<love, death & the friendly skies>
9 August 2000, 9 AM EST: No suitcase, no laptop, no power tie. To look at me, you'd think I'm headed no farther than the corner coffee shop. But a cab takes me to Laguardia, and United is soon whisking me to Washington, D.C., where I'll be filling in on a semi-impromptu panel at a web conference. Web DC bills itself as "five days of intense instruction and collaborative learning." I will be there for three hours.
The flight is nearly empty, so the aged Italian family in the row behind me spreads out wide. Grandma takes a window seat on the right, Grandpa a window on the left. They are both somewhat deaf, and the distance between them doesn't help. They shout to each other throughout the flight.
At Dulles Airport, cabstands are hard to find. I approach an official-looking man, ask for directions to the taxi stand.
The driver smokes, I smoke.
D.C. rolls by. I've forgotten how striking the town can be, with its Federal architecture and deep green parks. Just before 2:00, Getu lets me off in front of the new Ronald Reagan Building, promising to pick me up at 5:45.
The Ronald Reagan Building is astoundingly vast and typically Washingtonian. America's capital city never settles for the glory that was Greece, when the grandeur that was Rome can be had for twice the price.
On the concourse level I spot Steve and Brian. They have badges. I don't. It takes a few minutes to rectify the situation. Actually, it takes talking to four Web DC officials to rectify the situation. No big deal at all - but in a movie this minor mixup would foreshadow a full-blown fiasco soon to come. In life, it does too. But I don't know that yet. I'm not typing this, I'm living it.
Brian and Steve are schmoozing with Emma, fourth member of our quartet, when I emerge with my badge. Emma looks just like her picture. So does Brian. We've run a web community and magazine together for nearly three years, but it's the first time Brian and I have met face to face. I fail to make the most of it because I am instantly smitten with Emma.
The conference space is so enormous, it takes a series of architectural diagrams to show all the rooms. I spew about some point or other while Brian does the work of finding out where we are supposed to show up. (This is typical of the way we run A List Apart: I spout off, Brian makes the thing work.)
The panel goes well. Steve is a smooth leader, Emma and Brian are sharp and precise, the audience asks smart questions. A friend in the crowd smiles encouragingly throughout.
It's over, we're out on the plaza. Drue introduces her friend, Drue takes a picture of the four panelists. I feel enclosed in a circle of friendship. My car arrives and I am torn away.
E Street, the Kennedy Center. Sights from my old life resurrect a lost love. At first it was passion, followed by separations and jealousy. Then suddenly we were inseparable, one blissful bubble, not two people. Happy years. Then came tragedy, fear of intimacy, and a gradual drifting into paired celibacy. I drank to hide from what we'd lost. It ended after we moved to New York together. For some blurry time, I haunted the street she had moved to, never bothering her, just gazing at her lighted window like a dead man. Her window seemed to hold the only light in the world.
We are driving through a sudden storm.
If you're ever at Dulles Airport, avoid the "T" terminal. Planes so small, nobody notices when they crash. Carpeting unchanged since the 70s. A men's room that would shame the New York Subway System. Dispirited employees in dingy uniforms. A long line for stale pretzels - our only dinner option.
Three mini-plane flights in a row are cancelled because it is raining. Hours crawl. Frustrated businessmen order beers, their cell phone rants growing louder and louder. As the moon rises, I am allowed to board a tiny plane to New Jersey. It's one state away from my actual destination, but it's my only shot at getting home tonight.
The air conditioning doesn't work. The two men next to me chatter in Arabic, voices raised against the roar of the propellors.
Hours late, I show up where I started. Joan is waiting. "The weary traveller," she says. I shower away dirt and memories. Joan cooks soup for me. The soup is warm and good. I am lucky. I am lucky. I am lucky.
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