Angel On My Wing

[American Airlines Gate Attendant. Caitlin. Photo is mine. The smile is hers.]

“Collect Moments, Not Things”

Gate #7 was nearly full at the Key West Airport. Mariam snagged two seats, probably using her charm. I would have picked a place to sit and made obnoxious remarks to anyone nearby until they moved. That’s what you do when you’re a seasoned traveler like me. Once she was settled I went looking for one more T-shirt. You know, something that whispers ‘Beach’ without yelling ‘Tourist’. Something subtle, no bikinis, no bottles of Pabst Blue Ribbon and nothing with a message. (Actually, I did like the one that said: “Alcohol is the glue that holds this S**t Show together.” Mariam insists I have too many T-shirts already, but we men know one can never have enough T’s. So I avoided the shirt and settled on purchasing a 375 ml bottle of Havana BBQ Sauce. That won’t be around nearly as long as my collection of T-shirts. I mean some T’s can never be worn, not now, not ever. Like my Rolling Stones Steel Wheels Tour beauty or my priceless Bob Dylan Concert Shirts that will never be taken out in public. They’re enshrined.

I got back to my seat and popped a ginger lozenge in my mouth in case the flight got bumpy. It was then Mariam told me about our tickets. Actually, she tried to tell me the story back at our hotel in Key West but I was too busy trying to position myself in the late morning sun (so I wouldn’t return to New York looking as pale as when I left. Every last minute of UV was critical to get that ‘I’ve been to the beach look).

Here is what she said: Pat, remember how we paid for extra leg room because of your Restless Leg Syndrome (very true!). Well, she continued, they changed us. I’m in the row behind you but you still have an aisle seat. She said that American would refund the extra fee for the extra leg room. I told her it didn’t seem fair. We paid. Who gets to override our seating? Why can’t we sit together? I don’t think anyone at AA was aware that I needed her arm to clutch during take-off. I looked over at the Gate attendant. She was standing in front of her computer. Behind her was the departure information for a Dallas/Fort Worth Flight that was leaving before us.

I turned back to get another ginger lozenge. Not fair, I said.

A voice over the PA speakers: “Paging a Mr. Mueller. Mr. Mueller. Mr. Mueller.” This was about the fifth time I heard the announcement. I wondered where this Mr. Mueller was.

I don’t believe that once we board, someone won’t be willing to switch with us so we can sit together, said Mariam. I said, it still isn’t fair. It’s the principle of the thing. Let me go talk to the young woman. She’s not busy.

But, she was. “Looking for a Mr. Mueller. Please report to Gate #7. Mr. Mueller. Mr. Muuueelller. Mr. Muueellllerrrr.” I glanced around. So many people were smiling. I had to smile too.

I’ll go ask her now. She’s handling the Dallas flight, but she has a computer. She’ll know everything, I said.

No, I’ll go. Your back is sore and we’re going to be in the air almost four hours, said Mariam.

Okay, I said.

I got up to stretch. Ninety seconds later, Mariam was back. It’s all taken care of, she said.

Thank you, I said.

I looked back to the gate attendant. She was petite and young. I began to search for another ginger lozenge but before I could unzip my backpack, the attendant was standing in front of us. I noticed her pretty smile and her energy. She must love her job, I thought.

Would you two like to be upgraded to First Class?

I chocked on my lozenge. Sure, we said. A minute later she handed us two upgraded boarding passes. I couldn’t help but think that this would never happen at LaGuardia. Never.

I decided I would like to take her picture for a possible post or even a blog. I wasn’t sure if such a thing was allowed because of all the security concerns. I walked up to her and kindly asked her permission. She already knew me, of course. I glanced at her badge at the end of a lanyard.

So, it’s Caitlin with a C? Yes, she said, and posed for a photo. I felt a real human connection that moment. Something so hard to find these days. Her smile was contagious. I liked her without even spending more than five minutes in conversation.

I wondered how she perceived me. How she saw me. Did I remind her of her grandfather? Her uncle Fred? Or did she see me (as I sometimes like to see myself) as a distinguished gentleman of travel. A Sean Connery with a beard? Julio Iglesias? Timothy Dalton? Joe Biden? Yul Brenner with hair? A convicted felon? I wonder what she was thinking when I (jokingly) put my thumb on my ear and my pinky on my lips and mouthed “Call Me”.

Caitlin? Well, I struggled with finding a title for this blog. I thought “Angel-Something” but almost passed on it until I went to my dictionary App and read the synonyms for ‘angel’.

It all feel into place:

~~A benevolent celestial being.

~~A kind and lovable person.

~~One who manifests goodness, purity, and selflessness.

That’s all I needed. We passed her as we walked out onto the tarmac to board AA4555. We smiled. She smiled.

[The Keys. Ten minutes after takeoff. Photo is mine.]

