46. I’m Just Happy To Be Here
“Hi, this is Florida Georgia Line. Welcome to Nashville International Airport.”
The sun’s gone down in Nashville on the last night of September. The airport, still filled with people at nearly six in the evening, seems like a living room compared to the sprawling grounds of Washington Dulles I’d just come through on my way back from Geneva. Sharon’s here to pick me up, waiting under the carport in her sleek black four door sedan, the trance music of a seasoned luxury car driver welcoming in its weary traveler. She’ll be offering me a guest bed for sleeping, half the space in her refrigerator for my groceries, and an old english sheepdog to cuddle with if I choose to do so. FM has just two shows this month: one, a house show in Cheyenne’s home studio; and the other, a large, exciting house show in Virginia for a very nice fan whose attendees’ socks we intend to knock off later this month.
There’s some road construction, a strange bustle in the air, and a brand new Shake Shack just minutes from Sharon’s front door; but in six weeks, not much has changed in Nashville.
After tearing up like a little baby following my overtly American wave and public “I love you!” to C, obscured by the tidal wave of Swiss people coming through security, I get a hold of myself and find the business class lounge in Geneva International, grabbing an assortment of breads and jams and finding a spot under the warm morning sun in a cubist gray leather armchair. I send a picture of my breakfast to C in Lausanne, who counters with a picture of his own breakfast of toast and jam made in our brand new, ruby red toaster. These are the love notes of the modern age.
I enjoy my long breakfast so much that C has to remind me of my looming boarding time. Before I know it, I’m sitting anxiously in a bus seat being taxied across the tarmac and towards a monstrous aircraft. A shadow creeps over the bus as the doors whoosh open, and the high pitched whine of the surrounding planes is deafening. I step down, looking ahead towards the covered staircase before me, like the entrance to a high class, ocean-front hotel.
I make it past the cabin door and am shown to my seat, an aisle cubicle blocked off from any other passengers. In fact, once I’m seated, I can’t see anyone but the throng of flight attendants milling through the aircraft, passing out menus and shutting luggage compartments. Having the smallest bladder ever, I stow my backpack away and head for the restroom. Inside the business class stall I find clean surfaces (I chalk that up to a freshly laundered plane), underlit with a futuristic blue hue and attractive multi-tonal vanity, complete with face wash, toner, moisturizer, and hand creams. I’m a fan.
Resisting the urge to send him pictures of the bathroom, I return to my seat and giddily texted C photos of the menu, my fancy solo seat (that he had chosen for me at check in), my unwrapped Saks Fifth Avenue bedroll and blanket, and lastly my feet underneath said blanket, stretched out completely as I lie prostrate on my comfy recliner. The attendants aren’t particularly amused, coming by to gently remind me that the seats need to be in their upright positions for takeoff. I apologize, pressing the ‘takeoff’ icon next to my space-age seat. After we get up in the air, however, I press ALL of the buttons.
I’m running through Washington Dulles airport towards terminal D, determined to be at my gate well before the boarding process begins for my Nashville flight, so that I’m positive no funny business will be taking place without my being present for it. The cross-Atlantic flight went so well, I refuse to let this last leg be firewalled by flight delays.
As I move briskly down the walkways following the vague forward arrows pointing me in the direction of D, I realize that for the first time in 6 weeks, I understand the voices that are speaking around me, and over the intercom above me. Not only do I understand them, but I can now respond to them. Excited, I press on, but now I’m listening.
“Bless you!” I say, jubilantly.
An elderly couple are just behind me, and I hear the man say to his wife:
“Jeez, ya think this arrow pointing forward is really leading to D? Seems like it just keeps goin...”
“I’m going there too,” I turn back to say, “but I know, right? They could’ve added some moving walkways or something!”
I’m pleased at being able to talk to strangers again.
The attendant hands me a warm cloth that smells faintly herbaceous, and I cleanse my hands, feeling refreshed now an hour into the flight. She comes back to collect the towel, and lays a blue tablecloth over my tray which has now unfolded to twice its size and slides closer towards me. I get so excited about the littlest things that seem like magic tricks in plain sight: how a piece of bread can be enhanced to have half your daily dose of protein; and how an airline seat can fold down completely, have a mini closet, television and accompanying remote control, and have a tray stowed inconspicuously out of eye-line until needed, when it slides out of its hiding place and transforms into a working dining surface like an origami crane.
The drink cart is pushed towards me, and I spy an open, chilled bottle of champagne from Épernay that I can’t resist. She pours me a glass, in glass! (I’m just so excited and feeling fancy right now. People! I’m in the sky! With champagne!), and rests a warmed miniature bowl of salted almonds and cashews in front of me. I crunch away while flipping through the entertainment menu on my television, coming across the new documentary that I’ve been wanting to see about Mister Rogers, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, and let out little involuntary coos of happiness as the film begins.
