At 7am, I began my day like any other; overseeing the kids getting their breakfast, reminding them of the importance of brushed teeth and going to the USA for a Leonard Cohen tour.
The past sixteen days have been great, if not tiring; the call of domestic servitude cannot be ignored and I have spent much of those days washing dishes, making dinners, taxiing the kids to and from school and attempting to climb the pack of world’s worst husbands. As long as I’m not on the bottom of the pile, I figure i’m doing ok.
I kissed everyone goodbye this morning after doing my son’s makeup — the kids get next week off for half-term holidays, and today is costume day, owing to the approach of Hallowe’en. Last night, armed with a sheet of white polyester, a pair of scissors and manly muscles, we created a ghosty, tattered white poncho any self-respecting ghost would be green with envy in coveting. This morning after breakfast I painted his face white, and darkened his eyes with a black paste. He did indeed look like a creepy ‘also-ran’ for that horrifying Exorcist face that creeps up almost subliminally in the film.
I got a taxi to Belfast International Airport at 8.45 am. Seeing as Austin is six hours behind us, I’ll begin talking in Austin terms. So at 2.45 am, I set out from my house in not-Austin, taking the backroads to the A8. As a passenger I marvel at the landscape with much more attention than I normally can while driving. Atop a round hill are three trees of oak, stripped of their breath, silhouetted against a bright peach sky. I travel this road often, but can rarely appreciate the grazing sheep, ordered hedgerows and little houses at the end of narrow lanes, dropped into an apparent nowhere. It all seems much more beautiful than usual; it may be that I am anxiously aware of undertaking a journey of great distance. I have made this journey many times, but each time I get onto a plane, I cannot shake the feeling that it could be the last one.
On the final approach to the airport, we travel along a single carriageway flanked by tall trees who have yet to shed their orange and yellow leaves. This particular stretch of road I remember as the road with the army checkpoint. Gone is the little hut in which a driver might be requested to enter and have their vehicle inspected by men wearing the camouflage of the British Army.
My fondest memory of the pre-checking-in-security-questions this morning was of a lady, Lauren I remember her name as, introducing herself and taking my passport, drawing a comedy penis in it and returning it to me, blank-faced. No, but what really happened was, she asked, ‘Are you carrying anything that could be used as a weapon?’
I answered truthfully; ‘Not unless you’re really creative.’
‘You’d be surprised,’ she answered with a half-smile.
My flight was — fine. It contained very little of interest outside the usual routine of flying. The fun began at Newark, where I would alight and wait for fifty (yes, five-oh) minutes in the queue to see an immigration officer. I counted seven rows of that tensa-barrier mouse-maze thing and multiplied that by a conservative seventy-five yards. If my calculations are correct, that makes a queue of 525 yards in length, to get into America. My favourite moment during those fifty minutes was the immigration officer cattling the newcomers, herding them into their correct mouse-mazes. ‘There are two lines — one for US citizens, one for everyone else. We don’t differentiate, it’s U.S., or non-U.S.!’
Once allowed into America, I got into a tiny car of a tiny automated train with a massive ‘working’ dog, its handler, and a couple of other people. Discovering that the dog’s handler was not blind, I quelled the urge to flip it the bird, USA style. That would have made my day. Shortly after getting off the tiny train, I got into another queue, took all my crap out of my carry-on luggage and with only six (yes, that’s 6) hours to kill in Newark, I find myself tapping these very keys.
After some tofu, veggies, and noodles, I walked almost every last length of terminal C and decided i’d spent enough calories to justify inhaling a veggie burger. And NOW as I type, I can feel my stomach expanding.
The plan for later: get on a plane that will, if Mercy shines her white smile on me, leave on time, and land in Austin four hours later around 11.30pm, where I will be met by fellow Winning Teammate Chris (who happens to be a native of Austin) in his shitty pickup truck painted like the General Lee and expressed to the hotel where, if all goes well, I will end my 20-something hour day not knowing who I am or where am, or what I am, or who I am. Or am. Or just or.
Reporting from Newark, this is Luke Duke, signing off.