She Was Dancing When I Saw Her

S6. That was the designated area where my shuttle driver would pick us up to drive us back to our vehicles parked in a distant parking lot. As I exited the baggage claim area and crossed the street to the pickup area for shuttles, I could see a woman dancing and snapping her fingers and mouthing some words. She was smiling, too, as I approached. It would have been difficult to be in a bad mood around this woman, her spirit was just that way.

“I want some of the coffee you drink, “I said, as I approached the pickup area, close enough to her I thought she’d be able to hear, even with all the noise from airplanes and vehicles in the pickup/dropoff area.

“The joy of the LORD is my strength,” she said.

“Well, amen,” I said, not knowing how exactly to respond.

“How you doin’ this mornin’, hon?” she said, still smiling, and swaying as if from music only she could hear.

“Doing well. Have I found the right place–the shuttle pickup to go to my vehicle back out at B21?” I responded.

“You got it, hon. I’ll take care of you. Just put your bag inside and lay it on its side so it doesn’t roll, okay, sugar?”

“Yes, ma’am. Will do.”

I was the only patron on the shuttle, when I did as she said and took a seat. I took my rolling bag and placed it as directed and then took my backpack off and put it on the seat beside me.

“Looks like you’re it, honey. But don’t you worry. I’ll take care of you.”

“Sounds great,” I said. “This is very convenient. I’m glad to have met you today,” I said.

“Honey, I’m beyond sixty years old, been driving big rigs for a career, am now retired, and I just do this here job because I love driving and I love meeting folks, and I can take care of my grandbaby,” she said.

“Well, that sounds nice. You live in the city?”

“Decatur. Just sixteen miles from here. I started driving part-time, but now I get all the hours I want. I treat folks right. I’m a recovering addict, but the Holy Spirit got a’hold of me and convicted me of my ways a long time ago, honey. Now I’m filled with the Spirit. No more drugs for me, baby, but the joy of the LORD is my strength!”

She spoke so quickly that I could not even tell when she inhaled and exhaled. She flowed with words and energy.

I let the conversation hang for a minute or two, unsure whether I could match her energy level. I’d been up since three a.m. and flown across the country. Were it not for the caffeine in my system, I could have easily dozed off, at least on the plane. But not now. She was different.

Very soon we were in the parking lot where I had parked serveral days prior.

“Honey, what type’s a car you got?”

I told her and she spotted it right away in the lane.

I took some cash from my wallet and placed it in the cup she had on her dashboard, where it bulged with singles, fives, and ten-dollar bills.

“May I share something with you?” I asked, as I put on my backpack and retrieved my rolling bag.

“Of course, hon. What you got?”

“I’m a military chaplain. And I just love hearing stories like yours. Thank you for telling me your story,” I said.

“We were supposed to meet today, hon. That’s the Lord at work, you see,” she said.

I put the cash in her white cup on the dashboard and waved to her.

“I’ll see you,” I said.

“You drive careful, hon,” she said, and honked the horn on the empty shuttle.

She was singing to herself again and smiling. And she pulled off to see who else the Lord would put in her path.

Carson McCullers’ Short Story, “The Sojourner”

Background: When a college kid, I remember taking a handful of yellow Vivarin caffeine pills on a rainy Thursday and staying up for two-and-a-half days on a brown cloth sofa with collapsed cushions and reading The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, McCullers’ breakthrough enduring heartrending novel. I read it as an eighteen-year-old and have reread it since then, along with her other works.

McCullers has a gift for characterization. If you are a caring reader, you come to care deeply for her characters. You know of John Singer and Mick, e.g. in The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. They live in your thinking, in your imagination, in your heart. They are in fact quite real to you, even though you know that they don’t have a SSN or driver’s license.

If you’re of a literary bent, this will be self-evident. Twain’s Huck and Jim are as real to you–perhaps more real–than any so-called news of the day. (If you trust TV entertainers/pontiffs, this explains a lot.) Hamlet is as real to me as anyone. Why? Because, among other things, he (and the play bearing his name) speaks to the human condition, to what we creatures are like, to what it means to draw breath and to live, laugh, grow up, grow old (at least sometimes), and to grow towards our ends, to decline.

