Price forecasting websites, "one free checked bag" deals, her Delta dollars or whatever the hell she collects went in one ear. I barely listened. Much like a dog, I take my conversational cues with her by listening for changes in inflection. This gives me plenty of time to think my own thoughts, yet still respond appropriately when she pauses. Like a good friend. She does the same thing.
JCrew is a planner and a deal hunter. I knew this. One of those "I got this $200 coat for $38" people. But I didn't know-know this. Not to this extent. And learning this was weird. Like I hadn't noticed she has three breasts or a lisp or that she's actually a dude.
The day after we finally got what she thought would be the lowest possible fare she asked "Did you tell Chuck that I got you one free checked bag?" I gave her a blank look. Not only had I forgotten, it wasn't the kind of fact that would end with Chuck and me rolling around in a pile of 25 singles, clutching each other and shrieking hysterically.
Chuck and I don't travel like this. We're more like:
"Shit. If we're going to go to LA tomorrow, we better buy our tickets."
"Meh. It's not even noon yet. Plenty of time."
This is not to say I did not appreciate JCrew's freakish fluency with travel planning. I did. If I'd taken the reigns we'd still be in Detroit panhandling for gas money. This was like being a lazy trust fund brat who lands a choice gig shuffling papers and reading Gawker all day long while my personal assistant puppeteers me onto the cover of Forbes.
"My God!" I said to her boyfriend Seadawg. "She's amazing."
"She's good, isn't she?" he said proudly, still tan from a New Year's trip to Florida.
Our itinerary: Fly to Norfolk on Thursday. Stay with our friend BriGuy. The three of us drive to Richmond on Friday. Back to Norfolk on Sunday. Fly back to Duluth on Monday.
BriGuy looks like BriGuy 2.0, now with the beginnings of a beard. He conducts baggage handling with his trademark chivalry. He's also taken to carrying a lighter though he doesn't smoke. It's engraved with his name.
I'd be lying by omission if I did not say here that JCrew and BriGuy dated a hundred years ago. They remain friends. There is some residual mind reading between the two of them. It is not at all romantic. More like bumping your head and suddenly knowing Spanish.
He takes us to a restaurant he selected keeping in mind JCrew's keen palate. She'd read the menu online, approved, and made a reservation more than a month in advance. At 9 p.m. there is only one other active table.
"Christa looks like a bag lady," JCrew snorts. I'm wearing an oversized sweatshirt and the stink of travel. "Yeah, a bag lady in BCBG," I respond. Seven hours with her and I've picked up brand name dropping like it's a case of the yips. I will have to shed this when I return to my real life. It doesn't suit me.
The server is leaned against the bar talking to a man with whom she is probably engaged in a sexual relationship. She comes to us ready to upsell and recommend. We order Pumpkin Soup with Cinnamon Croutons and Toasted Sesame Seed Oil, Rappahannock Seafood Low Boil, Shrimp and Grits with Smoked Chili Hollandaise Sauce, Black and White Mac & Cheese, the Fish Special I can't remember, Creme Brule and Bread Pudding. These dishes are passed among us family style. I horde the desserts, pleased to find that my companions know when to say when whereas I just want to motorboat a trough of chocolate flavored sugar.
BriGuy takes us back to his condo in Virginia Beach. We chat with his roommate, one of those sunny and clean girls who looks like she would smell like fresh air. JCrew unplugs an okay red, then trades it for a delicious white wine. I'm too full. My face throbs with a tooth ache from a pesky molar I'll later have ripped from my face with two twists of a dentist's wrist. I can't drink with any sort of purpose. BriGuy sips a beer-colored juice. We talk until 4 a.m.
JCrew and I take over BriGuy's bed. We lay there and discuss "Sweet Valley High" in very serious voices for an hour. Maybe two. She's chatty from the wine. I make my first silent appeal for an epic weather catastrophe to rip open the roof and knock her unconscious when she says: "Let's see how many characters we can remember. ... Lila Fowler ..." I fall asleep listening to her recite a poem by Christina Rosetti.
I wake not nearly enough hours later. JCrew is standing next to the bed naked. If there is a towel anywhere near her, it's wrapped around her head. She's showered. Does she sleep? In nine years of friendship, I've never asked her.
We hit the road. The Cheese Shop in Williamsburg on the William and Mary campus. Cute shops. Buskers. It feels smart and collegiate and John Irving-y. Like every weekend could be Homecoming weekend. I bet this place makes parents proud.
