Monday, October 15, 2012

Face to Face

Sign at Van Dusen Gardens, Vancouver, BC, Canada
My alarm pops off at 4:30am. I leap up out of bed, no sleeping in, no hitting it off on accident like yesterday, when I had to teach. I have to make a flight - and I've only missed one in my life because of sleeping in (the only other flight I've ever missed wasn't due to that).

I slide into my clothes, laid out the night before, brush the colic out of my hair, grab a banana to get me going and my host meets me at the door. We get downstairs before the cab arrives, and we explore the daily issue of Globe and Mail, looking at photo layout and discussing the difference between AP and staff-generated shots. The cab arrives, glowing in the fog, and puts my bags in while I get settled.

"To the airport?" he confirms.
"Yessir. Delta, to the States."
"Got it."
"Going home?"
"Sort of. I live in the States, but I am going to Portland for 24 hours, then back to Wisconsin, where I live."
A pause. He's chatty. Sometimes I like that. Sometimes I don't. I am neutral.
He probably doesn't know where Wisconsin is.
"Is that near Kansas?" a student asked me yesterday. I can't blame her - I am not 100% sure I know where Calgary is, and that is far larger than Madison.

"That's where the Sikh Temple shooting was, right?" Now it's my turn to pause. Crap. I caught the accent - Indian? In the dark fog it was hard to tell. I hazard a guess that *he* might be Sikh, though I don't say anything about my guess.
"Yes, unfortunately, it is. It's also where Ed Gein was, and Jeffrey Dahmer."
He looks puzzled into the rearview mirror. Usually I mention Joseph McCarthy, but my mind pulled these two men out instead.
"Especially sadistic serial killers."
"I know, right? But we are also famous for cheese."
"Yep. Dairy. Cows. Cheese."
He laughs.

And this is how my whole morning is. My cabbie and I chat gun control and his sense of humor pops out. He loves irreverence, and irony. We talk about how after 911 we'd go to public places and wonder why someone hadn't done a terrorist attack yet. He just returned from Disneyland where a guard got hyper about his McDonald's drink ("You can't bring in any outside drink or food, sir") and this tickled my driver so much that he joked (I flinched to hear this) "Sir, did you completely overlook my gun buried under the hamburger?" Ditto when a teenager working at a cafeteria took so long to inspect his $10 bill that he wondered where the priorities really are around security.

At the airport, my flight turns out to be on some tiny airline that isn't apparent. I ask the first clerk I find free, and she squints at Horizon Airline's name.
"Maybe down there?" pointing back where I came from.
"Or there?" It's 5:20am. Everyone is a little foggy.
"Let me check -" she says, laughing, "so I don't have to run around?" I complete her sentence and we both laugh.

She gets me on track, and I head through to customs where in line the woman behind me, a beautiful and elegant lady with a sharp Mexican accent asks me "How come everyone is taking stuff out of their bags? Did I miss a memo?"
"It's probably just laptops," I say.
"Everyone has laptops, I guess."
"Don't even get me started on laptops," she says, "People don't know how to communicate face to face anymore."
I blush for a second. I was just about to pull out my laptop. We both are quiet for a bit. On the way in, in customs, I had stood in line with a woman behind me for an hour from NZ who was wiped and complained the whole time. That I am not sure I am up to at this time in the AM all over again.

I step up and pull out my laptop, flashing her a cute and guilty grin. "I am afraid I have a laptop," but I am laughing a little bit and she smiles big.
"My husband works with computers. I have no problem with them, you know?"
"Well, let me just not lose touch with face-to-face interactions."
"I don't think you would ever do that."
She's headed to Cancun - we talk about travel and her kids, about how parents have to take strong stands and set boundaries with technology to make sure their kids stay connected to other people face to face. My whole morning has been filled with joyful face-to-face interactions, ones I may not have had, had I been in the States where it costs me nothing to be on my phone constantly.

After I go through the scanner, I walk almost face first into a couple of guards chatting about the Duty-Free area.
"Do I look like I would buy perfume?" the male guard says indignantly to the female guard. I am feeling punchy.
"Maybe cologne?" and I wink. He doesn't smile, but she winks back and smiles at me.

Waiting in line for Customs makes me nervous, even if all my papers are in order. I stand there tapping my toes, hoping not to make a slip-up like I did a couple of months ago, where I was so tired that I misstated how long I'd been in the country and the guard grilled me for fifteen minutes, watching my reactions for lies.

I head back to a guard on the wrong side of his glass hut, and he says "That way, Ma'am." Bad start. But I get to his side and say "Duh, the number is on this side. I don't know why I didn't see it at first."
He has my passport in hand. He looks right at me and says "What number?"
I pause. I am super intimidated. Then he cracks a smile.
We laugh and joke about Tim Horton coffee and donuts, about Starbucks and faithfulness to corporations by nationality.

Crossing in front of Duty Free, I see "Animal hats and mittens for adults." Is there an owl? I know I already have an owl hat from Target, from the kids section, pink lined and brown outside. But I spot a snowy owl hat and mittens, and the mittens have, get this, owls on the ends of them! Too goo to pass up. I take them to the counter, where three women are laughing and talking. One looks at my boarding pass, another bags and the last one rings me up. The youngest says, "I have the cat AND the yeti."
"What? I didn't even see those, though there was a cute frog, too."
"That's how yetis are. You can barely see them."
We all laugh.
"One eye is bigger than the other. It's super cute."
"I dig cute."
All three of them nod and smile. One notices my camera ring, which I got in Portland last time I did this kind of trip (to Portland and Vancouver).
"Yeah. I had my cat one all picked out when we had one rack, but then I bought it and we got a second rack and it was all over. The frog is next."
I leave the perfume store with owl hat and gloves.

As I finish writing this, which was as fun to write about as it was to experience, the woman headed to Cancun sped past me and we both laughed. It's like a secret conspiracy of joy in the airport this morning. I am sure not everyone is feeling it, but I am grateful that every face-to-face interaction I have had has been a part.

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