Love at 30,000 feet – Falling in Love Again

So it was that Mr. Mack and Mr. Mali prepared my soul for the awakening.  With their songs brewing in my head I tucked myself into the flight to Pittsburgh, PA, surrounded by people I didn’t know, headed to a city I had never seen, to do God-knows-what there.  I was planning to sleep but was incredibly nervous in the way that only a small plane can make you nervous.

I lifted my new skull candy earphones to my head, squished them tightly in, and settled in for a wee nap to take the edge off.

Todo Cambió… cuando te vi….” slammed into me much louder than I’d expected, seductive and clear.  I was about to reach and turn it down when I decided nah… let it wash over me.  Settling back determined to nap, I closed my eyes and let Camila make love to my ears.  But the nap was not to be.

Soon enough I found myself rocking, as if possessed.  The power of Mr. J’s colourful stories and the richness of Mr. Mali’s blues bubbled up and met the Spanish lovers of my Pittsburgh flight.  It was like being earnestly romanced by all the beautiful men of the world.

I drifted out of my body, out of my flight, out of the United States, elevated well above and outside of my reality to a place where there is only love and music.  The place took me over with the softness of a down duvet and smelled like fresh laundry hot from the dryer.  It was warm and cozy, sitting in this place of grace and beauty, and I never wanted to leave.

A sudden noise, louder than the love song, woke me from the drift.  My eyes flew open and looked around the flight, totally startled.  All was as I’d left it – my neighbours were fast asleep and the attendant across the cabin was doling out weak coffee, totally unaffected by the sound that had brought me back to earth (or at least the cabin floor).

It took a few seconds for me to completely arrive and notice that the interruption had come from inside of me – my own voice – joining Camila in “antes que pasen mas…. quiero decirte amor…”

Like a mad woman I cracked right up, laughing out loud beyond the music.  A giggle turned into a frank and open belly laugh.  I was only slightly grateful for the deep dreams that kept my neighbours’ eyes shut because they may well have freaked out at this crazy half-young woman taking full delight in herself next to them at 30,000 feet.

Digging back into my cloud I peered out on the wintry world below me, organized very neatly into fields of rows and variations of greens and browns.  The love songs crashed over me like waves  (“Abrazameeeeeee”) and I didn’t want the flight to end!  Pittsburgh could well and wait.

At that I checked in with myself and questioned, why would Pittsburgh have to wait?  I could carry this with me.  The music is MINE.  The iPod is MINE.  The skull-candy buds snug in my ears are MINE.  And, most beautiful of all, the love is MINE.

Love at 30,000 feet – Journey to Timbuktu

The Kora

The Kora

The shuttle was late and I was getting antsy.  Antsy is such a gentle word – who am I kidding? – more like I got quietly psycho, planning my death stare and sharp words for the late driver.

When he arrived it was at a run.  He sprinted to me, grabbed my bags and ran to the shuttle.  Having showed the appropriate amount of haste and concern I cooled out the laser vision and quieted the lurking killer just under my skin.

He put me in the front seat right next to him and told me he would let me drive.  His passengers behind me I sensed to be just as antsy (murderous) as myself, and so it was with great prudence that our driver, a tall wiry man from Mali, pulled out a CD of music by Ali Farka.

At stop lights and in bumper-to-bumper traffic Mr. Mali introduced me to the music of Timbuktu, the home of the Blues.  I found myself grudgingly falling in love with the Kora, a West African guitar that was probably what David would have used on old King Saul.  And even through I could see right through it – Mr. Man knew he was taking his passengers to breaking point – it was having the same effect on me!

We went from song to song, blocked bridge to clogged street, blues to ballad, CD to CD, until suddenly there was a break in traffic and JFK loomed ahead.

I said a rushed goodbye to Mr. Mali and raced to my gate.

But the music stayed with me until I boarded to plane to Pittsburgh and plugged in my iPhone to fall asleep.

Love at 30,000 feet – The Brick House

It was at about 30,000 feet that I remembered how to love myself.  I had every intention of falling asleep – travel anxiety had kept me awake the night before and powered my frenzied preparation for the flight.  Settling into my delayed American Airlines flight, I reached for my iPhone, put her in flight mode, put my earphones in and willed myself to shut out the world and sleep.

What happened next was very different from sleep.

But now, as I’m telling the story, I realize that it began a few days before on a different flight to a different city.  Travel with me to Miami for a minute.

The Prophet?  Or not?

He was the craziest looking man in all of Miami International – a tall and slim black guy in his 50s pimp-dressed from head to toe.  The man I would name Mack Daddy (in my head) was in a black suit with white pin strips widely spaced.  The jacket fit his shoulders well and fell down below his knees and a black fedora sat over the smiling brown face.  He had just swept the tail of his coat aside to sit down with a magnificent gesture when our flight was called.