And, several hours later, when I sat on our sofa in our New York apartment, I checked my iPhone.

There was a Friend Request from Caitlin Ford on Facebook. Truly, honestly an angel in many ways.

[Author’s Note: Thank You Caitlin.]

Oxford Of My Dreams


I was drifting off to sleep.  My dreams began.  I felt disoriented.  Where was I?

I was in Oxford, England to accept an award for “Best Blogger in the World.”

I was waiting in a room in one of the 38 colleges that make up the University.  I had walked here from the hotel, but all the buildings were made of the beautiful honey-colored limestone from the Cotswold hills.  This room is where the dons donned their academic robes. The place was heavy with the dust of history…literary history. Books dating back centuries lined the walls. I saw an early copy of “Alice in Wonderland” signed by Lewis Carroll, himself.  Was I in the college that gave the world Richard Burton, the actor? Or, Edmund Halley, who made his name on a comet?  Was this the room where J.R.R. Tolkien thought about the narrative of the Hobbit books?  Did T. S. Elliot walk the path I just walked?

Perhaps I was in a room off a small lecture hall in Bodleian Library, which claims to have over 100 miles of shelves (The Strand Bookstore in NYC says it has 8 miles of volumes.)

In the lecture hall next door I could hear the shuffling of feet and chairs as the runner-up and past winners were taking their seats.  I could hear Fineguy6076, who blogged out of Jersey City.  There was the instantly recognizable voice of martagoesyo, who wrote from a small town in Ohio.  Last years winner had just arrived to a smattering of applause.  He may have a large following and was quite an original blogger of 2014, but many readers, including this writer, were put off by his daily output of cats dressed as dogs and disguised as trivets or mid-southern house plants.

His wrote under the name of HeSheGuy.

You do the math.

The opening speeches droned on and on.  The room was warm and I began to grow sleepy.  I drifted into a peaceful land of Nod.  I began to feel I was near a great dining hall with floating candles and a really bad bully was picking on a guy named Harry.  Wait! That was the Great Hall of Christ Church College around the corner.  I continued into a light dream-like state.


My senses became fully awake.

“Order please!”  The words came from the lecture hall.

I knew then they were about to announce my name and I was to make my arrival through a massive oak door.

Applause and shouts of “Here! Here!” and “Hussa” and “About time old boy” would soon ring out.  Pretty ladies would stop fanning themselves and whisper, ever so discretely,  “ I want him to be the father of my children.”

But I was not out of my nap.  Another, less salutary voice spoke:

“Ladies and Gentleman” the calm business-like nature of a man’s tone had indeed broken my REM sleep.

I still felt it was my time.

I tried to rise but felt a restraint around my waist.  I opened my eyes and found myself staring at a small TV monitor mounted on the back of the seat in front of me.

On the blue screen was a small icon of an airplane. Behind it was a blue line that connected it to JFK. As the plane was set against a blue color, I surmised that we were over an ocean. The little icon seemed to be headed toward the letter LHR.

As I regained full awareness, it all came back to me. I wasn’t in Oxford, yet.

I was on American Flight #106.

Then more reality came flooding back to me.

We were caught in traffic somewhere near La Guardia Airport.  Despite being picked up three hours early by a car service from the Upper West Side, my wife was beyond frantic.  She was convinced we were going to miss the flight.

I said we wouldn’t, traffic was always like this out here in Queens.

She said we would miss the flight and that it would cost a small fortune to make new arrangements.

I suggested, calmly, like a man, that one screwed up ticket was only half as bad as two and I suggested she get on the flight without me.

[She was TSA approved and I wasn’t, so I would have to take off most of my clothes and pass through a scanner that would prevent me from having any more children in the future.]

She could breeze past all that and still make it to Gate 14.  I told her I would sleep in the airport or go to some cheap motel and find something to amuse me, like going bowling with a woman named Candy from Flushing, and I would catch up to her in London.

She flatly refused. [Sometimes, women just see the logic in some things.]

Without making this blog any longer, we actually made flight #106

So, now my watch reads 5:15 am.  We’re about 45 minutes away from landing.  Some kind of breakfast just got slapped down next to this computer.

My eyes turned red about two hours ago.

We’re going to pick up our rent car at Heathrow.

Our first night is already booked and it’s not that long a drive.

Where, you may very well ask, are we going first?

Oxford, of course.

My birthday is nine days away.  It’s not too early for a gift, is it?

Maybe an award for writing something like this?

Passports I: East and West of the Sun

The great city of New York was behind us…and the sun was setting in the west.  We flew into the approaching darkness of night.

