Late October. Our otherwise unbroken stream of political ads, lawn signs, and bumper stickers is interrupted by the season's first frost warning. Escape is on my mind. How to evade the weather, the economic meltdown and the media monoculture of an election? How to dim the TV's shouting anchors and the Internet's attack rumors? How to stop worrying about what I can't change? How to stick my head-in-the-sand until it's all sorted out? How?
Only thing to do is pack up and go … go to where they have no need for elections, where they have no word for frost, and where they have plenty of warm white sand into which I can stick my head. Where their head-of-state is simply crowned - no campaigns, no smears, no 24/7 CNN tension-toned television. A warm and friendly place, full of beauty, devoid of stressed out people - and empty of presidential politics. A paradise in the South Seas, at the ends of the earth - the Kingdom of Tonga.
A friend called with a boat to sail. Air New Zealand has a special deal on a direct flight out of LAX. Just turn off the paper and lock up the house. Then taste a last rush hour on the ride to SFO, fly down to LAX - the first leg, the first layover.
We walk out of the terminal and I look up at the airtraffic control tower that I manned way back when we were young and responsible - in other words … a long long time ago.
"We should call someone while we wait," I say.
"Who ya gonna call?" asks Jean.
I look at her, she at me … we nod and together blurt out the undoubted answer … "Harry!"
"Hi Harry - can I buy you dinner?"
"No thanks, I just ate - where are you?"
"Here at LAX with a couple hours layover."
"You will be needing a beer then - I'll pick you up."
Harry is a prince. One of a select list of friends we refer to as "The Usual Suspects." These are the friends who you can call on at any time, with any crazy idea. They are the ones that will respond with, "Yeah! We're in!" - even if the idea has not been thoroughly thought through.
Usual Suspect episodes have included Harry and me falling down a Porto Rican waterfall, chasing wind-tossed tents in the Grand Canyon, searching for overboard boat upholstery in Turkey, hangover hurling to the fish in Greece, swimming through bat-shitty Caribbean caves, snap rolling a canoe in California, blowing off a mainsail in Mexico - and getting very very lost going up Lost Slough.
His wife Jane, well experienced at being a Usual Suspect, greets us with leftovers and a hug. Soon we are sipping suds and vino at Jane & Harry's first-class transit lounge. Airport layovers can be good!
Later that night, as we soar over the immense Pacific Ocean, I am emotional overwhelmed by my fate. Born as a late 20th Century white male American - with the ability to span half the world at a whim. With a time-tested list of Usual Suspects that I can call - and that will call me. And a perfect partner - to make double the pleasures of my life's ride.
Tonight, that ride is illuminated by the full moon glowing down through a thin crystal overcast onto Air New Zealand's polished wings. Then down farther to the backlit drama of the trade-wind clouds billowing by below. Each cloud's shadow cutting black shapes out of the moon-glow shining back up at us off the sea.
I wish the Usual Suspects were all here with us tonight. I raise a toast of good Air New Zealand wine to you all. And to all, a good night.
- Usually Suspect Stew