The TSA member gestured to me to show my boarding pass and my ID; a cursory inspection, and he ushered me towards the plastic boxes, ready for the inspection. Jacket, shoes, laptop, baggie of toiletries, contents of pockets, emptied into the plastic box; shuffling, head down, ready to be frisked. The gentleman in front of me panicked a little as he approached the metal detector; he had an artificial hip. The female TSA staff member running the metal detector radioed for male assistance to perform the frisk the old-fashioned way; the pause was just long enough for me to glance over my shoulder and catch a glimpse of you; shirt stripey, hair fiery, evaporating into the crowd, out of sight. I walked through the portal, no turning back now, and hurriedly gathered up my belongings. The standby boarding pass, pocketbook, Blackberry, Nintendo DS, and the heart of gold. It felt warm to the touch, exceptionally warm, somehow embodying our connectedness, seeing you safely back to the car, seeing me heading towards the gate, where the board looks like it is summarizing odds for a race meet. There I was, in starting gate number 5 in the Standby Handicap; with three other runners, currently with six seats left open to claim. Better make that five; oh wait, the screen changes again, to those without seat allocations, those looking for an upgrade to Business class; names bounce and reorganize alphabetically from one display to the other; the free seats in first class dwindle down to zero; four remained in coach. The gate staff announced the inbound flight had only just landed; it would take a few more minutes to clean and prepare the flight to leave; a twenty minute delay, safe to take another potty stop, it seems I've been going more often than a five-year-old on a road trip. Nerves. Another sigh over the odds of getting a seat standby; if I missed out on this one, then I'd find myself having to find a spot around the gate to curl up and snooze for the next twelve hours and hopefully, nay, surely, clinch a spot on the red-eye. This is why standby isn't for everyone; these are the risks you have to take; it was a godsend for us. L, you are an absolute angel. It must run in the family. And then, I hear my name… there it is. 11B. Can you assist in the event of an emergency? Of course, just get me on that plane.
Flying. I don't enjoy it; I've been so out of practice at it; what's it been, eight years? Nine? I honestly can't remember. And yet, here I was, about to notch up another 5000-odd air miles in the space of a couple of days to add to those a little earlier in the year, and still outshone by a little stuffed animal who has managed one more jaunt than I have as she made her way to me on Valentine's Day, to sing I'll Be There. CB gets fussy; she has to travel in checked luggage, because I'm not keen on her facing all sorts of inappropriate examination at the gate, but she at least doesn't have to worry about occupying herself for the duration of the flight. For me, it's a matter of calculation; fidgeting, working out how much of the flight has gone, how much of it remains, and how agonizing the remaining time is going to be compared to what I've already had to put up with. At least there's legroom on an Airbus. Read some emails; write some responses, they'll send when the plane lands. Another potty stop, another. A bit of fidgety Nintendo. A quick nap. How much time has passed since I last looked? Just five minutes, it felt like an hour. There's the book I should be reading, the book C packed for me, it's in the overhead compartment. Traveling has always struck me like the famous quote about Wagner's music; some wonderful moments, and some dreadful hours. Best to skip the dreadful hours, and on to the frenzied activity on arrival.
And now the frenzy, the busy-ness of business, the getting all the ducks in a row. A rental car, first, no wait, that's not first at all; baggage claim, waiting, watching, wondering whether CB made it too. There she is, get her out, a quick photo op, Now, the rental car, follow the signs, follow the signs… wait, what's going on? I just left the airport, where's the kiosk? There isn't one. The rental car place is offsite, I have to wait for a shuttle bus; another passenger waits, I seem to recognize him, and he's carrying a laptop sack from a company very near where I used to work before I started telecommuting. Too much to do, too much to do, I think as I ride the bus. Have to get the car, have to find the hotel, have to get this all together, it's so humid, I can't breathe, I used to live near here, now it feels like I'm swimming in it, the sun is about to set and I'm unbearably hot. Secure the car, seem somehow to have charmed my way to an upgrade, it's a nice car, it's another photo op for CB. As I take the picture I catch sight of the sky; it's unusual for this area, clouds in mare's tails, it looks like I've brought a California sunset with me. Four more shots, north, east, south, west. More things to do; CB is getting impatient, wanting to navigate me to the hotel, but there's one more to-do on the list first. I need to eat. I haven't eaten all day, I've only just realized that; it's going to be junk food I'm afraid. It seems tasteless, not a patch on the food I've been used to at home. It should be the same, make the meat taste of nothing and standardize on the sauces, right? It isn't, I must quite simply be homesick. Devour it, take it for nutritional value alone, and move on, up the interstate, into the city. It's dark now, and it's still eighty degrees, still swimming in the humidity, still unbearable. I enjoy this part of the trip, it's been a while since I've done it. Cincinnati is peculiar, as you approach it from the interstate you see nothing, you see nothing, and then you round a corner at the top of the hill, and…. there it is, like the Emerald City, glowing on the opposite side of the river, worth a cheap blurry shot with the Blackberry through the windshield at 65 miles per hour. Our hotel is just off Pete Rose; the city forgives him, at least; past the ballpark where the Reds are playing the Marlins, the town is swarming with fans, what a time to arrive. Ironically, after crossing the bridge to enter the town, to leave Kentucky and enter Ohio, the GPS suggests a sharp right, and we're crossing another bridge, back out of Ohio, if the swarm of Reds fans will let us. There's the hotel, and check-in, it's a smoking room. Yuck. Reformed smokers are the worst, you know, but there's no other free option, here it is, our lodging for the next two nights. Two nights. Two nights away from home, away from you.
It just needs a few homely touches, right? I empty my bags; CB makes herself comfortable on the bed and begins to sing I'll Be There. All your memorabilia laid out on the bedside table; your cards, your words, the heart of gold. The picture of that day, the day that I was wearing the stripey shirt. I'm not busy any more; I made it here, well begun is half done, and in two days, I'll be home again. I take a moment and breathe, and realize for the first time in the past few hours, I have nothing to do right this moment. Nothing, that is, except burst into uncontrollable tears, for yet another of several times over the past few days.
Darling, I miss you. Even though I feel you right here, with me right now. Always and all ways.