episodes & recollections
Midway between windy, rainy New York and windy, rainy Boston, there’s this moment where the plane begins pitching and bucking. My brain knows turbulence is expected in such weather. My brain reckons the pilot learned his trade flying combat missions in the Gulf, or Viet Nam, or Korea, and is not about to be overcome by a little normal turbulence. My body, however, knows I am a helpless little animal in a tin can shuddering toward fiery death. It is only a moment. A mortality check.
Later there is another moment. The wheels are about to touch down. I can see figures in the windows of the terminal. Then suddenly we’re lifting up again, back into the stormy clouds. My reaction this time is mental, not animal.
“Something’s not right,” I say.
“Uh huh,” says Carrie.
We are both imagining what may have almost happened on the ground. I’m picturing the captain, some rangy Texan, calmly radioing Air Traffic Control:
“Control, this is Delta 1832 out of LaGuardia. We just almost smacked into the ass of a slow 747. What the hell you boys doing down there?”
Eventually the captain tells us we’re doing a “go-around” because of a slow-moving plane in front of us. We figure that’s the PG-13 version. We figure had he been in Dallas in ’63, he would have told us Oswald acted alone.
Our hotel is one of those glass high-rises, but the architect wisely recessed the tower to avoid overwhelming the low-rise lines of historic Boston. Our room is clean. The soap is cut by hand. The bed is as big as ours at home, which is huge.
Hotels in this part of the city are linked to a mall via climate-controlled walkways, like the moon colony in 2001. Malls are okay if you’re fourteen and trapped in the suburbs. We venture out into the cold, wet wind.
There’s the Library, a grand stone edifice bearing inscriptions from another age, when people used words of more than two syllables. There’s an old church set back in a park. Here’s Newbury Street: upscale shops in historic townhouses.
Here I am in Brooks Brothers, buying a hat and sweater. I have never so much as looked at a Brooks Brothers window before. In the 70s my idea of shopping was Veteran’s Thrift. In the 80s it was buy black at Canal Jeans. Come to think of it, in the 90s it was buy black at Canal Jeans. In the late 90s I discovered Banana Republic and found that my wardrobe could endure an occasional dark grey or even umber or olive without triggering Apocalypse. Brooks Brothers has the same stuff as Banana Republic, only perhaps a bit better made. Their cologne smells like Old Spice. I don’t buy the cologne. I buy the hat. I buy the sweater.
Our hotel offers free in-room high-speed access. They even supply the Ethernet cable.
The four-day conference is packed with informative, well-led sessions. It’s packed with attendees, mostly from the public sector. When the room splits into two tracks, it’s hell to pick what you want to see. I want to see it all.
At night we eat Thai, Italian, or French. We dine with wonderful people. We’re unable to dine with other wonderful people. There are too many wonderful people here. We generally get back late. We light candles and toss our clothes into corners.
One night, just to be different, when we return from dinner we watch TV. Jennifer Lopez plans weddings but she herself can’t find a husband. Now there’s a rich comic premise. Jennifer Lopez falls in love with this blonde doctor but he’s supposed to marry her client. The writers and director pull out all the stops, striving for poignant scenes and ultimate romance. They have San Francisco. They have Jennifer Lopez. They have ethnic character actors whose eyes mist at the correct moments. They have everything Hollywood can offer in a ready-made vehicle.
As we turn off the TV, Carrie says, “The way we fell in love was so much more romantic than all that.”
It was. It still is.