Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Nothin' Lasts Forever When You Travel Time.

On the regional jet from Chicago to Des Moines today, I encountered an in-flight rarity: a delightful baby. About nine months old, he had neat, wispy bronze hair, big blue eyes, chubby dimpled cheeks, and a ready smile made up of brand-new teeth all crowded into the front of his mouth. From the row ahead, he looked over his mother's shoulder and brightened at the sight of us, his new potential friends in 8D and E.

He was a welcome change from the whiny and unsatisfiable toddler who decided, as we taxied down the runway in D.C.,  that she did not "want to go up," repeating, "I wan drive Chicago." I sympathized with her at first, thinking, "Man, kid. I hope this flight proves your unreasonably premature fear of flying to be as absurd as it seems right now." 

But by the time we were on the ground in Chicago after a smooth flight and I had watched her calm father's every attempt to address various complaints be met with a constant, teary threat of tantrum, I felt nothing but gratitude for all my eggs that went unfertilized. The lady next to me tried to be nice and give her a comics section from the newspaper. "Can you say thank you?" the dad said.

The girl clutched the paper and stared back, vacant and unsmiling. You are one of those toddlers who takes things and, despite being urged incessantly to say please and thank you, will never say please or thank you, I judged silently. Maybe it was her parents' fault; maybe she was just crummy from birth; maybe she would become less crummy later on. I left those questions back at the door of the plane, where her stroller was being brought out from the luggage hold.

Our new baby friend, on the other hand: "How can you resist that smile?" said my seat mate, an older man who reached out and let the Superior Baby grasp his finger, to the endless amusement of both parties. "How can you resist that smile," he repeated to the baby. We couldn't: We were all on Superior Baby's side. He was so sweet that when he fussed, his seatmates looked for ways to distract him, and he allowed himself to be distracted. 

This is the beauty and the hell of domestic travel: Within the space of one short flight, any human—a baby, a 60-year-old, a fortysomething who is secretly 14 inside— has the capacity to embody his or her best (or worst) side. None of Superior Baby's poopy diapers and cranky days existed on flight 3347, just like all of Crummy Toddler's angelic sleeping moments and innocent kindnesses were invisible on the previous flight. Airports are one big morality play.

The man, who was slight with sun-speckled white skin and dark clothes on, gazed at Superior Baby's smiling face over the seat back and spoke in a low voice that I could hear, but was not necessarily addressed to me. "I could be looking at my son 28 years ago," he said, watching SB. "Same cheeks, same eyes...same nose, same dimple." He watched the baby for a little while longer, and over the plane engine I thought I heard a very small, bittersweet moan.

The baby sat back down on his mother's lap and the man nodded off. At the end of the short flight, SB popped back up to say hi. He looked at my seat companion first, then looked at me for an explanation. I made the "asleep" motion with my hands pressed to my cheek. He gamely accepted me as the alternative playmate for a bit, but lit up when the man woke from his nap. 

"He was waiting for you to wake up," I said. 

"What?" the man said, and leaned forward. 

"He was waiting for you to wake up," I repeated, and the boy stretched out his hand for their game.


Here are a few shots from Main St. in Ames, Iowa. Ames is the site of Iowa State, so I had expected a college-town feel, but based on my short visit I have to assume most of the student activity is centered on the campus itself. Main St. felt like the street that time (and hipsters bearing cocktails in Mason jars and other artisanal beverages) forgot.

Not a shop, but a center, not far from the Quilting Connection.

Best store name. Runner-up: It's All About Me.

No pants at the pantorium. The sign on the window said it was a radio station and inside there were some older guys chatting.

The best part about Ames so far is this radio station, on which I heard the items below.

Musics: "The Voyager" and "Beggining to End" (the latter of which, in case you're wondering, is a riff on this)

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