Day 1: Getting There
There is no easy way to get from here to there, my note said, from Sac to Cleveland. I searched departures from both SMF and SFO. With a flock of Southwest’s birds grounded, the itinerary with fewest touch and goes, minimal transit hours, one-stop only, included Dallas - Fort Worth (DFW). Dallas - Fort Worth? Really? The most expedient route to Cleveland is a long flight southeast to board a long flight northeast? Cleveland is obviously not a popular destination for Californians and even less so for this one.
At 0522 I queued to remove shoes and unload my laptop. CLACK! Clackitty, clatter, clatter, CLACK! Gray square bins clattered onto stainless counters and rolled under the X-ray machine. TSA personnel barked at sleepy passengers. “Remove your shoes and jackets. Have your boarding pass available.”
This was a smallish plane, only five seats across. Gate attendants asked passengers to squeeze suspiciously plump bags into “the sizer,” that measured bin at the jet-way entrance. Good-eyes, those gate attendants. They confiscated corpulent carry-ons, to the chagrin of their owners. The flight was full, overhead bins filled quickly, forcing final boarders into surrendering their luggage for check-in.
The intercom crackled, “Flight attendants, begin cross-check for take-off,” a nasal male voice urged. Have you ever had a female pilot? Talk about a glass ceiling! I glanced at my watch, much to my amazement, the airplane door closed only one-minute late. American actually has a fairly good on-time record (77%) as compared to Southwest (65%). No Hawaiian-time for Hawaiian Air whose on-time record is a whopping 86%! And how ‘bout those Rainbows? Er… sorry, I digress.
American Airlines is a no frills operation. They serve complimentary juices and sodas, coffee and tea. No blankets, no pillows, no music, no movies, no peanuts, no pretzels, no cookies, and those Gawd-awful meals? They may be purchased. It’s just as well; ALL airplane food is crap anyway! It gives me license to bring my own; I’d brought three pieces of fruit and a California Roll.
I sat with a tall, affable, and talkative chap from Napa Valley. You know how much I like talkative at 0545? Not so much. Eb works in the cellular business and would fly to Dallas for a single day of meetings. He was a likable fellow though, quick to laughter and smiles. He kept chickens for their orange, scrumptious yolks, and dogs, and cats, and a horse. Or rather, his wife did; Eb was on the road a lot.
He laid cable during winter in Haines, Alaska some years ago, to fulfill on a promise for DSL service to that remote village by Christmas.
He drifted to sleep after downing his complimentary cup of CranApple juice. I opened my book, a dog-eared copy of Tuesdays with Morrie, a book I’ve been meaning to read for some time. This was apparently that time.
Morrie was a college professor with ALS - amyotrophic lateral sclerosis - or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Morrie externalized his internal dialogue on disability and dying quite publicly, through a series of interviews with Ted Koppel on Nightline. He was an energetic, optimistic man who came into the national spotlight for aphorisms like: Accept the past as past, without denying it or discarding it, and Accept what you are able to do and what you are not able to do.
I pictured a disheveled, Woody Allen-ish character who loved life and the people in it… and told them so. In a series of taped conversations with his former student Mitch, Tuesdays with Morrie was penned.
I found Tuesdays with Morrie in a used bookstore. It is a different experience reading a dog-eared book. First, I have my own experience with the words on the page: how they feel, what they evoke, where they take me, and how I land; and then - there is pearl-diving - looking for the phrase or paragraph that drove the previous page-turner to dog-ear.
“My heaven will be a used bookstore,” I’ve declared for many years, “With a coffee shop that serves robust, Sumatran beans. A deep, wrap-around porch shades rocking chairs that overlook a long, white beach ringing an azure bay. Dolphins and honu (Hawaiian green sea turtles) populate the bay. I live in a bikini, sarong, and floppy-brimmed lauhala hat.” On earth as it is in Heaven.
“Beer!” My companion said with mucho gusto, “There has to be beer. And Mexican food!”
I’d love this man visiting my heaven. “Muy bien!” I responded with equal enthusiasm after realizing no dietary restrictions exist in my heaven. “Cerveza and fresh Mex; I’m good with that.” Ole’!
