...good mornin', America, how are you?/don't you know me? I'm your native son!/I'm the train they call the City of New Orleans/I'll be gone five hundred miles when the day is done....
BWI Airport is so clean. And so familiar. Well, except for the name, which is now Baltimore Washington Thurgood Marshall International or some such unwieldy monniker. I check in, once at the curbside, and again at the gate, and then go for a seven-dollar Guinness Stout at the bar. I knock it back fast, and feel unapprehensive within minutes.
Fearful of confiscation, I've left my knitting needles home. "Compromise, and take a crochet hook," my mother advises. "No one can construe that as a weapon."
Not until I shove it up your nose and yank your brains out with it, because I am a ninja.
Refusing to compromise, and perhaps practicing a bit of civil disobedience, I've brought a set of chopsticks, an emery board and two Band-Aids. While the plane waits for takeoff clearance, I file the tips of the chopsticks into points and wrap the bandages around the opposite ends. I cast on fifteen stitches and have knit three rows by takeoff.
Yes, in fact, my middle name IS MacGyver.
We approach Miami airport. I have never basked on white Miami beaches nor frolicked in the turquoise Miami sea. I allow myself to wax rhapsodic for a few moments- but what's this? What are these fake oval islands covered with mansions and strung together by a bridge like a chain of obscene man-made jewels?
I watch toy buildings speed by, trying to get a feel for a city I will not see, and the wing flaps go up and the pilot has suddenly set us down in the sweetest, softest landing, tender as a first kiss.
I only realize later that moment is the best part of my stay in Miami.
It turns out that I hate the Miami airport. The smoking courtyard, open to the sky, offers a glimpse of sunset. As little as I smoke, how is it possible that no fewer than three disposable lighters are confiscated from my personal luggage? Old fireating habits die hard, I suppose. I bum a light from a Limey, watch the sunset in a stifling three-story room with no roof. And then begin my trek to the opposite end of the airport, which takes fourty minutes.
I am chilled enough waiting at my gate- a three hour layover- to put on my leather jacket, the nicer one that I don't wear much (which is why it's nicer, obviously) thinking I should have thought to bring gloves, just in case. And then I check my pockets.
It's kind of lovely to discover a pair of gloves in your pocket, particularly nice ones that you'd forgotten your mother-in-law gave you last Christmas.
The eight-dollar sandwich I buy is lousy. The second seven-dollar beer costs me also my cellphone. It falls out sometime after I phone Aunt D. and before I board the plane, while I'm scurrying to buy and drink a beer before takeoff. I discover it missing when I try to make an "I'm on the plane now" call to my family. I am permitted to unboard to look for it at the gate, and an airline employee calls it, but gets my voice mail. Someone has picked it up and turned it off. Dammit. I get back on the plane.
I resign myself to the lost phone. My seatmates, from Edmondton, Alberta, are lovely people, and we enjoy ourselves. Jared reaches across Autumn to pat my hand and say what he thinks are comforting things during my white-knuckled transitional period. I give him lotion to soothe his sunburn. The flight attendant, unable to help finding my cellphone, and unable to provide any pain reliever to Autumn, sets us up instead with tiny bottles of Baccardi. "Oops," she says."Look what fell off the cart. Lucky you! Need mixers?"
The landing is engagingly lumpy, like a ride at a carnival, with extra whoosh factor.
At Hertz, I pick up the car I reserved. Or rather, I don't. I first ask directions to a Walgreen's (I saw some neon as we taxied in), thinking that surely they will have disposable cellphones. She gives me directions and a map, and then asks, "How would you like to drive a PT Cruiser?" Would I! Well, this IS nice.
I drive away confident that everything will go smoothly now.
The woman at Walgreen's allows me to use the pharmacy phone, once I've agreed to purchase a Tracfone and a card with ninety minutes.
Do you know, on television, a drug dealer walks into a convenience store and walks out, talking on his newly-purchased untraceable phone? Do you know, it doesn't work like that in real life AT ALL? The phone has to be charged, and then you spend sixty-leven hours on a land-line to register the blasted thing.
I lose myself hopelessly going from the Walgreen's to Aunt D.'s house. So hopelessly that the maps given me by the kind, calm man at Triple A cannot help me. The road I want is closed down. The Detour signs lead to nowhere. I fear I am in Slidel, the place my mother specifically instructed me to not go. I stop behind a police car. The officer gives me directions that are helpful, if not entirely accurate. Once I finally find St. Charles Avenue, I spend a silly length of fruitless time looking in the 3700 block- I've transposed addresses. My gran's nursing home is in the 3700 block. Aunt D. is at 1750 St. Charles Avenue, a gated apartment complex where the guard has been alerted to my arrival, and evidently pestered. Because my untraceable cellphone is useless. Because there are no payphones. Because I'd be uneasy about getting out of the car to use a payphone. Frustrated? Doesn't even cover it.
By the time I arrive, Aunt D has worried herself into a frazzle.
"Don't nevous me like that, darlin'! My old bones caint stand it!"
Cuppa tea, lover? It's a Band-Aid, but it'll have to do.
(The City of New Orleans; Arlo Guthrie)