You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere
Visions of luaus, ukuleles, and Elvis will forever dance in my head
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.