The first time I am aware another addressed my heaven outside my own cranium, was Alice Sebold in Lovely Bones. She expands upon the concept and I love the idea of visiting others when our vision and versions of heaven coincide. On earth as it is in Heaven. It is a worthy read and stellar first novel. I added honu to my heaven post-Lovely Bones.
My heaven has not taken the techno-turn. There are no ebooks in my heaven. I love sewn spines, and leather bound, and roughly hewn pages, and textured paper that yellows with age, and the scent that wafts when I flip pages. Kindle can’t touch that – yet.
Used bookstores are comforting, familiar, and frequented by denizens of the written word. Such stores are typically chockablock with teetering towers of paperbacks and out-of-print texts. They smell of musty paper; their owners are bookish omnivores of print. Used bookstores are the depository for those that were loved, read, shared, and dog-eared.
It was during a foray into my favorite used bookstore, the BookWorm, at the corner of Madison and Kenneth in Fair Oaks, that I acquired Tuesdays with Morrie. But I digress.
The first dog-ear marks page 43, where Morrie says, “So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep… This is because they’re chasing the wrong things. The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.”
I glanced out the airplane window. Talk about scorched earth! The land below was a reddish-brown wasteland, devoid of trees and water, though certainly not of scorpion or serpent. The wasteland buckled and rose into mountains and harsh, shadowed valleys, and seemingly parched riverbeds and tributaries. And suddenly a deeply carved river twisted and turned, teal colored torrents against red rock canyons. We must be near Lake Powell, I thought.
“For those of you on the left side of the plane,” (that’d be me) the cockpit crew broke into my thoughts as if on cue, “We are passing over Escalante National Monument.” I’ve been meaning to visit Escalante and it creeps higher on my list. A rock formation known as teacups, cascading pools that spill one into the other, came into view. And then the mountain town of Santa Fe, where only if you paint or water it, will it be colorful.
Second dog-ear, page 52: “The most important thing in life is to learn how to give out love and to let it come in. Let it come in. We think we don’t deserve love, we think if we let it in we’ll become too soft. But a wise man named Levine said it right. He said, ‘Love is the only rational act.’”
I love that! Love is the only rational act.
Pressing southeast, beige dirt, seemingly untouched by the hand of man, gave way to a flat patchwork of squares. Each square contained a crop-circle partitioned like pie-pieces, wedges in stages of till, cultivation or fallow. Fully sown and sprouted, they were giant, green polka-dots. Crayola calls it spring-green, that soft, yellow-green of new shoots all the more pale against the maroon or eggplant soil of north Texas.
Small ochre mountain ranges cropped up, texturing both northern and southern edges of said fertile farming flatland, like crust on bread. We flew onward. The mountains acquired the patina of vegetation, rivulets of greenery followed water, flowing downhill in all directions.
Earth is etched by water flow, by great receding glaciers and the undulating sea, by rivers and streams, creeks and rivulets; like arteries and arterioles and veins and veinules, reaching out to every patch of land and inch of dirt.
An occasional truck or two parked at the edge of a crop-circle-containing-square. Sun reflecting off their windshields flashed as we soared by.
“Folks, that’s the Red River below us.” It churned with mud - not red river - very, very brown river.
Just remember the Red River Valley, (played in my head) And the one that has loved you so true. This song is a cowboy standard and my Dad, though nary a cowpoke, used to sing this ditty. Where IS the Red River Valley?
I found no pearl on dog-eared page 65.
On the ground in DFW, I set-up camp at Starbucks, known for its at&t wifi access. I bought a skinny, vanilla latte and settled in for my two-hour layover. A T-Mobile website popped up and offered visitors a roaming log-in. I tried, and tried, and tried, and finally called at&t. I reached out and touched Juan, with his distinctly Spanish accent.
“I’m surry ma’am, ju do not have access through a T-Mobile hot spot.”
“But there’s a roaming feature for at&t customers,” I explained.
“Ju hob to find an at&t hotspot,” Juan repeated himself using different words.
“Okay, does at&t have a hotspot in the Dallas-Fort Worth airport?”
“No ma’am, es all T-Mobile.”
“Didn’t you just buy T-Mobile?”
Juan laughed, “Jes ma’am, but it doesn’t work for us yet. I’m surry ma’am. Es there anything else I con help ju with?”
“Yes, please tell at&t to step on it.”
“Jes ma’am,” he giggled. “Thonk ju for choosing at&t.”
