Sunday, September 30, 2012

Running to Baltimore


Are you comfortable? You sure? Good.

Okay, here’s the story.

So there I was, running toward Baltimore, heart pumping, breath rasping in and out, legs chewing up the distance as I sprinted for all I was worth.

Was I running in some sort of race?

Only against Time.

Was I running for my life?

No, but it sure felt like it.

I was running for a plane, dodging around slower-moving people, my computer bag slapping against my back with each step, carry-on thrust ahead of me like the prow of an icebreaker ship up in the frozen North. I was using it that way, too — anyone not moving out of the way fast enough for me was getting the leading edge of my bag right in the posterior. Hard. Luckily for all the posteriors in question I was also shouting “Excuse me! That’s my flight, leaving there! Coming through! Excuse me!”

The sight of nearly 200 lbs of sprinting, shouting bald man with a frantic look in his eye and holding up his pants with one hand bearing down on them was apparently enough for most people, and a corridor through the crowd opened up like magic before me. I only had to physically dodge around a very few of the slower-moving people, and needed to actually make use of the carry-on just once. I’m sure that old woman was fine, once they helped her to her feet and someone got her walker back under her.

Hey, she was warned.

You see, I was on my way to Colorado again, and my flight was scheduled to leave at 6:00 am. I was supposed to be going to Baltimore where I would catch a connecting flight in to Denver international. My father gave me a rode in to Logan, and he got me to the airport in what we both thought was plenty of time. I checked in at just after 5:00 am, took my little security pass and headed through the door the ticket agent indicated, the one marked ‘To Gates E1-E3’. I strolled down the short hallway to the escalator, rode it down, and came to a dead stop.

I had reached the back of the line.

Stretching out before me was a line of people running the length of the 50 yard corridor that ended in a doorway with a sign next to it. ‘Security Checkpoint, All Gates’, read the sign. ‘Ticketed Passengers Only, Beyond This Point’.

I checked my watch. 5:10 am. Fifty yards. Fifty minutes. Not a problem.

…or so I thought.

Twenty minutes later I reached the front of the line. Well, I reached the door, anyway. The line, I now saw, went through the door, took a turn to the right, and continued on down this new corridor. Not a problem, I thought. It says ‘Security Checkpoint’, right there on the sign. Just around the corner there’s that familiar set of scanning machines and my good old friends The Patdown People.

Or so I thought.

This new corridor stretched forward and out of sight around a gentle curve in the building. People upon people filled the space before me, each with their own impatient expression, each with their own tapping foot. The wall to my left was glass, designed this way, perhaps, to relieve the claustrophobic feeling of being herded into this hallway like cattle in a chute. What it did for me was show me Gate E-1, right there on the other side of the glass, not fifty feet away. I looked back at the line before me, the expressions, the tapping feet, and especially the way it stretched out of sight down the corridor away from the gate I wanted, that was so close I could see it.

Somewhere in the crowd ahead a small child began to cry, angry wails drifting back to me over the constant murmur of muted conversations.

I knew how he felt.

Twenty minutes later, still in line and not quite having the Security Checkpoint in sight yet (though I knew it was up there, I could see people ahead of me taking off their shoes in hopeful anticipation), I heard the PA system crackle to life.

“Last boarding call for flight 900 to Baltimore. This is the last boarding call for flight 900 to Baltimore on Southwest Airlines.”

I looked at the security pass in my hand, just to make sure. Yup. Flight 900 for Baltimore. I looked at the crowd ahead of me, keeping me from even having he pleasure of being randomly pulled out for a pat-down by the TSA agents.

One of the voices in my head began to swear. Vehemently.

“I can’t believe this #$%@! The plene’s on the way down the #%$@ing runway and here I am, trapped in Hell, surrounded by these #&ing people, an dI can’t even get to &#^%ing security!!”

I noticed the woman next to me staring a bit. More than a bit. Staing right at me, in fact. I run through the words that just passed through my head again.

“I said all that out loud, didn’t I?”

She nodded, still staring. I recalled the part about being ‘surrounded by all these #&ing people’, and I winced inside.

