This is a story of four panic attacks that can be traced directly back to a single phone call from an unexpected source. And therein lies a tale.
Here’s the soundtrack for this story. It should last for the whole story.
Germaine to the tale is the minor detail that I have the honor to share a home with The Woman in a rural community that is accessible by a single road that passes over a creek. Keep that in mind. Now let us proceed.
I have a suspicion that I am a creature of connection. Give me a hint of a story, and I’m there. No wonder that I became a fan of Bruce Cockburn at my earliest convenience, if not sooner. The man is made of story with the odd bit of hair and bone thrown in to connect it all together.
And so it was that in the early days of the internet I found Cockburn fans lurking in the fringes under the soubriquet of the Humans, so named because of the founder’s favorite Cockburn album. For over 20 years I’ve interacted with these folks and have met a handful in the real world, always a treat.
At this point in the story, the newcomers may be wondering how this fits in with The Reluctant Saint. The old-timers know that eventually I’ll pull it all together, and their faith shall not be in vain. In fact, it was because one particular Human by the felicitous name of Mike Grace rang my phone out of the blue from Pueblo, CO, in the summer of 2015 that the entire location-scouting trip came into being. You can send him your thanks at your leisure.
Over the decades I have exchanged emails and cassette tapes with Mr. Grace, but never had we met, nor had we shared a phone call. In fact, it had been over a decade since we had made any direct contact, so the call came as a surprise. After suitable preliminaries, Mike laid out the plan behind his call.
“Bruce is playing at the Boulder Theater on Nov 6. If I buy you a ticket, will you come?”
Were I another man, I might have immediately responded with an enthusiastic affirmative, but I am not that other man. I confess that I equivocated. It sounded good. I mean, who wouldn’t want to see Cockburn on a solo tour that was racking up rave reviews from all the diehard fans, but dollar signs sprang into my head. Round trip flight to Boulder. Rental car. Hotel. Meals. This free $40 ticket could cost me $400 dollars or more.
I promised to give it serious consideration and rang off. Of course The Woman immediately endorsed the plan, but she is The Woman after all. She would gladly spend $1000 dollars on those she loves before she would spend $1 on herself. Still I hesitated.
It took me a few weeks to reverse-engineer a rationalization for the trip. I had been toying with a location-scouting trip to Santa Fe and Portland. If I could only nudge myself off the bubble and commit, I could tack Boulder onto the end of the trip with little added expense. Thus we can credit Mr. Grace with the nudge, and so the whole glorious expedition came to be.
Now to the panic attacks. One came courtesy of the airlines. I’d love to find someone to blame the other three on, but I’m afraid they were all self-inflicted.
Panic Attack #1
I flew to PDX on the Thursday before Halloween and did the first two days with The Little Sister before The Woman joined us. Back in Texas, the great Halloween flood of 2015 (not to be confused with the great Halloween flood of 2013) was in full force.
Remember that one road into our neighborhood that passes over a creek? The Woman made it out an hour before the bridge over the creek washed out, making passage impossible for 24 hours. She also managed to get out of ATX on the last flight before the control tower was flooded and put the airport out of commission. She’s blessed like that.
After she arrived, we put a bow on the thing in Portland, and on Tuesday we went to the airport together. I was headed to Santa Fe. She was headed back home. Our flights were an hour apart.
You may recall from an earlier installment that I am a veteran international traveler. As such, I have learned to have my ducks in a row and breeze through security with no concerns. All went according to plan, and we stopped for breakfast within sight of my gate for the flight to Santa Fe. Afterwards, we parted ways with a kiss born of four decades of marriage.
Let me take a moment to say a thing about that. The parting kisses of young love are sweet indeed. Everything is turned up to 11, and few things can be more intense. But the kiss of two lovers who have gone the distance for half a lifetime is another thing entirely. On the face of it, such a kiss may not make headlines and cause romantics to swoon and social media mavens to burn down Twitter or Facebook or Instagram, but such considerations don’t enter into the equation.
It is the difference between a forest fire and a furnace that will keep you warm for the rest of your life. The solution is left as an exercise to the reader.
Then we parted ways, The Woman to her gate and me to mine. I strolled up with the air of a man without a care in the world. Although care soon crept into my consciousness. I was arriving at boarding time and the gate area was empty. How could this be?
