The Friendly Skies

(Due to the sheer awesomeness that was "Alethea’s Adventures at BEA 2009, andWhat She Found There", I will begin at the end and go on until I come to the beginning. Because I am the princess and I said so.)


The Friendly Skies
Monday June 1, 2009

It’s been said — and I’ve mentioned it before myself — that "the point of the journey is not to arrive." Well…that’s crap, really, isn’t it? Of course the point of the journey is your destination, or there wouldn’t have been a journey in the first place. Arrival is simply the period at the end of the sentence. But if all you’re concentrating on is the punctuation, you’ve definitely missed something.

While in Charleston with my sister over Memorial Day weekend, Sami and I did a spot of shopping — just enough to make it worth our while but not completely nauseous (a distaste for so-called "retail therapy" is genetic, apparently). See…now that I’m brazen enough to slap pictures of myself all over the internet, I feel pressured to constantly add to my wardrobe to prevent all of you from suffering from the crazy delusion that I’m a Smurfette with only one nice dress. So I bought some fun things–a few you’ll see in the BEA pics, a couple you’ll see during Hypericon, and one I’ve saved for when I get nominated for an Oscar.

I also purchased what quickly became my new favorite shirt: a brown babydoll tee that reads: "faith hope love" in gold across the chest. (This has a point, I promise. It’s not just 3000 words about clothes. Bear with me.) This shirt cried out to me, appealing to my inner six-year-old, the one who used to lock herself in the bathroom with a tape recorder and give inspirational speeches that begged everyone in the world to love each other, be happy, and "ho, mo, and grow" (I still haven’t decided what "ho, mo, and grow" means, but it was important enough for me to repeat. A lot).

While at BEA, I picked up a button that said "HAPPY" and wore it on my badge until I lost it. Some people wear their heart on their sleeves; I suppose I have a tendency to wear my feelings on my chest.

As those of you who follow my FB/Twitter already know, I opted for the pretty dress/cute shoes every day of BEA weekend — and I’m currently wearing the band-aids to prove it. By the time Monday rolled around, I was overjoyed to slide into my crumpled jeans and that soft brown t-shirt. (I am now compelled to find a button that says "OVERJOYED.") Mary and I went for a walk around the Upper West Side, stopped for breakfast, and dropped far too much cash at Bank Street Books. (One of my favorite children’s authors is Arnold Lobel. Not only did Bank Street have some of the Frog and Toad books in hardcover, they had Frog and Toad in PLUSH. How was I supposed to pass that up? Exactly.)

Mary’s done her share of traveling, so she knew right where and when I needed to catch the M60 bus back to Laguardia in time to check myself in and get settled. My suitcase full of books managed to squeak by just under the weight limit (yes!) and there was zero line at security, so I had plenty of time to sit back and relax before flying back to Nashville (via Charlotte again). I wandered over and bought a Snapple and some dark chocolate with almonds, found a comfy spot in front of the window, and cracked open Frog and Toad Are Friends.

Okay, yeah. I suppose any thirtysomething girl with braided pigtails and a cute hat sitting crosslegged at the end of a row of chairs eating chocolate and giggling into a Caldecott Honor book is just asking to be approached. When some guy tapped me on the shoulder, I turned and smiled at him…mostly because he had had the courtesy to let me finish reading my book before he interrupted me.

"Hi, sorry," he said. "This may sound a little strange but…well, I noticed your shirt….and it looks like you enjoy books, and reading…"

"Yes, I do," I said. He was about my age, clean cut, with one of those short-short haircuts that all the guys are getting nowadays to mask the onset of male pattern baldness. It suited him, as did the way he smiled with his eyes. I had passed much skeevier guys walking down the streets of New York. Hell, I’m a regular at Dragon*Con. In my two-second estimation, this guy was seriously far from threatening.

He stuck his arm out and handed me a thin, quality paperback book. "This book is meant to be passed on at airports," he said. "So I’m passing it along to you."

I took the book from him. "Thanks," I said. And with another smile, he was gone.

Having spent almost half my life in the publishing industry, I am no stranger to having unsolicited books pressed into my hands. I looked down at the slender, light blue book–it seemed about as threatening as its previous owner, but one never knows. The cover art reminded me of the opening credit sequence of Catch Me if You Can. The title was Step Back From the Baggage Claim, by Jason Barger. (I suspected I’d just met Jason.)

In the spirit of "Oh, what the hell," I put off reading Frog and Toad Together and cracked open this new offering, praying it wasn’t some overbearing Come-to-Jesus by the typical self-published author who has been asked by one divine power or another to put pen to paper. I started reading…and I started smiling.

