Sunday, March 11, 2018

Pick Me Up, Put me Down

Thanks to modern technology, I find myself more often waiting for cars while staring at my phone tracking their movement than standing on a curb hoping like hell to wave down someone passing by on the street. There are pros and cons, yet a year and a half in, the ability to have someone come and get me has become so ingrained that I cannot, nor would I want to, recall the time of desperation standing on the street at 4 in the morning hoping to flag someone to get me to the airport. Technology is novel and wonderful, and I plan to continue to embrace it.

There are some fascinating side effects of jumping into cars with strangers, including the randomness of the conversations one might have. The last trip, which included a stay in the upper portion of Appalachia, provided a better opportunity than most for unusual car talk.

"Are you "

"Yes, yes, thanks so much."

"No problem." I hand over a bag with one hand and it almost slams into the ground when he takes it from me. "Wow, heavier than it looks." He gives me that up and down look that I recognize as one that says, holy fuck your strong.  I smile and get into the backseat so we can head to our location.

"This is a great area. Are you from here?"

"No, just passing through. I'm hear for work."

"This is where I want to be. I'm doing this driving right now so we can save up, so we can move out here soon."

"Where do you live now?"

"Well, you see, we live in this town, about 20 miles from here, but like, all our neighbors are like criminals and, it's just kinda awful, you know. Like my next door neighbor, right. He's about to go to jail for maybe 7 years, right. Robbery. But here is the thing. Here is the thing. It's like, this hairdresser the guy he couldn't afford presents for his kids, she was free cuts for Christmas, you know, since he couldn't afford anything. Just doing a good deed, and this guy, when he goes to get the cuts he sees all the presents she bought for her kids and I guess it just pissed him off. He broke in later and stole all the presents and it didn't take them very long to figure out who did it. And now, what, he goes to jail for 7 to 10 years over something like that."

I sit in the back and listen.

"Then, then there is the guy on the other side of me."


"Yeah, he invited his mistress over and I guess things got heated cause he ended up strangling her with an electric cord."

Somehow I manage to react not at all.

"It's like, I live in this neighborhood where everyone's idea of a good time is just like having a fight and shooting things. I go to a bar here in town, I can have a drink, talk politics, have a good night, you know?"


"But like there, man, I was at this bar, you know, like right before the election and all, and this guy...I was just talking to this guy and he was saying something and I said to him, like 'Well, maybe Bernie Sander's isn't that bad a guy.' And this guy just loses it at me. He grabs like the two bucks he put on the bar for his beer and just throws it my face and screams at me 'Here, take my money you commie son of a bitch since you are just going to take it anyway!' and then he, like, stomps out and even the bartender there was a little surprised. Yeah."


We pull up to my stop and he gets my bag and the door.

"Well, good luck with the work towards the move."

"Yeah, yeah."

He turns and drives away and I stand there thinking and head into work. Later I offer to take a car to get real coffee since whatever it was being served was something meant only for the strongest, and most concrete of stomachs.

The driver in this car speaks with a long slow drawl that reminds me bit of Stuart McLean from the Vinyl Cafe, with a voice that is somewhat nasally and a bit of a draw.

"Yeah, I've been here twenty years. I drive all day to get me out of the house. I love my wife and kids, you understand, but I also love being away from them."

"I imagine."

"I make good money driving, though. The other day I drove to New York City."

"Really, that must have been some fare."

"$400 dollars. That is the maximum allowed. And I said to them, I said, 'If we are going to go to New York, let me change over to my other car, a Mercedes, and we can go faster. And they said yes, so I take these two Chinese students and I drive them to New York. I drove trucks you see, so I know how to drive 80. I used to make that run all the time. I asked them, 'Do you mind if I drive fast?' and they kept saying faster, faster. Three hours and 30 minutes. The map said it would take 4 and a half hours, but I used to drive that stretch all the time. I know where all the cops are, you see, and I was able to take them right there."

His speech amuses me, the sort of drawl and lift to the end as he tells his story.

"Do you mind if I book you as a round trip, I'm just running in to get coffee and then I'm right back out."

"No, you don't have to do that. I'll take you for free. No reason for you to pay 15 dollars just to get some coffees."

And he does give me the ride back for free.

"It's not so bad, this place. Been here since I got back from Afghanistan. Here is a picture of me, 1984, when I was a gunner. I had another gunner in here the other day. It was good to talk about it."


"That's why I'm glad about our president right now."

I stay perfectly still. I know for the area, this is to be expected but there is always sort of a shock whenever anyone admits voting for the current administration.

"I see."

"Well, it's the Korean situation you understand," he says, looking at me in the mirror. I think to myself, you have no idea.

"But you know, if it wasn't him, if it was her, it would just be the same situation. But honestly, now, old Kim doesn't know what to do. I mean, he's totally unpredictable and I think that's a good thing."


"And here you are."

I thank him again for the free ride and grab the coffees and head into the hall wondering about the small towns in America. The conversations are reflective of the macro and micro needs all explored between the pick up and the drop off, and most likely repeated a hundred times a day until all there is the reality of the stories to strangers and passerbys who can only sit and take it all in.

Friday, March 09, 2018

Sweet Girl

I’m heading into the bathroom at LAX and I notice them standing on the side. His hair is white and he talks to her slowly, and calmly, pointing down the hall to the Ladies room.

“You just go down there. I’ll be right here.”

