Well Worth the Trip.
“T’oralf iss drivin’ to Saint Paul, Minnesoter to catch a plane home tonite,” said Ula, his face looking like a large strawberry from all the mosquito bites, a few beard hairs protruding from each puffy reddish welt across his face and inside his nose, his eyes almost swelled shut.
Living close along Reed River as he does, his yard has been a virtual malaria-infested jungle these past couple weeks, as is most everyone’s in northern Minnesota where mosquitoes have been so thick the whine of snowblowers and blowers are heard from every quarter section as residents get creative removing mosquito carcasses from their sidewalks and doorsteps. Great billows of smoke from farmers burning hay bales as smudge fires for their livestock and homesteads, can be seen for miles throughout the northwest region. People around Wannaska haven’t seen the sun for weeks.
Sven looked tentatively toward Monique, sitting near him in Ula’s screen porch, whose large wall-sized screens were completely covered in a squirming winged mat of aggressive blood-sucking mosquitoes pushing against it to get at all the warm fleshy humans there, who included Sven’s daughter Heide, Monique’s son Guerrier, Ula’s son, Thoralf, and a quite lovely character named ‘Jiigeweyaazhagaame’, (She walks the shore) who has long been suspected of being Ula’s baby mama, but never proven.
“You vill?” answered an excitable Ula, the dust from dried calamine lotion in his beard salting the front of his dark colored t-shirt. "Dat’s great, I’ll go make sure dere’s anudder available seat, den.”
Their close friend, Knorr (Old Norse/Viking for 'merchant ship'.) Hilmerson, had passed away about two weeks earlier and his memory was fresh that afternoon as they had been to Knorr’s funeral just that morning. Sven’s decision to go with Ula and Thoralf was made quickly because Sven was thinking about what Knorr used to say, “Life is burning up,” and so traded his usual trip anxiety for spontaneous decision-making in honor of Knorr’s expression.
Strangely, Sven began having reservations when a vague memory of another of Ula’s ideas of asking Sven go along on a sail trip with him four years ago on Knorr’s home-built steel Viking merchant boat, “Steel er real.” (Steel is real) that he had named, in Old Norse. It had taken Sven all that long to recover from all that long-oar rowing when the diesel engine went kaplooey.
Ula soon returned to the group to say, “You’re booked.”
Coming home from Shipsbottom, Massachusetts to attend Knorr’s funeral, Thoralf had rented a car at the airport in Saint Paul and drove to Wannaska; the trip normally taking about 6.5 hours but extended to roughly 9-hours when Thoralf decided to drive to Duluth and roam about the UMD campus where he used to go to college, to check out the new crop of older-than-average female students and go for a swim in Gitchee Gumee, a waterpark/casino serendipitously built on Barkers Island by a small but enlightened Ojibwe tribe from northwestern Wisconsin.
Having been in Palmville three days, Thoralf was driving the car back to Saint Paul and then flying home, planning to drop Sven and Ula off at the Lindberg Terminal 1-Lindbergh, then return the car; take the airport tram to Terminal 2-Humphrey, where he was to take-off.
Thoralf and Ula picked Sven up at his place along Mikinaak Creek, where mosquitoes were practically non-existent in comparison. Thoralf’s rental was coated with a thick wooly looking mantle of windblown insects, some dead, some alive, that dropped off in Sven’s driveway in globs, like mud from a off-road vehicle.
The bugs covered the lower half of the windshield and were so adhered to it that the windshield wipers wouldn’t work and instead made weird ratcheting noises as the wiper arm connections reamed out under the load. Ula had said they’d worry about fixing that when they got to Gully, so until they could clear the windshield using an ice scraper and a snowrake, (currently standard equipment at all Cenex and rural cooperative convenience stations), Thoralf would just have to peer through the upper half.
Some creative types had begun using clear shrink wrap on their windshields, stretching its loose ends into the hinge posts of each front door and closing them so, next time, that they merely had to pull the shrink wrap off with the insects on it and dispose of them in trash cans. They had no more problem looking through the bugs on the shrink wrap than if they were driving in a heavy snowstorm, so Minnesotans found that method just about perfect, but not so much for Iowans who think of fire flies as pest hordes.
