Postcards from the road
Most of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport— the world’s busiest by passenger traffic, and it occasionally overtakes Chicago’s O’Hare in terms of take-offs and landings—is OK for an airport.
It has places where you can overpay for sunglasses or electronic gear and hats advertising your favorite sports team. It has three T.G.I. Fridays with 25-minute waits. If it still has the stand where we once made an ill-considered sushi purchase, we didn’t see it. (Call it addition by subtraction.)
If you have time, and you usually do—this is an airport, a purgatorial way station filled with churning strangers on their way to somewhere else—and you want to escape the consumerist blare and black rolling bags of death wielded by purposeful striders distracted by the rectangles of light in their palms, you can go underground where travelers catch trains to take them from concourse to concourse. Down there you can walk if you want.
The official name for the underground space is the “transportation mall” and since we’d last been through, an installation called Flight Paths by Chicago-area artist Steven Waldeck has opened in the 450-foot-long underground tunnel between concourse B and A. It conveys the sense of walking through a forest with a simulated tree canopy overhead, the sounds of birds and dappled lighting. At one point a digital sky breaks through via an overhead screen. It’s quite soothing.
But then you ride the escalator, surfacing into the panic of Concourse A. With a few chickens and feral cats and maybe the not-far-away sound of automatic weapon fire, it would make a fine mise-en-scene for a first-person shooter game as the faces of innocents (or are they?) hurtle toward you, and the surprisingly dim lights flicker from a ceiling largely stripped of ceiling tiles. Bad things happen in the low A gates where they oversell their flights, Senor.
Yet nothing bad happens this time, and the flight to Savannah is only 38 minutes, a hop that’s not worth dragging out the beverage cart, not worth paying the extra tariff Delta asks for an inch more legroom. You might believe you can put up with anything for 38 minutes and indeed you can.
The Georgia sun is hot and the Georgia air is wet, just as I remember. Maybe that doesn’t matter to the Salt Life beachy crowd (the Savannah airport has a flip-flops store) but we are here on a mission.
My mother is turning 80 years old. My older younger sister has planned a surprise party. We couldn’t miss it. But ….
She scheduled it for 3 p.m. on a Saturday. At a country club some 40 miles west of my mother’s house, near a little town called Pembroke. The significance of the site eludes me. Pembroke isn’t even the closest incorporated community to where Mom grew up; she has told me she used to ride a mule into Ellabell to get their mail. But, as I am sure I will be reminded, I didn’t plan the party. I have only been invited to attend.
We procure the rental car—a reasonably alert Chevy Cruze (always ask for the subbiest compact available; inevitably you’ll get a free upgrade). It’s about 1 p.m. I estimate it’s a 30-minute drive to the country club so that leaves us with 90 minutes to kill. Not enough time to drive into downtown Savannah and check into our hotel. Too long to chill in a Starbucks. So we stomp around the outlet mall just outside the airport (and across the parkway from my mother’s house). We don’t run into her, as I feared we might.
Of the 70 or so folks at the party, I know maybe a dozen. My older younger sister (and her family), my younger younger sister (and her family), my aunts, a couple of Mom’s friends from Louisiana. People recognize me and introduce themselves. Someone asks me if I still cook. (No.) Someone asks me if I was as good a ballplayer as my father. (No.)
Smokers gather on the patio, watching golfer after golfer miss what I presume is either the ninth or 18th green. It’s a typical Georgia golf course, flat, tree-lined and sandy.
Mom is surprised. Really surprised. Shocked that Karen and I are there. Some of that has to do with my tradecraft; I’d called her the evening before, told her she’d probably get her birthday present a little late this year because we’d been so busy.
Someone has engaged a professional photographer who is extraordinarily patient. She takes every photo requested while watching for opportunities for candids. I hope someone posts the photos online.
There is moscato, white zinfandel and chardonnay in a bucket of ice. Somewhere is an ice chest full of light beer. There’s punch and Sprite and Diet Coke. There are grapes and watermelon and chips and meatballs.
It’s a “cruise theme.” Jessica—one of the daughters of my mother’s late second husband—has decorated the tables with anchor centerpieces and sea shells. She got the idea off Pinterest. It’s quite nice.
I overhear things:
“X drinks too much but he doesn’t bother Y [his wife] or me [his mother-in-law] so I guess that’s all right. But he’s tearing up his liver. He thinks because he exercises it doesn’t matter but it does.”
“She was so into the Lorcet she didn’t know what day it was … I told her she needed to go get money orders to pay the gas and the lights and me [her landlord].”
“If she didn’t have those grandkids and their cheerleading, I don’t think she’d have any reason to get up in the morning.”
“He’s so good to her—and she deserves it after her husband went crazy like that.”
A couple of hours and people are drifting out; we’re staying in the historic area of Savannah, in what is allegedly the city’s most haunted property. Mom has guests in her house and a big night planned— Big Brother and board games. We’ll see her tomorrow.