I eat Prosciutto and Provolone on Focaccia. Drink a San Pellegrino Lemonata. I rub contacts into my eyeballs in a public restroom off of the wine cellar. We drive further to an outlet mall. We split up so as not to torture each other with our individual preferences. I leave with a pink coat from Guess; Off-white wedge booties from Aldo.
"Helloooo Colonial Williamsburg," JCrew trills with a British accent.
"Ye Olde Williamsburg," she adds.
This is funny every single time she says it. And she says it a lot. And not just about Colonial Williamsburg. She says it about inanimate objects and other Virginian towns.
"She thinks that fake accent makes her a historian," BriGuy says.
We check into our hotel in downtown Richmond. I go exploring. I need a toothbrush, black tights, a black bra, a Coke. This is a restaurant and pub neighborhood with cobblestone streets and a used bookstore. I stand on a corner, frustrated, and notice a massive white building with a lush lawn greener than a golf course. I make for the capitol building and sit on the steps.
I'm really not a history person, as far as who signed what and Patrick Henry where. Shoes with buckles. Robes and muskets. Still, I try to generate some sort of "stuff happened here" connection to the land and fail. Instead I think about how everyone here has brown hair. Who do you have to know to find a Coke?
We have dinner reservations. The place is packed. We move into the bar area, three feet from the tables. Close enough to join conversations. I stare a little too long at a woman's sheer shirt and wonder where I could find one of my own. We read the menu written on a giant chalk board mounted high on the wall. Servers and the hostess need us to shuffle this way, scooch that way. We're in their way for ice; We're in their way to pick up drinks at the bar.
We watch a parade of plates go past, judge the aesthetics, then bone up on what's hot here and what's not on Yelp from our iPhones. Pomegranate Spritzers get raves.
I pick a book off a shelf. It is by the guy who wrote "Dune." A server tells me it is his copy. When he walks away I continue to flip pages to be polite. What if this book is a plant. A lure. His soul mate will read the first page. When I pick it up, he wonders if it is me. When I put it down, he knows I'm not. We get a table upstairs.
I'm cranky. My face hurts. I'm starved. JCrew and I order Pomegranate Spritzers. We order Oysters with Hot Sauce Aioli, Short Ribs, Ricotta Gnocchi, Thai Vegetables, Steak. The oysters ooze and have kick. I lick the emptied shells. JCrew Tweets something vulgar, BriGuy Tweets something more vulgar. The Ricotta Gnocchi is rich. The steak dissolves on contact. This is the best food I've eaten in months. They won't let me get dessert.
Oregon and her fiance had gone to a bar after the rehearsal and they're at a table filled with friends. Some I recognize from dirty missives they posted on Oregon's MySpace page in the early 2000s. She looks exactly the same except instead of a hoodie she's wearing cleavage with a dress wrapped around it. Her fiance is making googly love eyes at her from across the table.
"These two are high," she says, pointing at her fiance's friends.
It's hard to tell if it has been 10 years or 10 minutes since Oregon moved away from Duluth, a day I vowed to never make another friend ever again. It has been five years. I hadn't yet met Chuck. I still had a cat. I sometimes drank Peppermint Schnapps and listened to "Thunder Road" on repeat. JCrew still drank on week nights back then. Now she's been solidly dating the man who signed Oregon's time card. There is really no point of entry for any sort of "catching up." We do it willy-nilly, like digging in a closet and pulling out buried trinkets one at a time in no specific order with no specific rhyme or reason.
We leave before the betrothed. There are scientific things to handle. Namely, that we have eaten a lot of rich food, digestive tracts are gridlocked, and the only bathrooms in the bar are single stall and high traffic. The button has already fallen off my new coat. "Factory outlet," Dr. JCrew diagnoses. Oregon's friend from college, J, has joined our group. She's come to the wedding by herself, and BriGuy plucks her up as a solo-guest sympathizer. He's welcome wagon-y like that. Plus, ladies dig him. He has a real "not-a-rapist" way.
"How do you say ebullient?" JCrew asks.
"You-ba-lent," I say.
"That's wrong," she says.
"Ee-bue-lee-ent," BriGuy says.
"You-ba-lent," I say.
"No," JCrew says.
We get lost between the parking garage and the hotel. We're a single file line moving through hallways, up stairs, down stairs, finally landing in the lobby of our hotel.
