Airplanes & Midnight Trains
My first airplane flight happened due to an emergency. I was hitchhiking for what was supposed to be a short visit home to Detroit from Key West and a drunk guy picked up me and my friend. We didn’t know he was drunk. We were 19, it was raining, we were cold and tired and she’d made me leave most of our money with our roommate for rent, so we were also almost broke. Guy slammed into a slope on the freeway, crashed and rolled the truck, at night. We flew and tumbled maybe three times, over the side of the incline. There were no seat belts in those days so I landed outside the broken window, somewhere on that hill. So did my friend. The guy driving was not so lucky. While we were without a scratch and merely scared shitless, he was pinned under the truck. Alive but moaning in pain.
People stopped. Lots of people. Someone had a chain. They hooked it to their car and got our drunk driver out from under before the ambulance arrived. We were taken to a hospital, but as we were clearly unhurt, let go into the Miami night. Except we had no money for a hotel, we were shattered, and as we sat in a cafe eating eggs, I said “I’ll call my mom.”
We seemed out of other options, and Mom arranged everything: got my Florida aunt to pick us up and drive us to the airport (I never willingly hitchhiked again) where Mom had tickets waiting for us on a red eye out of Miami. I’m going back to Miami next week and I expect it will have changed as much as Key West when I revisited it a few years back. But in 1974, my airplane seat was roomy and there were maybe a dozen other passengers. It was dark on that night flight, the lights low, a row of tiny pinpoints to guide me down the aisle, in case I needed to use the bathroom. The stewardess was very kind. She gave me my first ever packet of smoked almonds. They were exotically delicious. She gave me a Coke and headphones.
I listened to “Midnight Train to Georgia” and the lush voice of Gladys Knight evoked a sort of guideline I never realized I would blindly follow for too many years. Gladys sang “I’d rather live in his world, than live without him in mine.” The sentiment filled my soul. Made me feel safe, like that midnight plane and that kind stewardess. I don’t believe in it anymore, but for a long time, that’s the way I lived my life. I lived in HIS world, whoever HE happened to be.
I didn’t get very far from home living in HIS world until my babies grew up and moved far away. Then I started traveling more often on midnight planes. They’ve changed too, since that first flight in 1974, but then that’s not really news. Absolutely everything changes, including my mind. It took a few exotic vacations with my third husband before my old wanderlust reasserted itself. He took me to Hawaii, Europe, even a second trip to Key West. We went where he wanted to go. Until I started to not be afraid of hills or drunk drivers or car crashes or venturing too far from home. All alone, I travelled to New York, to Dallas, to Los Angeles, to Seattle.
I enjoy solo travel, almost prefer it. But if Al wants to come along, and he has wanted to meet both grandchildren when they were new, so that’s two trips out west with me (one slated for this May) and there were more, before the lure of grandchildren. We like road trips too, so a few times we flew into L.A. drove up the PCH and flew home from Seattle. Not sure I would have made so many trips out west had my sons not been out there. I miss them, but I’m also happy for them. Hadn’t I tried to escape Detroit myself once for a sweeter climate?
Recently I asked myself the question: what will I regret on my deathbed? I won’t regret all those travels to see my father in Florida, or my kids in their various locations away from here through the years. I won’t regret that they got out and I stayed. (I don’t plan to stay forever. Winter feels more brutal every year.) What I will regret is not seeing Delos, a tiny uninhabited untoursity Greek island. I want to go many places but next year, I am packing my bags for Greece.
My husband may or may not come with me. When I first brought it up he was all for it. We were at a delicate time in our relationship and I think he would have agreed to anything. Just like he was all for the two week road trip we’re taking next week to Miami and then the Gulf coast. Whether he came with me or not didn’t enter into my plans when made them last summer. I said “I’m going. You want to come?” And he said yes. But the other day he was making noises about Greece that sounded like he might back out of that trip. He tried to entice me with Seattle on the way to Alaska. But I just got back from Seattle a week ago. We’re going to California in May. And the grandkids are visiting us here this summer.
Greece, that’s my choice. It’s all for me. Must be that the fate of the wanderer is to follow where her heart leads. I’m not sure why I signed up for that conference in Miami next week and I don’t know why I need to go to Delos. I just know my heart is leading me to a tiny uninhabited island where atop a mountain sits an ancient ruin to the the moon goddess Cynthia. Maybe there I will be able to put that long ago hillside crash out of my head, the one that led me to always follow a man’s plans, to too often live in his world instead of one I made for myself.