Sven got in the backseat of Thoralf’s rented Jeep with some trepidation knowing he couldn’t bring his butt cushion along and then bring it with him on the plane, just as he couldn’t bring along his Leatherman, for security reasons. In fact, he was traveling so light, he had no luggage, a strictly male phenomenon for which pants pockets are deemed useful, (duh), and not just cosmetic.
Aside from wearing his glasses, a camo-print Wannaska cap, and a lightweight pull-over type jacket, Sven had his dandy little flip phone and asthma inhaler in one pants pocket, some change, an extra hair tie and a wallet in two others, plus there was still room for his boarding pass and ID when it was necessary. He had further cut down his packing list by even omitting a pen and notebook, foreseeing this trip moreso as a visionary experience than something so epic it required textualizing; was he ever wrong.
Ula carried his little B.S.U. book bag he got when he attended Bemidji State University taking language studies including poetry and other ‘brainy upper cerebral stuff’ he had long told Sven. In it was his cellphone, and who knows what else, as it seemed quite empty otherwise, a fact of some high suspicion by authorities later in their trip.
The three travelers left Palmville about nine in the evening; it was still somewhat light, although the sun was partially blocked by clouds of mosquitoes. Thoralf and Ula discussed the Jeep’s abundance of electronic equipment as Sven tried to find a soft place for his hip on the board-like representation of the backseat, a situation car makers have long failed to address is the true comfort of backseat occupants. The backs of the backseats aren’t adjustable; the headrests are put there only to further block the rearward vision of the driver necessitating the implementation of the laughable in-dash monitor, when authentic side mirrors would’ve done the trick as they have done for truckers the last 100 years.
However, there are those drivers who are afraid to back a vehicle up to any degree, so the in-dash monitors are supposed to enable those people to look forward as they travel backwards, in addition to the object sensor thingamajig offered on other models that beep or squawk when the drivers car is too close to something. Good grief.
Supposedly built for five passengers, the middle person on the backseat is never regarded as a human being of normal proportions, and required to sit either squished between the two other passengers or ‘on the hump,’ a rise in the seat cushion over the rear driveshaft area built-in to the car body, unless the vehicle is just a front-wheel drive. Yet, the middle passenger is regularly forgotten; they have no leg-room either. The back of their rigid seat is a flip-down convenience station for the other two passengers should the middle passenger be absent--something Sven found 2/3rds of the way into their trip at about Clearwater, Minnesoter, where Ula, stiff from all his head-nodding and neck-scrinching as he slept fitfully in the front passenger seat fulfilling his ‘company for young Thoralf role,’ asked if they couldn’t pull to the side of the road so he could stretch his legs. But Sven couldn’t get out.
His door wouldn’t open--and Thoralf, new to the vehicle, couldn’t find the door lock unlocker with all the red and blue and white and pink and purple and mauve and silver and brown and green and purple lights on the console. Ula instinctively opened the glove box (whatever its called on vehicles these days) to get the car owner’s manual, only to find none. Thoralf said that rental vehicles don’t often possess them. So as swift as a swift, Ula pulled out his iPhone and searches for ‘2019 Jeep Compass rear passenger door unlock mechanism’ and learns about deployment of the ‘Emergency key’ into the half-inch hole on the side of the door. Who says we’re not totally dependent on the smartphone? History may well have been much different had we been equipped with them from the start.
“DAMN IT, Ira! Dig out that gol damn contraption and search for the nearest gol damn watering hole and quit driving the gol damn flea-bitten team and wagon in circles, you old gol damn fool.”
“Whoa Fellow Euro explorers! According to Wikipedia, “‘ The aboriginal indigenous peoples population in North America exceeds several million across the continent in all directions quite entrenched in their individual cultures and totally unwilling to relinquish their occupancy of it.’” Maybe we should rethink this.”