“Oh, I didn’t mean you,” I started, but that’s when she turns away, eyes front, staring toward the Checkpoint that is almost in sight.


I finally get to Security, and there are all the folks who usually make my travel experience so un-usual. TSA agents. I’m in motion now, though, and I have no time to worry what they’ll do to me. I’m stripping off shoes and belt, emptying pocket contents into trays, tearing laptop and E-reader out of my computer bag, whipping them into trays of their own and stepping into the line to step into the Bio-Reader — someplace I’ve been before, so many times I actually feel a sense of comfort as I step into the machine, legs spread, hands over my head in the correct position for scanning.

It occurs to me now, as it has occured to me before that I’m taking the pat-down position used for being placed under arrest, and think thqat they’re doing it backwards — I’ve they were supposed to do this before taking my belt and shoes. But I don’t make a fuss. Surprisingly, and for what may well be the first time, I’m not ‘randomly’ pulled out for extra search. The TSA agent waves me through, and I have to admit I stared at her for a moment, on the verge of asking her ‘Are you sure?’ before I get a grip on myself and run for the conveyor belt where my bags and trays are coming through.

I slide to a stop, Risky Business style (and if you don’t get that reference you’re just to young. Look it up.), and start throwing my stuff into the computer bag. Cell phone, pocket contents, my belt, everything is stuffed through the open top of the bag but my sneakers, which I jam on my feet while doing the hoppy dance. Fairly certain (but not completely) that I have them on the correct feet, I sling my computer bag over one shoulder, grab my carry-on, and start running.

That brings us full-circle. This is where we came in, remember?

Incidentally, it was while I was making this run for the Gate that I discovered my mistake in not taking the time to put my belt back on. The pants I was wearing have always been loose, and very light. Over the past couple of months I have lost somewhere between 15 and 20 lbs, and now they are a little more loose. Okay, a lot more loose. As I ran I felt, well, I felt a bit of a breeze. Cool air where there shouldn’t be cool air. I realized that while I was running forward, my pants were heading downward.

I made a grab for them and kept running. I managed to snag the waistband just as it was edging past my right hip, stopping their downward plunge. They hooked on my left hip, however, and with that hand full of carry-on I couldn’t do anything about it but go on with my pants riding ‘fashionably low’ in the rear.

I hate that ‘fashion’.

Thank God I was wearing underwear!

Thank Mom (and her training as I as growing up, all that talk about ‘what if you have an accident?’) it was clean underwear!

As I galloped up to the appropriate counter a man leaped out in front of me, arms spread wide. Having flashbacks to my own personal nightmares about TSA Agents and the small, private room where deep, deep searches happen, I lowered my head and charged him, readying my luggage for combat. It had shown that old lady with the walker the error in getting in my way, it would do the same for this beefy dude in the shorts and white button-down shirt who was shouting “Sir! Are you on flight 900 to Baltimore? Flight 900, sir? They’re holding the plane!”

I thrust my bag forward into position like a lance as I built up ramming speed… then his words penetrated my panic and I jammed to a halt in front of him.

“Wait,” I said. “What?”

“Are you in flight 900, sir? They’re holding the plane for you, sir.”

He indicated the counter he had jumped out from.

“We can help you right over here.”

I gave it a single beat to sink in, then “I love you!”

He gave me an odd look at that, most likely taking in my pants which were currently flying at half-mast. I put down my bags and slapped my paperwork down on his counter, gave my pants a two-fisted heave, then bent to rummage through my computer bag for my belt.

The gentleman assisting me relaxed visibly as I slipped it though the loops and pulled it tight.

Seven minutes later I was thudding down the gangway and onto the plane. I was shaking with the aftereffects of the massive amount of adrenaline that had been having its way with my bloodstream and I had a giddy smile plastered to my face. The smile, I am sure, in no way helped endear me to all the people who glared at me as I made my way down the aisle looking for a vacant seat; they were all very aware that the reason they had all been sitting there on the runway for so long was currently grinning at them like an idiot.

Did I care? Not at all. I just hope that the old woman with the walker is okay.

