Carson Daly is around my age. On a fateful February evening in 2004, though, I almost became his stepdad.
It was a day similar to any other…well, at least until the point where I almost became Carson Daly’s stepdad. Earlier that afternoon, I had adopted a dog from a family who could no longer take care of her. The daughter was moving away to college and couldn’t take Daniella with her. Daniella was half German Shepard, half mutt. She loved water, walks, and (I later learned) Panda Express orange chicken. I was anxious to spend time with my new family member, but I was scheduled to speak at a retail conference in Palm Springs. The conference started at 8 AM the following morning, so I had to leave right away. This was ok, though — it would give Daniella and my (now ex) wife some girl time.
I got to San Francisco International Airport just before 7 PM, found my gate, and for an extra $50, upgraded my ticket to first-class at the check-in kiosk. The passengers in the lobby were angry and anxious — I wasn’t sure why. I learned from my master sleuthing skills (aka eavesdropping) that the flight before mine, which had left at 2 PM, took off on time, made it all the way to Palm Springs, and then, due to inclement weather, it circled the Palm Springs airport for almost two hours, unable to land. The plane flew all the way back to San Francisco, and now those same passengers waited at the gate to be re-booked onto my 8 PM flight. The weather had cleared up!
I boarded, and an older woman from the earlier flight sat next to me and recounted her ordeal. How they were in the air for over five hours and never landed. She described the lightning strikes they could see from the window. She was furious. To calm down, she began drinking.
“That’s a cute dog,” she said, catching me as I looked at the pictures on my phone (which, in 2004, I still called a “camera phone.”)
“It’s Daniella,” I showed her the picture, “I just adopted her today.”
She looked completely disgusted. “Oh, God. Daniella? That’s a horrible name. You have to change it,” she insisted. I admitted that I wasn’t in love with the name, but the other family had named her, and I’m not the type to change someone’s name. After all, she had been ‘Daniella’ for over a year.
The older woman, now slightly tipsy, came up with a creative solution: “Change her name to Bella. Bella’s a wonderful dog’s name and it sounds like Daniella. She won’t even know the difference!” Hmm. It was indeed worthy of consideration.
We still hadn’t taken off. The woman’s phone rang. Her son was calling to report on the current weather conditions, as he did before every flight she took. It was their ‘thing,’ and I guess he was a bit of a meteorology geek. She told me she missed her son a lot, that he was always busy filming his show these days, and he sounded really tired.
I took the bait. “What show is he on?”
“Oh, he has a show called ‘Last Call with Carson Daly.’ You might have heard of it. I’m his mom, Patty Daly Caruso,” she told me, shaking my hand.
(Holy shit. I’m sitting on a plane next to Carson Daly’s mom. Carson Daly’s mom, who is insisting, now, that I call my wife before takeoff, and convince her to change my dog’s name to Bella.)
“Baby? Hey, I’m here with Carson Daly’s mom and she wants to tell you something…”
“Daniella is a TERRIBLE name for a dog. You have to change it to Bella. Trust me!”
They talked for a few minutes. My wife told her she was an esthetician. Patty told my wife that Carson loves getting his eyebrows waxed, and she’d have Carson mail her an autographed picture she can hang up in her salon.
The flight finally took off. Carson’s mom began opening up to me about her personal life. Her former marriage. Her battle with breast cancer. She introduced me to her friend, Hall of Fame baseball pitcher Don Sutton, who was sitting near us.
90 minutes later, we had made it to Palm Springs, and…you guessed it: the thunderstorms had returned, we were unable to land. The pilot began circling the airport. Carson’s mom threw a fit.
“Not Again! This is absolutely unacceptable. Do you even know who I am? Believe me I’m gonna destroy your airline on my talk show. My son won’t be happy, either! You’re ruined!” she began yelling at the flight attendants, then to me, “They’re not gonna get away with this. You just watch!”
(Ladies and gentleman, this is the Captain. I apologize for the weather we’re having. We’re gonna be diverting the flight and landing in Los Angeles. From there we’ve arranged busses to transport you all to Palm Springs on our dime. Thank you for your patience.)
“Busses?! I don’t RIDE busses,” she snapped at me. I’m gonna make them get me a limo. You just watch.”
I agreed that I would ride with her in the limo, instead of on the bus, but after a few more drinks, Carson’s mom decided instead to make the airline pay for a hotel.
“Stay in the room with me. I want you to,” she said. I wasn’t quite sure if she was hitting on me, but my guess was that yes, she was. (Keep in mind, I was 29, she was closer to 60). I hesitated. She continued, “Come on, just one night, I’ll pay for everything, your wife won’t ever know. It’ll be our secret. Live a little.”
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t consider her offer. I’d also be lying if I said I didn’t sometimes wonder how my life might have turned out differently had I stayed in her hotel room that night. Would I really have become Carson Daly’s stepdad?
I’ll never know. The bus got me to the hotel after 5 AM. I napped for two hours, then gave my speech on schedule.
I never heard from Carson’s mom again, but just last year I saw on the news that she had died. It made me sad. Hopefully she went to heaven, where Daniella was already waiting for her, preparing to become Bella.
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Categories: Stephen Newman