You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere

Vi­sions of lu­aus, ukule­les, and Elvis will for­ever dance in my head

Southern Living (USA) - - Southern Journal - by RICK BRAGG IL­LUS­TRA­TION BY JOHN CU­NEO Â

IHAVE SOME­TIMES been lucky in life, danc­ing be­tween rain­drops, fall­ing into the sep­tic tank only to come out smelling like, if not roses, at least not a sep­tic tank. You can’t count on luck, but in my ex­pe­ri­ence, like the prover­bial blind hog, I al­ways seemed to stum­ble on a fat acorn now and then. I do not ex­pect it to be that way for­ever; I sus­pect I have about used mine up.

But sel­dom, I thought as I waited in line at the Birm­ing­ham air­port, had I blun­dered into luck like this. I had re­ceived a call from nice peo­ple ask­ing if I would do a brief talk in Hawaii, for ac­tual money, with free first-class air­fare. In Jan­uary. Now, Jan­uary in the Deep South is not like what they have in Wis­con­sin, but that par­tic­u­lar win­ter we had a rare cold spell. The weath­er­man warned us to bring in the dogs and wrap the pipes. “Bring it on,” I smirked. As the South­land froze, I’d be go­ing tubu­lar on an emer­ald-col­ored wave in the Pa­cific, wav­ing at the wahines as I glided onto the sand, where some­one, I’m cer­tain, would hang flow­ers around my neck and hand me a co­conut filled with a fruity rum drink.

“Aloha,” they would say.

“Aloha, your own self,” I’d re­ply. Like most peo­ple in my zip code, I learned most of what I know about the is­lands from watch­ing Elvis in Blue Hawaii at the Mid­way Drive-In. I do not ac­tu­ally surf, have never seen a wahine or even learned ex­actly what that means, and don’t drink much. But who knew what I would do when I got there? It was a mag­i­cal land, far away. I could be a surfer, or a sot. I could be Elvis. We are kin to him, on my grandma’s side.

I stood there in the se­cu­rity line, dream­ing about lu­aus and siz­zling roasted pork and vol­canos spew­ing red into the trop­i­cal sky. I think I heard, faintly, a ukulele play.

I rushed to the gate.

“The flight’s can­celed,” the gate agent said.

“I shall re­book,” I said.

She told me the con­nec­tions did not look good. You do not ac­tu­ally fly out of Birm­ing­ham. You just drive there so some­one can tell you why you can’t. Still, I did not fret. I had a safety day built in. I’d go to­mor­row. I spent the night not in Hawaii but in the sub­urb of Home­wood. I had a plas­tic cup of Frosted Flakes and went to bed, to dream, I hoped, of Waikiki, Waimea, and poi, which I think is like un­der­cooked cob­bler.

I was up at dawn and made it to the air­port two hours early, only to hear the gate agents tell me I could not go to Hawaii this day, ei­ther, un­less I strapped my­self to the un­der­side of a frigate bird for the Los An­ge­les-toHawaii leg. Or they could bend me dou­ble and put me in a crate with hogs. They did not ac­tu­ally say this, but that was the gist. “Toilet’s froze,” I heard some­one say, when an­gry trav­el­ers de­manded an ex­pla­na­tion for why the plane could not fly.

I spent the rest of my Hawai­ian va­ca­tion in the air­port Chick-fil-A, till all hope was truly lost.

It is what I think of, ev­ery time, when I think of Hawaii—ukule­les and waf­fle fries.

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