Six-thirty A.M. at the San Francisco airport
. . . where an older woman ahead of me in the security line says to her husband, “I don’t want that x-rayed. I don’t want to change its molecular structure.”
So, as I contemplated how many times my molecular structure has been altered over the years (I even remember when they had x-ray machines in shoe stores), I snaked through the line to be cleared for takeoff.
Two hours later
. . . here I am in Phoenix, waiting to board a plane that will take me to Dallas so I can get on a plane that will fly me to Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
First time I visited Phoenix, I expected desert. Or to be precise, I expected desert as I knew it from Saudi Arabia. First time we flew into Arabia (on a prop plane – commercial jets weren’t around yet), I looked down and asked my Dad why we were flying over the ocean. “Those are sand dunes, honey,” he said, then told me about having spent some time in this area known as the Empty Quarter – the Rub ’al Khali.
That was Lawrence-of-Arabia-don’t-get-left-behind desert. Nothing but sand and a sun that baked it.
That’s what I thought Arizona would be like. Then I saw the soares cacti along the road to my friend’s house.
The redwood forest of Arizona — a tribe of wise beings, grounded in place. Some had two arms, some three or four, and others none at all. If only I had the language to understand their stories.
Alas, the bus that transported me from one terminal to another moved too quickly. I didn’t have time to photograph any of the cacti along the road.
Because I had flown into Phoenix on United, but will take an American Airlines flight to Dallas, I had to check in all over again: figure out how the American Airlines self-check machine worked. Then go through security all over again.
Take my laptop out, put it in a bin. Take my shoes off, put it in a bin – wait, no the guard wanted me to run those through out of a bin. Take out my liquids and gels, put them in a white bowl. I knew to take off my watch – put it in a bin with my purse, which I had to lay on its side and then put my jacket in a separate bin.
My earrings set off the alarm when I walked through the metal detector (they hadn’t in San Francisco). On one earring is Kokopelli, on the other earring the vortex. Hmmmm.
Took those off, put them in a white bowl.
It’s all so very complicated. Lurking in the back of my mind is that someone will find that tag I tore off the mattress when I was eight and the gig will be up. I’ll be handcuffed and taken away in front of lines of people who will be annoyed with me for holding up the process.
But, once again, my long-ago crime goes undetected.
As for the status of the molecular structure of my belongings . . .
Two and a half hours later
. . . at the Dallas Fort Worth Airport
On the flight from Phoenix, my seatmate was a lovely Pakistani American man who had just recently turned 27. Right out of college he’d been hired and then, within two years been promoted to management at the Phoenix newspaper (can’t remember the name of the paper). The paper is doing well because there are so many babyboomers in Phoenix. And babyboomers appreciate journalism.
A success story in the middle of the recession and a paper that is thriving. And my generation is keeping journalism alive. High five.
My Pakistani-American companion was flying to his hometown in Indiana, where there is a decent sized Pakistani-American community. Who knew.
His big mission going home is to tell his family that he doesn’t want to agree to an arranged marriage. Yikes!
I told him not to marry anyone just to please someone else. We agreed that he could tell his parents that a woman who had been to Pakistan told him it wasn’t a good idea.
Apparently, anything that has Pakistan in it holds some sway with his folks.
It’s such an American story. Child of immigrants lives in two worlds: the displaced past of his parents who came here to give him opportunities that take him away from their past. Tough position.
Got interrupted for a conversation with a man who came to Texas via Louisiana. His accent has traces of a languid afternoon on the porch. He’s heading to Cleveland to pick up his nephew who will spend the summer with him and his wife. Nieces and nephews – their version of grandchildren.
Texas is never what you think it’s going to be. Doesn’t seem to have affected my molecular structure at all.
Starting to board the plane. More when I get to Iowa City.
Next morning in Iowa City.
. . . apparently my molecular structure was pretty fragmented by the time I got here last night.
On the plane to Cedar Rapids, I sat next to a man wearing his Air Force blues. It was only the fourth time he had ever flown, was totally enamored by the drops of rain that ran sideways across the window. Showed me the Air Force coin he was going to give to his high school friend to encourage him to lose weight so he could join the Air Force.
He was so guileless that I kept thinking that if this were a 1950s movie about World War II he would definitely be the one who wouldn’t come home. Innocence never survives a war.
He talked about his family and how he was going home for the first time since basic and how he would go to the River Festival where he might see friends from high school and why he had joined the Air Force — his parents didn’t want him joining the Army or Marine Corps because that meant he would be more likely to be in harms’ way.
He also talked about his high security-level clearance (hmmmm…would they give one to an innocent who talked in such a steady, random stream?) and how proud his parents were of him and how he had been asked to sit with the veterans at a VFW dinner even though he was just heading for basic and how he knew he was going to cry when he saw his parents so he would wear his sunglasses to hide the tears.
Because he was traveling in uniform, the steward said his drinks and snacks were complementary. He had just turned twenty-one and had never touched a drop of liquor, but thought it would be cool if he got one of those little bottles for his mother. So, I helped him select a bottle of red wine. He opened it, took less than a sip and said he didn’t think he ever needed to drink another drop of liquor.
“They say home is where your heart is,” he said as we descended through the rain clouds. “Well, my heart is definitely here. Iowa will always be home to me.”
I expected his parents would look like they were out of a 1950s movie. But they looked more as if they were roadies from the late 60s.
I thought about the first time I came to Iowa for the Writing Festival in 2005. As we started our descent, the flight attendant announced, “We have started our descent into Cedar Rapids.”
A little girl at the front of the plane shouted, “We’re going to see da’ rabbits!”
And here’s the thing. Throughout the next week, tiny-eared rabbits hopped across my path — ten or more a day.