It was useless to stand on the United frequent-flyer blue carpet thing. The Onepass-Mileage-Plus-Platinum-something-something was the only line into the jetway; one of those flights that is filled to the brim with elite access and star alliance gold members — business travelers only. Right, I thought. Who the fuck else would fly to Tulsa this early on a weekday?
I had been coming in regularly every week from New York, for several weeks. Flying out of Laguardia at five in the morning on Monday like some kind of midnight rat, and then ducking out on Thursday afternoon, depleted and bored and still having to face a connection at O’Hare.
Of course, after nearly 8 years of that madness I could do a route like that blind-folded and the only people I’d interact with without recognizing were the cabbies. Every expense report was already filled out weeks in advance. I knew what I’d spend and what I’d spend it on. By the second day the Marriott bartender knew how I liked my whiskey, and by the third he knew how I liked my potatoes (the answer, of course, is with steak).
The gig itself was so typical that it took no effort at all. The motions were familiar and scripted and the only time my brain really kicked in was when I wandered the streets outside, looking for decent cup of coffee. Not that I found any, but I did meet some nice folks who did their best.
But that’s ok. For the first time in years, I had a sense of levity about the drab environment, a soulful cheer that made the place fascinating in its lifelessness, as opposed to depressingly inane. You see, it was to be the final bow, the cap on the bottle, the last hurrah. I’m literally mailing them my company laptop when I get home, and I’ll arrive jobless and free.
Why Tulsa? I can’t confirm it, but the powers that be are not without a sense of irony. They said it was next on the list, but I’m skeptical. They know me, know why I left for Europe, that I came back kicking and screaming, and I’m sure my email patterns are pointing everywhere but here. No, make no mistake about it — it would be foolish to imagine that they don’t know I’m on my way out, and that this is somehow punishment for something I’ve done or been.
And why not? Good for them. I’m damn good at what I do, but I’m a difficult person to work with, being that I work alone. I mean, I’ve usurped entire penthouse suites from C-level executives just because I arrived late and knew the hotel staff; I moved meeting locations across continents because there wasn’t a good shisha bar on the Asian side of Istanbul; hell, I architected a trip to London to get engaged there in order to avoid losing a round-trip ticket my fiancée needed to use. And besides, I’m pretty sure they’ve had me change phone plans and devices so many times that they don’t know I have the one I’m on, meaning I can expect to still get international cell phone calling for a good year or so before they get audited.
Parting gifts. Along with some nice tumblers from the Press Club at the Canary Wharf Hilton in London and a lot of duty-free whiskey, I think I’ve earned it.
The bartender handed me a Tulamore Dew as if it were something special, but it was early and I was ahead, so I wasn’t being picky any more. I ordered my usual but requested a booth, “because I’ll need the space.” I wasn’t kidding.
Two guys in their mid-forties having dinner at a table across from me looked askance as I unrolled my nautical charts in all of their 4x6 glory, filling the booth with detailed depth measurements from New York harbor to Martha’s Vineyard, every can and nun placed with precision on the rolling mass of unmanageable paper. I pulled out my parallel rules and dividers and heard a yelp at the table across from mine.
“Don’t worry, son,” I heard a father say to his young lad, “he’s not going to hurt us. He just hasn’t found Jesus yet.” I leered at him and lowered my voice.
“Yeah, son, don’t worry — if he’s in this part of the Eastern seaboard, I will find him”, I said, measuring the chart scale on my dividers without looking up.
Since I was about to start graduate school, it seemed a ripe time to get my captain’s license, so I’d been taking advantage of the empty evenings in Tulsa to study my charts and do some dead reckoning exercises in preparation for my exams. I’d been sailing around the Long Island Sound for a few years and had gotten to know some of its alcoves pretty well. But it’s different when you look at a map.
The Sound felt smaller when I wasn’t focused on the wind direction and the massive freighters. At the same time it was disorienting making sense of the juts of land with no homes as landmarks, no distinctive chimneys, no identifying trees. Taking a step back, I felt a bit lost in this smaller version of a playground I’d grown to know so well, and even though I could calculate how many hours it would take me to get to Connecticut, or even Rhode Island, I suddenly couldn’t tell you why I would go at all.
Which raised a big question for me, in my current situation, standing on the edge overlooking where I’d been, and seeing it all at once for the first time. What made me think that I could stop? On thinking it over, only a jackass addict would think he could stop doing the very thing that defined him for almost a decade cold turkey. Only a fool would think that I could easily walk away from the miles, the meals, the drinks and the time to my own on the road, where it’s quiet and dark when you want it to be.
I thought about that for a bit. And then I smiled. A man who does not need others to fuel his ego, the saying goes, can find privacy anywhere. I’d heard it before, but I always thought it had to do with being alone and ok with it. But it’s not — it’s about being with yourself, and ok with it.
And that suits me just fine. So I went home.