DFW is very techno-friendly with many places to plug-in and juice-up. No worries, without wi-fi I’d start writing my trip journal and walk the terminals. I jumped the monorail to my next terminal and gate, which looked identical to the last.
The eateries in DFW are generic junk: McDonalds, Pizza Hut, TGI Fridays, Dunkin Donuts. Do Pizza Hut and TGI Fridays even exist anymore in the lands beyond airport beltways? I opened my small bento box of California Roll; so happy I’d thought to pack lunch.
On dog-eared page 91 Morrie said, “The fact is, there is no foundation, no secure ground upon which people may stand today, if is isn’t the family. It’s become quite clear to me... If you don’t have the support and love and caring and concern that you get from a family, you don’t have much at all. Love is so supremely important. As our great poet Auden said, ‘Love each other or perish.’”
The waiting areas of the DFW are too small to accommodate the volume of today’s big jets. Passengers aggregate in the hallways, congeal in the concourse, and block forward flow (a cardiac term - think blood flow through the heart) through its thoroughfares. Walking briskly for exercise was difficult under such circumstances.
Samsung provides several, very comfortable lounges at DFW, complete with alcoholic beverages, hot-wired couches, soft-cushy-sink-into-chairs, and a computer bar.
Dog-eared pages 104 & 105: If you hold back on the emotions – if you don’t allow yourself to go all the way through them – you can never get to being detached, you’re too busy being afraid. You’re afraid of the pain, you’re afraid of the grief. You’re afraid of the vulnerability that loving entails.
When you learn how to die, you learn how to live.
I queued for my second flight behind a young Mom with two little ones. You know, diaper bag, stroller, car seat, all that? American Air boards uniformed service men first – nice. However, they no longer offer pre-boarding for people traveling with young children. That’s a mistake methinks. Moms traveling with young’uns need all the help they can get and every convenience we can extend.
My flight into CLE (Cleveland Hopkins Airport) was uneventful except that it was filled with Rush faithful. Rush, a 70's band, was scheduled to perform in Cleveland the following evening and the faithful were flying. The couple across the aisle lived in New Mexico. I sat with two men who shared a laptop and earbuds. Each listened through one earbud and one played "air drums", with Rush, bouncing in his chair all the way to Cleveland.
His companion nudged me smiling, "he plays better air drums than real drums."
Fifty-something faithful fans... it was a little like hanging out with Deadheads.
Apparent even from the air, Cleveland remained gripped in the aftermath of winter. The snow had melted but grasses were burnt brown, frost-bitten seemingly to the root. Trees stuck their bare, naked branches into a bone-dry, winter wind. Songbirds did not serenade; birds did not tweet. Crows cawed from their perches overhead and scavenged the parking lots and roadsides. Spring had not yet sprung in Cleveland, OH.
I called for ground transport and shared a van with an elderly man from Oregon, just arrived for his niece’s wedding. Joe was a slight man in jeans, a plaid shirt, and sensible black shoes. He had retired to Oregon with his wife and now, now that she was gone, eight years from breast cancer, he planned to relocate to San Diego, for proximity to his kids and grandkids. I heard Morrie from a remote crinkle in my cranium: It’s become quite clear to me... If you don’t have the support and love and caring and concern that you get from a family, you don’t have much at all. Deposited at his hotel, Joe and I shook hands and I wished him a grand time with his family.
I checked into the Hilton and upon unlocking the door, found my room occupied. Surprised, I gasped and backed out. At the front desk, Halima was apologetic. She was a beautiful young woman who looked fresh from college. I learned she was a 35-year-old mother of ten and twelve year-olds. After relocating me, she gave me a Concierge Club pass for my troubles. It was a generous gesture, access to their “frequent flier” lounge stocked with beverages, booze, and vittles.
I exercised on the gym’s cross-trainer for 45-minutes, visited the sauna and hot tub, and turned in for the night. I would need to rise at 0600 EST (0300 PST) for a timely arrival at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Center in the morning.
Dog-eared page 125: You can’t substitute material things for love or for gentleness or for tenderness or for a sense of comradeship.
Money is not a substitute for tenderness, and power is not a substitute for tenderness. I can tell you … when you most need it, neither money nor power will give you the feeling you’re looking for…
I closed the book and switched off the bedside lamp.
Good night Morrie. Smart man he.