As the neighborhood of make believe changes from black and white to color, my empty bowl of nuts is removed, my champagne is refreshed, and laid before me is a first course of sliced buffalo mozzarella and tomato with an aged balsamic glaze and a single basil leaf. Beside that, a salad of butter lettuce, Kalamata olives, feta cheese, and dressing. Lastly, a breadbasket is offered, and I pick a mini baguette and a piece of warm garlic bread. Yeah—I’m going for it.
I’m waiting in the baggage claim at Dulles airport, having just arrived from Geneva minutes before. I can’t seem to commit to memory the rigamarole you go through when entering the US, even though it’s now my third time doing so. It turns out that no matter who you are, citizen or not, you must go through a checkpoint to answer for why you left our fair nation in the first place. I say the first thing that comes to mind: “I went to visit friends.”
Technically, they were my soon-to-be family and my actual fiancé, and I was moving there; but I figure my ambiguity keeps close enough to the truth. I find it so odd to be forced to tell an official why I’ve traveled from one place to another. No wonder people never want to go anywhere.
After answering for my crimes, I’m funneled into a second room where I’m instructed to collect my bag, and hand it off to another person with another conveyor belt on literally the other side of the room. Now they’re just toying with me, I think.
The third and final room is the redundancy of passing through security one final time, even though the only places we’ve all been since arriving are the inside of the plane, and these previous two white-walled panic rooms we’ve been fed through like cattle. I obediently unpack my computer bag, take off my belt, and slip off my shoes in order to pass through the final barrier, like a hidden camera game show seeing how far someone can be pushed in order to have the luxury of making their connection on time.
Two hours in, I’m flipping through the vast electronic rolodex of films to find something else that catches my eye. I open the ‘Classics’ tab and see Contact, one I’d always had the desire but never the time to see. Jodie Foster’s face in the 90’s flashes up on the screen as my main dish arrives on the cart.
I’ve chosen the poached hake fish fillet, accompanied with a Chardonnay cream sauce, green beans and roasted red peppers, and spiced quinoa. She asks me what I would like to drink, and I can’t resist ordering the Chablis, a French wine (made from the grape chardonnay) to go with my cream sauce.
I munch and sip, so blissed out on the service, the food, and my warm toes, propped up like in a La-Z-Boy seven miles high in the sky, wearing the blue striped socks I was provided at the beginning of the flight.
The final dessert course I choose is the international cheese plate and accompanying port wine (believe it or not, I’m still sober…really), which arrives just as Jodie finds herself some aliens. I cut into the aged Swiss and sigh a little, thinking of C back in Lausanne, wishing he were here with me somehow. He is the reason I’m getting my first business class experience, a round trip relocation ticket that now brings me back to the states for a little work left to do. I say a silent thank you to him as I taste the plummy port, warm and luscious on my tongue like luxardo cherries in syrup, before the nice woman comes to take my dishes and I lazily drift off to sleep.
I wake from a long sky nap with just enough time to complete Contact and squeeze in one final film before landing. Strapped for choices, I decide to open up the ‘action’ tab—not my first go-to—where I find The Martian, letting out an audible yeah! to myself and whoever is on the other side of the partition. I had once listened to the audiobook of The Martian with C on a road trip to see my family for Christmas the first year we were together. Somehow, I’d avoided seeing the movie until this perfect moment.
After 8 hours, we receive our “arrival meal”. I choose the grilled chicken with tomato-basil sauce, large bubble-like Israeli couscous with vegetables, and green beans. A salad is served on the side, and to pair I ask for their final white wine on menu, a German Riesling, which I sip on but don’t quite finish. Despite its honeyed pear notes and refreshing acidity, I believe I’ve reached my wine ceiling for this trip. The final touch is a little black box with a metallic foil interior, containing two chocolate truffles: one filled with caramel and shaped like a star, and the other filled with raspberry cream and shaped like a heart.
I feel happy, really happy.
I step off the big plane, my jelly legs still getting their bearings, slowly registering home soil. We are led into a terminal on foot directly off of the tarmac, which turns out to be a long, winding corridor through Dulles, seemingly on the outer crust of the airport itself. As we walk on, we are able to look through the windows at various scenes of airport goings-on: a myriad of shops and stands selling knickknacks at exorbitant prices, waiting passengers in fluctuating stages of boarding—some angry, some defeated, some relieved to be back; and a cozy first class lounge, with brown leather armchairs and a dark wood interior, filled with men in suits reading newspapers propped up on crossed knees, their bouncing, expensive and shiny shoes conducting a silent orchestra performing only for them.
All the signs are written in English, and as each moment passes, I wonder, like Jodie Foster, if what I’ve just experienced over six weeks…what now feels like six hours...could have simply been a dream.