Step Back from the Baggage Claim was kind of like Jason had sat down beside me to chat…and after reading only 30 or so pages of the book, I wished he had. It was well-written and casual. There were many jokes and references that I would have used myself…and probably have in the course of this blog. The tagline is "Change The World. Start at the Airport." The book itself is essentially Jason, locked in the bathroom with his own tape recorder, trying to get his own message of happiness across to the world.

It was amusing to read the thoughts of someone else, someone who’s had a very different life from mine, that sees the world in very much the same crazily optimistic way I do. Jason spent seven days in seven cities, traveling from airport to airport, never leaving. This book summarized his observations in essays and anecdotes. He implored us all to step back from the baggage claim. Slow down. Smile. Think about the other guy. Each short chapter outlined a simple way each of us could shift our perceptions and, ultimately, make the world a better place. Some tales touched me. Some stories made me laugh out loud.

In a fascinating appendix, Jason listed the minutiae of his travels, including an itemized diary of what he ate on his $20/day budget, and how often (and where) he slept. On the very last page was a log where the reader was asked to write down his or her name, the city and date where they discovered the book, and the city where they passed it on. I glanced at my watch–I maybe had enough time to finish the book and leave it right there in New York for some other enterprising soul to find.

Unfortunately, about 20 pages from the end, we were all called for boarding. I gathered my things and stood up, Jason’s book still in hand, and the graceful older woman who had been sitting on the row of benches to my left approached me.  "I saw that man hand you that book.  It looks like you’ve been enjoying it."

I laughed. Everything else about me is ostentatious; it only follows that I am a "loud" reader too. "I have been, actually," I told her. "It’s kind of a nice surprise." I explained about the premise of the book, the personal stories, and the message of optimism. She seemed a little skeptical, but she was definitely curious. I held up the book to show her how much I had left. "It’s meant to be passed along at airports. I’m going to finish this on the plane…I’ll just give it to you when I’m done." We compared boarding passes. She was sitting in 7F. I was way back on row 23.  She boarded first. We shared a smile when I passed her seat on the way to my own.

I scooted past a tall, smiling older gentleman on the way to my window seat on 23. Before I forgot, I pulled out my purple pen and jotted down my name in the back of the book. For city of origin, I put "New York." For city where I passed it off, I put "mid-air." And then, because it seemed important and it was *my* book at the time, I wrote "Smile!" and drew a smiley face inside the front cover. I finished the book, chuckling over the stunt Jason finally pulls when he puts his money where his mouth is. When I was done, I slid the book into the seat-back pocket in front of me, hoping that one of the lovely stewardesses might later deliver it up front so I wouldn’t have to disrupt my seat-mates and half the plane.

It was a full flight to Charlotte, so the aformentioned older gentleman was forced to silde over and sit in his assigned seat next to me. After we took off, I disobeyed all laws of flying and pulled my camera out of my bag to take a photo through the dirty window of the New York skyline in the distance.

"It probably won’t come out," the man said. "They rarely do. That’s a tough shot."

I looked down at the digital display and shrugged. "You’re probably right. Figured I’d try anyway."

There are several ways to start conversations on a plane–pick-up lines, if you will. (I’ll save that list for another essay.) Suffice it to say, my friend went with the classic, "So, are you from New York?"

"No, I live just south of Nashville." I’ve discovered there’s little sense in saying "Murfreesboro" unless someone is already familiar with the area.

"What brought you to New York?" he asked.

"A book expo," I generalized.

"BEA?" he said. "Me too! Well how about that."

Turns out, my companion was Don Townson, a reporter for Variety on his way home to Vancouver. "You know Variety?" he asked.

"Of course!" I said. "I worked at a movie theatre for almost ten years. Variety, Box Office…we got them all."

"Yeah," he said, "I pulled theshort straw and got to cover BEA. Everybody else is at Cannes."

I sympathized. I’d rather have been in Cannes too. I’d also rather have been a few more thousand feet in the air–my stomach was starting to do flips. The pilot came on to announce that he’d be flying low for a while, and apologized for the turbulence. I took deep breaths while Don talked and prayed I could ride out the migraine I knew was setting up shop behind my eyes. Crap. I mumbled something about not flying well and continued right along with our lively conversation.