At any rate, in the early morning hours in Clearwater, the three travelers stand in the shadows, opposite McDonald’s Meats and an old church, and indeed stretch their legs, walking off in their own directions. Sven, letting off a little gas himself astride a curb there, was thinking that in just a few short hours this same area will be beset by hundreds of commuter cars heading off of US Hwy 10 toward I-94, a major thoroughfare from outlying communities into Minneapolis/Saint Paul.
Sven slept a good part of the way, awakening only to catch glimpses of highway signs warning of approaching exits and noting their car’s location at present time for he had become more familiar with the route again having been in New Brighton, Minnesoter, for three days including the night Knorr died in Rochester. Not a happy moment for him. But here he was, eighteen days later, on a road trip with Ula and Thoralf, almost reliving a road trip with the two of them, nineteen years ago, when Thoralf was but a lad, and he and Ula were much younger themselves; this time Thoralf remembered his driver’s license, and his pants.
Ula awoke as they approached the exit for the airport, and began giving constructive commentary to Thoralf about where to go, as he was quite familiar with the procedure, practically living at MSP airport now that he was retired. Dropping them off at Terminal 1, temporarily another ghost town for the next hour or two, Sven and Ula bid goodbye to Thoralf wishing him safe passage. And away he went.
It was about then, that Ula remembered he left his reading glasses in the console of Thoralf’s rental and hurriedly called Thoralf to get them returned. Thoralf was at a gas station nearby refilling the rental, and happily returned to the airport to deliver Ula’s glasses to him. So it was that Ula was the forgetful one this trip, not Thoralf--so far, Sven noted mentally.
Ula found the Butt Cheek Barelines booth stuck between the spacious Air Canada and Aer Lingus platforms, having received an earlier call that their flight had been delayed an hour due to extended touch ‘n go pilot training exercises for new hires in Tuff Rubber Balls. A single computer monitor, sat atop a wood stool with a helium-filled birthday balloon floating over it that read, “Butt Cheek Barelines,” on both its sides. Taped to the monitor was a hotpink Post-it note with a smiley face emoji drawn on it, “Back at 8:30 am.” It was then 3:30 am. Sven couldn’t help but think that they could almost drive home in that time, but relinquished his selfish notion, remembering the great service they provided Thoralf on his long drive, by being company other than the one hundred radio stations Siri provided in the form of podcasts, sports reporting, news stations and vast musical genres from Mozart to Peter Wolf.
Thoralf, occasionally spitting sunflower shells into an empty plastic pop bottle as he drove, would have surely fallen asleep at the wheel had he not been under the watchful eye of his ever-alert father who had wisely taken a long nap before their departure from home, although Sven could see Ula’s head severely angled toward his chest, and bobbing once in a while, and thought him fast asleep confident in Thoralf’s driving ability at long last.
“See what happens when you remember your driver’s license?” Sven thought of Thoralf, now so mature he not only drives car rentals across Minnesoter but also drives Boston Harbor Pilot Boats that are as long as an airliner. “I’m in good hands,” Sven thought, and fell back asleep too.
But here they were, at MSP airport, at 3:30 am the morning after Knorr’s funeral, feeling quite surreal under all the high ceilings, girders and glass and expanse stretching quite far that way--and just as far this way except for a large blue neon-like sign that said NORTH SECURITY AREA. ALL GATES.
A chill ran through Sven’s body as he read that, for all his anxiety of commercial flight culminated at that one space called the TSA Security Checkpoint, where all passengers regardless of their political, cultural, religious, and/or gender affiliation passed, through and under, their sophisticated electronic scrutiny devices, aside from each officer being a highly-trained tomfoolery detection specialist, before anyone boarded an commercial airplane in the United States of America.
It wasn’t like he had anything to hide or had any evil intent, Sven was just Sven and so possessed this knack of drawing attention to himself by law enforcement officers just for that fact alone.
And Ula, not so much.
Nobody paid any mind to Ula, primarily because he often traveled with the stunning Jiigeweyaazhagaame, who commanded all their attention and others, male and female, in the crowds around them. Doors opened. Seas parted. All Ula had to do was walk beside her and lickety-split they were through customs checkpoints and TSA guardhouses without so much as a glance in appreciation, but not so this time. This time he was with Sven ...