Aww…. I’m sure she is. After all, the elderly are known for bouncing right back from trauma, right? Right…

Talk to you later! 

P.S. - I did make it to Colorado, so we'll have to see what happens to me this week that's worth telling y'all. I can practically guaran-damn-tee that something's gonna go wrong -- and I'll be sure to try to entertain you at my expense, dear readers. 

P.P.S - ...and even if nothing happens to me while I'm here, I still have to get home,and that means flying, and that means going through Logan Airport in Boston... and that, my friends, is always an adventure!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Doggone It!

Okay, so here’s the story.

You’ve heard all about dogs and the mailman, right? How they chase us, bite us, attack us whenever they get the chance? A common trope in stories, especially television and movies is the mailman running down the street, leaving a scattered trail of letters in his wake as he is pursued but a snarling, barking dog.

Well, it’s all true.

Sometimes. With some mailmen. But not with me.

I like dogs. I usually get along with them very well, no real problems. I do have a couple (okay, maybe three or four) of dogs on my route that definitely do not like me, but those are few and far between and a very small percentage of the dogs who actually live on my route. Most of the dogs I talk to, pat, and play with. The only thing I do not do is feed them. I used to, years ago, but I’d forget to buy biscuits, run out, and feel bad. So I just stopped feeding them and have contented myself with patting and playing with them ever since. It’s been almost eighteen years that I’ve been doing the job, and though I’ve been barked at, charged and even attacked, I’ve never actually had a dog draw blood from me.

Until now.

So there I was, walking around the corner, middle of the sidewalk, minding my own business. I had the bag in one shoulder, arms and hands full of mail, just tooling along and sorting as I walked. Suddenly, without warning, there was a high-pitched yip and a sharp pain from the back of my right calf. The yip was not from me, but from the small brown and white dog that went streaking down the sidewalk like a runaway bottle-rocket. A low-to-the-ground, furry, sharp-toothed bottle-rocket. The yip couldn’t have come from me anyway, as I was too busy showing off my facility with language by stringing together nearly every curse-word I know into one long, interesting and creative swear.

It took a long time. I know quite a few curse-words, and I was very motivated.

When I was done exercising my creativity I had to call the office and report it. I couldn’t tell them anything about the dog other than I didn’t get a good look at it and it definitely did not belong to the owner of the house it happened in front of — she doesn’t even own a dog. One of the clerks answered the phone, and though my supervisor was not available to talk to, the clerk was nice enough to run out to me with some of the contents of the first-aid station we have there in the office. Thus, in short order I had some antiseptic spray and a stack of band aids and bandages of various sizes.

I had planned to head to the local pharmacy and buy some of this stuff for myself, but hey, this was even better! Someone from the office was actually taking care of me for a change, rather than just pushing me to do a little more, work a little faster. It was a nice. Very different, but nice.

A short time later my supervisor stopped by my route and checked on me. He had talked with the clerk who had run the supplies out to me, but he wanted to come out and see for himself that I was okay. Now, I wasn’t fooled by this — he was simply worried that I might not finish on time, mess wit h his numbers, maybe somehow make him look bad. I understood this… but it was still kind of nice to have him stopping by to check on me like that, treating me like a human being. Different, but nice.

Then, a short time after Boss’s visit, the Postmaster drove by to check on me. I started to feel kind of special, getting all this attention. I mean, really, all I had was a little nip on the back of one calf, the whole thing only about the size of a dime, and I was getting visits, supplies run out to me… I might have started to get a swelled head, maybe asked for favors. I probably could have asked for someone to come out and take some of my workload from me, and it might have even worked. The Postmaster left after a short talk, and I returned to walking about my route delivering the mail.

I was doing my job, but was consumed with thoughts that I should have made a request, that I should have asked for some help so I could just slow down a little and relax. I was thinking that I might have even gotten it, too… when two mail trucks pulled up behind mine. One carrier had been sent to help me finish my work while the other was just showing her where I was. He was willing, though, to help me finish on his own. In other words, I had not one, but two people out there offering to do some of my work for me.

And I hadn’t even asked for any help.

