“A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguarding, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find that after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us” ~ John Steinbeck
I met Pat in the Los Angeles airport but I forgot to share the story. It wasn’t that I didn’t think about it often. I think about it almost every day, especially when I’m listening to music and suddenly get the urge to tap dance.
While waiting for my delayed flight to Detroit I bought coffee and a blueberry muffin at Starbucks, then luckily found an empty seat in the crowded terminal full of irate travelers. LAX was in the midst of a major construction project repairing runways and most flights leaving the airport had been delayed. Little did I know this was about to set off a domino effect that would ripple across the country.
Pat was sitting next to me. She looked to be about my age, petite with shoulder length shiny silver hair. We wasted no time striking up a conversation. I told her about my flight out of Reno and the frenzy here in L.A. to get another flight after I was bumped from standby on my scheduled flight to Charlotte, North Carolina.
Pat had been visiting her son in LA so this was her first flight of the day. Her son is a struggling screenwriter married to a dancer. She was flying home to Tiverton, RI via Detroit then on to the Providence airport, which is really in Warwick. That was also the route I was now traveling.
We talked about our kids and our work. Pat owns a dance studio in Tiverton, RI. She plans to work for a few more years before she retires. She also has a daughter who is moving from L.A. to Maine. Pat’s retirement plan is to sell her old house in Rhode Island and spend summers in Maine with her daughter and winters in California with her son, although her kids don’t know this yet.
“They’ll be on board with it,” she said.
Then she told me the loveliest story. Years ago an older man called and asked if she offered individual tap dance classes. He was in his late seventies and told her he had just one problem. He couldn’t get around without his walker.
“I need to hold on to something when I’m tapping,” he said.
“I have a ballet barre,” she told him. “I think we could make that work.”
The tap dancer is now in his eighties. He spends winters on the Gulf Coast of Florida and summers in Rhode Island where he still tap dances with Pat several times a week. Each winter he flies her to Florida and puts her up in his guest house where every day for two weeks they tap dance together.
There was something about Pat’s story and our time together on an otherwise difficult day of travel, a day that would most likely stress and piss off most people, that made the airport anxiety disappear for the both of us.
An hour later, when we finally boarded the plane, we were quite sure we were going to miss our connection in Detroit so we made plans to share a drink.
Sometime around 10:30 p.m. we landed in the Motor City, and yes, we did miss our flight. Delta provided us with a free night at a hotel. The airport was quiet; the bars were all closed. Pat and I decided we would check in and then go out for a drink. We were hoping our hotel had a bar. Pat got a room at the Sheraton. I got a room at the Days Inn. Both disappointed, we made plans to meet in the morning.
In the Days Inn van, fifteen tired travelers bonded in anger and frustration. A young man was supposed to be at a funeral at ten the next morning in Brattleboro, Vermont.
“I’m driving through Brattleboro tomorrow. I can give you a ride,” I told him. It was one of those days and one of those situations when generosity rises to the occasion. Unfortunately, the funeral was at ten a.m. and he was flying to Hartford and I was flying to Providence. Everyone in the van tried to work out the logistics. Could he change his flight to Providence?
“I’ll still miss the funeral, ” he said.
A few people mentioned he might be able to attend the reception afterward.
“I’m just going to get on another plane and fly home. What a waste of time and money,” he said, dejected. We all encouraged him to try to get a reimbursement for the flight.
Another man had asked for a free rental car in exchange for the night at a hotel in Detroit. His son was graduating from Howard University in DC the next morning. He said he could drive all night and make it in time for the ceremony. Delta said no. No car.
Now the van was getting rowdy. Everyone was swearing about the airlines. “They treat us like shit,” someone said.
Again we all encouraged the upset Dad to get a refund, although everyone understood that would be a poor substitute for missing a graduation and a funeral.
The Days Inn lounge was supposed to stay open until midnight but it had closed at 11:30. I went to bed and fell fast asleep.
The next morning the flight out of Detroit went smoothly. It was a brand new day with no delays or hassles. Pat had told me a friend was picking her up at the airport and they could give me a ride to my daughter’s apartment in Providence. He was waiting for us in the terminal and warned me his car had a strong doggie odor. I pulled out my phone and showed him a picture of my daughter and her dog.
“Don’t worry about it. I was traveling for a week, from Lake Tahoe to Colorado, with Athena, the boxer,” I said.
He took my overnight travel bag and put it in the trunk. “You managed to travel a whole week with this little bag?” he asked.
“I travel light,” I said. “It’s all in how you fold and roll.”
I literally felt as light as my bag when I hopped in the back seat of the old car with two new friends I barely knew. I had been on the road for almost a month. This nomadic existence created a sense of living in the present that I enjoyed. Aware of the moments of my life as I lived them, it was a case of here and now.
Driving through traffic, we laughed as we told Pat’s friend about our airport hassles. We made it sound like a grand adventure, and in a way it was. We also compared notes on the Providence restaurant scene, the serenity of Vermont, and the Rhode Island beaches. I told them about the cop in Battle Mountain, Nevada and my two days traveling alone across the deserts of Utah and Nevada to return the rental car to Reno because I didn’t want to pay the surcharge for dropping the car off in Denver.
The ride went much too fast but I have Pat’s phone number and I plan to meet up with her soon. As I hugged the two of them on the sidewalk outside my daughter’s apartment, I felt like the world was good and kind, despite the daily news.
I felt like I was twenty-five not sixty. I felt alive. I felt like I could do anything, knowing that whatever happened, whatever hassles and problems I came across on the road of life, I could manage, on my own, keeping my wits about me, making friends, and rolling along with the endless numbered days ahead.
No one was home at the apartment. My daughter and her boyfriend were gone for the day, but I had a key and let myself in. I gathered the things I had left in the guest bedroom. I found ice coffee in the fridge and helped myself to a tall cold glass.
I opened my lap top and found Fred Astaire on You Tube then moved to the almost empty room between the kitchen and the living room where I pushed the yoga mats aside, and tap danced before heading home to Vermont.