Tuesday, January 11, 2011

"She's Away and Westward Bound"

They say the best songs are borne of experience.  If that's true, singer/songwriter Gordon Lightfoot must have had his share of travel woes and adventures.

I picked up a compilation cassette of Lightfoot's music at Goodwill while I was home for Christmas.  Little did I know how it would prove to be the soundtrack of my trip back to Utah.

The journey began uneventfully enough at the Great Bend, Kansas airport.  (Airport is used only in the strictest sense here.  The terminal is a small, one-room brick building with a single glass door that opens to the tarmac.)  My folks sent me off with hugs, last-minute parental advice, and a small roll of cash slipped into my hand.  Pro that I am, leaving home is never easy.

But the mountains [...] are calling out to me,
And I got my bedroll on my back
And everything that I could pack to see me on my way...

Four of us passengers boarded the 19-seater; since there was no flight attendant, the co-captain—who looked barely old enough to shave—checked our seat belts and gave the flotation device shpeel.  Then takeoff.  It's a small thing in the grand scheme, but I thanked my Father for a clear day to fly over farmlands; there are few things as beautiful to my eyes as the rural Midwest viewed from 39,000 feet.

And the prairie towns go sailing by...

A quick stop in Dodge City yielded one more passenger; then it was on to Denver.  Though it was a crisp, sunny day when we took off, the sky clouded as we flew west.  By the time we landed in Colorado, it was a regular blizzard.  But, so far so good.


All is well.
I left the cold midwestern towns behind...

My next flight to Salt Lake City was scheduled to leave in 1.5 hours.  Winter weather, however, would dictate otherwise.  Along with thousands of other passengers, my layover became what I call a delayover.

This old airport's got me down, it's no earthly use to me
Cause I'm stuck here on the ground, cold [...] as I can be...



My flight was pushed back several times until the boarding call sounded about two hours behind schedule.  I called home; Mom answered and I let her know I wouldn't be calling when I arrive in Provo since it is already late.

Does your mother know, you had to go someday?
Just tell her [...] That you've got ten dollars and you'll be all right,
And when you get straight you're gonna come back east some day...

But the waiting wasn't over.  First, we sat in line to deice the plane.  It was dark now, with snow blowing under the lights and a chill creeping into the cabin.




Out on runway number nine, big 707 set to go, 
But I'm stuck here on the ground where the cold winds blow...

About the time I should have been pulling into my driveway in Utah, we finally took off from Denver.

Hear the mighty engines roar, see the silver bird on high;
She's away and westward bound, high above the clouds she'll fly...

It was a late but safe landing in wintery Salt Lake City.  Five inches of snow and ice had to be cleared off my car.  That was easy compared to the task of getting inside it.  The doors were frozen shut.  After much prying, yanking, pleading, huffing and puffing, I got the driver's door open and crawled in.  Only now the door wouldn't close; the latch was frozen in place.

I have had to hold my door closed as I've driven to work on a cold morning once or twice, but driving 50 minutes on the interstate is entirely different.  My door must latch.  The parking lot attendants only offered a sympathetic shake of the head and pointed me to a truck stop.  Once there, I pulled out some tools and a flashlight and attempted surgery with numb fingers.  Where was my capable-of-anything dad when I needed him?

I'm a long way from home
And I miss my loved ones so...

Ten minutes later, with no success, I admitted what I was: a Helpless Female.  I went inside the truck stop to look for a hero.  The girl behind the counter called over Hector, a young man whose wide smile I soon realized meant, "I am not an English-speaker and I would love to help but I have no idea what you're saying."  Still, he seemed to recognize a Helpless Female when he saw one.

And the service station man agreed I didn't look too well...

Hector followed me out, and by gestures I made him understand what the problem was.  He motioned for me to get in the car and then he slammed the door.  It latched!  At last I headed south to Provo and my warm bed.

All is well.
The foothills are coming into sight.
Today is just a memory, the future is tonight.
And the red pines will bow their heads,
The rivers and the watersheds will carry us along,
And the mountains [...] will greet me there as only [they] can do.

All is well.


Excerpts from songs by the great Gordon Lightfoot: Early Morning Rain, Mountains and Maryann, Does Your Mother Know.