So I’ve been thinking. The feeling of being slightly important was nice. The being treated like a person rather than a tool to be used was nice too. But none of that was as nice as having two people show up willing to do my work for me.

So, like I said, I’ve been thinking.

All this came from a small nip on the back of the leg. What might happen if I was actually bitten? I mean, for real? Like, requiring medical attention and everything.

I’ve decided to find out.

As I write this, the work shirt I intend to wear on Monday is soaking in a vat of chicken broth. The shorts I will wear are in a similar vat, this one filled with beef broth. I plan to rub the gravy from a few cans of Alpo dog food onto my legs before I get out on the road with my deliveries, and I will have a pork chop in each back pocket.

If I survive the day, I fully anticipate being treated as a Postal God!

…or a bloody idiot. I’ll have to see which way this plays out.

Talk to you later!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Welcome to Boston

Okay, so here's the story.

My friend SB was out here visiting from Colorado a couple of years ago. Now, she had never been out here before, and I had actually gone to great pains to impress upon her the …uh…’different’ way we drive in Massachusetts, and in the Boston area in particular. She had been here for a day or so with out mishap, and aside from being amazed at the thickness of the woods that line the highways (and believe me, if you’ve ever been to Colorado you’d understand her surprise, especially in the Denver area - talk about ‘wide open spaces’!) she had really seen nothing all that different from the way they drive in her home state. Then I almost took the wrong exit.

It was entirely my fault. We were having a conversation, and I was sort of driving on auto-pilot. I can’t even remember where we were going at the time, but I think we were on Rt. 95, and I was in the right lane. As we were talking I looked over at her, and when I looked back at the road I was cruising merrily onto an off-ramp - the wrong one. I wasn’t on it yet, though, and I immediately checked my mirrors, looked left, and saw I had a small gap I could fit into and stay on 95. I stomped on the gas to gain a little clearance on the car to my left and yanked the wheel. My Jeep jumped left into the regular traffic lane saving me from (embarrassingly) taking the wrong exit - but my rear bumper had barely missed the car that was now behind me.

SB looked at me a little worriedly and said something, I believe it was along the lines of ‘That was close,’ referring to the car now riding right on my bumper. I agreed, and checked the rear-view mirror. There, leaned forward until her chin practically sat on the steering wheel she now gripped with hands gone white-knuckled with force, was the kindliest little-old-grandmotherly-looking woman I had ever seen. It was a face that should have been baking cookies, or knitting sweaters for grandchildren, maybe while telling those same grandchildren stories of how she and their grandfather met at the spring fair waaayyyy back when they were just kids themselves as the grandchildren sat gathered ‘round her rocker and ate home-made cookies.

That face, though, was now flushed and tight-lipped with anger.

“Whoops,” I said. “I didn’t mean to, but I just cut her off.”

“I noticed,” SB replied, squirming about in the seat to look behind us. “She’s like, right there.”

“I know,” I said. “Hang on, I want to get a little distance here. I don’t want to be driving along with her glaring at me like that.”

I put the pedal down and picked up speed. I started weaving through traffic a little, knowing that I would still look like a jerk to the sweet-looking woman, but a far-away jerk. I moved up quite a ways in the flow of cars around us, and I had started to slow a bit to just merge with that flow again now that I had left the angry granny behind, when I caught sight of my rear-view mirror again. There, surging through the gap between two cars I had just passed through myself was Angry Granny’s car. She was right on my bumper and all I could see of the woman was white knuckles and angry eyes as they gripped the wheel and glared at me through horn-rimmed spectacles, respectively.

“Uh-oh,” I said.

SB cranked around in the seat again. “She’s still there?”
“Apparently. I think I made her pretty mad.”


I glanced sideways at her, then sighed and put my foot down hard on the gas once more. The Jeep leapt through the surrounding cars and trucks once more as I juked left and right, dodging through the traffic. I watched my spedometer climb swiftly past seventy-five, past eighty, and start creeping toward eighty-five. The whole time there was a neat, clean, well-maintained Mercedes on my tail, matching me move for move. I imagined I could feel the malevolent stare of the little old granny boring into the back of my neck, and I started to feel more than a little foolish.

