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Monday, April 22, 2013

Johnny Rockets

From March 1 until April 6 I had guests in my home.  I haven't blogged or Facebooked.  On April 7 I left for a two week Heifer gig in the depths of Puno, Cusco and Piura.  So there is my absence explained.

The guests were wonderful though.  Each and every one. I'm a lucky person to have so many dear friends to take the time to visit.  I'm even luckier to have one who is a great writer and has taken the time to write about his experience via the Clifton Bed & Breakfast.  His name is Johnny and he's about as good as it gets.  Here is Part I of a three part guest blog.  Enjoy....

On the afternoon flight from Dallas to Los Angeles, my thoughts were not in Peru or studying Spanish as they should have been.  For months now I have been researching a story out of Helena, Arkansas, during the Civil War.  As my flight raced toward the setting sun, high over the southwestern desert, I was still wondering what happened to West Bogan.  Had he gone north after he was freed from prison by two words from Lincoln?  Did he try to get back to South Carolina?  Did he see an omen that morning he killed his master Monroe with an axe?  What was he doing and learning when he went off the property without Monroe’s permission?  Did he think about joining the Colored Troops to fight the Rebels.  What would he have thought about this airplane zooming 500 mph, 30,000 feet up? 

I thought it was amazing, and I looked forward to seeing Peru in the morning, but I was still too caught up in my research to think much about it.  I recall thinking how modern Palm Springs looked, and I marked the town into my GPS.  As we flew into Los Angeles, Arlo Guthrie’s tune popped into my head, followed by The Doors.  I looked down over the green and orange lights of that megalopolis and thought of some friends I had somewhere down there.  They were probably having dinner about then, or starting to watch a movie.  I had eaten nothing since noon, and was about to live out a scene of my own.  

This was after I played a real-life version of Frogger, jumping across two lanes of heavy airport traffic to get to the new and detached Tom Bradley International Terminal. I found someone who spoke English and they directed me to it.  It was back the other way, across the traffic.  There were no signs.  It was 8 p.m. on a Monday.  There were people everywhere, from every corner of the globe.  It looked like they had everything they owned piled up on carts, in some sort of exodus.  I looked up at one of the huge departure and arrival boards and squinted to make it out.  They were in foreign languages; Chinese, Japanese, Polish, Swahili.  I just kept walking and acted like I knew where I was going.  A man passed me.  I was in a stream.  My wallet was in my front pocket.  I felt like Kramer.  I followed the stream until I saw a uniform. “How do you get to Gate 29?”  “Go the way you came, and take a left.”  This was of little help.  I got to high ground, in some sort of food court, to see if I could make out what was going on any better than down in the trenches. My mouth was dry.  I needed water.  I spotted a roped-off entry and a small sign that looked like it would be helpful.  That was my way.  I just had to pass through another security zone and wait for an hour.  I called my friend Amanda and wished her a happy birthday, then sat down to rest my eyes and dry mouth.  The vending machine with bottled water would only take crisp new bills.  I wasn’t going to risk sliding my debit card through it.  My bills seemed as worn out as I was, and they were curtly rejected.  In less than an hour I’ll be on the plane, I told myself, and I can get some water then.  I swallowed my spit and thought of West Bogan, in a sweltering Helena jail cell.  That would make things easier on me.  I slipped my Braves hat over my eyes and eased abajo en mi asiento.

The flight to South America began boarding on time.  It was a 763, jumbo jet.  I’m not sure if I’d been on one of these yet.  I found my seat, stowed my backpack, and settled in.  An elderly Japanese man sat next to me.  I said “hello,” and opened my little book to a story on Daniel Boone.  He was about to be captured by Shawnee Indians and taken across the Ohio River.  I only know how to count to 10 in Japanese, so communication was limited. He looked old enough to have been in World War II.  I wondered what my grandpa Chet would’ve said to him: “You guys shot up my friends, you crazy Jap!” could have been his first thought.  However, being the observant Catholic that he was he surely would’ve found peace with it by the time he hit his 90s. The Japanese man was with a tour group, and he’d become separated from the herd.  He was now sitting with a red-eyed Southerner who just wanted a beer.  Next to us, up a row, was a trio I thought to be archeologists, because of their sandals and professional air.  But then one of the women said, while laughing, “She keeps asking me all these questions. What is it with you psychologists?”

By 2 a.m. we were well south of the Baja de California, where Sammy Hagar grows blue agave.  I looked out the window and saw the lights of some Mexican city many miles away.  The air was smooth and we made good time at a maximum cruising altitude and the earth tilted at 23 ½ degrees.  I was moving into fall from spring.  At first light, around 4 a.m. at that height, I lifted my eyelids just enough to see a thin orange line rise up in the east surrounded by blackness.  I closed them again to rest as much as possible.  At 5 a.m., I heard the beautiful sound of “buenas dias” from the lips of a beautiful Peruvian woman, handing me a warm plate of breakfast.  They were possibly the best scrambled eggs I’d ever had.  I looked out the window again and took my first glimpse of Peru.  It was a massive snow-covered peak of the Andes, jutting through a thick layer of wavy clouds.  The only word that came to mind was “mysterious,” even though I knew what it was. It was a mountain.  But, it was a Peruvian mountain.  This made it inherently mysterious.  Tu sabes? Peru’s history holds some of oldest cultures in the Americas.  Why did it happen here?  Geology?  The oceans?  Climate?  How did they live without war for so long?  El Ninos?  There are many questions.  I was going to try and figure some of it out.

One thing I immediately understood was that LAN airlines is the nicest airline I had ever flown.  Aside from the individual headrest TV screens with handy remote controls and many options of movies and television programs, the in-flight food was delicioso and the flight attendants top-notch. 

Part II coming....

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