Riders On A Storm

I always try to get to the airport early because I’m a natural worrier. Instead of waiting for things to go wrong, I anticipate every negative scenario miles down the road so that I know what to do if any of these situations arise.

This occasion was no exception. I was flying from Nashville to Memphis because I’d managed to grab a cheap flight. It would last less than an hour and I could spend my time seeing Memphis and its multitude of attractions with more money in my pocket.

When I got to Nashville International, there was the tail end of a storm in progress. It was the same storm I had experienced in Alabama; it had slowly moved North before beginning to dissipate.

I headed for security upon arrival. I stood in line with my boarding pass ready on my phone but when I stepped up to scan it, the light flashed red on the reader. After a brief conversation (in the “step aside, sir” aisle) I was told by security that they’d never heard of the airline I was flying with. The check point staff then turned their attention back to the people with real tickets and I was left to investigate for myself what was going on.

I asked at each airline desk on the main concourse whether they had heard of my airline. None of them had… Until I reached Alaska Air. 

“The name is ringing a bell. Something makes me think that we’ve had someone with this problem before. Let me ask…,” The woman said. She went into an office behind the counter.

When she came back, she handed me a post-it note with a street address and a phone number. I needed to head to a private airfield. It was still counted as Nashville International, but it wasn’t the main airport.

This was mentioned nowhere on my ticket, booking confirmation, or the company’s website.

When I got to the small airfield (by way of a taxi), I was greeted by a smartly dressed man behind the main desk. 

“Going to Memphis?” He asked.

“Yeah, how did you know?”

He smiled. “There’s free popcorn in the vending area, make yourself at home.”

The lounge was filled with luxurious leather seats and a huge TV mounted on the wall in one corner. The rest of the walls were filled with signed pictures of celebrities that had passed through.

Every plane outside was a learjet or similar. Not bad, I thought, for a ticket that cost less than renting a car!

I spotted my plane by the logo on the tail. Unfortunately, it wasn’t one of the luxury models that I’d seen. Instead, it was a single propeller Cessna style aircraft. I smiled thinking that this was going to be an experience: a tiny plane on which you can feel every bump in the road on a clear day but this time combined with a storm? I had a feeling it was going to get bouncy.

And it did.

The man sat next to me was stationed in a Nashville army base but was flying to Memphis for his sister in law’s wedding. He said he’d rather fly than drive because driving is boring.

I think he might drive next time. 

He spread himself across the interior wall of the plane and gripped his seat with white-knuckles every time we hit an air pocket, making himself look like a cat doing everything in its power to avoid being put in a bath.

Controversial Opinions and Cronuts

At 7am the air was muggy and dark grey clouds covered the skies of Birmingham, Alabama. I packed my backpack and requested an Uber to the airport.

The driver, James, short with a ginger goatee, was dressed in a formal shirt that was tucked into khaki trousers. He was an Alabama native who was just finishing his shift early on a Sunday morning so he could get to church.

“I’m gone meet my wife at church just as soon as I’m done dropping you off,” he said, “Now, I won’t be offended but what do you think of our current political situation?”

I had expected the question to come up at some point during my stay. I was travelling through all red states and I guessed people would naturally be curious about how their president, the man for whom the majority of the people in these states voted, was being perceived elsewhere in the world.

“Well, as an outsider, I can’t really judge on the day to day aspect, only what’s been presented in the media. I know the media can skew things but from things he has said, admitted to, and done while in office and in the campaign, I can’t say I would’ve voted for him.”

“Obama is behind ISIS, did you know that?” He took his eyes off the road and held my gaze to make sure I knew I was being let in on a huge conspiracy that might not have crossed the pond.

My first flight took me to Tampa where I waited for two hours before getting another flight to Nashville. The original plan was to drive but failure to book a rental from Birmingham sooner meant that the good (read: cheap) deals had gone, and flying worked out cheaper.

The first thing that struck me about Nashville was how beautiful and verdant it looked.

The city was currently under the thumb of a small storm – nothing like the one I’d experienced in Birmingham – but when I reached my accommodation I was greeted by something I’d been meaning to try for a long time: cronuts, provided my by host, Megan.

Cronuts are a genius mixture between a croissant and a doughnut, resulting in layers of flaky pastry filled with any number of flavoured creams, mousses, or jams.

I was presented with a chocolate moose tracks iced cronut filled with peanut butter and chocolate icing.

“I can usually only take one bite and I’m full,” Megan said by which point I was halfway to finishing.

The second cronut was a vanilla cronut filled with vanilla cream. This didn’t last long either.

“You should come by my bakery and see what else we do. I’ll hook you up with more.”

For the first time in my life, I felt an addiction building and, again for the first time, I had a dealer willing to take my money in exchange for my fix: sweet, flaky pastries.

Single-Serving Friend #1

Delayed by 90 minutes, I sat on my flight to Boston, dejected. The already narrow window for me to make my connecting flight to Charleston had closed  and I was kicking myself for not anticipating this happening… Or at least not recognising that I was stacking the deck against me from the beginning.

Oh well, I thought after an hour or two. I forced myself to remember the guy in the film “Bridge of Spies”; when asked by Tom Hanks why he doesn’t appear worried that he could be executed for spying, the man replies “would it help?”. Worrying wasn’t going to change anything so I might as well enjoy the flight and I’d sort everything out on the other end.

I’d seen the lady sat next to me before I boarded. Elderly, small, and frail, she had been brought onto the plane in a wheelchair as she was unable to walk the length of the gate. She too was travelling alone. Her English was very basic but we were able to work out through several small conversations consisting of games of charades that she was a mother to 5 sons, that she was going to visit her third son in Philadelphia, and that she was willing to give me her woefully inedible balsamic braised beef with dumplings main course in exchange for my tolerable miniature chocolate cheesecake dessert. 

“Where you go? Boston work?” She asked.

“No,” I said, “Holiday. I’m going to the South.”

She looked confused. I showed her on the map on the screen in front. 

“Why?” She asked as my finger reached Charleston. I told her it was warmer and she waved a hand at me as if being warm was something she’d decided was overrated a long time ago.

Over the course of the next 7 and a half hours I acted out my mother’s unhappiness with me going for so long, how I was getting between cities, and that I was going to eat everything I possibly could. I helped her to open her lunch, gave up my dessert, helped her out of her seat to go to the bathroom, and only at the end of the flight noticed that she had sat in her seat in the lotus position for the duration. As someone who is about as flexible as a brick, I was impressed.

As we descended into Logan international, she gave me a hug and told me that I was her son. 

No less than 4 babies wailed in harmony as no doubt they were uncomfortable from popping ears and strange sensations they’d never felt before. They synched up beautifully and were genuinely in tune at least twice.

After we landed I was informed that, thankfully, my second flight was delayed. Hurray for consistency! I made it through security and to the gate with time to kill.

Later I wondered if I were pushing my luck by listening to Lynyrd Skynyrd as I descended over South Carolina…

 I got to my destination about 22:00 local time which meant it was 03:00 in the UK. I’d been awake for nearly 18 hours and my bed for the next 5 nights was a welcome sight.