The Lie That Snowballed

I won’t speak for everyone, but I’d guess that most people have, at some point, been warned not to tell even small lies because they just take on a life or their own, and you’ll end up owning them till the messy end.   I know I heard that repeatedly as a child, and I certainly saw the truth of it, but I can’t say I deep down believed it.  I hate confrontations, and certainly as a child, I know I’d blurt out what I considered a harmless or trivial lie, to avoid things getting too emotionally intense.  The following is what drove the lesson home for me, made be a true believer.

I was asked by work to travel to Mexico City to help close a deal for my employer.  From the start the trip had a bad wind about it.  I was convinced I wasn’t the right person to send, as I thought it was a bad deal for my employer in the first place, and I was just a programmer without any marketing skills.  They gave me only a couple days warning, and I had to cancel a long awaited trip to the circus with my son. Regardless, I put on a happy face and tried to make the best of it. By the week’s end in Mexico City, I’d encountered one problem after another, nothing had gone to plan, from travel plans, to business negotiations, and to top things off the deal did not look like it would go through. My positive facade had worn very thin.

As I left for the airport, the hotel, trying their best to make amends for various issues during my stay, insisted on collecting my luggage in my room and providing a car to the airport.  Usually, I’m the sort that manages my own details, but I relented and let them take care of things.

Arriving at the airport with ample time, things were looking up.  I was heading home. I decided to pack my overcoat into my luggage for convenience, opened my bag and…. didn’t recognize the contents!  It was the same model bag, but at some point the hotel or car had switched mine with someone else’s.  Did I mention my Spanish was pretty weak Okay … no need to panic. This was before one could just look things up on their mobiles, but I like to think I’m a pretty resourceful person so I went and bought a local phone card valued at 10 US dollars, which was a goodly sum at that time,  and went to a pay phone with someone using it. When the caller hung up, in broken Spanish, I explained that I would give them the entire phone card if they made just one call for me.  They agreed happily and navigated the operator and directory assistance, and I was speaking to my hotel in less then a minute.  The hotel quickly admitted their error, and agreed to send a car back with the correct bag.  Done.

I awaited the bag switch and it seemed to go off without a hitch and I made it to my gate with almost an hour to spare. No worries…. or so I thought. Apparently Mexico City had been battling travelers that booked a number of outbound flights and then just showed up for whichever one they pleased. In response, a policy was instituted of giving away seats not confirmed in the airport one hour in advance.  Five minutes ago my seat had been given away and the flight was now fully booked. Right, I still wasn’t going to let this get to me. I went to the counter, explained what had happened with the bag, and asked about the next flight out.  I received a very disinterested, “None till tomorrow.”

That’s when I snapped internally. I’d reached my limit. I just could not stay even one more night there. So, thinking all I needed to do was get them actually interested in helping me, I told the lie. I said to the counter official, “Please, are there any other flights? I’ll take anything! I’ve just found out my pregnant wife is in labor and I must get home!”  No, my wife wasn’t in labor, nor even pregnant, I just thought if I could make a human connection the official might actually try and be helpful.

It worked. Their eyes lit up, their fingers flew on the console, and in a regretful voice they said, “Sir, I could route you through Mexico City to LA, LA to Seattle, Seattle to Minneapolis, Minneapolis to NYC. It would get you in only four hours before our first morning flight, and you’ll fly all night.”  Okay I thought, rather then spend another night there, “Thank you so much! I’ll take it.”

And then it began. The lie now had it’s own life and began to thrive.  In moments I was escorted across the airport on a cart with a flashing light. The driver clearing the crowds shouting, what with my broken Spanish, seemed to be “Man with Baby!”.

I arrived at the plane and they were holding it for me!  Everyone was seated with expectant looks as I took the walk of shame to my seat. But they weren’t upset. Some people even seemed to give me well wishes about the baby as I took my seat. I felt horrible.

The woman in the seat beside me immediately said, “You must be the man who’s wife is in labor. Congratulations! I’m the US Ambassador’s wife, I’ll see what I can do!”  Oh no…. well I spent the leg to LA talking with her, never owning my lie of course, but we mostly spoke about general American expat type topics so … it was all good right?

I think, in fact, that after she got off the plane, she made a call of some sort.  What I can say with certainty is that every one of my transfers I was ridden through the airports on a cart and the plane held if needed.

When I arrived in NYC I tried to slip off the plane like any other passenger, but I saw airline officials point me out to uniformed men, who immediately came to me and explained they were there to give me escort to the hospital.  At this point I simply did not have the courage to set things straight.  I thanked them profusely, and threw another lie on the fire “My cousin is waiting just outside, I’ve had an update and the baby hasn’t come yet, so let me just find him.”  Miraculously, and undeservedly, it worked. I managed to slink off to a taxi and head home without further event.

I’ll never forget that. How that moment of dishonesty blossomed into a mess of lies and repercussions.  I told my son that story later in life when I gave him the “Don’t tell a lie because it will snowball” talk, and I like to think hearing such an idiot’s tale from his father maybe gave the message some impact.  It certainly impacted me, and I will say publicly (the legal statute of limitation has expired right?), that if any of those kind people I deceived that night, particularly the Ambassador’s wife happen across this story, I am truly sorry for the trouble I caused …

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