Thursday, July 26, 2007

Big Vans And Mad Pilots

I was traveling around the US last week, from DC to Denver to LA and back again. When you’re moving from place to place, your mental state alters as frequently as your location.

On the plane flying in to Denver, we started descending quite steeply through the clouds, which gives you a sudden scary sense of how fast you’re going, unlike on those nice smooth gradual descents. This served quickly to convince me that I was about to die, and all I wanted in the world was to be safely on the ground again.

Safely on the ground again, we parked on the tarmac for half an hour, because our gate was occupied. So I was all impatient. I was hungry because I forgot that airlines don’t serve food any more, and I refuse to pay for it, so all I'd had was a small bag of pretzels. And it was getting late and I needed to pick up my hire car and find my hotel before they closed the restaurant. Twenty minutes earlier, I’d been yearning for this very same secure, solid stretch of Colorado ground. Now, driven by my stomach (a powerful lobbyist), my inner bitching mechanism was in full whine.

So we landed at eight, and I was at the front of the car hire queue by 9.30. “We don’t have the compact car you booked, but you can have a van,” said Bob of Thrifty. Whatever, Bob, I’m hungry. Just give me the keys. I’ll be soccer mom for a couple of days. We did the paperwork (another ten minutes) and I went out back. So, turns out it’s not really a van, more of a truck. The sort of thing eight people would take to the mountains for a long skiing and mountaineering holiday.

It’s hard to drive around Denver faking an expression that implies you’re on your way to pick up a youth soccer team. In the end I gave up and came to begrudgingly like the monster. We went through some tough times, but we did it together. Like parking in a narrow space in downtown Denver and reversing back out with a 43-point turn. And driving the wrong way down a one way street as three lanes of gesturing drivers headed towards us. How we shrugged, and laughed.

Things couldn’t have been more different in LA, where this time Thrifty had my compact Kia. In fact they gave me a choice of four, which was fantastic, even though they all looked the same, so I couldn’t actually decide. It was like being offered four identical cupcakes. Does that one have slightly more icing?

Anyway, I drove around for two days with the windows down, listening to music, like a dude. There were streets everywhere. It was all very cool until I drove into a Sheriff’s Checkpoint one night. Want to know what that is? It’s a checkpoint set up by a sheriff to randomly check drivers’ licenses. Freedom ain’t free, buddy. But don’t worry, kids, I’m white, and they waved me through.

On the flight back I had a window seat, and so I periodically stared down at America. This country’s clouds are under-rated. The pilot was as mad as a jar of crickets. He delivered a rapid-tongue monologue on how we should live our lives and love with a passion. But he got us home, so he got some applause.