Maybe it’s the genetics, but my family and I go nuts when we drive into an airport.
My mind scrambles to decide: Am I an arrival since I’m arriving at the airport to depart, or am I a departure even though I’ve just arrived at the airport? No, I can’t be an arrival because only people flying into this airport from another airport can be arrivals at this airport. So when I depart here and arrive at my destination – then I’ll be an arrival – until I leave there to come home, which will then make me a departure there but an arrival here?
Does this make any sense to you?
I travel through these mental corkscrews while trying to find my terminal and not wreck my car; and since all airport roads seem like slalom courses designed to train NASCAR drivers, I’m sweating big-time by the time I actually show up to check my bags. In short, it’s total agita, which is New Yorkese for a super-dooper pain in the tuchus.
On top of this familial disability, my Dad, born and raised in Brooklyn, apparently was never taught the purpose of a directional signal when he learned how to drive.
His rebuttal to years of family chastisement over sudden lane changing behavior, “I’ve never had an accident in sixty-two years of driving,” convinces him he does not need any of the little blinking lights on the corners of his car.
Or any rental car he might be driving, as was the case one evening in Tucson.
Mom and Dad were in Tucson to see if they had any interest in moving to the Sun Belt. My dad was eighty and promising to “retire soon”. They asked me to fly in from my new home in Seattle, Washington to help drive them around, since I had been in Tucson on business ten years before, thereby qualifying as an Arizonan maven. But, more importantly, as they say in their own words, “We’re slowing down, and at our age we enjoy being driven around.”
Unfortunately, due to a little personal bankruptcy I did not have a valid credit card, so their car rental company would not let me drive.
Out in the parking lot I said to my dad, “C’mon Dad, give me the keys; that’s what I ‘m here for.”
“No, son, you’re not authorized and I don’t want to break the rules.”
Why did I think he would start now? What was I thinking of?
So, I became the Grand Master of Tucson Navigation, sitting next to my father in the front seat. My mom, with her macula degeneration-based tunnel vision and 20/2400 eyesight, reigned as the Royal Empress of the Back Seat, ready to aid in anyway she might deem suitable.
For two days we toured the sights of Tucson and visited my parents’ old college buddies who had preceded them down the Retirement Trail. At the end of our long weekend together, they drove me back to Tucson Airport for my return to Seattle. Driving off the Interstate, we encountered the mesmerizing mish-mash of signs announcing: Arrival – Departure – All Rental Cars, and family panic set in.
“Go left,” shouted my mother.
“If we’re driving a rental car, but not returning it, do we still have to drive in the rental car lanes????
I began to panic. I took deep breaths. “Eh, Dad, I think we have to go right, get in the right lane, Dad,” I said in my most compelling, meditative, new-agey voice.
My dad had his own ideas, and decided his best option on the three-laned access road was to weave from the middle lane in slow undulations across the right lane and left until he could get the feel of where he wanted to go.
Approaching the right lane on his third arc, I braced myself for the impact I knew had to come. Inexplicably, I heard neither the screech of tires nor crunch of metal. I peeked in the right side-view mirror to see how close we had come. Surprisingly, I didn’t see any car, but, I did see something magical happening behind us.
A white, late model Pontiac, emergency lights flashing, was driving slowly in a wide “S,” echoing my father’s swerve across the three lanes, and had blocked traffic all the way out to the Interstate.
I watched this Good Samaritan make a couple of his sweeps across the lanes, then my father exclaimed joyfully, “Here we are,” and scooted up the departure ramp.
When he was clear of the highway, the white Pontiac turned off its flashers, flicked its headlights and accelerated to normal speed. The backed-up cars accelerated as well, and quickly spread themselves out. It was over in just a few moments and my parents had no idea of what had happened.
I figure an off-duty cop must have seen us shouting and pointing in three different directions. A map of Arizona flailing in the air must have been a giveaway that they had another “Code 14:” Out-Of-Town-Tourist-Rental-Runaway, and they did the right thing: block Tucson traffic until we New Yorkers could figure out where the heck we were going.
Whoever you are, thanks. The Smith family owes you one.
PS. After dropping me off, it took my parents two hours to find their way back to the motel, twenty minutes away. My mother said later, “When we saw signs for Mexico, I knew we were in trouble.”
They brought the car back the next day and flew home to New York. When I asked my dad if he liked Tucson he replied, “I like it here,” which means in Brooklynese, “Dis Brooklyn boy ain’t never leaving.”
Bruce A. Smith