Naturally, it seemed brilliant to use credit card points and book a hotel to spare me in the morning leading up to a 7 a.m. flight to Charlotte, North Carolina. The drive was smooth; the hotel was a peaceful and strange experience without children, with books and writing for free and fun for the first time in ages. The shuttle departed at 5:05 a.m. I arrived at the airport at just the right time and went through security.
After hustling to the correct terminal, I arrived at the Gate and saw that the flight now departed at 10 a.m. One hour later, the time changed to 2 p.m. We lined up to request new routes, meal vouchers and the like. After two hours in line, checking up on what others were doing, and calling American Airlines multiple times, the flight shifted three more times, deciding finally to leave at 3:30 p.m. and land sometime around 11 p.m. Slating my arrival time at my friend’s house for after 1 a.m. This was not what we planned on.
After bonding with strangers in line, I purchased my lunch and made the best of things. There are nice chairs in SFO and charging stations everywhere. I packed “The Master of Hestviken” by Sigrid Undset for company, read, wrote and took periodic walks knowing I eventually would end up sitting on an airplane, however distant that possibility felt. The nine-hour delay was one of those opportunities to practice the flexibility I am often preaching.
The flight itself was fantastic.
After nine hours, most passengers were rerouted and only 50 remained. “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers” who made it through the wait and determined staying the course was our best or only option.
The trip itself was a personal one, sprinkled with work here and there. My destination was the home of a friend, one of the thick-or-thin types, the type of person with whom I feel utterly at home.
She lives in a little town founded in 1812 at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains, a population of 3687 at its last census count. We walked Main Street arm-in-arm, so to speak, poked around pioneer cabins, and met the locals. In the twin town next door, founded in 1891 with a population of 4131 at its last census, we antiqued at Key City Antiques and marked that Carolina Treasures on Main has three floors of antiques waiting to be discovered. I drank a perfectly spicy Mayan Mocha at Talia Espresso. We ate BBQ chicken, pulled pork, fried squash, fried okra, hush puppies, and potato wedges at Brushy Mountain Smokehouse and Creamery for around $9 a dish. The remarkable prices ended up not mattering when we discovered the gentleman at the table next to us, who knows my friend, paid our tab. We followed dinner with house-made ice cream.
The next day they drove me to the scenic overlooks of the Blue Ridge Mountains where trees release isoprene into the air giving the province a bluish tinge. The diversity of trees and smattering of wildflowers wherever I looked made every good impression on me. Goldenrod and Mile and Minute Vine are invasive, but also beautiful and sculptural accents of an area I had never seen before. We continued up the Blue Ridge Parkway to Boone where I shopped like a tourist at Mast General Store Old Boone Mercantile.
The last day of my whirlwind trip was a walk with the family along the Fourth Ward neighborhood in Charlotte and playtime at a playground in the shadows of First Presbyterian Church. I silently crossed myself as we passed the Old Settler Cemetery, a good Catholic practice, and marveled that the oldest grave there belongs to Joel Baldwin who died October 21, 1776.
Best of all
But better than all this was that feeling of home, of talking and not worrying, of being known and knowing the woman with which I spoke without any difficulty, talking about cake decorating, family and friend drama, and the wonders of parenting. Now I hold in my mind and imagination the places she visits, the people of whom she speaks, and the goodness and quirks that invade her daily life as she parents three children across the country. It’s a gift to be so united. Nine hours delay was nothing compared to the joy in an old friend.