There is an Amway convention at our hotel. Activities run from 9 a.m.-2 a.m. The Amwaytiers gather in a restaurant, a bubbling pack of exclamation points. They clap. Men in suits are lodging next door. They are young. Fontanels like Nerf footballs, probably. Vaguely cult-ish. JCrew and I crawl into bed with matching food memoirs. BriGuy reads the newspaper. Doors slam. Men shout. A fist meets skin. BriGuy ignores it. JCrew and I sprint to the eye hole. Take turns peering. I had no idea we had this in common, this unabashed staring and fan-fiction about the lives of strangers.
On the other hand, she's furious about the clatter whereas I'm just curious. She's a fiery sort, prone to tourette-like bursts of expletives. I love having this kind of annoyance. Blood at a rolling boil. Harmless cardio that makes for a good story over breakfast.
The Amwaytiers will keep her up all night. She will score the three of us free breakfast buffets when she narcs on the fuckers at the front desk in the morning while I sit on a bench in the lobby imagining she is my super embarrassing mother. JCrew as justice seeker has its merits though, I think, eating free Greek Yogurt and Fresh Fruits, eavesdropping on runners at the next table, a few mimosas into a post-race Saturday.
We move to a new room down the hall in an area reserved for business travelers. I worry that we are annoying BriGuy. Two high-pitch voices encroaching on his bachelorhood, his brain. Not to mention his car. Like me, he seems to need room to breathe. He doesn't drink, so there is nothing to dull our omnipresence.
We pick up J and head to a Picasso exhibit. "I wasn't impressed with this exhibition when it was in Paris," a man in front of me says. "I just love his blue period," says a woman. R. Crumb-shaped women run on the beach, breasts freed from dresses and holding hands. A dying matador. A bug-eyed man. A cat with talons.
I catch up to JCrew who had gotten stuck in a loop with a woman who was explaining each piece. "Fucking art history majors," JCrew spits. "I heard a guy say 'Ah. Of course they would end with 'The Bathers.'" She apes his chuckle, rolls her eyes. I take her upstream, back to the painting of the women on the beach. "That's us," I tell her.
Then she ditches for the impressionists and I make for modern.
"Do you want to borrow my blush?" JCrew asks. We're sharing space in the hotel bathroom mirror. This new hotel room's bathroom outlets don't work. I only think "The outlets in our old bathroom worked" once.
"I'm wearing blush," I say.
"Oh," she says. "Can you straighten the back of my hair?"
"I'm busy putting on more blush," I say.
Then I straighten the back of her hair.
It takes a village to help her get ready, I tell BriGuy. He ironed her dress.
The wedding is at the Edgar Allan Poe Museum. Outside in the garden. The centerpiece is a fountain. White folding chairs. It's raining. BriGuy has two umbrellas. We skitter into the museum's gift shop. Stuffed ravens. Biographies and compilations. Key chains.
I meet the groom's mother and the groom's uncle and the groom's cousin. They have comical accents that seem born for my entertainment. Fifteen minutes before the ceremony it stops raining. The groom's mother will credit the groom's dead father with making the day perfect. Oregon will say "Or maybe the weather patterns changed." Shrug. BriGuy and other guests wipe down the folding chairs. JCrew and I pose with a Poe bust.
The music has to be re-started. Oregon has missed her cue. "If I were the groom I'd be nervous," JCrew says. Then comes the photographer, who is shooting journalism style, walking backward. Oregon winds her way into the garden. The second consecutive day she has strayed from what was her signature outfit five years ago: Hoodie, jeans, Converse.
She's lovely. She has a great face, Oregon. Smooth skin. Nonintrusive features. Nothing to complain about, and if there was, she wouldn't. A reading from "The Little Prince." A reading from the Groom's family archives, an association I can't hear. Something about his mother and father.
And then our little friend is married. She's keeping her last name. It's not a political statement. She just doesn't want to have the last name Cox. I tell her some people would kill for that opportunity. She's unswayed.
The groom passes out mustaches to the guests. They are stuck above lips, on chins and in one case to the back of a bald man's head. I slip mine into my pocket. I can't get into the mustache thing, but pretend I'm opting out in solidarity with JCrew, who I know won't put one on. The groom's grandmother does, though.
The reception is at a two-level bar, closed for the private party, with a winding staircase. There is an open bar with beer, wine and a cucumber drink Oregon either invented or merely approved of. This is unclear.