Recently I was in Pennsylvania and read my some of my favorite short stories, one of which was McCullers’ “The Sojourner.” In the edition of short stories I was reading from, “The Sojourner” was one of Elbert Erskine’s (the famous editor) favorites, too. He, of course, worked with and edited the writing of Faulkner, John O’Hara, Cormac McCarthy, Carson McCullers, among others. Those names merit taking heed.

A line that grabbed me: The story is about what it means to journey–to sojourn–in imagination when one’s ‘reality’ is sadly much less than one’s ambitious inner promptings/imagined life. Another way of expressing the idea is to say that one’s outer visible life is often sadly less than the life one imagined for oneself.

I was reading from one of my shelves of collections of short stories.

Then this line: “There’s nothing that makes you so aware of the improvisation of human existence as a song unfinished. Or an old address book” (Carson McCullers, “The Sojourner,” New York: Dell Publishing, 1982), 329-330.

The main character, John Ferris, continues to journey, to sojourn, to live (where exactly?). That’s the key question.

McCullers, when she is on point, tears your heart out.

Renting Cars, Possible Demons, & Reasons to Continue (A Human Interest Story)

I love to travel. And in my position, I travel a great deal. My most recent trip was to Pennsylvania. Due to an unforeseen change, I had to rent a car at the airport in Harrisburg, PA. No problem, I thought, I’ve rented scores of times. (See where this is going?)

So my drive to Atlanta’s airport early in the morning had been uneventful, the way one wants it. And I had the friendliest shuttle driver in ATL, who dropped me and the other travelers at the South Terminal. I knew early on this was going to be a good trip. I mean, if you can get through ATL traffic, and (even though I had to park in the Park ATL PARK-RIDE, I was okay with that, because the shuttles seemed to be running smoothly. So again, I thought, no problem. This was going to be a good trip.

The flight was on time, too. So as I sat in the terminal and sipped my coffee and texted my wife that all was going well, I ate a snack she had packed me, and read more of Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls, and glanced up occasionally to people-watch others in the airport. (If you ever want to see more of human variety than nearly any other place, an airport is your place.)

Anyway, the plane pulled up, and I watched the crews through the window do their routine checks and services. I’d only read twenty pages or so before it was time to board. Again, no issues. We boarded on time, took off on time, and the morning was clear, and I had a window seat. So I looked out to see the mountains of north GA come into view just a few minutes after we were airborne.

I read some more of the novel on the flight, and in less than two hours we were safely on the ground in Pennsylvania. I grabbed my gear and walked across the way to the rental car kiosks. And then things changed.

I walked up to the Budget counter.

“Good afternoon, ma’am. I would like to rent a compact car.”

“Name!”

I told her my name.

“I don’t see your reservation,” she said.

“Yes, ma’am, I know. I don’t have one. I need to rent one, please, a vehicle.”

“We don’t have any vehicles,” she said, about as concerned as a jar of mayonnaise.

“Um … okay.”

She never looked up from her keyboard; she acted like she wanted me to burst into flames and burn in front of her.

I looked down at the Avis counter. No one was in line, so I thought maybe I’d have better luck there.

A young woman was smacking gum and sitting alone scrolling on her smartphone behind the counter.

“Good afternoon, ma’am. I’d like to rent a vehicle, please. I don’t have a reservation, though.”

“We are out of vehicles,” she said, and popped a bubble inside her gums. “There’s a conference in town.”

A man in front of me in the Hertz line, only separated by a red rope chain like one sees in movie theaters, overheard our conversation. He looked at me and said, “They told me the same thing and I went online and made a reservation just now. I have a car,” he said. He rolled his eyes and smiled, as if he understood my exasperation.

