Last weekend I went to Detroit, at the gracious behest of friends. They paid my way and conspired to make my brief homecoming a delightful one. Simon was turning 30, and his and Shan’s newest little one was three-weeks old. Spoogy and Henny’s little girl had just had her first birthday. It was nice to be amongst all my peeps.
A couple things developed out of that trip for me, though. One is that I marked it as the end of an era. The last time I went back, which was about a year ago, I was torn. It was so good to be around the friends whom I consider family: Ken, Nappy, Bill, Lockhart, Dan the Man, Lenny, and others. In a way, these are the people who I grew up with, the people with whom I cut my teeth on the way to adulthood. I went back last year and returned to SF thinking that maybe I should figure out some way to split up my time, a sort of bi-coastal living experience. Many of them have families now, and I didn’t want to be left out. Eventually the draw wore off, and I sort of resigned myself to my life in California.
This time I had a much different experience. While I was just as happy to be with some of the people who mean the most to me, I almost felt like I could hear the sound of the door slamming authoritatively shut, could feel the breeze it created as it narrowly missed freeing me of my nose. Thomas Wolfe’s “you can’t go home again” quip finally struck home. I knew, deep down, that I don’t belong in there anymore. More importantly, I knew something I haven’t known in a long time, which is that I do belong here. At least for now. San Franciso is my home now. I’ve made it my home, I’ve made my life here, for better or worse, and mostly for the better I think.
I reached this knowledge almost immediately, while Suzy and Jill were driving me to their house from the airport. Poor Jill was screaming her head off; she didn’t recognize me from a year ago, when she was a month old. Suzy apologized, but it wasn’t that. Certainly I could understand Jilly’s position in the back car seat. No, Jill’s cries felt like my own birth and renewal, allowing me to see the flatness of the terrain and the washed out colors. Caveat here: I have no desire to offend any of my fellow Detroiters, least of all my friends. I am not dissing Detroit, which will always occupy the deepest place in my heart. It’s just that I’d never fixated on the geography of the place in the way that I did last weekend.
I saw a unique parallel: Except for the existence of my friends, who are, and continue to be, my effervescence,when I was in Detroit, my life was flat. By the same tack, the Bay Area hills, represent the ups and downs I’ve endured since I moved out here. But at least I know I’m alive, and when I forget, I have made good friends here who are riding it out with me.
I’m not saying that one landscape is universally better than the other. Detroit is a special place, and I don’t mean only special ed. But I could only have the life I live here. I don’t know what life I’d be leading in Detroit, but it wouldn’t suit me. The trip put things in perspective for me, something I lost this past year after losing my mom. I still have a lot to figure out, but it’s nice to know that that piece of it has become a nonquestion: San Francisco is my home now. For the real.
* * *
On the first leg, I was scheduled for an 11pm red-eye to Chicago. The flight board showed an “on-time” status, and sure enough, the three hundreds of us on a full 777, boarded when expected. After boarding is when they decided to check on some engine trouble. It was after 1am, when they finally let us out of the plane to board a different jet. Since at least half of the travelers, myself among them, would miss connecting flights, there was a whole ‘nother hullabaloo before we were freshly ensconced and ready for take-off—at 2am. They did pass out flight vouchers along with the 4 oz. bags of pretzels, but that hardly atoned for keeping us on the plane for so long.
With the original itinerary I would have gotten into Detroit City at 9am; instead I didn’t get there until just after 1 in the afternoon. Since my trip was so short to begin with, when we got to Chicago I had to bully my way into having them change my return flight, from leaving at 9am to leaving at 3:30pm. They wanted to charge me $99. I touched my foot down, gently but terra firmly. The result was a trip that was as long as was originally intended.
In fact, it worked out quite nicely, and I’d have no further complaints if it wasn’t for the fact that my seat tray was completely filthy, on the first plane, Detroit to Chicago. A passenger must have spilled what looked like coffee with lots and lots of sugar in it, which had semi-dried into a sticky, disgusting mess. Full flight. I was stuck with it, no pun intended. In reality, it hardly mattered since all we got was a 4oz. bag of pretzels, but I’d kinda wanted to write a little bit. Little did I know it was just foreshadowing.
On the second plane, I was utterly dismayed to discover that my assigned seat had some kind of poo poo like substance clotted atop it, and even better, it was another full flight. I knew that complaining would yield very little so I placed my blanket on top of it and parked my ass—only to find that the pillow I’d been given had clearly been drooled on and possibly used to brush someone’s hair. It was disgusting. I didn’t have the guts to use the restroom on the plane or to buy an on-board “snack meal” for myself, since you don’t get fed on domestic flights anymore, even when you’re flying almost clear across the country. And I sure as shit wasn’t gonna put on some skanky headphones, especially after having had the opportunity to play with Henny’s med school tools. (He showed me how to use the otoscope, or “ear-scope” to peer into Suzy’s head; it was like falling down the rabbit hole, I’m tellin’ ya).
And then there’s the news today about the pensions for United workers. I just don’t know what to say. Here these airlines complain about how much their business is suffering, and here I was on packed flights on the biggest domestic airliner currently in use. They starve us and expose us to completely unsanitary conditions. They herd us like cattle and keep us penned in like chickens. (Asked Soylent Green, “Where are you, when I need you PETA? Can’t ya help a sistah out?) They subject us to lotteries: my friends got my ticket for $100 roundtrip on Hotwire; the guy sitting next to me paid $440 for the same ticket, bought three-weeks in advance, and honey it’s wasn’t no first class, you know what I’m sayin?.
I dunno. I’ll be really curious to see what happens to the industry over the course of the next year or two. I mean what do we do when these companies tank, as I feel like they just might. Rely on Amtrak, which is a total joke, and Greyhound, which simply is what it is? Maybe it is time to breakdown and buy a Segway.
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