With the concrete jungle that is South Florida below me, the plane lifts off from the runway in Fort Lauderdale at 8:40 a.m, a week after I returned home from fifty five days on the road. Skyscrapers line the white sandy beach, cruise ships and pleasure craft ply the azure waters, and endless rows of houses, condominiums, and apartments spread off into the distance, only ending when suburbia runs up against the uninhabitable Everglades.
I am flying to Providence, where I will be on the ground for twenty six hours, helping my daughter move into a dormitory for a trimester. It’s an opportunity for her to visit with high school friends who attend school in Rhode Island and Boston. After all, her parents sold the house she grew up in right out from under her after she left for college in Denver. She never got to come home for the summer.
A resilient, independent girl, she spent her first summer working at Yellowstone National Park. This summer she was having way too much fun in Colorado; white water rafting, camping at Estes Park, working for a non-profit that is trying to stop fracking from destroying Colorado, and attending concerts. Neil Young once sang you can’t be twenty on Sugar Mountain but certainly you can still have a lot of fun. Oh, to be twenty again. We really do leave there too soon.
We arrive at BWI just minutes apart. I check the arrivals board, walk towards her gate, and there she is, lugging two heavy carry-on bags, that big, happy smile of hers probably the reason she got two bags past the ticket taker. We hug. I love the randomness of it, the magic of air travel, to wake up in Florida and Colorado, meet in Baltimore, and together we board our connecting flight to Providence.
First order of business, she needs to visit the friends. We pick up the rental car and I drive her to Providence College where two of the high school friends are eagerly awaiting her arrival. I am following the roads that lead to my grandmother’s house. I know we’re close when we pass the brook where every Easter one of my grandparent’s sixteen grandchildren would fall in, soiling their patent leather shoes or fine clothes.
“We have to find it,” I tell my daughter.
“Of course,” she replies. “Did Kathy chill here too?”
Yes, she did. And there it is. Smaller than I remember it. The backyard where we ate steamers and corn on the cob in the summertime, my cousin Mary Jo and I grabbing the seats closest to the big pot on the picnic table.
My grandmother made homemade rolls and kept them in a bread box in the pantry. I would always sneak one into my coat pocket for the ride home, as if she wouldn’t let me take one, which of course she would. There were so many surprises in that house. The skinny closet that held a pull down ironing board. The old fashioned ringer washing machine in the basement. And my Aunt Josie’s engagement ring in a shoebox in the bedroom closet. Yes, that ring. The one in Take Me Home.
“The highlight of the trip was always when Aunt Maddie would take us to her bedroom to show us The Ring. Adrienne and I would climb on her four-poster bed, with the faded pink chenille bedspread that smelled like lavender powder, watching while she took down an old shoebox from the top shelf of her closet. It was stuffed with tissue paper and nestled inside was a man’s handkerchief , wrapped around more tissue that was so fine and crinkled, it appeared it would disintegrate as she unwrapped it. Even though I knew what was inside the package, I remember the mounting anticipation when she would reverently reveal the tiny diamond engagement ring, just a half a carat, if that. We would ooh and aaah, shouting, “Tell us the story, Aunt Maddie.”
I visit with my sister for a couple of hours, then my daughter and her friend arrive and we set out for some fine dining at my favorite restaurant in Rhode Island. Basta. I was offered a free meal after I wrote a blog about a fun night at their restaurant where I almost met Woody Allen.
A respite during an otherwise hectic world wind of a weekend. Could the food get any better than this?
My sister and her husband ask, “Hey, why weren’t we invited? You spent ten days with us.”
“Next time,” I promise. So I’m writing for my supper. And here’s why:
Cotoletta Pazza. A veal chop stuffed with prosciutto di parma and fresh mozzarella, blanketed with a lobster cream sauce and gulf shrimp.
Lobster ravioli, charred corn, scallion, and brandy infused lobster cream sauce.
To die for. Thank you to Alex Guarino and all the people at Basta who always make a night out a special event. My daughter and her friend were quite impressed that I was a special guest. For a short time, I felt like a famous author.
And it keeps on going. When we check into the Courtyard near Union Station, we get a goodie bag full of treats. Swag as they call it at the Academy Awards. That bag full of expensive jewelry, perfume, and trips to Australia. My bag has airplane size bags of snacks. But someday, when I am nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay for one of my novels, I’ll take photos of the swag. In the meantime, I take a photo of the view from my corner room. Yes, the night just kept getting better. We had a corner room with views of the State House, College Hill, and Brown University.
My daughter’s friend opens the window, breathes in deep and says, “I love the smell of cities. It’s fresh air with a little dirty.” I grab my journal and inform her that I am stealing that line.