So I walked over to the chairs alongside the wall, pulled out my phone, logged onto the Budget site, reserved the cheapest vehicle I could find, received a confirmation number by email with my pickup time (about three minutes later).

I walked back over to Luciferette, I mean, the girl at the Budget counter, and said, “I’d like to pick up my reserved vehicle, please.”

“Name!”

I gave her my name.

“I don’t see your name.”

“Would you like this confirmation number? Would that help?” I asked.

“Yes,” she returned, not looking up.

I read it to her.

“License and credit card,” she said.

It took all of about two minutes. I initialed and signed and she, mumbling while looking down at her keyboard, said, “A 19. Out the door to your left. Bring it back full or you are charged $11.39 a gallon.”

I walked out and had never been so glad to see a rental vehicle.

The morning had begun so well. The flight had been good. The views of my beloved mountains were perfect. But Luciferette had told me that Budget had no vehicles. Then I reserved one online and had one within three minutes.

I could feel my heart racing under my black Columbia wind parka. And the girl smacking the bubble gum at Avis had given me the same spiel. But here I was, walking out to get in the rental car.

So I placed my bag in the truck’s bed, and put my hotel coordinates in my iPhone and drove the hour or so to the hotel where I was staying for this trip. When I pulled into the hotel parking lot, I was still mad about the Budget minion. I almost dreaded seeing what experience awaited me at the desk when I checked in at the hotel. But it had to be done.

I walked up to the counter. “Good afternoon,” I said, and gave the young man my name and military identification card and my credit card.

“Here you go, sir. Here’s your ID back, and your credit card and room keys. Here’s the WiFi code. The easiest way to access your room is by walking just down this hall, and the elevators will be on the right. Once you exit the elevator, your room will be down the hall to your right. What else may I help you with, sir?”

I almost collapsed on the floor in front of him. For a second, I was speechless. Was I on the same planet as I was when at the Budget desk in Harrisburg, PA?

I looked at the young man’s nametag. Cole, it said.

(Cole, you’ve no idea how you have encouraged me today. No idea.)

Somehow I did not collapse in front of Cole at the hotel’s front desk. “Thanks, brother. Much appreciated.”

I walked up to my room, pulled out my uniform to change and get prepared to go see soldiers soon.

The story is probably an old and familiar one. Folks are a mixed bag. Some lie to you and never bat an eye. They might even tell you they’ve no vehicles available to rent. Still others might smack bubble gum behind the counter and pop bubbles inside their mouths and tell you they’ve no vehicles available to rent.

But then you might also meet a nice man who tells you how he went online a moment before, and PRESTO!, vehicles appeared like manna from heaven, ready to be rented.

Or you might walk into your hotel, and meet a nice young man with the name of Cole, who seems to care, who does his job well, who is, well, just kind. And you might feel your pulse slow, and your breathing slow, and you might think, and say silently to yourself, It’s okay, old boy. Remember: a mixed bag. Pick the good ones.

Soul Food with Brewster Down by the Creeks & Over the Hills

It had rained on and off today after church. Temperatures were in the high 40s and low 50s. Skies were gray. But a short hike was just what I needed.

I put the leash on my old hiking buddy Brewster, our old gray shepherd of many years. He looks like an old wolf when he’s out in the woods. He loves these hills and creeks.

We took off for a short afternoon hike. The creeks were running strong; the deer were out.

I don’t know how folks are not moved by such things. It’s my soul food.

Hope you enjoy some pictures as much as Brewster and I enjoyed the hike and feel of the creeks rolling.

For Melville/Moby Dick Aficionados, Pirtle’s Pages, Episode 9

Completed Delbanco’s biography of Melville this week. It helped solidify my appreciation for Moby Dick, Billy Budd, and “Bartleby, the Scrivener,” especially.

I’m reading Moby Dick again in 2023, and like the best of the classics, it reaps massive dividends upon deep slow rereadings.

If you appreciate Moby Dick and Melville’s other masterpieces, Delbanco’s bio is worth your read.