As I was planning this blog series, I was sitting on the American Airlines 767 trans-oceanic super jet propelled airplane.  My problem, right from the ‘get go’ (God, I hate that term), was to identify exactly when did this trip begin.  Did it begin in the discussions that Mariam and I had many months ago?  Leaving Rainbow Lake? Leaving our friend’s apartment in Manhattan? The ride to JFK?  The security lines?  Boarding the plane?  I just can’t put my finger on when the ‘go’ button got pushed.  Maybe, the true roots, the ultimate origins of this journey lay in the distant past…when I took a lucky turn on a New York street?  Or, when some poor, hungry Irishman decided he had been through enough and booked a passage to the United States sometime in the 1850’s?  One could get caught up in beginnings, because rarely does it start with the sound of a gun at a track meet.  The race doesn’t start then…it started when you decided to join the team, months earlier.  Or, even when….

But I digress.

I wanted to write that I composed this post on the plane, with the laptop snug on my lap and me, curled and snug on the seat during the all-night flight.  But that would be a professional quality lie.  In truth, I didn’t have any idea where my laptop was during the flight.  I knew it was somewhere under the seat in front of me…but so was a lot of other stuff.  So, I scribbled some notes (I’m using them right now) on a legal pad (yellow).  Don’t do this at home!  Every time I had to fold up the “table” I had to shove the pad into the net thingie in back of that seat in front of me.  Before long, bits of yellow paper were tearing and shredding away.  It’s a wonder I kept most of what I noted…so you’d better appreciate this blog because it wasn’t easy!

To paint the picture more clearly, I had about 4.45 inches of leg room for my own use.  Now, I’m not a tall guy like, say, Tommy Lee Jones and anyone who knows me, knows why I never played basketball in high school.  As I sat there trying to balance my few things, I felt confident that the American Airlines people had spoken to my childhood teachers (nuns) and confessors.  I was being punished here and now for the sins of my youth.  I was going through the tortures of Purgatory on a jet plane.

We were given a soda and bag of small pretzels as our pre-dinner snack.  I was unable to open the little plastic thing even though I pulled and tore at it over and over.  Finally, I gave it one more jerk and the bag popped open and several pretzels, the size of quarters, scattered onto the aisle.  I was belted in but the thought of numerous feet pulverizing the dried dough and making a mess on the carpet was too much for me.  I unhooked my seat belt and leaned over to pick two of them up.  My head came within four inches of a woman’s knee.  She looked down at me.  I think I noticed she was beginning to roll up her glossy Vogue magazine to whoop me on the head for attempting to look up her dress.  I got the pretzels just in time to avoid a smart whack on my already sore head.

I settled back in my ‘seat’ and tried to block out the pain and embarrassment by recalling the quiet moments back at Gate 14 when I was trying to charge my cell battery to the max.  I was sitting next to a group of girls who were off to a holiday in Paris.  One young woman who looked like she was about eight years old was leafing through her passport.  She had more visa stamps in her book that I had caps in my bottle cap collection.  At her age, if I walked across my hometown of Owego, NY I felt like I was crossing vast international boundaries.

Here, it could be fair to ask why I was so intent on charging my cell.  Well, in truth, I was also charging my iPad.  I had approximately 46 books downloaded to my Kindle app.  I wanted to travel light.  But, I feared that my battery would run down and I couldn’t play solitaire or listen to my iTunes.  So I packed some other reading material.  I had a book of French poetry, two pulp novels, two recent New Yorker magazines, a copy of the new Rolling Stone, a Vanity Fair (which had an article on Monica Lewinsky I wanted to read), three legal pads, four journals, a few sketching pads, a set of earphones the size of an eight-bunch of bananas and my sunglasses case.  Mariam asked why I was packing the sunglasses in my carry-on.

“It’s a night flight,” she said.

I just stared at her.  She didn’t understand.

I have to add here that I’ve had decades of backpacking experience under by belt.  I used to be so concerned about tiny bits of extra weight that I used to drill holes in my aluminum water cup to shave off a few ounces.

They brought some food for dinner.  It wasn’t so bad, considering the quality of airline food in general.  I decided that I would use the time to teach Mariam a few necessary French words…you know, so she wouldn’t have to rely on me for everything during our Paris stay.  I picked up the packet of butter and made her repeat “beurre”, I pointed at the water bottle and patiently asked her to repeat “l’eau”.  I stopped when I got to the Canada Dry Ginger Ale.  I decided not to overload her with too many words at once.

They dimmed the lights and I tried to play solitaire on my iPad but it fell from my hands twice before I realized I needed some music to sooth me to sleep.

I remember hearing only one song: “Stand By Your Man” by Tammy Wynette, before I drifted into a twenty-minute nap.

The captain announced that we were beginning our descent to the Aeroport De Charles De Gaulle.

The rising sun was in front of us and the towering cumulus clouds began to touch our wings.

These were French clouds and they were holding French rain…no doubt.


The full moon above the Musee du Luxemborg.


In the Garden du Luxemborg.