The Longest Day

It lasted 43 hours,
and brought me from the center of the U.S.
to the center of paradise.

Yes, that's a camper trailer welded onto a sawed-off school bus - I didn't asked if this was the family's idea of home schooling.

7:30 a.m. CST Thursday, November 11, 1999 - I wake up at the Rosenburg fairgrounds, next to a carnival ride family. I am always a little amazed when I wake up after sleeping in an unguarded, public place, that I wake up at all. I crawl through the ticket window to grab a shower (doesn't everybody?) then I pack the camper and hit the road, eager to live this day.

9 a.m. - On the steps of the county building, I want to renew my trailer license, which I bought this time last year when my New York trailer license expired and I was far from New York. My Texas tag expires in a few weeks, and I don't want to forget this, or I'll be a fugitive. I pull the door handle hard, but it won't budge, because it's Veteran's Day, of course. I'll just have to remember this task after I return from Hawaii and before I roll into Louisiana. Once in Houston, I end up tailing a minivan carrying two cameramen - it's the craziest thing - both the side and back doors are open, and they are aiming two cameras at traffic and people and - I don't know, aliens? - whatever. To join in the absurdity, I snap a shot of them.

1 p.m. - After a few hours at a Houston Kinkos, answering email, I grab a light lunch. The email is responses from a bulk letter I sent out to my readers for Hawaii information, and from listeners of public radio who heard an interview Paul Pendergraft did of me. I also spam newspaper editors in southern states with a job query. This sure is a tacky way to ask for a job, but I have no time or facilities for formality.

3 p.m. - I ride the spaghetti tangle of overpasses and "Texas turnarounds" to I-45 and Same Day Signs, near Bush Airport, where I meet Jeff Kaiser, an astute businessman whose work can be seen all over this city. Being scholars of the written word, we hit it off very well, and Jeff has generously offered to make labels of our 50 states to plaster on my trailer to commemorate this trip. Thanks Jeff! I spend a few more hours at Kinkos, untangling email.

6 p.m. - Public radio is popular in Houston, and I head downtown to meet Melissa, who has offered to give me a haircut and show me a local juke joint. She is a wonderful lady, and I enjoy the evening tremendously. She cuts my hair so that I look just like Brad Pitt (from the rear) and she takes me to her favorite restaurant in the third ward; a locals' place inside an old house. We have the catfish and a great conversation with Miss Maxine, the 83 year-old owner.

10 p.m. - My flight is at sunrise tomorrow, and the only campsite I know of is an hour from the airport, so I am going to just stay up all night. I head to a Kinkos, with an I.V. of caffeine, and I get to work. Between the interview, the job pleading and Hawaii, I have a hundred emails, and the night sails past. I get a few snitty responses from reasonable editors, but surprisingly, I get about a dozen positive ones. These copy shops are havens for all-nighters, and the only thing keeping me awake is the loud gum-snapping from the lady in the next cubicle.

5:30 a.m. CST Friday - The city is waking up, and I'm off to the airport. I leave Bob (my motorcycle) at Allright Parking, where Dove has graciously given me a discount, and I check in at Continental Airlines, which has courageously given me a media fare. There is an age-old ritual of checking in at an airport - have you noticed? My part in this dance is to hand over a sheaf of tickets (which once were incoherently hand written, like prescriptions, but are now computer printed so clearly and thoroughly that you still can't understand a damn thing on them) and the agent carries on from there. He or she will open the sheaf, pull the tickets out, flip through them, tear off one or two, circle a few things, pound on the whole mess with a stapler, circle some more, and give it back to me, with verbal, but cryptic directions to my gate. I am surprised how every agent I give my tickets to does the same thing - I'll go to the gate and that guy will earnestly repeat steps 1-9. After all this, I swear, I could hand the tickets right back to him and he will do the exact same thing all over again. In fact, I'd like to see just how many times I could do this. When he says "next!" I'll just duck down, pop up and hand him my tickets again - I could be there all morning - what a great way to spend a layover! And you know what? I bet I could actually remove my tickets from that folder, replace them with torn up newspaper, and hand it to an agent, and he wouldn't miss a beat. He'd pull, tear, circle, staple and circle some more, and then he'd still give me directions to someone else's gate.