After an early morning walk through the city, the day is hectic. We wait in lines. Lines for a room key, lines for a photo ID, lines to correct the meal plan. We eat a late lunch at a sub shop across from the Providence Performing Arts Center and watch as dozens of students in chef whites and hats board buses for the Johnson & Wales waterfront campus where the test kitchens are located. It is quite a sight and I have no idea why I, the obsessive IPhone photographer, did not take a photo.
Much too soon, the day is over and I need to get the rental car back before my twenty-four hours are up. My daughter’s a little nervous, being left here in this new city, for I grew up here but she did not, and we hug several times. I won’t see her again until Thanksgiving and I hate leaving her. My heart constricts and I have a lump in my throat but by the time I get to the airport I receive a text message.
“At Starbucks with roomie. Going to an event on the campus common tonight. Having fun.” That’s my girl.
Returning my car on time puts me at the airport an hour and forty-five minutes before my flight. I decide leaving your daughter in a strange new city and all the anxiety that creates qualifies as a wine emergency. I take a seat at the bar of the Providence Oyster House and order a pinot grigio before getting into a rousing conversation about Italy, Cape Cod, and trucking with a couple from England and a man who owns a trucking company. Before leaving to catch my plane, I give them all my card and they promise to check out my books.
“My wife will like this,” the trucking guy tells me.
On the way to my gate, I pass my cousin, Tom. Not literally, in the flesh, but a photo of him and his new company. Keel Vodka. He has a very prominent display in a glass case along the long hallway of the terminal.
And he was at the restaurant last night. Again, not in the flesh, but on the menu, his vodka and lemon sorbetto combined to make a refreshing dessert.
Boarding the plane for BWI I scan the rows for a middle seat, possibly between two women who might like reading women’s contemporary fiction. After my success at the bar, I might as well work the room, or the plane, so to speak. There they are. I settle in between them as the plane begins to hum beneath me. The pilot warns of turbulence and tells us he will not be shutting off the seatbelt sign. He has also asked the flight attendants to remain seated for the hour and ten minute flight. No little bags of peanuts. No drinks. I turn to my seat mates. The woman to my right is wearing ear buds, her music playing so loudly I can make out the English Beat. “Sooner or later, your legs give way, they hit the ground.” The mother in me wants to say, “Turn that down. You’re going to lose your hearing.”
I can’t establish eye contact so I turn to my left. This woman is a reader. She is engrossed in Arianna Huffington’s book Thrive. I want to tell her I work for Ariana. I don’t get paid but I do work very hard on my Huffington Post pieces, editing and re-editing, but the woman never takes her eyes from the page. The woman on my right is now taking selfies so I give up and read my book. All That Is by James Salter, an amazing writer I had the honor of meeting this summer in Southampton. A writer’s writer, and indeed he is. His words sing on the page. His sentences are perfect.
The turbulence isn’t that bad, I am not sure why I can’t get a ginger ale. My ears block and the hum of the plane is muffled. I swallow and the hum gets louder. A baby begins to complain.
Another airport bar, another glass of pinot grigio, another opportunity to sell books. I strike up a conversation with a young man who just left Asheville and we discuss the beauty of the scenery and the places we ate. We both enjoyed Wicked Weed, a downtown brewery. He has a girlfriend and she has several literary type friends, poets and readers. I give him a few of my cards.
I remember reading a Tweet while sitting in another airport. It was Anne Lamott, complaining about a book tour she was on. How she hated airports, hated hotel rooms, hated traveling across the country. Really? I could do this all year long.
On the flight to Fort Lauderdale I sit next to a woman who is my soul mate. We never stop talking during the two and a half hour flight. Books, kids, jobs, marriage, life, and death. It’s ridiculous, the number of things we have in common. By the time we descend into the concrete jungle, the lights strung out like ribbons of stars in the Milky Way, we are hugging goodbye and she has promised to buy both my books. I promise to call when I happen to get to Coral Gables, which I hope is soon.
My husband is on time, circling the arrivals gates, waiting for me. He is never on time. Another sign. I think of a line I like from Silver Linings Playbook.
Excelsior! Not that I give a fuck about football, or about your superstitions — but if it’s me reading the signs, I don’t send the Eagles guy whose personal motto is Excelsior to a fucking Giants game, especially when he’s already in a legal situation.
There have been so many signs in the past two days. They all seem good but I’m having trouble reading the signs.
At home the day’s mail is waiting for me on the kitchen table. There is a package from my professor at the workshop I attended earlier this summer. Critiques of the writing I did in his class. He is a good friend of James Salter’s and it is he, Robert Emmett Ginna, who invited Salter to our class for the day. His notes are kind and sweet and very flattering.
“This is professional work. The Huffington Post is lucky to have you, as was I in our all too brief workshop. Onward!” My heart flutters.
As I rest my head on my pillow later that night, I think about the great world spinning, the planes and the stars overhead, my daughter in her bed in Providence, a few miles from my grandparents’ house. The places we go, the people we meet, and how amazing this circle of life is. Onward! Yes indeed.