I approached the gate attendant. “I’m here for the flight to Santa Fe.”
“It just left two minutes ago.”
Abject confusion on my part. My response can best be represented thusly.
Forensic investigation revealed that I had confused the boarding time with the departure time. Despair ensued. The gate attendant gamely found me a seat on a flight to Denver, from which point I was on my own to fly standby to Santa Fe.
“That’s funny,” the attendant said. “There’s another passenger named Whittington on the flight to Denver.”
Such was my distress that I agreed it was indeed strange without connecting the dots. I gratefully accepted my boarding pass and strolled to the gate, only to find my true love waiting to board the flight to Denver, her connecting flight to Austin. A welcome sight indeed, but there remained the issue of getting from Denver to Santa Fe.
On the Terminal C concourse in Denver, we located The Woman’s gate and the gate of the Santa Fe flight for which I had standby status. With a few hours of layover, I scoped out an establishment suitable for my distress. The Aviator’s Sports Bar on the second level offered the best playlist on the PA. (Steely Dan was playing as I investigated.) I installed myself there with some spinach artichoke dip and a glass of wine to calm my nerves and did a bit of day-job work to center myself while The Woman shopped.
Together we went to the Santa Fe gate. I was first on standby with three open seats, a fortuitous sign, but I watched the three seats disappear on the monitor. As they closed the gate for departure I approached the gate agent to learn how such a thing happened. I offer this information for your instruction.
“I have a question. I was first on standby, but I didn’t get a seat.”
“Someone bought the last seat.”
I started to say that I had paid for a seat to Santa Fe, but stopped myself when I realized I had paid for that seat on a different flight that I had forfeited due to my own incompetence. I thanked the flight attendant and walked The Woman to her gate.
As it turned out, she was having travel difficulties of her own. The Austin airport had re-opened with a temporary tower, but could only handle a fraction of the traffic, so flights into ATX were being cancelled right and left. Including her flight from Denver. We returned to the Aviator’s Sports Bar where I resumed work and she began a telephone campaign to overwhelm the airline industry. After bombarding them with heavy artillery, she found a flight on a different airline that was boarding in 15 minutes. I saw her off with another kiss and proceeded to the next gate with a flight to Santa Fe.
The attendant was busy, so I waited at a respectful distance. When she was done, she looked to me just as a pilot approached. He gestured for me to go first.
I waved him forward. “I’m not in a hurry.”
“No, go ahead.”
“No, it’s okay,” he said.
Before the whole exchange could devolve into a Chip and Dale cartoon, I shook my head and explained. “For this entire day I have had no power to influence anything in my world. Please do not deny me this one moment to have power over what happens next. You go first.”
He smiled and settled his business with the gate attendant, doubtlessly to dead head on a seat that could have been mine if he had not shown up. When he left, the attendant looked to me.
I stepped forward. “Through nobody’s fault but my own I find myself on standby to Santa Fe. I am seeking advice.”
“I have two options. One, I get a standby seat on the flight to Santa Fe. The other, I get a rental car and drive there. If I’m going to drive, I’d just as soon start now rather than wait a a few hours hour to find out I won’t get a seat on this flight. What would you recommend?”
She smiled. “Come back at boarding time.”
When the time came, she came from behind the desk and personally handed me a boarding pass. Lesson: There is power in acknowledging that you have no power.
Panic Attack #2
After two days in Santa Fe, I drove to Albuquerque for my flight to the Cockburn concert in Boulder. I arrived at the airport two hours before boarding and ordered a ridiculous breakfast burrito the size of a javelina because evidently they don’t do breakfast tacos out west. It went thusly:
Me: I’ll take a #5 and coffee.
Her: Red or green?
Her: Do you want something to drink?
Her: Room for cream?
Her: You said green, right?
Her: [submits order, grabs a coffee cup, holds it under the spigot] Room for cream?
I ate while keeping an eye on my gate 100 feet away, bused my table, and went directly to the gate. Ten minutes after boarding time they cancelled the flight. Panic attack #2 ensued, in no way attenuated by the fact that this time it wasn’t my fault.
I spent the next hour on the phone with the airline . The best they could do was to get me to Denver after midnight via Chicago. I pulled the plug on that proposal, extracted a refund for my canceled flight, and hoofed it to the rental area. It’s a 500-mile drive from Albuquerque to Boulder. I did 85 mph most of the way, stopping once for gas and a sandwich. I whiled away the time listening to Undaunted Courage on my Kindle. Eight hours later I parked the car in a garage a block from the Boulder Theater with 30 minutes to spare before show time.
