Monday, June 09, 2008

What A Weekend!

I got back to Louisville last night after spending a slammin' weekend in Western Massachusetts. I was speaking at the invitation of the wonderful folks who organized the first annual New England Transgender Pride March and Rally.

My trip there got off to an anxiety filled start. When I fly, I usually check or the Weather Channel to peruse the weather for the cities and the area I'm flying into before I leave. Because my schedule got rearranged by the unexpected trip I had to take in to work that morning, it threw me out of my usual preflight routine.

I arrived at Louisville International Airport around 4 PM to get a head start on clearing security, catch my 6:50 PM United flight to Chicago and subsequent connection to Hartford. It's been a while (2002) since I'd last flown and I'd forgotten about the fact that the TSA has severely limited the size of personal toiletry items you can take in carry on luggage. I had to throw away a full can of shaving cream and my three quarter used deodorant stick before clearing security and was mildly pissed about it.

My pissivity quickly dispersed when I started chatting with two Dallas based Southwest Airlines flight attendants. I walked with them to their gate as we talked about the airline industry good old days and how the industry has changed to where it was less fun than it used to be. The flight attendant also told me a story about one of the people she knew at American who was on one the fateful 9-11 flights and how he ended up on it.

They eventually had to go board their aircraft and do their preflight checks, so they gave me hugs before they departed. I arrived at my United gate only to discover that Chicago was getting whacked by a nasty thunderstorm. The previous Chicago flight was delayed, so I decided to kill a little time and figure out my options by taking a walk. I ended up standing next to the shoeshine booth as I checked the flight information board. Since my black flats needs some TLC, I decided to let the handsome brother sitting there make them look good for me.

I returned to my gate to discover that my UA flight to Chicago was cancelled. The agent rebooked me on US Airways through Philadelphia, and best of all I was now going to arrive at Bradley two hours earlier. In addition to that, the gate for my US Airways flight was right next door. I pulled out my cell phone and called Kris Colton, my ride to Springfield and Louis Mitchell, my good friend I was staying with and advised them I was going to be arriving in BDL at 10:20 PM instead of 12:52 AM.

I was concerned about my tight connection in Philly, but after sprinting through the airport to my gate once I got off the shuttle bus from Terminal F, I was relieved to discover my aircraft was just arriving and disgorging passengers from the inbound trip. It would be a few minutes before we began boarding to Bradley.

I ended up in a neat conversation that lasted through the short one hour flight to Bradley with my seatmate Kathy. We exchanged details on our lives and she wished me good luck for the upcoming speaking engagement the next day before we went our separate ways.

Kris rolled up thirty seconds after I called her and scooped me up from the arrivals loading area. We were quickly headed north on I-91 to the Massachusetts-Connecticut border (the airport is in Windsor Locks, Connecticut) and Springfield.

Kris and I hit it off immediately and we were chatting like two old friends instead of people who'd just met for the first time. I was going to see much more of her tomorrow since she was the stage manager for the rally.

A few minutes later Kris and I were pulling in front of Louis and Krysia's two story corner house in a quiet, tree-shaded Springfield neighborhood remarkably similar to my own back in Da Ville. Louis' house, which was built in 1917, is actually older than mine. I was greeted by him and Imani Henry, who was also staying with us. Miss Major, who was going to be the parade's Grand Marshal unfortunately wasn't staying with us because she's allergic to pets. There are three cats at the Mitchell-Villon household along with a lovable black dog named Lola.

His wife Krysia was asleep at the time, so we bounced to Denny's to grab breakfast and chat. During a trip to New York in 2000 I was supposed to meet Imani for lunch, but got detained by a long chat I was having with the mother of our movement, Sylvia Rivera. So I apologized to Imani for missing our meeting, and we settled on discussing what was going to transpire the next day before going back to the house and grabbing some sleep for what promised to be a long and excitingly historic day.

But just before I dozed off another stress inducing complication arose. I wanted to review my speech, and discovered that I didn't have my WNBA notepad I put it in. It has major sentimental value to me and I feared I'd left it on the US Airways airplane at Bradley. I had a copy of the speech posted on TSTB and saved on my blog just in case I had to download and print it at Kinko's in the morning. Louis' printer was down, so that wasn't an immediate option. I called Kris on my cell, left her a message and hoped for the best as I went to sleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.

That morning I got up a little after 6 AM to Springfield being enveloped in fog and low cloud cover. The forecast was for a 30% chance of rain and we were hoping it would hold off until the rally was over at 5 PM. I received some good news when Kris returned my call and let me know she'd found my notepad in the backseat of her car and she'd bring it with her to the rally site.

One minor crisis solved, I wandered downstairs and finally met Louis' lovely wife Krysia. You know how much I love intelligent conversation, and I was in for a treat hanging out with her, Louis and Imani over the next 36 hours.

The time rapidly approached for all of us to get ready for the march and rally. Louis had already left to meet the lady renting us the RV for the day. I rode to the rally site with Krysia, who as we rode through the beautiful western Massachusetts countryside enroute to Northampton told me a little about her background as I did the same. She was also acting as out hostess in the RV green room for the speakers, and Louis was our MC.