“She’s still back there,” SB reported.

“Yup,” I replied, my response short due to concentration on my driving, and, I must admit, not a little embarrassment. The spedometer had climbed past eighty-five and was nearing ninety as we broke free of the long pack of cars that was all motoring along at roughly the same speed. With nothing to weave around, I settled in the left lane and simply maintained speed. I watched in the rear-view mirror as the Mercedes made its way out into the clear road, swung into the right lane and the old woman goosed the gas. The car whooshed up beside me and settled there, holding on my right. I looked over, across SB who was studiously looking straight ahead, avoiding any possibility of eye contact with the speeding septuagenarian riding in the lane next to her.

“Terrific,” I said.

SB looked at me, and I jerked my chin toward her window, encouraging her to take a peek. She turned and looked.

And saw the sweetest, most grandmotherly-looking woman you ever saw, energetically giving us the finger from four feet away, at ninety miles per hour. The fingers was up, almost touching the glass as she thrust her hand forward. She saw us looking and began to pump her hand and arm vigorously up and down, jabbing the stiff finger viciously into the air again and again as she carefully mouthed a phrase, over-enunciating each word so there would be no mistaking her message.

@#$% YOU!! … @#$% YOU!! … @#$% YOU!!

It was too much for SB, and she burst out laughing. Granny Finger, seeing her reaction, apparently decided that enough was enough and dropped back to a more normal speed as we sped on down the road, finally putting some distance between us and my new Biggest Fan. SB laughed hard for a while, but eventually her guffaws slowed enough to get out a few words.

“Oh… my…God!”

I looked over at her, her face flushed, eyes filled with the tears of humor, and said the only thing I could think of.

“Welcome to Boston!”

She burst out laughing again.

Talk to you later!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Hoops and Humility

To Whom It May Concern:

My apologies for the lack of a blog post of any sort last week. I have been going through a bit of a personal crisis since the beginning of the month, and it's been taking all my focus, making impossible to write. If I hadn't had the Terror's obituary and tribute story already done when the crisis arose those wouldn't have seen the light of day either.

This week I have a short little story, and it's late as well, but this is my first effort at getting my head back in the writing game - even a little.

Thank you for your patience.

Okay, here's the story...

Last week, Handsome and I were playing a little basketball. We'd been playing a little while when it happened.

Handsome checked the ball back to me and it was in play. Handsome was right on me, guarding me with the ferocity of a violent mugging - in other words, he was fouling me egregiously. I got him to stop the fouling, then started dribbling the ball. I tried a few fancy tricks - dribbling behind my back, between my legs, throwing down some flash moves to dazzle the boy before I made my drive toward the basket. I sent the ball between my legs one more time, then made a break for it. I took three steps before I realized I no longer had the ball.

Handsome cleared the ball and drove toward the hoop himself. He took a shot that tinged off the rim and I snagged the rebound. I dribbled out past the foul line to clear the ball, then headed back in toward the basket. I skipped all the fun stuff and just made a straight drive, dribbling up the line, trying to speed past the boy and get to the rim. I was more than half-way there when a hand flashed out, slapping the ball from beneath my palm to bounce out of bounds.

Since he had knocked it out of bounds, I went to the foul line and Handsome checked the ball back to me and into play. I skipped the fancy ball moves, put my back to him and tried to muscle my way past him. He did a little "creative defending" - pretty much wrapping his arms about me and trying to wrestle me down. I threw him off, gave him a second to get his balance, then made a quick left-right body fake, trying to catch him off-step to get around him and to the basket. The ball hit the court in a quick rhythm as I stepped toward the hoop... but once again, I wasn't the one doing the bouncing. Handsome was calmly moving toward the foul line to clear the ball (though I hadn't made a shot, so he didn't need to clear the ball), dribbling a little stiffly but with growing confidence.

I stood there watching him, and I started to laugh.

Humility is knowing a nine-year-old boy can just take the ball from you whenever he wants - and there's nothing you can do about it.

Talk to you later!