Politics, open government, and safe streets. And the constant incursion of cycling.

Month: December 1998

Where for the Holidays?

And really, what was I thinking?  Traveling the weekend before Christmas?  And those poor huddled hungry masses I was just talking about with such concern? Fuck ’em- let ’em take Greyhound.

Things don’t start too well when M. rolls over and mumbles,”Mark, what time do we need to get up?  It’s 6:22″

Grogging to reality, “Umm, well, my plane leaves at 7:00”.

You can imagine what followed.

And not surprisingly, I made it to the gate with time to spare (I treat any time between me getting there and the doors closing as time to spare, thank you).  Unfortunately, Delta had failed to consult me about today’s travel schedule, and cancelled the flight.  Joy.

So, knowing that my three day foul mood streak was still, well, streaking, I’ve decided to save the stress of multiple attempts throughout the morning to get on the plane, and just leave on an open flight later in the day.

Brilliant strategist that I am, I failed to remember that about 15 minutes after the impeachment vote (that’s how long it take to get from the floor of the House to National Airport Terminal C), the place will be filled with staffers getting the fuck out of Dodge.  And really, I don’t want to be around these people anyway.

Unless I could get a seat next to Bob Barr.  I’d really really really like that.



Sitting in Hartsfield Concourse E for the millionth time, and not being able to help feeling that it’s gonna be the last time in a while.  It always seems as if you wait too long to appreciate what you have, even when you know you’re going to lose it.

The flight from DC to here was fine, thought it started a bit later in the day than I would have liked. I ended up sitting next to a kid who’d gotten a new Lego set, special for the trip. I was almost jealous.  Normally, I do everything I can to avoid children on planes, but this one seemed well behaved. That’s a rarity, and even more so in first class.

He kept to himself, and I split my time between replying to email and stealing glances at the progress of his Lego project. We both put our things up when the meal came, some chicken breast and couscous/vegetable platter. It wasn’t immediately apparent that it was a chicken breast and vegetable platter, and I found no small amount of humor in noticing that the
kid looked at me to figure out how to eat it.


On arrival, we had a gate change that put me within a 3 minute walk from the jetway to the curb where I usually meet my sister. The more you travel, the more tiny little things like that matter.  A. was at the curb in short order, and we headed off to grab a late lunch in Fayetteville.

That left a couple of hours to take in the aftermath of the impeachment hearings. Somewhere over Lake Alatoona, Georgia, the President of the United States had been impeached. I’m glad I wasn’t in front of a television when that happened. I’ve actually shifted in my opinion on the proper outcome, but it hasn’t lessened the visceral anger I’ve felt over the past week.


Looking at it sitting on the runway, it seems a smallish plane to be flying over the Atlantic in. I miss the old 747-200’s, with 10 seat wide rows and a second floor for the first class (which I’d only ever glimpsed via a 2am covert operation on a flight over to Frankfurt in 1985). But these are wide and comfortable, and my usual habit of placing a standing request for a full Tanqueray & tonic glass ensures a quick slip into sleep. I usually wake up as we approach the Irish coast, and always wish I’d thought to wear something less prone to wrinkling.

It seems my father is already there, and is going to pick me up in a car. No small luxury, as that means I can skip the 32,000 foot change from slacks and a linen shirt to jeans and a pullover. Manchester to Nottingham is a beautiful drive, and I hope the day is worthy of a few snapshots.

Then – having left home, and stopped by home along the way – I’ll be home.

My America

A little over 10 years ago, in Frankfurt, West Germany, I boarded a Pan Am flight with my sister. It was bringing us to “the States”, that place we’d stopped by a few times as my father moved us around the world. It was where my mother was from, and where we’d be living for the foreseeable future (three years?). I wasn’t terribly thrilled about leaving Germany, but hey, I’d be living in the place where you could buy Now & Laters, T&C shirts, and see first run movies.


But as far as I could see at the time, those were really the only advantages. I mean, in the end, it’s all the same, right? Just a little difference in language, store hours, and things you could buy. It was with these thoughts that I boarded that flight.


Andrea and I ended up sitting next to another “unaccompanied minor” on this 747 packed full of strange people leaving also leaving Frankfurt. She was fairly quiet, but we slowly moved into conversation as the night passed.


Her name was Marta, and she was on her way home, too. Turns out she had a much better conception of home than we did. She’d never left before (that was very odd in itself to me), but had been sent away for a couple of months during some “family troubles”. She didn’t say quite what, at first, and I didn’t ask. Probably a divorce or something.


It was a long night, and we ended up talking a long time. As the conversation flowed, it became clear that while she missed her mother, she wasn’t too excited about going home. The connecting flight at JFK that would take her home landed in Haiti. Her “family troubles” were that her grandfather, mayor of some town, had been pulled out of his bed in the middle of the night. A day and a few bullets later, her grandfather was dumped in front of her house. She said she thought she’d rather be living in “the States”.




In almost any other circumstance, I wouldn’t have believed her. But there was a certain sincerity to her words that struck me at the time, and I was amazed. Maybe “the States” were a better place to be in some cases.




Dawn started to come somewhere over Nova Scotia. People were waking up, repacking the bags that served as makeshift pillows over the night. It was a full flight, and the usual empty-row-as-bed reprise from the discomfort of coach was nowhere to be found. It’s particularly difficult to be anything but crabby at that point on any transatlantic flight.


By the time our final descent started, everyone was up. Some tried to finish off a last chapter in a book, some stared out the windows at the coastline, and others drifted back into sleep. The plane angled sharply, and we would soon be on the ground.


Suddenly there was a chattering. Mostly in languages I’d never heard. Everyone was looking out of the right side of the plane, and Andrea moved back so I could see. Oh, it was the Statue of Liberty. Neat. Are we there yet? Oddly, folks stayed glued to the windows, and the stewardess had to get up and tell them to sit down and put their seat belts on again.




The pilot turned the plane again, and leveled out. Shortly, we’d be on the ground, and I was going to have to figure out exactly how to get me and my sister to the Northwest flight to Minnesota. I wondered to myself about Marta, and made sure we exchanged addresses.


The scenery was suddenly rushing by, and passengers all went quiet, that way they do just before a plane lands. And with a screech of rubber, we were back in “the States.”


At least, I’m assuming there was a screech of rubber. I couldn’t hear it. See, the whole plane, almost all 420 passengers, was cheering. Cheering. And yelling, and crying, and damn near everyone was smiling the biggest smiles I’d ever seen. It didn’t stop till long after we’d reached the gates. They were finally in “the States.”




I can’t begin to explain how profound the experience of that flight was, or how it’s become the base of my faith in America. It wasn’t a capstone, but a beginning. Prior to that, American was simply the thing that my American family was always telling me I should be more like, and that dammit, I wasn’t English. Or American was the part of me that kept me from understanding cricket, as my English family said.


American was loud, obnoxious, and usually what I distanced myself from. English was a bit easier to digest for most, and anyway, England was closer than “the States.”


This is not to say that the flight was a permanent step into patriotism. Since then, I’ve railed against this country, worked for and with innumerable organizations many would call “subversive”. America manifest is something that occasionally still turns my stomach.


But America the ideal, the one everyone was cheering for that day, the one they recognized before I did- that’s mine. It’s theirs, too. And goddammit it’s yours if you want it.


Don’t treat that as anything less than what that is.

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