“Just go there,” she asks and she looks at him lost. Her hair is done up in the soft familiar curls that women from her generation seem to favor. She is dressed smartly, like Lucille Ball as a grandmother, standing with a man who is almost certainly her son.

“Just down the hall. I’ll be right here.”

“You’ll be okay?”


“And I just got down there. Are you sure that’s it?”

“Yes, I’ll wait for you. It’s okay.”

“You’ll be here?”

“Yes, just down there.”

I know what is happening here. I queue for a stall when there are three standing open and I wait for her.

“This one is for you right here.”

“Oh, no, you go first.”

“It’s okay, there are lots of open one, you go ahead in here.”

“Okay, thank you.”

I rush into an open door and finish quickly, washing my hands. A line has started in truth.

A the end of the hall I find him standing there, waiting.

“Is she going to be okay on her own? Can she get back out?”

“I really hope so.” A small sentence. His voice barely breaks but I hear it there. Heartbreak, love, life, dedication, pain, so much watch and care after someone you love and watch them now, in their decline. Four words, an entire life in four words.

“Would you like me to go check on her?”

“Do you mind?” The relief washes off of him in waves. I can feel it. He doesn’t say anything else.

“What’s her name, so I don’t frighten her.”

“Pat. It’s Pat. Thank you.”

I smile and walk down the hall and find her washing her hands.

“There you are, Pat, are you ready to go back to that handsome gentleman?”

“Oh, you, you are so sweet. That’s so sweet of you. Do you know where he is?”

“Yes, he’s right there, he’s waiting.” I hold out my arm and she looks down at it. Up at me, into my eyes.

“It’s okay Pat. We can go together.”

“You are so sweet. Such a sweet girl.” Her hand on my arm, my hand on her frail hand, her thin skin under my fingers, the pulse palpable on the surface.

We walk arm-in-arm up the hall.

“Here you are.”

“She is just the sweetest thing.”

He whispers thank you, I can hear the shaking in his voice.

I smile and I walk away.

The hallway to the exit is long and a light shines at the end. I remember the grandmother I never got to morn, I remember so much and suddenly I am overwhelmed by everything I remember and everything I have loved and everything I have lost. There is a moment of realization.

I have no one in the world to even know me.

And what if I forget who I am?

What does it all mean if there is no way to remember it at all. Just the floating, tangents of the day that one tries to connect to make meaningful when meaning continues to flee.

I cried.

And then I collected my bag and exited the door into the uncomfortable warmth and late afternoon sun.

Thursday, March 08, 2018

Nor'easter 2018

"The weather is going to be hell today. My flight is already delayed, I'm trying to get out to Atlanta and then go from there."

"Everything is going to be grounded."

"It can't be that bad already."

The other professional travelers staying at my hotel were talking about the weather in daunting terms and I really hadn't paid that much attention to it since I wasn't going to be traveling on a plane for the next seven days. Just trains and cars for me, and I figured since I didn't need to fly I didn't need to worry about thy weather.

Standing by the door and watching thick, wet, flakes of snow falling out of the sky I realized that perhaps I should have paid more attention to the weather.

Coworker: I'll be there in 10.

10 minutes later.

Coworker: Should be about 10 minutes now. Traffic is bad.

10 minutes later.

Coworker: Almost there.

Our first meeting was set to go around 10 and we would be lucky to get on the road by 9:45 a.m. at this point. I waited and watched as the snow started to stick.

"It's sticking, I told you."

"But not to the road," the front desk manager responded to the janitor she clearly had a bet with.

"Makes for bad driving. And snow like this can bring down power lines, put everything off."

My co-worker pulled up around this time and, walking into the hard, fast, wet pelt of snow I realized all I wanted to do on a day like this was not be out inside of it.

"We should be able to make the first meeting."

"With snow like this it can pull down power likes, throw everything off," I found myself parroting.

"We should be fine."

As it worked out, about 20 minutes into the 50 minute drive to the first school we get a call requesting a schedule change. The power was out at home and the director wanted to go deal with it. Fair enough.

"You think the other meeting is on?"

"Let's get breakfast and make a decision."

The weather managed to decide for us over breakfast, as the winds stared peaking at 65 mph and the cold and wet was making it all around miserable. With the second afternoon meeting moved, it was decided that getting a train to the city made the most sense, and we could do so if we could make it one town over in a hurry.

The white knuckled drive was not fun, but thinking about what should be a relatively smooth  traan ride made it bearable. Sitting in the lot, drying off from yet again being exposed to the deluge, we talked and waited until the train time came. Looking up, waiting, listening for the sound of the train, nothing.

"I think something is wrong."

She looked for information on her phone and I cracked the window to make it easier to hear announcements. At roughly the same time we discovered all trains on the line were suspended until further notice because of a tree downing power lines.

Plan B.

"If I get you to Secaucus that should do it. It's pretty much the biggest hub."

We managed to slide through most traffic as anyone who could think of a reason wasn't on the road. Pulling into Secaucus I managed to find the platform get my ticket transferred and get to a train, just in time.

Announcement: The train will depart in 8 minutes.

Announcement: The train will depart in 5 minutes.

Announcement: The train will depart in 8 minutes.

Announcement: The train will depart in 11 minutes.

Announcement: The train will depart in 5 minutes.

Announcement: The train will depart in 8 minutes.

This went round and round for the better part of an hour until, miraculously the train finally arrived.

New York was cold and wet but the trains worked well once I was in the city, spiriting me off to the arms of my lover for the weekend and giving me a chance to at least try to warm up and dry out before I would need to rush off and do it all over again.