I looked at the man just as his curious eyes swept the line I was in and landed lightly on me before skipping forward.  Dear God please don’t make him sit by me!  Memories of a charlatan in a pentecostal church in the trouser part of this man’s suit had my shoulders tensed right up.

American Airlines boarded us all in their customary disorganized fashion and my neighbors were revealed to me one by one until there was only one seat left – the middle to my window seat.  Lo and behold who should next appear but Mack Daddy himself!  He politely spoke to the aisle-neighbor and she let him pass to his seat.  Sitting down he thanked her with a pleasant smile.

Ahhhhhhhhhh $h1+!

The flight takes off and now I’m curious.  Who on earth could think this outfit up?  As it turns out my neighbor to New York was open to share.  First he spoke to the aisle-lady again about the book she was reading.  At this stage I noticed not one but TWO worn bibles on his lap.  Yup – Prophet-man’s brother for sure.

I was glorying in my smug conclusion (Yup – I called it.  Uh huh I was right.) and thanking the hostess for my water when Mack Daddy turned to me.  By this time I had narrowed down his origin to one of two islands (later turned out I’d hit that one good too), figured he was a travelling charlatan, and was waiting for the preaching to begin.  Instead he one-upped me and pointed to my accent asking if I was a Trini.

“HELLLL NO!” came out before I could temper it.

And Mack Daddy laughed.  I caught myself in my own righteousness and laughed out loud too.  This flight was getting interesting.

Mr. J, I soon learned, was a DJ and entertainer by trade and an islander like myself.  He had found Jesus in his adult life after having spent years in the fascinating business of being a friend to famous people.  He was now using his talents to bring people to Christ.  He had managed and DJ’d at a few clubs in Miami, Puerto Rico and in England and had been quite a woman-tamer in his time.  The Jesus-man told me with a mix of wistfulness and shame the stories of his time before Christ took him on.  “I was not a good guy, Miss Bush.  Believe me.  There was one time I was rotating 18 women.  And I walked into the club with Joy and Sue wasn’t pleased and I had to say to Sue ‘Tonight I am with Joy.  Tomorrow will be your night.’  And she had to be fine with that.”  Turns out Bob Marley was much worse – he had 40 something kids.  But there was a guitarist in one of the other bands that was the worst of all.  Something like 80 women at a time.  INSANE.  If Mr. J hadn’t been talking like a spectator looking from the outside into his memories I admit I would have been a bit freaked out.  But the story was good and he continued to tell me of the fascinating club business in his heyday.

We then began to speak of islands, hurricanes, volcanoes, churches (only briefly) and family.  His heart was so open I walked right in and received the hug of his conversation.  20 minutes into the flight I loved the man and the rest of the passengers were about ready to throw us out midair   Our conversation was so animated and his laughter so unbridled that I’m sure the pilot could hear!

So Mr. J pulled out his phone to show me his gorgeous daughters.  My jaw dropped as he moved from family into photos of himself, his work and his friends.  He wasn’t kidding at all!  He showed me photos full of bell bottoms, guitars, Afros and marijuana smoke with the faces of Jesse Jackson, Stevie Wonder, and Rick James (who was actually a pretty good looking kid!!) James Brown, Little Richard, and Bob Marley.  There were faces I recognized and others I didn’t and for those Mr. J would sing a line in a song that I would immediately know.  “Remember this one?  She’s a Brick….” (and I’d join in) “HOUSE!”  He told me of the Brick House competitions they used to have.  He was like “you think you would win a Brick House Competition Ms. Bush?”  FUNNY GUY.  I nigh split myself in half at that one.

The neighboring passengers would pretend not to be annoyed and turn their earphone volume up.  I was totally delighted!  His ex wife, his daughters, his most recent gospel concert, flashed past until we got to a photo in Puerto Rico with a young Mr. J in a white suit shaped just like the one he was wearing but with more bell in the leg.  He called it looking like a Mack.  I couldn’t help but laugh out loud – I had been calling Mack Daddy from the time I laid eyes on the man!

It was only a matter of time before the music changed.  We were soon singing old Jamaican 70s songs and trying to figure out by combining our memories the words to the Pluto Shervington song Dat.  I could just feel the tolerant Americans around us bristling inside about those effing Jamaicans (Let JA take the blame!  We’re Small-Island people, thank you.  And not Trinidadians either.)  My new friend and I didn’t care.

When I said goodbye to Mr. J in New York I was genuinely sad to part with him.  The professional Mack that he was, he seemed to take it more like a normal thing as he cordially wished me safe travels.

In a few minutes all that was left of him was the song in my head.