JCrew orders us both a Mint Julep. We are in the South. The drink comes in a tin cup. It is whoa. Strong. Burn-y. I can either drink this drink and then immediately take a cab to the Betty Ford Clinic, or I can nurse the shit out of it and hope some of it just evaporates into fumes. Blotto me has been known to soil hotel furniture with urine spills. JCrew might find this funny, as long as I do it nowhere near her or her Kate Spade. I doubt BriGuy would see the humor, unless I did it near JCrew or her Kate Spade.
I choose sipping.
Most of the wedding guests are watching VCU play in the NCAA Final Four on the bar TV. About three hours into the Mint Julep, we realize that if we stir it, it is actually delicious. Minty. That's the key. To stir. Seasoned drinkers like yourself, BriGuy says, shaking his head.
There is a small-plate buffet on a long table upstairs. Fruits, vegetables, rolls and meat, grits with sausage and shrimp, meatless polenta lasagna -- Oregon is a vegetarian -- and cubed cheese. I'm shy on firsts. More aggressive on seconds. This is the best wedding food I've eaten.
I step outside to talk to Chuck on the phone. A man walks past me, looks around, whips out his dick and pees. He's about 10 feet away from me. I blame the basketball game. VCU lost. I'd hoped they would win and that we'd see a riot. Burning cars. People looting VCRs from pawn shops. Instead they lost and I'm down wind from a puddle of urine.
It's hard to say when the wheels come off. Probably after the toasts, during which the groom's sister calls Oregon the puzzle piece that completes the family. We linger upstairs.
A friend of the groom is talking about Ireland with JCrew. Telling her the lay of the land, the best places to visit, go here, go there, don'ts and dos. JCrew watches him skeptically, unsmiling.
JCrew is not the sort of person who just says "I'm going to Ireland." JCrew is the kind of person who first memorizes a map of Ireland, reads about each region, plots a route, studies menus, then says "I'm going to Ireland." So this guy has been to Ireland. He's not telling her anything she doesn't know, and she makes sure he knows that. You'd feel sorry for the guy if it wasn't so beautiful to watch.
"Why are you so angry?" he finally asks her. "I'm like Oregon. ... I'm dark," she says in total seriousness. I choke on my wine. Text Chuck: "JCrew just told some guy that she's dark."
A fortune cookie hits him in the head. Two tables away, a bunch of strangers have initiated a food fight. Another fortune cookie. Plunk. He grabs a cub of cheese from my plate and lobs it at them. They answer with a grape. Cheese, grapes, fortune cookies whiz through the combat zone. He scoops up a handful of cake and flings it across the room. This goes on for awhile. Until the caterers come and take away all the food.
We cram like seven people into BriGuy's car, including a woman in a poofy white dress. I sit in the very back. Like the last kid dropped off after a birthday party, riding in the hatchback of a wood-paneled station wagon. This is my idea.
JCrew and I sprawl out in the hallway outside of our hotel room, digging through everything for a key card. We go inside and she orders a pizza and garlic cheese bread. Just as quickly she forgets she ordered a pizza and garlic cheese bread. A half hour later we wonder if she actually ordered a pizza and garlic cheese bread. And then the pizza comes.
But first I accidentally send a text message meant for Chuck to JCrew's boyfriend, whom I had been sending photos of JCrew to all night.
"Night Yum Yum," I write.
I woke to the sound of JCrew turning on her camera, scrolling through a visual aid of the night.
We head to Carytown, a shops and restaurants area of Richmond we had driven through a few times. Breakfast at a French bistro with a surly and stained waitress. I order Eggs Benedict and stop paying attention to what those around me are eating.
We veer off the highway again in Colonial Williamsburg. This time we're going to tour around. Look at pieces of silver and men in tights. See taverns and canons. Homemade soup and penny candy. Up a path and around. Huge estates and small shops and college kids playing Frisbee.
"Helloooooo Colonial Williamsburg," JCrew trills.
"Musket ammunition is called balls," BriGuy tells me. There is a level of travel exhaustion that makes this seem like the most hilarious piece of information that could ever pass from his lips to my ears. Mostly we just walk slowly and take in the sights. I suddenly understand the appeal of Sundays.
We close the day at a candy shop, each selecting chocolate truffles and drinks to carry us the rest of the way to Virgina Beach. There are places alone this highway where you travel beneath the water or along low bridges bookended with blue. In a Northern clime, the shoulders would be a flea market of homemade crosses from the time Uncle so-and-so drunk drove home, caught a patch of ice and cartwheeled his truck into the bay. There isn't really ice here.