So what to do until 8:30 am? Until they got their boarding pass at 8:30, they couldn’t go through the security area which meant they couldn’t access the food shops that were open beyond it where they could get a meal--or make a toast or two, of Jameson, to Knorr, (since they weren’t driving anywhere), but that wasn’t likely to happen now. Now they were stuck until 8:30.
So choosing a couple chairs in a line of chairs facing the Butt Cheek Barelines stool, Sven and Ula snoozed, their legs stretched out into the aisle, their old-man butts fairly gripping just the edge of the chairseat for dear life; their heads tipped back, eyes closed, mouths open; their fallen lower jaws jutting back against their bearded wrinkled necks; the backs of their heads hooked to the chair back, their arms dangling loose at their sides; their whole body limp appearing like two old hound dogs asleep on the porch exhausted from a mornings run, when they started becoming aware of people beginning to move around and past them toward the distant security area, like an increasing throng of hundreds of migrating beasts, some big, some small, noisily grunting and mewing, uttering sounds in different languages, squealing and crying, laughing, grumbling, talking, making drinking noises from water and thermos bottles; carrying children or pushing them in strollers, holding onto their hands as they walked, pulling wheeled suitcases, pushing wheeled suitcases piled high with errantly-piled smaller bags; service attendants going the opposite direction to traffic flow, following four-wheeled carts laden with golf club and hockey stick bags.
Ula suggested they take a walk, so gathering up his BSU book bag with nothing in it, the two walked to some elevators Ula had seen on their previous exploration. The different floors revealed an emptiness and starkness that Sven felt alien occupying; a woman sat at a grand piano; a young woman, with her luggage set up as a wall beside her, sat on the floor looking at her iPad, its glow illuminating her face; two people appeared asleep along a wall in a spooning position. Two people walking by in opposite directions didn’t acknowledge one another as though they were in some kind of trance.
Ascending an escalator, they returned to their chairs along the aisle; it was 4:45 am.
“Patience is a virtue,” so it is said, and Sven and Ula were full of it. Ula looked at his iPhone for much of the duration, sliding his thumb across its monitor as he paged through lines of tiny script while never uttering a sound, while Sven, sitting beside him, studied the feet of all the passersby occasionally glancing up to catch someone’s look back at him. Sometimes the two smiled. Other times either would look away as though caught in the act. Children went by sleeping in strollers, or sucking on pacifiers or entertained by an attentive adult who seemed tireless in the activity.
The sun came up in the interim and shone through the gigantic windows behind the two men. “What time could it be now?” Sven thought, reluctant to check his cellphone and afraid to ask Ula to find out. He looked at the Butt Cheek Barelines stool, but it was still devoid of a ticket agent, so it wasn’t 8:30 yet. Argh! It was true, they could’ve been almost home by now and their stomachs full of biscuits and gravy or eggs and bacon--and coffee. Mmmm, coffee would be great right now...
Ula was thinking the same thing and suggested they find an open food shop someplace; something had to be open by now--it was 7:30! Yeah baby!
“Starbucks!” “I’ll buy, said Ula, opening his wallet. “You bought T'oralf’s soda in Bagley. Vant an Americana? Vit cream, den?” Although it was unnecessary, Sven went for his kind offer, and picked up a handsome banana from the fruit bin, that he would buy himself, accepting the fact he’d have to pay $1.60 because of the airport location; he just needed more in his stomach to see him through.
Back at their chairs they noticed a handful of people standing around the BCB stool, anticipating arrival of the ticket agent. Inquiring of one of them, Ula learned the agent was on her way and so motioned Sven to join them there. Ecstatic at the news, Sven sunk his Starbucks cup in the trash bin by the chairs, and snaked his way through the thick crowd of people backed up all the way to Owatonna in the Security Check line, eager to become one of them. Presenting ticket-taker with his ‘government issued ID’ and his itinerary, she looked at him and asked if he had a carry-on or baggage. “Hmm, no m’am,” said Sven. “I’m traveling’ light this trip. No bags. Just pockets.”
