Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Going to California

A couple weeks ago for my Dad's 94th birthday, I brought my (almost) 8-year-old daughter, Elizabeth. A couple of family members would finally get to meet her. Her mom, Tara, had no vacation days available and so stayed behind. She was probably happy to have me and Elizabeth gone a few days.

Tara dropped us at the Delta terminal of the Nashville airport, which was good because we were flying Delta. With our boarding passes in hand, we proceeded to security. The guard behind the podium asked, “What's your name, sweetheart?” I hate it when people call me “sweetheart.” But he was talking to Elizabeth, and she answered correctly. When asked how old she was, she said, “Seven. No, seven and a quarter.” She was actually just two weeks away from her eighth birthday, but close enough. The man allowed us through to the zigzag line of people awaiting the highlight of everyone's trip: officially-mandated groping, also known as the rest of the airport security process.

I explained to Elizabeth that we would have to take off our shoes. She thought I was joking. “Because bad guys hide things in their shoes?” she asked. A TSA agent then appeared in front of us, unhooked one of the ropes, and indicated that we should follow him. Now it was my turn to think someone was joking.

I'd been having premonitions about a confrontation with these modern-day Gestapo should they pull Elizabeth aside and try to do a cavity search on her as I watch, helpless, while they physically violate my daughter, causing me to go berserk and have a shootout at the airport. Hey, I'm a writer (and protective father) with an active imagination. I actually had a similar “confrontation scene” in my novel, Operation Detour (paperback and Kindle, if you're interested) (or, the first half of it here, free). But I digress.

So, with a mixture of disbelief and disgust, I look at this agent in front of us and say, “Excuse me?” But, he either changes his mind suddenly – à la “These aren't the droids you're looking for” from Star Wars – or I had completely misread his intentions (probably the latter), as he just smiled, gestured with the other hand, and said, “You can go ahead.” He was simply letting us into a much shorter line, doing us a favor. When Elizabeth asked about it, I said, “That man just did us a favor. He was being nice.” No sense passing my authority figure issues (paranoia?) onto her. Then again, we were the only people the agent let through, and there were plenty of people behind us. Hmmm.

The first leg of the flight, to Salt Lake City, was uneventful. Elizabeth didn't sleep a wink, even though it was getting late. I was kicking myself for leaving her Christmas gift/distraction device Galaxy Player in the larger bag, because we had to check that bag upon boarding. According to the pamphlet in the seat-back-pocket, this was the third-smallest jet in their fleet (too much detail?), and there was not much room in the overhead compartments.

Elizabeth has been on airplanes and in airports before, but that was half a lifetime ago, so she was very excited about this trip. At one point she said, “Dad, on your next trip when you go to the airport and get on a plane, can you take me?”

We were in the first row of coach just behind first class. Other than the extra leg room these seats afforded me, it was a bad location because Elizabeth's seemingly endless need for food and drink was being ignored by the flight attendant as that woman paid close attention to everyone in the rows in front of us. I had to tell Elizabeth, “That's first class. They paid more, so they get more.” To this, Elizabeth replied, “So, we're second class.” Pretty much, yeah.

Deplaning at SLC, we stopped at the Popeye's Louisiana Kitchen across from our gate. Elizabeth insisted we look for something better, and we did, but there was nothing. As we ate our chicken “tenders” and fries, an over-sized, overly-friendly travelling salesman at the next table said something to Elizabeth. I was tired and already jet-lagged, and don't recall now exactly what he said, but it triggered my protective mode and I was suddenly wide awake. He then asked where we were from; why were we going to Sacramento; did we have family there; how many siblings did I have. Really? Yes, really.

Trying to be polite while maintaining a look on my face that most people would have taken as their cue to leave me alone, I informed him that I have four brothers and two sisters. “Ah, Catholic!” he replied. “Yeah, you got me there,” I replied sarcastically, not bothering to clarify that I was raised Catholic, but haven't been of that faith since childhood. Besides, we were in Salt Lake City. I could have just as easily been Mormon, for all he knew. Aren't they also known for their large families?

More questions: How'd I end up in Nashville from California; what did Elizabeth want to be when she grew up. When Elizabeth said she wanted to help animals like her aunt Jeannie does, the man was aghast, “You can't make any money doing that!” I should have mentioned that veterinarians make pretty good money, but that didn't spring to mind at the time. Ignoring for the moment that Elizabeth is only 8 and doesn't have to worry yet about how much money a future career might bring, I felt the need to defend her aunt, my sister. I informed the man that Jeannie and her family do somehow manage to make ends meet while doing what they love. To my way of thinking, she's far richer than this overbearing capitalist pig so desperate for human interaction that he strikes up conversations with anyone who will tolerate him. I'm sorry, did that come off angry?

Elizabeth slept a little on this next, shorter flight to Sacramento. The nosy salesman was a few rows in front of us, in first class, insinuating himself into the life of the man next to him. In the Sacramento airport, my sister-in-law June was kind enough to meet us in the baggage claim area to lead us to my brother Greg's car for the ride to our Dad's apartment/old folks home, and our guest room within.

Having arrived at the home, Dad led the way to the guest room at the end of the hall as Greg, June, Elizabeth and I followed. June commented on how well Dad, with his long strides, moves for his age. I agreed. He's always had such good posture, and now looks, acts and moves like a man 20 years younger. He later bragged that he's the oldest one in the home who doesn't need a walker.

It was 11:30pm, 1:30am our time, by the time we were in our room. Elizabeth wanted dinner, but I told her to wait for breakfast. She also wanted us to sleep in the same bed. I was fine with it this one time, but the twin beds were so narrow it would have been physically impossible. We were both fast asleep within minutes of hitting our separate pillows.

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

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