Strangers in a strange land
[Nearly six months later]
I am on my first plane ride in nearly eight years, a direct flight to Denver, a city I’ve never been to. I am traveling with my younger son, K. (not his real initial)*, the nonverbal special-needs kid with the autism diagnosis. It is his first plane ride ever, and I have no idea how he will react. My other kid, M. (also not his real initial), the budding animator and stand-up comic, is visiting the grandparents in Florida.
It is my birthday, and I’m in no mood to reflect on my age. If I’d entered incipient oldcrockitude, by cracky, I was going to fight it with every fiber of my damn being, mainly by ignoring how old I am.
For various reasons I will be going back and forth to the airport a great deal this month, both on my behalf and my sons’. No, I’m not on tour; and if I were, exactly what kind of show would I be putting on for the good people (that’s “people” to rhyme with “monopoly”) of the Colorado metropolis anyway? Would it involve snappy patter, jazz hands, dry ice, broken glass strewn across the stage, strategically placed yams, a drum machine, and a big showstopping finale featuring the flags of the Baltic states? Yeah, let’s go with that.
My last flight was in 2009, when I traveled to Germany for a ceremony related to my family’s experiences in the Holocaust. After a hellish year, which I’ve chronicled on this blog, following the death of my wife in January of 2016, I felt lighter and more optimistic than I had in ages. At least on a personal level, I had the definite sense of an upward arc trending. (In the wider world, let’s just say “very interesting times.”)
The Denver trip was a short city break courtesy of the fiancee, who had some extra miles on good ol’ non-reclining-seat, everything-extra budget airbus Frontier to dump in a hurry and couldn’t take time off from work herself. Yes, I am engaged to be, eventually, married again. Life is odd. Unlike my encounter with Mrs. Pogoer, this one began as prosaically as you can get, with a casual coffee date. Unlike my fellow widower celebrity doppelganger Patton Oswalt, I received absolutely no negative feedback for this. At least to my face, everyone, including Donna’s relatives, has been nothing but supportive: Congratulations, I’m very happy for you. As it should be. Love, as they say, is infinitely expandable.
I look around at my fellow passengers and am struck by a sense of common humanity. I like and sympathize with them all. We’re on the same journey.
My fears about K.’s reactions to flight are, no pun intended, groundless. The kid just likes to be in motion, whether he’s walking, on a train, in a car, or on a nonstop flight to the Mile High City. He sits like an angel for the duration, looking out the window.
While M. bonds with the grandparents, I do my best to bond further with this inscrutable 12-year-old, the boy who likes to listen to the same parts of the same video over and over again throughout the day, who likes to put things together and take them apart, a born engineer, smarter and more capable than almost everyone knows. His family, and a few blessed teachers, know.
K. is game to go with me almost everywhere. I check into a cozy basement Airbnb flat on the northern edge of the Capitol Hill neighborhood downtown, and we explore, walking, Ubering and Lyfting, for two very full days. We go to the Molly Brown House, a well-touristed home restored to its 1910-ish glory, where we’re immediately told that her name was Margaret and that movie with Debbie Reynolds was only about 3 percent true. I love the place, K. doesn’t. Onward.
K. Is game enough for almost all our other urban explorations. We visit the State Capitol and eat at the Delectable Egg (a breakfast joint where I get the inevitable Denver omelette in situ) and a pizzeria called Brik on York and a hipster joint on South Broadway called Sputnik. I went to Sputnik immediately after spending six hours with K. walking the 80-acre Denver Zoo, a fine but exhausting place where we got our fill of giraffes, elephants, a gorilla family group, polar and brown bears, Komodo dragons, lions, red pandas, black rhinos, zebras, hippos, and overpriced mediocre zoo pizza.
Sputnik is next door to the Hi-Dive rock club and across the street from a fantastic place called the Mutiny Information Cafe, which gave me the impression of stepping across the threshold into 1987 Allston, Mass., with its vast collections of used books, LPs, cassettes, comics, rude punkish buttons, and actual paper zines for sale. Oh, and coffee, and a snarky savant of a barista/clerk/know-it-all who clearly wasn’t taking anything from anyone except money. K. and I were both exhausted at that point, but I was on a second wind from the discovery of such a place and the kid really didn’t care, so that was that.
We fly home. For me at least, the magic dust is gone. It’s not eight years now since I last flew, just three days. My fellow passengers are just people again, some annoying as hell, especially the overweight, middle-aged guy who spends at least 20 minutes at the boarding gate barking into an earpiece to a staffer at his tech company that his team doesn’t know what it’s doing, and he’s going to escalate.
Still, he doesn’t come close to ruining the trip. Even pessimists have to agree: Sometimes things go right.
And K. doesn’t mind it a bit. He sits peacefully throughout the flight, contemplating the clouds.
One of eight 1940 murals in the first-floor rotunda of the Colorado State Capitol, this one contemplating the future. “Beyond the sundown is Tomorrow’s Wisdom/today is going to be long ago”
*in-joke tribute to a late former editor of mine in the Boston days