Post­cards from the road

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - VOICES - PHILIP MARTIN pmartin@arkansason­ www.blood­dirtan­

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.

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