“Perfect,” the ticket agent said, smiling.
“That’s what I thought too,” Sven replied, looking proudly at Ula and down at Ula’s flat-to-almost-nuthin BSU bag. "This guy, I just don’t know. You got even a shirt in there? A toothbrush?”
Ula joined him soon after, his boarding pass in his hand, and the two walked triumphantly all the way to now-almost Albert Lea, to join the end of the line. They were on their way home!
All they had to do was get through TSA Security. No problem, even without Jiigeweyaazhagaame. They had nothing to declare or hide or anything. How could they even remotely arouse suspicion of any kind? They were both nearly 75 years old. Well, maybe Ula more than Sven, but all the same they were old guys, not the typical suspicious type of person that would make the TSA shadow their holsters.
Shuffling along behind the herd, they approached the throngs with trepidation. Well, Sven did; Not ever-positive Ula, totally disregarding the fact he wasn’t in the company of his guardian angel, ‘Jiigeweyaazhagaame.’ Ula double-checked the Butt Cheek Barelines departure time again to make sure things on schedule. “Good, good,” Ula told Sven. “We may even have time to spare.”
That was about the time they entered the restriction area where there was a service dog and its handler, sniffing out the bad guys, checking out the bad girls.
“Attention people!” the TSA guy said. “We’re going to have you follow the arrows on the floor here (pointing them out) and then two by two, walk toward that agent there to allow the dog to walk around you and check you out; the TSA officer ‘there’ will direct your security routing at completion.”
As it happened Ula was paired with a young girl and Sven with an older woman, when a TSA agent told Sven, then Ula, to step aside the aisle and await further instructions. About the same time another officer took a microphone from a desk and loudly asked for two additional officers to come to their location immediately.
“Yer boarding pass here says yer headed for Tuff Rubber Falls, Minnesoter--who da hell goes to Tuff Rubber Balls?” brusquely asked a TSA officer closely scrutinizing Ula for signs of lying or obstruction of justice.
“Ulp! “ answered a shaken Ula, suddenly straining to withhold a bladderful of urine from discharging down his leg. “We live near Tuff Rubber Balls, in Roseau?” Ula continued with that classic question mark on the end of his reply.
“Well, either you do or you don’t, buddy,” hissed the bulgy-eyed officer, fairly spitting his contempt to Ula’s answer. “Whatitbe?”
“We live in Wannaska, Minnesoter, 52.3 miles north northeast of Tuff Rubber Balls and 15 miles southeast of Roseau, Minnesoter.”
“That’s Minnesotah, to you bub, not Minnesoter! Where’n hell you’d learn to talk like that?” the agitated officer spat.”Whattya got in dis here bag?”
“Almost nuttin,’ officer,” said Ula, nervously. “‘cep’n my toothbrush an’ an empty plastic water bottle.”
“Sounds like two items to me, Mister,” said the TSA officer, slippin’ on a pair of blue rubber gloves. “What else you hidin’?”
While they stood there in interrogation, the BCB ticket agent talked to the TSA officer explaining that Sven and Ula were to board a BCB plane ASAP; the officer allowed her to inform them that she would hold the plane as long as they could, but when they got done, to get themselves on the tram and to Concourse B, gate B15, pronto. Then she smiled at them and left for parts unknown.
Ula appeared quite sober; Sven, expectant, as this show of TSA authority wasn’t his first go around at an airport; it was more like his third. He knew the drill and upon direction, began removing his cap, his glasses, his pull-over jacket, his belt, his wallet, his cellphone, his shoes, and emptied his pockets. Ula did the same, except he had little almost-empty bag in addition.
Ushered to a body scanning machine, their TSA guy told another TSA guy that Sven would be entering the machine, then upon command turn 180 degrees and re-exit the machine. The second man nodded he understood, dutifully watching Sven’s performance as he later observed Ula’s.