6:45 a.m. - I have only a knapsack and no checked bags, and I'm worried about getting my Spyderco knife through security. If I can't, I'll have to find a box and check the thing. It isn't a really large knife, but I could easily slaughter and dress large game with it. The guard opens the blade and lays it across her palm. She shrugs and lets me through. Am I relieved? Not really.

7:40 a.m. - We take off to the Hawaiian islands, with a change at LAX, where most of the unfortunates on this plane will stay - at least I hope the crying baby three rows back will stay there. I am exhausted, and I nap right through breakfast. I am awakened by the change in air pressure as we approach L.A. - that is, by the screams of the the child who can't figure out what's going on between his ears. We touch down and I head for my next gate. I hand the agent my tickets and he gives me a sorryful look. "You're all set," he says, and I ask him to please staple the things just once, which does cheer him up. I check my email and get another encouraging letter from an editor. I call her and introduce myself more formally, over the blare of the gate P.A ("Now boarding for Honolulu!") We arrange to meet later, and I apologize for the airport noise, like an actor apologizing to a date as fans press for autographs.

10:05 a.m. PST - As we sail over the great, blue Pacific Ocean, I remember how Ernie Pyle flew out here in the 1940's, aboard propeller planes, and how it took him an entire day, lumbering over the waves in a B-27. He provided a clear impression of just how incredibly huge this ocean is - I'll try and track down some paragraphs for you. I doubt if Pyle was served meals, but my flight attendants roll down the aisle with lunch, and the chicken is pretty good - and real silverware! This is a nice flight, actually, on an L-1011 with plenty of room. I am still recovering from a Vegas flight, when I sat next to a man who was so large, he needed an extension clipped to his seat belt. His body oozed over the armrests and his right arm nearly sat in my lap - my choice was to either sit halfway in the aisle, or on top of this monument. I chose the aisle, which wasn't too bad, except for the ugly bruises I earned from losing bouts with the beverage cart. (They should put horns on those things.) So, this flight would be fine if not for the man in front of me, doing the rhumba with his seat-back and my tray table.

1:10 p.m. HST - Somehow, my pilot finds these small islands in this massive ocean - a feat which was much harder in Pyle's day - and we land on Oahu, the most populous island in this state of 1.1 million people. I take the bus downtown with a bunch of New Yorkers ("how come no one honks their horn? Whadathey, scared?") and get off in Chinatown. I wander around for hours, looking to buy a bicycle, and a place to sleep. During a trip to Key West with my brother, I bought an old beach cruiser and sold it to a saxaphone player before I left, a neat trick which I try to encore here. No luck, though, and I can't even find an old boat to crash on.

6 p.m. - Strolling along Waikiki Beach, I take this shot of a girl, taking a photo of the sunset. I don't ask her first, and as I lower my camera, she turns around. I don't notice if she's annoyed, but I guess I could have asked (she may have thought I was working for her husband.) I buy some postcards and sit down for some long overdue, old-fashioned correspondence. People start gathering around. Then, right in front of me, a fireworks show begins. It's not much, but it's a nice end to this great day. I even get a kick out of the hula show, but I can't wait to get out of the tourist area and into the heart of Hawaii.

10 p.m. HST Friday, November 12, 1999 - I find a hostel for the night and climb into the rack. I'm in a dorm room with three other guys, and one of them wants to watch TV. I'm dead-tired and I forgot my earplugs, and the movie really sucks, and when the clocks in Houston, Texas turn to 2 a.m. I close my eyes and fall right to sleep.

Return to our
MAIN page