BriGuy takes us to a seafood restaurant right smack dab on the water. It's a shack sort of place filled with regulars and I experiment with eating food that had spent the morning performing water gymnastics among its peers while tiny brown ropes of waste exited his plump and delicious torso. JCrew introduces me to She-Crab Soup. Never have I ever had my mouth explode in such an amazing way. First I sample from her bowl, then I buy some of my own.
Back at BriGuy's we close up shop early.
I wake to those two making breakfast. BriGuy's on waffle duty; JCrew is manning the scrambled eggs. I take over hash browns and bacon and we all sit at his kitchen. Then BriGuy takes us to the beach, where it is warm-ish, sunny and windy. I run ankle-deep into the water to mark the second ocean I've seen in a month.
Sand whips in our faces, fills any gaping orifice. Hair everywhere.
BriGuy drops us off at the airport in Norfolk. It's been a good trip. We hug our goodbyes, send him on his way.
Our flight has been delayed.
This is bad news, as our layover in Detroit was to be less than an hour. Passengers have descended on the Delta employee charged with troubleshooting. She's got an edge to her, and seems to delight in telling a man that there is no way that he will get to Canada in the next 12 hours.
We throw a dozen options at her:
Get us to Chicago.
Get us to Minneapolis.
Just get us as close to Duluth Minnesota as you can and hell if we have to we'll take a rickshaw that last 200 miles.
For as fun as this trip has been, it is time for it to be over. We both have somewhere to be the next morning.
I buy four magazines. JCrew calls a handful of people who care about our fate. I read about Rhianna and a serial killer in New York. I picture us in a dank Detroit hotel room plopped amid a circle of airline tequila bottles and burping "Como Esta Usted" at each other before collapsing into giggles. I bet that Detroit delivers a unique form of hangover.
Eventually we board our plane. According to math, there is a possibility that we will land in Detroit with a handful of milliseconds to catch our flight to Duluth. We watch the clock and plot.
"We are going to push our way to the front," I tell JCrew. "Get off as fast as we can. We're not going to be nice about it."
This is easier for her than me.
We land in Detroit with about 13 minutes before our flight leaves. We bust our way to about the mid-point of the plane and it takes forever for them to open the door. In the meantime, the man in front of us has looked up our departure gate. We file solemnly from the plane and then bam! Dead sprint.
I'm not jogging. I'm running. Boots pounding the tiles, eyeballing signs and following arrows. People are backing out of my path, hugging toddlers and gaping. My backpack is pounding against my back like a heartbeat. I'm sprinting on moving sidewalks, checking the time, pushing harder. I look over my shoulder and JCrew is doing the same. Down a hallway, turn, it's been 7 minutes of full-on sprint. My lungs have collapsed and I've wet myself a bit.
When I get to our gate, the door is closed and a few people are standing around.
"ARRRGGGGGGHHH!" I say, keel over with my hands on my knees. Cough. I start to tear up. No offense to Madonna and Eminem, but I don't want to be in Detroit.
"Where are you trying to get?" a woman asks me.
I wonder if maybe they've held the plane for us.
"Duluth?" I gasp.
"We're waiting for the flight attendants," she tells me.
It takes a second to realize that these are my people. The plane hasn't yet boarded. That doesn't mean I can breathe yet, but it is good news. If I'd known this seven minutes earlier, the crotch of my jeans would still be dry and urine free.
I text JCrew. Tell her to take her time. Then I see her. She's wearing trouser socks, her shoes in her hand. Later she'll rip the flimsy material from a blister she earned from her run. We recap our journeys from Terminal to Terminal.
Our flight doesn't leave for two more hours. We were on a plane, then off the plane. We moved to a new terminal. I have a murderous desire for a Cheeseburger, but all of the restaurants have closed. My stomach has started to eat itself. We board. Finally. JCrew counts her money and finds she has enough for two Bloody Marys. We mix mini Vodka with a can of tomato juice. Swirl to stir. Sip.
"It's like a meal," she says.
* I'd like to thank anyone who read this post in its entirety. I know it was a bugger. But I really wanted to write something long and detailed. And maybe no one read it in its entirety. That's fine, too. There is no quiz.
* Most of the images in this post are by JCrew and BriGuy and Picasso.
* A special thanks to Delta Airlines for adding another crap chapter to the trip and teaching me that my cardio is pretty shitty.