I left town for one weekend and returned to a lawn as tall as my waist, every dish in the house dirty, a dead dryer, an attitudinal SuperTween and a heartbroken Sawyer because, “Mommies are supposed to be at home.” I’m not sure if I should travel more often or less often.
Maybe it’s not a jet as much as a tiny plane that is given the minimal maintenance required to remain in use. Still, for the first time since January, tonight I will sleep in a bed that isn’t mine.
I began my journey in the sleepy Knoxville airport with a silly body scan. If we had universal healthcare, airport security screenings could team up with lab techs to make the scans and gropings something more than security theater. As it is, the scan is quick enough that I can keep my belly roll sucked in for the cameras.
Since this is approximately my sixth plane trip, I am still a white knuckle flyer. Starbucks in airports should sell ‘adult’ coffees for nervous travelers. Flight attendants don’t act like moms, so there was no reminder to visit the restroom before I boarded the plane. I will not make that mistake again.
I like the snowy blanket of clouds over Knoxville, but I love the patchwork quilt of recognizable farms that reminds me I am only temporarily leaving my home. Contrasted to the clumps of clouds over DC, Knoxville is sleepy and calm. While we fuss about the little things in our city, we all know that underneath, we are good people who love our families and communities. DC is a breathtakingly beautiful city, but the fuss isn’t anything superficial. The work here is serious and today’s mood is conflicted. Neither celebratory nor somber, but conscious of the historical significance and consequence of human choices.
The PA in DCA keeps making an announcement about the USO lounge here. In my mind, there is a big band playing swing music and smartly dressed people in uniforms sitting calmly while their minds drift elsewhere. I like that fantasy and will steer far away from the USO lounge to avoid reality shattering the dream.
1. Everyone wears black. Do they have closets full of black clothing or are they wearing the same outfit repeatedly?
2. Hunter rain boots are everywhere.
3. I didn’t see a single picturesque clothesline connecting buildings. The movies lied to me.
4. We were treated with kindness by absolutely every person we met. In fact, people were eager to chat endlessly unless . . .
5. we were on a subway or elevator. Although the silence triggers Doug’s ‘get a conversation started’ reflex that makes him fun at parties, there is little talking on the metro and zero talking on elevators, even if . . .
6. the elevator reeks worse than a port-a-potty at Boomsday. Are street people denied access to public restrooms or does the power frequently go out and leave people trapped on elevators?
7. Nannies with strollers walk faster than Knoxville joggers run. They are like soldiers in a parade.
8. Times Square is as close to being inside Tron as anything I have ever seen. Don’t see it for the first time in the summer when the bugs are out, because it is jaw dropping.
9. Macy’s isn’t a store. It’s a mall. A mall that, during a snow storm, is worse than Black Friday. A mall with seriously annoyed and distracted employees except for the perfume girls. The perfume girls look and act like they are selling something more interesting than toilet water.
10. New York has absolutely amazing restaurants on every corner, but the people have supermodel legs. Great food and great bodies pretty much confirmed my idea that New York is magic.
Let’s be completely honest. We drive to get anywhere. Sure, the teens might walk for ice cream once in a blue moon and the children roam the cove heavily, but anytime we need to go somewhere or do something, there is a car involved. Once we parked the car in the airport garage, the rules changed.
The very first time the plane left the ground, the children were glued to the window with giant smiles on their faces while I clawed the arm rest. The noise that the landing gear makes when raised and lowered is one of the most unnerving things I have ever heard. If I accidentally let out a teeny-tiny, itty-bitty scream when the wheels ka-chunked in or out of the plane, Doug giggled like a preteen girl. The children were oblivious. After the initial takeoff, they acted like flying was something they do every day. They behaved exactly like they do in the car. They played and chatted. Doug went one step beyond chatting. He got to know every single person anywhere near him on the plane and they talked the entire flight. We are terrible at going through security without creating a scene, but we are great at riding on the airplane. Wait. My husband and children are great on planes. I’m entertainment for the other passengers.
This should be just like riding in a car. It isn’t. There are no built in 5-point harnesses for the smallest children. The children don’t understand why the driver doesn’t want to chat and Evan has the same social disorder as his father. They both imitate accents when they are near them. While Doug quickly realizes what he is doing and stops, Evan ups the ante by making up words. Friends tolerate this behavior. Based on the way the hair on his arms was standing up, our taxi driver was not amused. He ignored my questioning his route instead of pulling out his phone to prove me wrong like Doug would do. When he dumped us and our mountain of luggage two blocks from our destination in total darkness in DC’s Columbia Heights, I decided I don’t like taxis.
