April 2nd, 2012
Rants from the Rat-Race: The Business Trip: The Exciting Conclusion
I arrive at New Orleans International Airport. I miss the rental car return exit three times and a lady screams at me with her whistle to move my vehicle from the fire lane. I didn’t think it was possible to curse through a referee whistle, but the implications behind the broad-shouldered lady’s staccato chirps were nothing G-rated. I daydream about the boot camp these employees must progress through in order to keep the terrorists at bay until she approaches my driver’s side window and raps on it with four-inch, curled nail tips. Time to move along, I see. This security force drives a hard bargain.
I’m lucky enough to ride back on the HERTZ shuttle with a man named Edward who worked at a New Orleans radio station back when men ate first and T-Pain didn’t ruin music. I pretend to know the song that is playing while subtly keying fake air trumpet notes on the seat of my pants. I say something about jazz losing its soul when Coletrane lost the needle. Edward ignores me and announces my arrival at the Southwest terminal in a smooth, baritone voice. I thank him kindly, knowing that we have connected in a way that only two jazz aficionados can.
I’ve missed my flight at this point, so I decide to get drunk at the airport bar. Three scotch and sodas, a tall draft beer and a $40 tab later, I’m standing in line for standby with a harried businessman, an expecting mother and a grandfather using a walker with two tennis balls on the tips of the front legs. I stare at them in a drunken stupor wondering why they were necessary. Is he just trying to spice things up, or, did someone complain about the noise this decrepit old man made as he clacked his way to the front of the punch line at a church social?
My inebriated imagination decides it must be the latter, and the tennis balls become a fixation- a symbol of everything that has driven America into moral bankruptcy. He catches me staring, so I proudly proclaim “You don’t need those!” like a Baptist preacher who has shucked him of demons. Although I was only trying to help, my intoxication causes this statement to come out in a slurred and slightly aggressive manner. He scuttles away quickly. And noiselessly.
I’m the last one to board, making my seat selection very small. I find the only open seat on the plane and cram my backpack in the overhead bin. It won’t fit. I try it vertically, horizontally, upside down- every which way geometrically possible before I begin panicking. Red-faced, I begin shoving it harder and harder into the nook, at one point even trying to punch it into place. I look up and am met with looks of bewilderment, and in the case of the little boy and mother in my neighboring seats-a very tactile fear. A nervous flight attendant approaches, moves the bag a half inch to the left, and closes the compartment lid with a crisp snap. I smile at my flight companions as I sit down, and after fumbling with two female seatbelt ends for a few tense seconds, I take a deep, boozy breath and succumb to an anxiety ridden, claustrophobic dementia.
“Good to go.”
I am awoken by a jolt as the plane touches down on the tarmac. In my sleep I must have stolen the kidney bean shaped travel pillow from the mother in the adjacent seat. It is damp with scotch sweat and spittle. I try to hand it back, but she simply holds her hands up like when the Indians finally figured out not to take the blankets. She says that I can keep it. This is a good way to earn a free pillow when travelling.
As I listen to the planes rumble off and in overhead, I’m struck with a strange sense of delirium. When I was a child, boarding an airplane was both frightening and exhilarating. The lives of my family members were in the hands of a man with a mustache who handed out a little set of silver wings that I would pin to my shirt. I would spend the ride wondering where the machine guns and rockets were stored should we run into a good old fashioned dogfight with the Luftwaffe or some UFO’s. I would look out onto the clouds and wonder if they would slow your fall if you jumped, and for that matter, why we weren’t outfitted with parachutes. The mechanics behind flight were as simple as making paper planes in home room, and if they had asked me, they could really get more distance if they would fold the wings into little accordions. Everyone knew that.
Now, it’s just an empty and stressful routine. I walk around and ponder where that sense of wonder and excitement went into hiding, and how it could be tapped into once again. To face the world with the carefree naivete of a child, knowing that if I fell and skinned my knee, I could cry a little, get comforted by mom and told to suck it up by dad, and be back out climbing even higher the next day. At the root of it all, a deeper, more complex question arises, as if I were a mathematician that had just discovered calculus after years of mastering algebra. A question simply posed, but with an answer potentially unobtainable in the remainder of my working years.
“Just where the fuck did I park my car?”