The first day of the trip had ended when the lights went out away across the room on Mariellen’s side, and, as I lay wide awake wondering whether or when I’d get to sleep, I thought about the many miles ahead and tried to imagine what the next weeks held for us. That adventure of the mind did the trick, eventually, and I drifted off.
I was wide awake at 4:00am, and grimly facing what I knew would be a very long day. My first thoughts were that a shower at that time would be a hostile act towards all the still sleeping people in the house. How many that might have been given the comings and goings of last night wasn’t at all clear to me.
So I lay on my back in my narrow twin bed, listening to Mariellen’s regular breathing in the far distance, occasionally glancing at the clock all the way over there on the other side of her own separate bed while begrudging her those soft metronomic sighs of deep and peaceful sleep, and begrudging the same in everyone else in the house. Her little alarm clock woke her at 5:00am and she went downstairs to make us some coffee. I took it as sign and permission to leave my own narrowing little bed. It was after all her own brother’s house. I leapt from bed, showered, dressed and joined her downstairs.
We grazed a little breakfast over the next hour or so, people appearing from time to time, and then came the sweet goodbyes of our hostess, the half awake handshakes of sons Will and Jack, and Maddy’s rather harried and distracted courtesy of the occasion as she herself made final preparations for her cold, windy and wet school camping trip in Maine. She’d explained that it was a requirement of all the students. I thought I would have chosen a school more carefully; one which required its students to spend three days inside some snug roost drinking tea, watching a warm and toasty fire and reading good books. Mercifully, I kept my counsel.
Instead I tinkered with my injured camera, hoping that I’d only imagined what had happened yesterday afternoon. But, it was one of those hopes that are hopeless at their birth, a hope against grim reality, a vain imagining, a fairy tale. I wrote a short note to Mary asking that she mail the camera and its case to our friend Joanna in New York City who had promised to have the camera repaired, and left her $20.00 for packing and postage.
Bill, God love him, was to drive us to the airport after we had collected Jay, Mariellen’s brother, from his place just a little way down the street. Jay was going with us as far as San Francisco where another Supple brother, Joseph, would meet him and take him up north for a while. I was picking up bags and lugging them to the car when Bill walked by, camera and note in one hand and my twenty in the other which he stuffed in my hand. “You’ll probably have need of this,” he said, walking by. “I’ll take care of the camera.”
One tends to listen to Bill. I thanked him; once again considering how good it was of God to bring Mariellen and her family into my life.
The drive in was on almost empty roads; another occasion for my thanks, being a little nervous about time and such. While Bill worked the short cuts he knew so well I thought of him “traffic surfing” the way a person catches the crest of a wave and, out in front of the pile up behind us, shoots in easily and alone.
The thought was erased when we arrived at Terminal C where we were to catch the first of the six flights this trip would require of us. Several dozen cars, several hundred people and several thousand pieces of luggage all crowded into a space half the size of a gridiron. We were walking for the outdoor baggage check in when Bill, whose firm handshake still ached me, warned us off. I think his cry was, “They charge you, there!” Visions of 20 dollar bills fluttering away flashed before my mind, and we turned toward the doors.
We went inside to the Jet Blue check-in counters stretching the length of the back wall. The size of the crowd wasn’t really a worry since it moved along steadily to the baggage check-in counters, each station along them manned and ready; a welcome sight and strange compared to the one or two agents lolling behind most others I have seen. Several “crowd handlers” stood by directing passengers to available agents. We were soon through that, facing the next barrier to the door of our airplane, the dreaded “security check”.
Shoeless and belt less we faced the clueless. Well why not pick on ’em, poor folks, the dalits of the traveler’s world. They keep us from getting as quickly as possible to the gate where we may sprawl uncomfortably in seats designed by hateful people for legless midgets until our flight is called; in this case about forty-five minutes later.
Sitting there reflecting about the first few hours of the actual journey I offered a small prayer of thanks that things had gone so well with the TSA folks (Thousands Standing Around), especially since Jay, Mariellen’s brother, was himself concerned. He hadn’t been on a plane since 9/11 and had wondered a bit about the whole process.
Mariellen produced her Kindle, where she was fast collecting everything written by man with the possible exception of Hammurabi’s Code and the Manhattan White Pages, and quietly read. We shared a snack from the bag of goodies we’d prepared for the flight, Jet Blue having no meal service. I wandered, read headlines, recoiled from sticker shock at the magazine, book and bottled water prices, gawked at people and tried to look the bored and disinterested traveler. So much time. So little to do.
Several centuries later the bright voice announced the good news. Our flight to San Francisco was being boarded, by passengers and one “Service Animal”, a dog accompanying one of us humans. I was grateful for this bit of clarifying information…
One of the flight attendants grumbled to another at the presence of this animal among all the people. The “grumbelee” answered, “What could I do? It’s a service animal, and I had to let them aboard!” I pictured the S.A and its serviced human in separate cages in the baggage hold if permission wasn’t granted. As my boarding pass was being scanned by the upset attendant I tried my best to calm her down. “You know, that is what they call husbands, don’t you; service animals?” The Rule Enforcer laughed and said, “I need one of them. Where can I get one?” She glanced over at Mariellen and asked if she could rent me.
Fortunately the press of the crowd pushed us past them or I might be doing the dishes in Saugus instead of sitting in a comfortable bed in Paihia, NZ, writing these words.
Well, about all I can say for the flight to San Francisco is that it happened. Jay was happy with the many TV stations available, and happier still that they came to him on the screen fixed into the back of the seat in front of him. Mariellen fell into her Kindle, only surfacing from time to time for air and a look around. She was reading the Mahabharata, I think. I dozed until served one of the roast beef sandwiches we’d prepared for the flight, and then dozed some more.
We were in an almost brand new airplane, I think, something from the Boeing showroom with a lot of the number seven in its name. The seats were wide and spaced far apart. The crew was young and helpful. I did not see a walker or a cane among them. None of them dribbled. None of them seemed to have loose dentures or back problems. Aside from those shortcomings, the flight was as normal as every other one I have taken recently. Properly prepared for things like that, you may actually enjoy Jet Blue.
In the row in front of us were two women traveling with a young girl of five or six who had some kind of developmental disorder. During the flight from time to time she would stand up in one of their laps and peek over the seat to look around. I tried saying hello, touching her hand or smiling and waving at her. There was no reaction or indication that she noticed there was someone touching her or trying to communicate with her. I was affected by this, and the devotion the two women showed her, offering a prayer for them all.
For a while towards the end of the flight I amused myself looking down at the world below, at all the brown and the very little green, at all the snow along the mountain ridges. As we began our descent towards San Francisco I saw the whole of Lake Shasta below with the mountain from which it takes its name, and the dam which created it. I didn’t know then that in a couple of weeks I’d be on the lake, inside the dam and near enough to the mountain to understand how some folks all those years ago…and today…make a big deal about mountains; climbing them, living near them and just standing around looking at them in all of their purple mountained majesty.