were incredibly gorgeous.
As John passed by their table he couldn’t stop himself from catching a glimpse, though he tried to be discreet about it. But the brunette girl looked up at precisely the wrong moment (or was it precisely the right moment?). Her striking blue eyes met John’s for just a brief moment before he looked away. He felt a flirtatious energy radiating from her. Was he just imagining that or did she intend it that way? John figured the incident probably meant nothing, so he sat down at a table several feet away and began eating.
He tried to refocus on his plans for the rest of the day, but his mind kept coming back to those women at the other table. He wondered if that brunette was looking at him still. He decided to look up from his breakfast just once, to satisfy his curiosity.
She was not looking at him.
Instead her blonde friend was staring straight at him with her equally striking hazel eyes. He quickly looked back down again, but not before she winked at him. Or did she?
Your mind must be playing tricks on you John told himself as he returned to the counter and grabbed two more plates. He mechanically piled food on them for Pat and David, wondering if he was going insane.
He had to pass by the women’s table again to get back to the hotel room. Despite his best efforts, he locked eyes with the brunette again. He couldn’t look away this time, nor could he blame his imagination when she very distinctly blew him a kiss.
John’s heart rate was uncomfortably elevated as he walked briskly to the room, but not because of his speed. When he reentered, everything was exactly as when he had left, with one exception.
Patricio was now just as hypnotized as David.
“We now come to the humble coal town of Centralia, Pennsylvania…” the narrator on the television said.
John placed the two plates full of food in front of them and said “Here’s your breakfast guys.”
Without removing his gaze from the glowing screen, Patricio accepted the plate and said “Thanks John.”
“Yeah, thanks John.” David echoed him. They picked up their forks and began eating, still without looking away from the television.
“No problem.” John said “Are you hungry yet Noah?”
Noah responded with an incoherent grunt.
“So you want me to get you some food then?” John said.
He produced more incoherent noises.
John headed for the door and said “I’ll be happy to.” And then, he exited the room.
He moved cautiously back to where the food was served, unsure of what to expect or even want.
The businessman had left, but those two beautiful college girls were still at their table. He had to walk by them to reach the food and so that is what he did. But this time there was no winking, no flirtatious looks, no blown kisses.
They didn’t even look in his direction. Maybe they just didn’t notice you, John told himself as he grabbed a plate and started piling eggs and biscuits onto it for Noah. When he passed by their table again, he made sure to move slowly with deliberately loud steps. But again, nothing happened. They didn’t even flinch.
He was deeply confused now and a little disappointed. Once back in the room, John placed the pile of food on the dresser next to Noah’s bed.
“Here you go, Noah.” he told his friend.
The smell of that delicious food finally penetrated the mental barriers keeping Noah in the dream world. He lifted his head from the pillow and grabbed the plastic fork that was resting on the plate. Still lying flat on his stomach, Noah started to eat.
John barely noticed what was happening in front of him though. He was distracted by other concerns.
He generated an excuse to tell his friends “I’m going to go get some coffee.” Then he headed for the door.
“Good idea, John.” Patricio said “Get some for everybody.”
As he proceeded down the hallway, John saw those two gorgeous women enter the hotel’s pool area. He cautiously walked up to the Plexiglass door to investigate further. The girls pulled off their shirts and slipped out of their tight jeans, revealing bikinis underneath. John went almost a full minute without blinking a single time. The women both stepped into the pool. John breathed in and out heavily.
Back in the hotel room, Noah was still lying on his stomach, shoveling food into his mouth. He glanced at the clock on the dresser. 5:22 AM.
“Damn we got to get going soon.” he said to his friends in the room “Do you know where John is?” Noah sat up and started looking for his socks.
“I think he went to get some coffee.” Patricio answered without taking his eyes off the television screen.
“We don’t have time to dick around here for hours. Our plan was to check out and leave by 6, remember?” Noah said. He alternated between shoveling food in his mouth and struggling to put fresh socks on his feet.
“Yeah, we remember.” David mumbled.
Once his socks were on, Noah began stuffing his belongings into his suitcase. He still stopped occasionally for a bite of scrambled egg. “Are you guys going to get ready?” he said to David and Patricio.
“Yeah, as soon as there’s a commercial, Noah.” Patricio answered.
David mindlessly gave the same response “As soon as there’s a commercial.”
“Right…” Noah said “I guess I’ll have to do it all myself.” He began stuffing his friends’ belongings into their respective suitcases.
Back in the hallway, John was still ‘investigating’ the two college girls. He was even more hypnotized than David and Patricio. Suddenly, Noah was in the hallway, speed-walking past him and carrying a suitcase in each hand.
“Hey John.” he said.
John responded “Hey Noah.” John did not remove his gaze from the women in the pool. A few minutes went by and Noah returned from the opposite direction.
“Hey Noah.” At that moment John remembered the surrounding world. He stopped his friend “Hey Noah, what are you doing?”
“I’m trying to get ready so we can check out and leave.” Noah said “What are you doing?”
“Well, I uh…”
Noah peered through the glass door and said “Oh, I see.”
“They were giving me these looks when I was getting breakfast.” John said “Like they were interested, you know?”
Noah replied “Look, we don’t have much time, so go talk to them and get their numbers if you want to.” Then Noah continued on his way back to the room.
John took a few deep breaths and said “Okay. That’s what I’m going to do.” He stepped through the door to the pool just as Noah was stepping through the door to their hotel room.
David and Patricio were still entranced by their gloriously historical programming. Noah looked at the clock. 5:30.
“Guys we need to go.” Noah told them.
“Sure thing, Noah.” Patricio said.
David responded “As soon as there’s a commercial.”
Noah walked over to the remote control, picked it up, and turned off the glowing box.
David said “Where did the television go?”
“Hey! We were watching that!” Patricio said.
“Guys, it’s time to check out.” Noah said.
David pointed at the now blank screen and said “But…Modern Marvels is on.”
“Guys, remember, we’re heading to New York? Peter is leaving tonight. He has a hard deadline in the form of a departing plane. He’s going back to London.”
David and Patricio’s annoyed expressions softened.
“We better get going.”
In the pool area John was trying to get the attention of those mysterious college beauties “I couldn’t help but noticing…”
They didn’t seem to hear him.
“I couldn’t help but noticing…” he got a lot louder and they turned their heads in his direction “…that you two were giving me some interesting looks at breakfast.”
The blonde with the hazel eyes said “I’m sorry, who are you?”
“What do you mean we were giving you interesting looks?” the brunette asked with apparent earnestness.
John smiled confidently as he said “There’s no need to play dumb. I saw all the winks and the flirty eyes and the kisses you blew in my direction.”
The two women both had confused expressions for about 10 seconds, which then changed to expressions of sudden realization.
“Oh…” the blonde said “You thought…”
Her brunette companion explained “Those weren’t for you. We were trying to get the attention of that guy in the suit. You remember that guy who was reading a newspaper the whole time?”
“You what?” John said.
“I’m so sorry there was a miscommunication.” the brunette said with an awkward grin.
John heard the door swing open but didn’t turn around to see; he already knew who it was.
“You ready to go, John?” Noah asked.
He turned around and saw Noah, David, and Patricio standing there, with cups of coffee and suitcases in their hands.
John paused a moment and said “Yeah, I think I’m ready to go.”
“Awesome.” Noah said.
The four friends checked out of the hotel together and hit the road.