December 31

Fear and Loathing on Ambien



Ambien: “A little white prescription pill that can blow your mind if you don’t fall asleep before it kicks in. It will be quite the show indeed; it’s like riding a roller coaster through a tunnel filled with sleeping gas…” –

I was working a Ft. Lauderdale slash trip. My flight left LAX at 11:55 PM, and landed in Ft. Lauderdale at 6:35 AM. We didn’t work back to LAX until the third morning. In airline lexicon, this was a ‘slash’ trip. I had over 24 hours to spend in Florida, the sunshine state, the swing state, or as Jimmy Kimmel calls it, “The capital of all that is disturbed and evil in the world.”

I actually enjoyed slash trips. Some of my fondest memories were landing at Boston Logan’s airport at 6 AM, sleeping for four hours, then running through the Public Garden. Or flying into JFK airport, sleeping a couple hours, then having the day to explore New York City on my own.

So back to Ft. Lauderdale. I was so tired when we landed that I slept 7 hours and didn’t wake until 2:00PM. Not good, because I had to go back to sleep again in a few hours. But more on that later. My hotel was a few miles from the beach, so I ran to the beach and felt lucky I had a job where I could do such things.

I’d picked up a sandwich on my way back from my run. It was nearing dark. As I mentioned, one of the challenges of slash trips was falling asleep a second time. Our departure the next morning was at 7AM EST (4AM Pacific time). I planned to take my magic pill, Ambien, and pass out around 8PM, getting a good night’s sleep and waking up ready to turn on my fake pleasantries the next morning.

So I ate the sandwich and took the Ambien. I loved Ambien. When I’d have to wake up at 2AM and drive to LAX for a 5 AM sign-in, I’d pop an Ambien at 7PM, lay in bed, and see faeries before I drifted off into oblivion. It was a necessary staple for me. I’m not naturally chipper, and on limited sleep, I’m misery. And who wants to deal with a miserable stewardess?

I’m laying in my hotel bed, waiting for the alchemy to happen. Nothing. I try to read, but all I can do is ruminate over how miserable I’ll be if I don’t get enough sleep. So I decide to call one of my fellow Ambien-imbibers, an international flight attendant named Leilani. Leilani frequently worked trips to Japan, and was a pill expert.

“Girl, I can’t sleep, I have to get up at the crack of ass tomorrow, and I’ve already taken an Ambien.”

“Why don’t you have a glass of wine or something?”

“I don’t have any in my room.”

“Just get dressed and go down to the hotel bar.”

“Ugh. I’m in my PJs and don’t feel like leaving the room.”

“Just do it. A glass of wine will relax you. Then you’ll fall asleep.”

I should have ordered a glass of wine from room service. But, half-wittedly, I got dressed and went down to the hotel bar.

Now I had mixed Ambien and alcohol before. By the way, there is a huge red warning label on the Ambien prescription bottle: “DO NOT MIX WITH ALCOHOL,” as well as a sticker of a martini glass with a big red slash through it.

When I did occasionally make this prescription faux pas, I’d send strange emails or call people I didn’t even like, and tell them I loved them. But this panacea always guaranteed a good night’s sleep.

So in my Ambien-induced state, I figured going downstairs to the hotel bar wouldn’t be a big deal. And Leilani knew her pills, I told myself.

The hotel bar was practically empty. I sat at the bar and ordered a glass of house red. Two nerdy, unassuming middle-aged guys sat at the other end of the bar.

“This is for you. It’s from the guys over there,” the bartender said as he placed another glass of wine in front of me.


Before the bartender could answer, one of the guys walked over and said, “The house wine is awful. We thought you could use a good glass of Pinot Noir.”

“Wow, thanks.”

They both moved a few seats closer. I remember they told me they were charter pilots, and that they, too, were on a layover. I remember my gut telling me that they were unthreatening, nice guys. And I always trust my gut.

I remember telling the bartender my life story, and calling Leilani to try to set her up with the nice bartender.

That was the last thing I remembered.

I woke up the next morning, in my hotel bed, (luckily) alone. But I was (not so luckily) completely naked, and I had no idea how I’d gotten back to my room.

A note lay on the nightstand, saying, “Don’t worry, nothing happened. You needed some help getting back to your room and getting ready for bed last night. I also set the coffee maker ready to go. Have a good trip!”

“Phew,” I thought. I was naked, but there was no evidence of any type of bodily violation.

I could have brooded over what might have happened the night before, berated myself for being completely idiotic, irresponsible, etc., but, I thought, “there’s no point. I’m alive, I’m not hungover, I’m going to make my flight, and my body would know if it’d been violated.”

So I got out of bed, put on my uniform, and went to work like a normal person.

I later found out that I called about 15 of my phone contacts, including Leilani. She told me perhaps it was not such a good idea, after all, to go down to the bar to have a sleep-inducing glass of wine.

But then she added, “you did finally get to sleep, didn’t you? I told you it’d work.”

Never take advice from a pill popper, me included.