Monday, December 3, 2007

At the Airport

I’m flying back to where my dad lives because of a sudden death in the family.

Here’s something so Alaskan: I bumbled my way into the security line after trying to forget my boarding passes in the little print out kiosk and cursing my daft choice of luggage that I pulled from the bowels of my closet at 5:15 a.m. I was still sleepy and not really looking at who was around me. Then, scooting along through the roped lines opposite me was Senator Lyda Green, the president of the Alaska Senate. She’s represents Wasilla, and she knows me because she eats my food often when I cater events. She asked where I was going. I said a funeral, but mumbled and didn’t enunciate since I was only half-awake. She said Juneau? She was off to Ketchikan. I nodded and smiled. On the next passing when our lines intersected, I rubbed a few brain cells together and asked if she was going for meetings, for Senate business? She said yes, about the Ferry. “That’s so important to them, you know,” she said. The Alaska Marine Highway ferry schedules and routes do indeed constitute lifelines for residents of the panhandle. The ferry loses money each year and its budgets are always on the chopping block. This little encounter is how it is here—our elected officials stand in line like the rest of us, are our neighbors, and work on issues that have real-life consequences to constituents in small-town ways.

I got Eat Play Love at the airport bookstore to read on the plane. I must be the perfect target market of the airport bookstore. I don’t know how that could be—I’m not a frequent flyer. But I always see about 6 books I’ve been dying to read and don’t run into in my daily go-rounds in Alaska. I’d been wanting to read Eat Play Love—it was recommended by my guest Susan Brooks, a customer service specialist and motivational speaker from Phoenix, a few weeks ago. She said I’d love it, and indeed I do. I love how travel makes us contemplate what we have chosen as “home” and what other places offer which differs slightly or greatly. The author wrote from Rome about the choices she’d made in life, the choices her mother had made, and where they both had sacrificed. It made me wonder about what I sacrifice in my life. Nothing much came to mind.

The 5 ½ hours to Minneapolis went the fastest it has gone by today. I’ve been hustling so much on catering jobs that I was exhausted and apparently slept the first two hours of the flight, though I could swear I just had my eyes shut and heard every noise uttered the whole time.

I was glad to arrive in Minneapolis. It’s been a long time since I’ve had the opportunity to hear the words “Cedar Rapids” announced over a loud speaker. On the plane, I read the Northwest Airlines magazine. I almost forgot, but then checked the staff box. When I worked in journalism in the Twin Cities, I used to always read who was on staff first, before any articles, to see who had changed jobs, gotten a promotion, etc. I’m glad I didn’t forget today. It showed me that the company I used to work for now publishes NWA’s magazine. I saw my former boss’ name, the one who hired me for $14,500 after the first newspaper I worked for had gone under. And the name of the gal who I had replaced when she decided to stay home with a new baby—that was my big break into the world of art directing-- and several others I worked with and new well. That was nice.

One of the art directors is no other than my old pal, Geoff. He was the one who gave me the idea to go to Alaska in the first place. One summer in their youth, he and a couple high school friends drove a Chevette from Virginia, where they’re from, to Alaska along the Alcan. They recorded tidbits of their trip on cassette tape, punctuated by belching contests. In 1996, I took 3 weeks off my job as an art director to drive to Alaska. He and our friend Terri (now Mpls.St.Paul’s Art Director) walked me to the parking garage and wished me bon voyage, since I was headed for Winnipeg right from work. Somehow he slipped a mixed cassette tape into my car without me noticing until later. It was a “best of” compilation from his trip, kind of like a podcast before its day, and I got to hear 90 minutes about the adventures they found along the way.

Coming through the airport was nice moment of realizing how things have changed. Not only have my old friends done well at my previous company, but several other indicators pointed to how many of us have “arrived” or at least matured. I was pleasant surprised to see a French Meadow bakery along a concourse. That used to be the funky place my friends worked in a run-down but gonna-be-hip-one-day neighborhood while they worked at getting their writing or baking careers off the ground. It all feels so familiar here that I can’t believe how little I’m in touch with the goings-on here, but it points out that Alaska is So Far Away. My life there is so distant from these hip shops with their ultra-cool style, trendy colors, and (new to me) menu choices and products. Before leaving home, I jotted a quick e-mail to the gal coordinating our B&B Association’s Cookie Contest this weekend, which I’ll be missing. I won’t be able to be a judge, now that I’m on my way to this funeral, and I copied the Palmer Chamber director on that note to say I had wanted to volunteer the rest of the day for our annual Colony Christmas festival in little downtown Palmer, but I wouldn’t be able to. Coming down the driveway this morning at 5:45 a.m., I had to stop the car and move a fallen, rotted birch tree that was too big to just drive over. We’d had a pretty good windstorm last night. These are the things of my every day in my farm community of Palmer.
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