This seems like it should be the problem-free way to get from here to there. It isn’t. First of all, there is my complete lack of a sense of direction that results in people talking me there all the time. “I can see you. Walk to the end and turn left. No! Your other left!” Besides feeling perpetually lost, by the second day in DC, my feet hurt like they have never hurt before. While the children climbed retaining walls, balanced on curbs and picked up every single piece of trash in the gutter, I hobbled after them as if I was their great-grandmother. The appearance of a crosswalk seemed to be some secret trigger for the children to walk backwards or hop on one foot or twirl with their eyes closed. The crosswalk timer was apparently amused by these dangerous street games and it responded by randomly jumping from 50 to 20 or even 10. I was fairly confident that a cabhole ( © Lucy Jilka, 2010) was going to seriously injure my family for our inability to walk the tempo of the city.
I thought the airplane would be the highlight of travel for my children, but I was wrong. My children loooved the Metro (even though they called it the subway). They could have spent the entire day riding the Metro and grinning like Cheshire cats. The girl teen loved the Metro too. She loved that she could go anywhere she wanted to go without her goofy family in tow. If I had anything resembling a signal from AT&T on the metro, I could have sat there and people watched for hours. There were people on the Metro wearing shoes that cost a mortgage payment standing beside people wearing the only shoes they own. Poor Doug had an endless array of problems with the Metro. He got to know the Metro employee with the Samuel Jackson personality really well. “I’m going to write on this ticket, ‘let the man who threw away perfectly good Metro tickets change stations’.” My only problem with the Metro was that traveling underground with no sense of direction is completely disorienting. Evan would like it if they added bathrooms to the trains.
Me: The children need the bathroom. We don’t have time to argue with TSA.
Doug: I read about backscatter and I don’t want the children doing it. I sent Cathy that link but she never reads the links I send her. I should send it again. T never sent me that document I said I need. I need to double check the documentation on that project. I smell cookies. Did we eat dinner yet? OMG – I just figured out how to fix the problem with that piece of code. If I had a MacBook, I could fix it now. The Air sure is a sweet machine. Maybe the children should eat something before we get on the plane. Where did Cathy and the children go?
The Boy Scout incident -
Every time we walked in a Smithsonian building, we walked through the metal detectors. After the first time, we did not take it seriously. I didn’t finish my mini-wine at lunch in the museum cafeteria and stuck it in Doug’s pocket. Not the same pocket as the pocket knives though. We went to another museum and stomped through the metal detector while a group of 11-year-olds wearing their Boy Scout uniforms had each and every fanny pack and museum gift shop bag searched by security. Boy Scouts should team up with SeV so they can spend more time touring and less time with security.
The annoying parents incident –
The Metro ride from Columbia Heights to the airport was exactly the right length for the youngest members of our group to really need a potty break. Being unfamiliar with the DC airport, we made it all the way to security before locating a restroom. It was clearly visible on the OTHER side of the security area. A countdown clock began ticking in my head and I kicked my shoes off instead of unlacing them as I tried to race through security before we had a laundry emergency.
We stepped up to the TSA agent and Doug put on his brakes. “You’re not going to let the children go through the backscatter machine are you?” “I don’t care. We need to get done here.” “Well, I think it’s a bad idea for the children, but we can do it.” “Don’t care. Don’t care. We need to move forward.” This comedy routine continued for several minutes before the TSA agent finally spoke up. “Sir, we don’t use backscatter technology at this checkpoint.” As I shoved the children through the metal detector, the TSA agent who remained silent for too long, turned toward another TSA employee. “Man, I got arrested and they gave me a choice between prison and TSA. Some days I really think I made the wrong choice.”
The smart phone incident –
The last leg of our flight back to Knoxville was after the youngest children’s bedtime. We were in shark infested behavior water. When Evan is over-tired, he’s exactly like that drunk roommate you had in college. I knew he would nod off once the plane took off, so, of course, the plane took forever to get going. The man in front of us demanded a seat change just before boarding the plane. “I need extra leg room to work.” We stood in line with the world’s most over-tired child. We made it to the plane and a woman with dementia was requiring the assistance of a dozen employees to get her settled. We stood in the freezing cold gap between the tunnel and the door to the plane with the already mentioned sleepy child. The man who waited until he was boarding the plane to demand a seat change found someone else in his last minute seat and he had a mini-tantrum. “Someone’s in my seat. I need a stewardess.” Someone was in our seat and we needed seats grouped together, so we stood there waiting for him to move while he just sat there and stared at us. Finally, Doug convinced him to scoot over one seat. We sat down.
The stewardess asked that electronics be turned off until we were safely in the air. This was Evan’s cue to begin. “Can I have the iPad?” “Not yet.” “Can I have your phone?” “Not yet.” “Can I have your iPad?” Lather. Rinse. Repeat. “Doug, if he asks me that one more time I will scream.” “Can you wait until electronics are allowed so I can video you screaming?” I didn’t have time to give Doug the evil eye before the plane finally started moving. Seconds after that horrible noise which is the wheels ka-chunking back into the plane, Evan was asleep.
