The Luxury of Small Aggravations

This is an eight-foot tall glass Christmas tree made by Dale Chihuly for the Clintons when they were in the White House. It’s on display in the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Arkansas.  I was there for a day job conference and the final night’s banquet was at the library – a place I would never have thought to go on my own, for any president. Now I’m considering seeing as many as I can, when I’m in the right area. Just fascinating. I confess the replica of the Oval Office gave me a surprising emotional tingle. They replicated exactly what Clinton had on his desk and now I’m rethinking my tchotchkes.

Of course, Jackson just jumped up on my desk, nabbed one, and took off with it, so it could be a self-resolving situation. If I had a bust of Nelson Mandela, he wouldn’t be pulling that shit.

I flew back yesterday, landing in Albuquerque in the late afternoon. Regular readers know I’m often cranky coming back from work trips, because they throw my writing schedule all to hell and gone. It’s just how it goes. As I drove up the interstate, I immediately hit a major traffic slow-down and groaned, thinking I’d hit rush hour and it was going to be a bad one. I ran the calculations in my head, if I should take an alternate route that’s normally longer, but would save me going through the whole city at that speed.

If you’ve never driven in Albuquerque, you should know that the traffic can be terrifying. There’s no good reason for it, but people drive *really* fast and change lanes rapidly, weaving in an out of traffic. This is in addition to the decrepit vehicles from Mexico, with Chihuahua or Sonora license plates, pottering along easily 30 mph below the speed limit. Even people accustomed to driving in the free-for-all of Boston rush hour can be taken aback.

You have to look sharp.

After a couple of miles of stop and go, a truck pulled into traffic with the elevated lighted signs that point traffic to change lanes. It was an accident then. Sure, enough, as we all merged over to the rightmost lanes, I passed the wreck. Three or four vehicles were jumbled up in the left lane – one pickup truck spun around so it faced traffic. No cops or EMTs had arrived yet, but people were gathered around the cars in little clusters. It looked – miraculously – like mostly the vehicles had gotten banged up, not the people. One man, though, older, probably in his 70s, leaned against the concrete barrier by himself. He looked stunned and bewildered in a way that grabbed at me. I wanted to pull over and tell him it was okay, that at least he wasn’t hurt.

His face stuck with me for the rest of the drive and I wondered about him – if he’d had someone to call. If his wife had been angry or understanding or if she was maybe so far gone into dementia that she’d never understand what happened to him that afternoon.

It’s an easy thing to take for granted – all those days that aren’t ruined by sudden disasters. Instead we focus on the irritating minutiae. The minor aggravations of all the little things that don’t go exactly the way you want them to.

What a luxury that is.

Glass Jellyfish, Italians and Time

Dale Chihuly glass jelly fish swimming through the atrium at O’Hare.

Usually, I don’t have time to notice stuff at Chicago’s O’Hare “You might have a ticket but you can never leave” airport. But yesterday, I was there for a 3.5 hour layover, watching the rain turn to snow and fervently praying it wouldn’t turn into an overnight or, worse, days of layover. It could have happened, too. My Roanoke, Virginia flight took off on time, but many D.C. flights were canceled.

According to the cell conversations of the people around me, which I consider to be a more reliable indicator than most.

It seems like one usually gets either 30 minutes or hours at O’Hare. This time I opted for hours. Because I really hate missing connections. And more, I really hate missing them there. In fact, I go to great lengths to avoid connecting through O’Hare. In double-fact, I’ve been so successful in this resolve that I apparently have not been there in so long that I totally forgot where I like to eat there.

This might sound stupid to you, but I’ve spent enough time in airports that I know pretty much where I’ll eat at each one. Sometimes even what I’ll order. Are you thinking this is not adventurous? Then you’d be correct. Someone who spends a lot of her time in airports shudders at the thought of adventure. She wants reliable, relaxing and reasonably nutritious.

Trust me.

I’ll even, all things being equal, choose connections through airports that I have places where I like to eat. And shop. And sit in pretty white rocking chairs to watch planes and write.

So, I had lots of time to kill at O’Hare. I wasn’t trapped to the singing underground tunnel between B & C concourses, nor to the claustrophobic Y of the E&F concourse hell. Instead I wandered over to the Europe of O’Hare and found concourses G, H & K.

Where the beautiful people live.

It was pretty there. And serene. Brushed steel, wood panels and soft foreign voices. Oh, and a Macaroni Grill, where I could sit and pretend to be having a lovely dinner out instead of being trapped behind airport security. A couple of incredibly gay Italian boys sat at the two-top next to me, loving the hot bread, thinking the espresso too weak. They argued about the time difference between Los Angeles and Las Vegas and whether you could fly directly from Long Beach, I told them to pile their stuff on the bench opposite me, as long as they said hello to my invisible friend, which they cheerfully did.

I enjoyed their semi-anonymous company.

Which is good, because not long before that I composed a tweet in my head: “Where do all of the people in airports come from? I like most people I meet. But in airports, I hate them all.”

People behave badly in airports, I think. No one wants to be there — they all want to be either where they’re coming from or going to. Maybe people just can’t be human in a place they don’t want to be. Maybe they can’t help being hateful.

And maybe the secret, like all of life, is to find the quiet, serene pockets where people are where they want to be, doing what they want to do.

Also, to look up and see the glass starfish someone hung for you, just in case you weren’t running too fast to see.