Somewhere out of Jonesborough, Tennessee, Cyndi and I ended up on the wrong highway. We don’t know how or where we went wrong, except to claim there were no landmarks to catch and hold our attention. All we could see while driving were miles and miles of trees and mountains, a confusing scene to desert-dwelling flatlanders like us.
We were in Tennessee for the National Storytelling Festival, which we enjoyed immensely, but which we had to leave early and fly back to Midland Saturday afternoon because we needed to do some adulting (isn’t that what the kids are saying nowadays?)
We stayed at the Festival as long as we could, until 12:00 noon, listening to Bil Lepp describe how he creates stories, then dashed off to our rental car (which was actually a manager’s special minivan) hoping to make the Charlotte airport in time for our 4:25 departure.
Once we discovered our navigation error we were able to vector our way back to I-26 through the magic of iPhone GPS, but we were concerned about making the flight home. There was no sense worrying about it, though. We were on the shortest route and driving as fast as seemed reasonable.
According to the highway signs, we passed several towns, but all we ever saw were trees and mountains. In west Texas we put our towns out in plain view to show them off, but these Appalachians tuck their towns behind tall green obstacles.
As we neared the airport we stopped to fill up with gasoline before returning the rental car. Cyndi had her credit card in her left hand and the door handle in her right hand as I pulled beside the pump. By the time I turned off the engine she had jumped out, dashed around to the driver’s side, grabbed the nozzle, and was entering our zip code in the keypad. I removed the gas cap and she filled the tank. We were back on the road in less than one minute. We weren’t late yet.
We made it through the airport maze and found Rental Car Return on our first pass, literally a good sign. As we screeched into the return lane, leaping out of the car like a swat team, Cyndi told the young attendant we were racing to catch our flight so she typed madly into the hand-held computer and called out as we took off, “I’ll email your receipt.”
I had my boarding pass on my phone thanks to my Southwest Airlines App, but I couldn’t pull up Cyndi’s pass, and neither could Cyndi. That meant I could go straight through security, but she had to have her pass printed at the check-in counter.
Cyndi wanted me to (not wait for her but) go on to the gate, but I didn’t want to do that. What if she got hung up and didn’t make the flight? I said, “I’m not going anywhere without you.”
Cyndi maneuvered her way through the check-in switchbacks, slinking and stretching like an experienced yoga teacher, to an unused kiosk. Looking over her shoulder she suggested, again, that I go to the gate. “Tell them I’m coming so maybe they’ll hold the plane.”
I’ve been around long enough to know not say no twice, so I took off. I made it through TSA Pre-Check quickly except for when they had to dial up the body scanner just for me since my after-market knees tend to set off the standard metal detector.
It turned out to be a long, long way from TSA to the departure gate. Even worse, the Charlotte airport, while delightful in every other way, has mind-numbingly slow moving-sidewalks. They are so slow you might fall over if you stood still. Fortunately, I was running and not walking so my balance was fine.
I tumbled into Gate A3 just as the last people in line were boarding, and before I asked them to wait for Cyndi I look back down the long hallway and saw her running toward me. She was beautiful, and smiling, and knew, finally, she would make the flight home. Our reunion was like one of those videos where two lovers run toward each other in a flower-filled meadow, arms outstretched, music playing … only we weren’t in slow motion and I had my foot stuck in the entrance like a door-to-door encyclopedia salesman keeping it open.
We made it.
As we slid into two adjoining seats, I remembered how one of the storytellers, Jerron Paxton, told a joke about using a dating app on his phone. When no one laughed he looked out across the room of gray-headed and white-headed couples and said “I guess you folks don’t have a need for a dating ap.” And then he added, “You seem pretty settled.”
It was a great trip … one we will do again. It turns out that listening to stories, navigating new highways among winding mountains, and racing through airports can be fun if you’re with the right person. And Cyndi and I, we’re settled.
“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32
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