Don asked me what my business was at BEA, and I explained how I had managed to pull off wearing both my author and Ingram hats with ease. I’d met an idol, sung with legends, walked the floor with my agent, made a kindred spirit into a new best friend, and been greeted as "the princess." It had been a fantastic convention. I told Don about some of these things. He asked after my picture book, and mentioned he had a couple of grandchildren in the age range. I reached down to pull an author card out of my bag and a pen to write down the book’s title. Since I had most recently jotted my name down in Step Back From the Baggage Claim, my purple pen came first to my hand…

…and promptly exploded in brilliant violet all over my fingers, my jeans, and the underside of the tray table in front of me. Don handed me a napkin and told me a funny story about his grandson as I cleaned myself up and wrote "AlphaOops" on my card. Points for chivalry.

"I don’t have any more cards with me," he said. That sort of thing happens at shows like BEA–I was down to only two of each of my own cards myself. "You can look me up on Google, though. I’m the first Don Townson that pops up. The second is a dead black musician. I’m not him."

"But what a story I’d have if you were," I said.

The flight from the Big Apple to Charlotte is just under two hours…two of the most simultaneously excruciating and diverting hours I’ve ever spent in my life. As my migraine grew to gargantual proportions, I shut my eyes for consecutively longer periods of time. I dabbed some  essential oil under my nose, but I knew it was too little, too late. I swallowed in quick succession. I kept nodding and responding to Don, talking and acting as if nothing was wrong. Don, bless him, kept right on going. If he noticed my distress he didn’t draw attention to it, and for that I was immensely grateful. We talked about filming in Canada, and arteests. We spoke about Greeks and Canadians. We discussed book dedications and foreign sales. I told him about my Nana and her friend Poor Rosemary, with her 42 novel rejections.

(For those of you Lost fans following the numbers, the flight was on 6/1, left out of Gate 15, we were on row 23, and talked about 42 rejections. I’m just sayin’.)

Eventually, though, the Migraine Monster had to be dealt with. I held up my hand to interrupt him, excused myself, and politely vomited into my motion sickness bag. I took a breath, and the new napkin Don handed me from his seemingly endless supply. I apologized, and explained about the migraines. "While on my way to Detroit recently, a man complimented me on my discreet vomiting skills," I bragged.

"Consider me the second," said Don. "That was pretty impressive." And we launched right into a new conversation.

I imagine that more than one ingenue arteest has feared losing his or her lunch in front of a reporter from Variety. Little do they know what a bonding experience they’ve missed out on. Aloud, Don considered writing an article on motionsickness and the opportunity to mention his new friend, the Discreet Greek. (An oxymoron, no?) He promised to spell my name right. I laughed.

The captain announced (the announcements on this flight were overly loud, obtrusive, and happened far too often) that we would be landing soon, and that the stewardesses would be coming through one last time for cups and garbage. I interrupted Don and reached up to push the Call button. "Sorry," I said, and pulled Step Back From the Baggage Claim out of the seat pocket. "It’s kind of a long story, but I promised a woman that I would give this book to her when I was finished."

The brunette stewardess walking toward the back with her pamphlets stopped and asked me what I needed. "Could you please give this to the woman in seat 7F?" She scowled at me and nodded…and then continued walking to the rear of the plane, without the book. Don and I exchanged a baffled look. Miss US Airways 2009 stopped back by on her way to the front of the plane while she was collecting garbage and snatched the book out of my hands. "Which seat?" she snapped.

"7F," I repeated. I was tempted to tell her that she needed to read the book herself, but I imagine there were US Airways employee handbooks for that sort of thing. "Shut off your Call button," she scolded.

Well, excuuuuuuse me. But Jason’s book was officially out of my hands. That part of my adventure was complete. The flight wasn’t quite done yet, though.

"Can I have your motion sickness bag," I asked Don casually," just in case I need to do this again?" He didn’t have one. He rummaged through the seat pocket of the guy on the aisle and procured his instead. I thanked him. And when he handed me yet another napkin during my second round of purging,I dubbed him my hero.

He placed the rest of his napkin stash on my left knee. "Keep them," he said. We continued chatting during our long wait to disembark, and as soon as we were off the plane, I disposed of my little white bags of embarrasment in the nearest trash receptacle.We parted at the bathroom across from the gate.

"It’s been a pleasure," said Don as he shook my hand vigorously. (Which I only let him do because he was just about to go wash them.)

"Keep in touch," I said. He promised he would.

I walked into the bathroom and, despite the raging headache, smiled at the attendant in the doorway. "Faith, hope, and love," she greeted me cheerfully.

Do I think Don will really keep in touch? Absolutely. Besides, you know I’m going to send him this essay as soon as I finish writing it. Jason, too, for that matter. Let’s be honest…is it possible for anyone who’s been part of my crazy adventures to forget about me? Not likely. I am one damn nigh unforgettable woman.