We landed and I scooped up Evan to carry off the plane. Unlike every single other time I have carried Evan while he did his imitation of jello, he was having some kind of dream that involved kicking legs, swinging arms and full torso twists. I wrestled with the sleeping child in the narrow airplane aisle for what felt like forever before the stewardess asked everyone to take their seats for a while longer. I don’t know how long we sat, but it was long enough for me to know what temper tantrum over a seat man does for a living as well as how awesome he thinks he is.
Eventually, we left the plane to a small crowd in the empty Knoxville airport buzzing about the reason for our delay. Apparently, one passenger insisted on listening to music on her smart phone the entire flight. Because she wouldn’t turn off her phone for takeoff or landing, she was arrested. Because she was persona non grata, nobody even noticed Evan’s sleeping attempts to kick other passengers in the head.
The annoyed TSA employee incident –
As I have mentioned several times, I don’t travel very often. Not because I don’t want to travel, but because the opportunities are infrequent. Being inexperienced, I try to follow directions carefully in an effort to reduce and prevent problems. Airports broadcast a looped “Don’t leave luggage unattended” warning that is followed by a “or it may be damaged by TSA” disclaimer that makes it sound like luggage without an owner gets the Mythbusters ‘blow it up’ treatment. So, I keep my hand on our bags and keep the children from getting near anyone else’s bags.
While going through security, the man in front of me stomped on through the metal detector with his bag not yet on the x-ray conveyor belt. The TSA employee snarled at me to scoot my stuff onto the conveyor. “That’s not my bag.” In my mind, touching someone’s unattended bag would cost me a trip to the TSA interrogation area and one of my personal goals in life is to avoid situations that involve groping by anyone other than my husband. The TSA employee didn’t see things that way. She started on a long, rambling mumble about “not her job” and “people making things difficult” that I was certain would end in some kind of passive aggressive punishment for me. Luckily, her aggravation with me wasn’t great enough to seek revenge. As much as I wanted to apologize and explain that I didn’t know I was allowed to touch someone else’s luggage, my self preservation instinct told me it was in my best interest to put distance between myself and the annoyed TSA employee.
The SeV incident –
The Smithsonian Museums have “enhanced security” signs everywhere, so I walked toward the metal detector and started to take off my coat and hand it to the guard. “Please keep your coat on and move through the detector.” “My coat pockets have batteries and…” “Thanks for sharing. Move along.” So, I stomped on through security wearing a coat that contained more stuff than I ever carry in my purse. Doug walked up to the detector wearing his SeV. In his pockets were pocket knives, a pair of tweezers, half-full juices and an assortment of items that would make MacGyver jump for glee. He tried to explain about some of the contents. “Holding up traffic. Move, move, move.”
The Metro incident -
Metro employees have a glass booth to protect themselves. Since all the money and credit card action takes place on the wall when you first enter the station, I’m not sure why the Metro employees need those booths. If you knock on the booth for anything at all, they don’t talk through the little opening, they leave their holding cell to solve the problem. Some people get walked to the map. Some people get walked to the ticket machine. Some people get lectured on using the turnstile. Some people, I’m not saying who, get Metro schooled on all of the above. Maybe the booth is just there so the employees have a place to store their coat. When the employees are out educating the Metro illiterate, they occasionally shout, “No drinks on the Metro.” So, the first time this happened, we gulped down our drinks before boarding the train. Once seated, we noticed that more than half the people on the train had a water bottle or Starbucks cup.
There’s a common rule that you can use humor when it’s your life, but not when it’s someone else’s life. For example, I am allowed to laugh at the absurd moments that Autism creates in our home. As my family member on the spectrum matures, I relax and appreciate the moments that would have caused me stress and anxiety years earlier. I can’t joke about life in a busy city, but the people who live in DC certainly can and do laugh about it. A DC resident created the following two games for visitors and I am just recording them as a memory nudge for the future me.
The first game is ‘Diplomat or Crazy Person?’ The rules are obvious. Guess the reason for odd behaviors. Car parked on the sidewalk? Probably a crazy person. Shouting on an elevator? Diplomat. I’m sure the game could be altered to work in TN. The second game is ‘Dress like a Street Person’. Like the first game, this sounds offensive, but is actually just claiming various pieces of clothing abandoned on the street until you have a complete outfit. On the way home from one lunch in DC, I claimed a sock, jeans and a flip-flop. If your streets don’t have mysterious clothing items scattered about, you can play this game at any lost and found in your city. For example, it’s the third day of the month and the elementary school’s lost and found already has shoes, shirts, coats and a pair of pants.
Because of the timing of our visit, I made my own game. It can be played anywhere. It’s called, ‘Costume or Clothing?’ It’s more difficult when Halloween falls on a weekend and people dress up for several days. Is he a hipster or is that a costume? Is she wearing her work clothes or is she just dressed up like a professional escort? One can only guess.