The TSA officer conducting the search, motioned Sven to enter another machine in which two yellow ‘foot prints’ were marked on the floor inside the machine. Sven was directed to enter that machine, stop on the footprints, and as directed by an outline inside the machine, stand with his arms crossed over his head, and hold the position as the machine conducted a 360-degree scan of his body head to toe; Ula was directed concerning the same procedure.
Exiting the machine, an officer announced they would be searched by hand, describing how he would place his gloved fingers and palm on the inside of Sven’s waist band, from front to back, in a circular direction; then pat down each leg from crotch to ankle, one side of the leg, then the other, and repeat on the other leg. Sven was told to step to the side, stand on the provided mat, then sit down. When directed, he would be asked to lift one leg, then the other, so the officer could search his feet. Upon completion of the search, they would be allowed to gather their things and put them back on.
As rumors spread, everyone who passed through the TSA area saw the two old guys who were being searched for explosives. They were all so glad it wasn’t them. “Hey, weren’t those the two old guys sitting along the aisle, back by Air Canada?” Sven heard one of them say. “That one carryin’ that almost-empty bag was just plain weird, but I felt sorry for the other one with the ponytail. You can just never tell, nowadays.”
Hurrying after completion of the search, Ula grabbed up his almost-empty bag and sprinted for the tram with Sven close behind. Sven saw Ula’s shoelaces weren’t tied and warned him about it. When they got to the tram, Ula bent down to tie them when Sven, patting both his pockets for his cellphone, announced he didn’t have it. "Do you have yours?"
“No!!” Ula gasped. “We must have forgot them back in Security!”
Jumping to his feet, Ula met Sven in stride going back to the security area when they met the blue-gloved TSA officer carrying both their cellphones back to them, one in each hand.
“Thank you!” said a thankful Ula. “Yeah thanks!” said Sven, hurrying away to follow Ula back around the corner just as the tram arrived and the doors opened.
It wasn’t Sven’s first tram ride, but the first one at MSP airport. He found it confusing to read the moving ‘ticker-tape style’ information above the doors announcing what gate it was approaching, but Ula read them quickly and just as soon as the right spot was reached and the doors reopened, he was out the door in a flash, hollering back to Sven, that they needed to run to catch the plane, “Are you up for it?”
“You bet!” hollered Sven, halfway confident he could do it, forgetting he hadn’t sprinted for any reason for practically years.
Ula took the down stairs rather than the escalator; so did Sven, even going as far as not holding onto the handrail to let him go faster; he bounded down a couple steps at a time, but nixed the idea because he didn’t want to fall. Ula ran down a moving sidewalk, turning to yell back at Sven that he’d keep going and tell them they were coming and hold the plane.
It was about that time when Sven’s oxygen started running out, and the harder he ran the behinder he got, when he realized he had gotten onto the moving sidewalk, going the opposite direction, and he had been merely running in place than making any headway. Stepping aside, he took six fast drags of his Ventolin inhaler trying to regain his strength enough just to even jog, when ahead he could see Gate B15, a few people who were sitting down looking at their cellphones, and the fact there was no BCB plane, in plane sight.
“SHIT! SHIT! SHIT!” he heard Ula moan. “Da plane left vit' out us!” Ula looked perfectly sick, immediately calling home to notify Jiigeweyaazhagaame.
Sven calmly stood looking at the few Delta jets across the way and the empty bays below the window, he was at. Airplanes rose into the sunny sky a few hundred yards away from their location, when the elevator door opened and out walked a uniformed man looking for eight BCB passengers bound for Tuff Rubber balls, Minnesoter.
“Ve take back all our evil t'oughts about you!” said Sven, happily, anticipating a cold beer and sandwich once aboard.
The passengers were lead into the elevator, nine in all, including the crewman. They were just getting cozy when the opposite door opened and through another open door stood their ticket home, in style, a de Havilland Canada DHC-2T Turbo Beaver with a Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-34 680-hp turboprop engine.
“WOW! cried Sven, sounding much like an excited child at Disney World. “A real life Beaver! This is absolutely worth the astronomical one-way fare of $75! Hooyah!”