Saturday, May 24, 2014

Saturday's Excerpt from Jeep Tour by Gail Olmsted

That’s Me in the Corner
“Your sunglasses? Ma’am, your sunglasses.”
            “Ma’am, you need to remove your sunglasses,” the TSA agent spoke with an intensity that I found just a bit intimidating. Airport personnel are just so darn cheery, said no one ever!
            “Oh, sorry,” I pushed my sunglasses up over my forehead.
            “Jax, what’s with you?” Linda hissed at me. “It’s like you’re out of it.” I had no response to that. I was out of it.
            Making sure that the face I presented matched the one on my driver’s license, the agent looked carefully at me. What did he see, I wondered? A quickly approaching-forty-year-old academic, disheveled from rushing to get to the airport for our early morning flight. The drive from Sedona last night had taken us longer than we had planned, and after a dinner of appetizers and margaritas at the hotel bar, I had collapsed into a restless sleep. I had felt fuzzy and disoriented ever since my five a.m. wakeup call, despite gulping down a large coffee en route to the airport. An early morning flight had seemed like a good idea when we had made our plans last month. I could only hope to get in some sleep on the flight home in order to be standing upright the next day, which I knew to be full of classes and a department meeting to boot. Call me a lightweight, but I do better with eight hours of sleep in my own bed and a diet of three squares a day and a lot less booze.
            Did the uniformed agent see the network of crow’s feet just starting to make their appearance? The under-eye circles that no amount of night cream would fade? On the plus side, I had thick reddish brown hair that had not yet begun to go gray, green eyes, a sprinkling of freckles on my nose, a high forehead and a wide mouth. Cover girl? Not hardly. But, not bad. Good enough. The same face or close to it that I had been staring at in the mirror for my whole life. I used to give myself little pep talks as I prepared to leave home each morning. I would smile broadly at the young girl/young woman/not-so-young woman in the mirror, nod encouragingly, and say something like “looking good” or “go get ‘em tiger” or “you go, girl” or occasionally, “what the fuck are you looking at?”
            Done with me and seemingly satisfied that I was who I claimed to be, the agent handed my license back to me and called the next victim, er, passenger. I walked through the scanner without incident and then stopped at the nearest bench to put on my shoes (slip on, natch), grab my cardigan sweater (it gets chilly in airports), and organize my handbag and carryon. I double checked, making sure that I could locate my boarding pass. I have been known to misplace a movie ticket in the short time it takes to walk over to the ticket taker. I have a lot on my mind. Linda and Kate were waiting, so we hustled over to grab a bite to eat before they called our flights.
            After a simply delightful breakfast containing not a single item from any of the major food groups (but it is the most important meal of the day, and my personal favorite) during which we stood toe-to-toe with our fellow travelers and Linda swears she was groped, we split up. I had only been approved to attend the conference a few weeks back, long after Linda and Kate had booked their flights. The return flight that they had chosen was full, so I had booked a more expensive direct flight home and was going to pay the difference out of pocket. Kate and Linda had to make a connection in Chicago and despite leaving sooner than I did this morning; they would get in two hours later. That’s one thing about money. Having it definitely influenced my consumer behavior. I had thought of offering to treat my colleagues but decided against it. Too showy. Not my style. Now I was glad I hadn’t. I relished the idea of being alone for the next several hours.
            I was tired of talking and compromising – where and when to eat, which radio stations to listen to in the car. I looked forward to being alone. I wanted time with my thoughts.
            A secret smile lit up my face. Rick. God, he was cute. No, not cute, Robbie, my ex, was cute. Rick was bigger, more rugged. Devastatingly gorgeous? Yes. Not cute.
            When my flight was finally called, I settled in to my comfy business class seat and gratefully accepted the bottled water that the attendant offered. The seat next to me stayed vacant and I settled in with my pillow and my Kindle. And my thoughts-of blue skies, red rocks, and strong hands covering mine. Those green eyes were hard to forget. And that killer smile.
            Hours later, my fellow passengers and I landed. No clue as to why, but we rushed like mad to the carousel assigned to our flight and began the wait. Waiting for your luggage is like waiting to get picked for a team in grade school gym class. Think about it. You want to get chosen, but while waiting, you start to feel a certain camaraderie with the others. As your classmates/fellow travelers get chosen before you, you start to panic. What if I’m last or don’t get picked at all? As soon as your name is called or your luggage appears, you have nothing in common any longer with the rest of the group. You’re relieved, proud, happy. Without feeling a twinge of guilt, you skip forward, join your team, and never look back.
            I pushed my way through the crowd, grabbed my bag and took off for the exit, three of the four wheels humming along. The cold night air was oddly refreshing after breathing in stale airplane fumes all day. While I searched for signs of the shuttle that would take me to the parking lot, I regretted my decision to cheap out and not spring for valet parking. I realized my car would be coated with ice and with no guarantee of starting on the first try. It was just a few minutes later, while I was riding the noisy overheated shuttle, that I first heard the voice. ‘Sell it, donate it, get rid of it. Buy something new and drive it to Sedona’ it said. What? No way. I couldn’t think like that. But apparently I could. That particular train of thought chugged along, picked up steam and would not be stopped by mere reason or logic. I wondered how much I could get for it? My car, I mean. I'd be selling it, I'm sure, along with many of my worldly possessions in order to make a fresh start in Arizona. Stop that. You’re not serious. Or was I? Could I be in love and ready to make some changes? Love, did I say love? No, not love. Lust? OK, maybe lust, but change, long-overdue change, that was my real motivation. But that smile and those hands attached to those forearms. Yikes. Give up my apartment and my job, say goodbye to my friends and move to the Southwest? No more freezing winters, no more grading papers and no more department meetings. But I love my job, don’t I? And I’m about to be granted tenure!
            I debated calling the number that Rick had given me. Was it his home? His cell? Was this some sort of cruel joke where he would have given me a phony number? But why would he do that? He didn’t strike me as someone who could be intentionally cruel. And if I did reach him, what would I say? “Hi, it’s me. Jackie. Just wanted to let you know that I made it home, safe and sound.” Ugh. No. I would need a plan. Better sleep on this.
            After stowing my bag in the trunk, I started my car. I hopped back out and hunkered down to scrape at the thick glaze of ice on my windshield with my fingers, deciding that travel was overrated and a huge pain in the ass. But my car had started right up, despite five days in freezing weather. Was that a sign? And, if so, of what?


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