Mike Grace turned out to be a standup dude, as one would expect from a Human. (In case you forgot, he was responsible for this whole trip. Sort of.)
I crashed with some friends in Boulder and the next morning headed to the Denver airport to return home to The Woman.
Panic Attack #3
As a veteran traveler, I have a routine.
- Return the rental car and board the shuttle.
- Use the trip to empty my pockets of glasses, phone, billfold, etc.
- Extract my ID for getting through security.
Step 3 tripped me up. My ID wasn’t in my wallet where it should be. In fact, it wasn’t anywhere as far as I could tell.
This wasn’t the first time I had approached an airport with the gut-wrenching realization that I had no ID, but the first time was in 1996, well before the complications that 9/11 introduced to air travel. How I managed to solve that little puzzle is a whole nother story.
I was five minutes from the airport. I searched my entire person and my shoulder bag. In the interest of decorum, I desisted from tossing everything from my carryon.
I racked my brain for the location of the ID. Could be in my jeans in the carryon. Could be in the bedroom where I crashed last night, a 90-minute round-trip drive, by which time my flight would be gone. Could be at the rental counter in Albuquerque, the last place I remembered using it.
I got off the shuttle at the departure level, rushed into the terminal, and searched every article of laundry in my carryon. Nothing. I searched every pocket of my shoulder bag. Nothing.
As far as I could see, I wasn’t going to be home today. It would take lots of hours and dollars to get back to the one place I wanted to be most of all, in the arms of The Woman.
In desperation, I pulled my laptop from its slot and what fell out but my ID. In a flash my mind hailed back to a moment in that frantic 8-hour drive from Albuquerque when I slammed on the brakes and my shoulder bag catapulted from the passenger seat to the floor. Evidently at that moment the ID I had tossed on the passenger seat when leaving the rental lot had chosen to nestle itself thusly.
With inexpressible gratitude I packed everything back up and breezed through security. A few minutes later I was back at the Aviator’s Sports Bar with another glass of wine to calm my nerves. I used the occasion to have lunch, charge my devices for the flight, and chat up the bartender about old times.
Then, as is my custom, I organized my effects for the upcoming flight.
Panic Attack #4
Which was the moment that I discovered that I had once again lost my ID.
To be fair, at this point things weren’t so dire. I could get on the plane. I could return to the waiting arms of The Woman without having to wrestle with TSA or spend days and dollars getting back home. But once back, I would have to venture forth from my bunker without a license to the DMV and go through the hassle of replacing the lost ID.
Once again my mind raced to identify the last place I had seen it. Going through security. Somehow I must have lost it there. I could go back and ask for it, but if I went outside of security, I had no way of getting back in. I called Lost and Found, only to learn it would take a few hours for them to determine if they found it, well past my boarding time.
My only option was to retrace my steps back to security, call from the safe side, and see if I could interest some harried TSA employee in my plight. I closed out my tab, packed up my things, and struck out on my mission
Halfway to the escalator I felt something strange in my left shoe. Then it all came back to me.
My airport routine had been optimized before the era of full-body scanners. Back in those days it was all about metal detectors. One could slip an ID into a shirt pocket and pass through the metal detector with no problem. But as I had approached the scanner, I realized it was a body scanner, and an ID in the shirt pocket would slow me down in security. In that moment I had tossed my ID into the bin with my shoes, braved the scanner, and reassembled my effects on the other side, having forgotten about the ID.
Could it be? I stopped on my trek back to security ten feet short of the escalator, pulled off my shoe, and discovered my ID. I laughed, restored it to its rightful place in my wallet, and returned to the Aviator’s Sports Bar to celebrate. If you’re in Terminal C of the Denver airport, the Aviator’s Sports Bar has the best music and bartenders.
Several hours later, the reunion with The Woman was what anyone would hope for when reuniting with one’s true love of forty years. The solution is left as an exercise for the reader.
The Reluctant Saint
The Reluctant Saint is the story of Hensley’s attempt to reconnect with the woman he thinks could be The Woman to finally anchor his life. He doesn’t lose his ID, but he might have a panic attack or two along the way.