Wednesday, August 22, 2007

a series of fortunate events: part two

While a 21” wheeled suitcase is a perfectly acceptable carry-on size, fitting comfortably into overhead bins, the aisle of an airplane does not adequately accommodate such an object. Suitcase carried carefully in front of me and shoulder bag as stable as I could manage, I made my way down the narrow pathway to my seat at the back of the plane. I imagined myself in a Bonnie Tyler video, heads turning toward me with glaring eyes in tune to the beat of my luggage against the seats. Locating my middle seat (it had been an exit-row window seat on my original itinerary), I hoisted the 21” pendulum above my head and sat down just about the time my row-mates were arriving. I was making small-talk with the aisle-seat patron, when Mr. Window Seat arrived to join us. As I stood to allow him to pass by, it became obvious that my Dramamine was kicking in and the next few hours would be smooth sailing. Window laughed at the fact that I attempted to move my fluffy pink pillow (safely situated in my seat) out of his way as he passed, “Yeah, that thing is really in my way!”

We all settled into the row, making necessary adjustments in preparation for take-off, and I continued my semi-conscious conversation with Mr. Aisle Seat. Both expressing concern over any remaining flight delays, I related as much of my morning saga as I could coherently articulate. When I got to the part about having tickets for a 7pm concert, Aisle casually remarked that he was in a similar predicament. “At the zoo” I asked hesitantly? Well aware that Portland is home to many venues, I figured the odds of this person headed to the same show (when most people didn’t have a clue what band I was talking about) was close to nil. To my surprise, Aisle not only knew exactly who the Be Good Tanyas and Old Crow Medicine Show were, but he and his wife had been given tickets to the show in honor of their birthdays by friends. He had an unexpected business trip come up, and was planning to take a cab from the airport to meet his wife and friends just in time for the show. Without warning, my inner extrovert creeped out and I found myself insisting that he catch a ride with me and Ramon. Immediately my logic pierced through the Dramamine and I remembered to add, “That is, as long as there’s room. I’m assuming we’re going straight to the concert since I’m getting in so late, but his parents might be with him, I’m not really sure what the plans are. But I will definitely ask when we land and turn our phones back on.”

Quite honestly, I’m not sure what exactly I said to Kevin (we decided to introduce ourselves after we had made arrangements to possibly… or not… travel together past the plane ride) as my drugs were definitely in effect at that point. There was a little more conversation, and then I was lost in iPod/L’Engle land. At some point during the flight Window nudged me to look at a wildfire we were flying over, pointing out the crimson flames beneath the clouds of smoke. I remarked something to the effect of, “Wow. It’s horrible and beautiful at the same time.” I confused, disturbed or (I like to think) inspired Window, because that was the extent of our interaction (I had offered him with much to ponder). Having contributed so directly to the enlightenment of another, I drifted off into a strangely restful sleep (despite sitting up with head tilted slightly to the side).

Unlike my awakening that morning, I was gently roused from this slumber by the sound of our pilot announcing our descent into PDX… on time. It was the most sublime sound I had heard all day. I began gathering my belongings and locating my cell phone. Regaining my senses, I reestablished my conversation with… “I’m sorry, was it Kevin?” I clarified. I assured Kevin that I would be calling Ramon as soon we began our taxi into the gate. With his parents already at the hotel (I had missed out on any opportunity to spend time with them), Ramon insisted that of course Kevin should ride with us and that we should call him once we were making our way out of the airport.

Hearing my name called across the buzzing traffic of passenger drop-off and pick-up was a refreshing respite to my day. My entire being relaxed as I climbed into the Corolla, and my mind began to reprogram for enjoyment. Despite a near-death experience involving an ink pen, captivating conversation and rush-hour traffic, the drive to the zoo was thoroughly enjoyable. I was happy to be in that car and that city discussing music and bookstores and neighborhoods and what-not. I was happy to be going to sit in the grass and listen to banjos and enjoy the cool air. It felt like home, without all of the expectations hanging over my head.

We parked the car in a distant lot and boarded an old yellow school bus, standing room only, which would transport us to the entrance of the Oregon Zoo. At the entrance we were greeted by kindfolk holding cardboard signs and desperate fingers indicating the number of tickets to the sold-out show they desired. Briefly contemplating making a profit off of my ticket and listening to the same bands on my pseudo-trusty iPod, I made my way to the will-call table and claimed my valuable entry stub. Everyone around us seemed happy, even the ticketless souls, though perhaps my own contentment was simply clouding my perspective. Ignoring the fact that I had come straight from the plane without a restroom break or food (I didn’t even give myself a chance to compare the PDX toilets to the earlier airports), I encouraged our beeline to the amphitheater lawn, where Kevin’s wife Tracy and friends already had a blanket staked out amidst hordes of bluegrass fans.

Taking off our shoes and settling onto the blanket, we were introduced to Kevin’s wife and friends just in time to notice the first band taking the stage. Awed at our impeccable timing, I disregarded my stomach’s cries for sustenance (not to mention my bladder’s cries for relief) and turned my complete attention to the three lovely ladies entering the stage. There was much commotion on our blanket regarding the fact that the Be Good Tanyas were actually the opening act, as all of us had assumed they would be the headliners. While slightly disheartening, I refused to let the realization interfere with my engrossed indulgence in the moment. The weather was flawless (cool and sunny) and the atmosphere was incredible. We were surrounded by trees and birds - and people! A show of this kind would be poorly attended in Little Rock, few people recognizing the caliber of talent being presented to them, but in Portland the bands had filled an amphitheater. And it wasn’t just younger people, there were families with babies and we even spied a gray-haired lady in a wheelchair, wrapped in an afghan. It was revealed later that cozy grandma actually belonged to one of the Tanyas, though I’m not sure which. By that time, I had decided to take my bathroom break and was listening from the line.

Although the women’s restroom required a long wait in line, having my food and beverage needs met did not. Not only did our blanket-mates provide a place to sit and interesting conversation, but they saw to it that we didn’t go hungry or thirsty. Tracy offered me half of her turkey sandwich, which she claimed she wasn’t going to eat. I hesitated to accept it, but she insisted that she wanted me to have it (she was just excited to have her husband at the show on time) and I couldn’t turn it down. I must say, it was the best damn turkey sandwich I had tasted in a long while. Soon came the offer of ginger beer from the friends, and chips and cookies from Tracy. Hospitality at its finest was displayed in Portland that night.

Old Crow Medicine Show took the stage like a gale force wind, and any regrets as to which band was headlining quickly subsided. Those guys are amazing. Not only are they full of energy but, as Ramon pointed out, their instrumentation and harmonies far surpassed that of the Be Good Tanyas. And when the two groups came together at the end to sing Dylan’s Lay, Lady, Lay, a capstone was placed on the evening.

The finale song also ushered in our third Will Ferrell reference of the evening. The first had been when I asked Ramon in the car if he had seen Stranger than Fiction, while relating the iPod playlist saga. The second was when Ramon’s request for more mandolin conjured up visions of “more cowbell”. But Lay, Lady, Lay will always remind me of the SNL skit where Ferrell sings the song to Robert Duvall in the hospital as part of an experimental new treatment (classic).

We rode the big yellow bus (once again, standing) back to the car, exhausted. Ramon toyed with the idea of going to get a drink, despite the fact that he had to open in the morning, and didn’t get far from the parking lot before deciding against it. His poor roommate was doing laundry when we arrived, and I am certain my attempts (or lack thereof) at conversation were tedious at best. It was time to recuperate with a good night’s rest. I have never slept so soundly on a couch in my life. Saturday in Portland awaited me, and I would be refreshed.

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