We get to the rally site, a large parking lot hemmed in by restaurants, shops and a six story parking garage in downtown Northampton. The RV was there and the owner was explaining and pointing out all the various features to Kris as I walked in to check it out.

Over the next few hours the lot began to be transformed. The stage was already set up with the sound equipment. The various organizations were setting up their tables, and the various speakers were beginning to arrive. The cloud cover was keeping the heat away from us and didn't break until 11 AM, revealing brilliant sunshine about an hour before the march started.

I finally got to meet Donna Rose a few moments later. We hugged and hit it off like two sorority sisters. By looking at her its hard to believe this woman is hitting a milestone birthday next year. I also got to meet Ethan St. Pierre's wife Karen as me and Ethan caught up on a few things. I was also happy to meet some of the transbrothers like Bet Power, Hawk Stone and some of the members of the Boston based drag king troupe All The Kings Men.

I got a taste of just how widely read my blog was when I started meeting the young transpeeps and college kids like Dustin, Jacklyn and others. Once they found out the TransGriot was on the scene, they raved about how much they loved my blog and I thank them (and all of you) for reading it. A writer always loves it when their work is appreciated.

After the march kicked off at noon from a nearby park and brought a crowd of 700 mostly energized people to our rally site, it began. I was scheduled to speak at 2:40 PM, but hit the stage a little early because we were running ahead of schedule. I delivered my speech, got some cheers at major points in it and some high fives after I exited the stage. I also had the pleasure of finally meeting Dr. Enoch Paige and reconnecting with more than a few old and new friends as the historic day progressed to a close.

Sunday dawned and after a lazy morning conversing with Imani, Krysia and Louis it was unfortunately time for me to head back to my life in Louisville. Since I was in Springfield, the home of the Basketball Hall of Fame, on the way to the airport Louis dropped me off there and let me run around the place for an hour and a half. That's not enough time to see and do everything in this interactive shrine to one of my fave sports.

It was also the first time since I left Continental that I'd be flying the airline, and the flight that ironically greeted me at my departure gate in Hartford was a weather-delayed one headed to Houston.

Eventually I got to board my flight to Cleveland, and two of the flight attendants recognized me from my Houston airport days. As I went to the lav after they finished the beverage service Ann Marie greeted me. She filled me in on just how much I was missed by all my CAL co-workers not only in Houston, but system wide. We exchanged numbers as something told me to use the bathroom and get my butt back in my seat.

Ten minutes later I was glad I listened to my inner voice. There was a line of late afternoon storms pounding the Detroit area and I was concerned before we left Hartford that the tail end of that nasty front extended almost to the Cleveland area. As we descended through the cloud cover from our cruising altitude we got whacked with a microburst that roughly forced the aircraft down approximately 500 feet. I heard the engines power up to regain the altitude we lost as we immediately got hit with a second microburst.

I've flown hundreds of flights, but this was the first time since a 1987 one I took to Chicago I was genuinely scared shitless. We were still over the edge of Lake Erie a few miles from Cleveland-Hopkins Airport, and as a former airline employee I already had the '90% of airline crashes happen on takeoff or landing' mantra playing in an endless loop in my brain. To calm myself down I (and probably 'errbody' else on that flight) said a prayer that we weren't going to end up on the national news.

As I watched the airplane descend through my window seat, it continued to fight nasty crosswinds as we flew over a nearly subdivision and strip center. As we continued to descend and crossed the interstate bordering Hopkins I knew we were almost on the ground. I'd heard the comforting sound of landing gear deploying but I knew we weren't out of danger yet. When the welcoming bump from the wheels touching runway happened and the aircraft's braking flaps deployed, there was a huge cheer and clapping that arose from everyone on board.

We'd had what I call a Pope John Paul II landing. I'm referring to his practice when he traveled around the world of kissing the ground when he stepped off his papal aircraft. If it weren't for the fact I needed to expeditiously get to Concourse D for my Louisville flight, I would have probably done so in the jetway when I disembarked. We did have to call the paramedics for one of the flight attendants and a passenger in the seat behind me, but everybody else walked off under their own power.

I didn't have time to get scared because I had a connecting flight to catch. I pulled out the cell phone and called Dawn to let her know what time I'd be in Da Ville when I sat down in the lobby area. She and AC were there to greet me outside the security checkpoint when I arrived at Louisville International around 9:55 PM.

Eventually I arrived safe and sound without incident at home as I told them everything about what transpired on this wonderfully empowering, historic but emotionally charged weekend.

And I'm looking forward to seeing how you peeps in the Western Massachusestts area top this event next year. Make sure y'all get that RV again, too.


shakay said...

Thank you, Monica, for sharing your experiences with us. It sounds like your stay in Massachusetts was a lot of fun, but your trip home sounded like it was anything but fun.

I'm glad you're home safe and sound.

Monica Roberts said...

I don't get frightened very often when I fly, but that was one of the few exceptions.

Other than that, I had a very positive and empowering weekend.

sexy said...