When I was small, my grandparents would take us to the Lakefront airport, a small airport for private and charter planes. They still referred to it as Shushan Airport, its name back in the old days, like when the Wright brothers were still around. We would watch the planes take off and land. It had a big, beautiful lobby that only much later would I appreciate as being classic art deco. Sometimes military planes would be there, old WW II planes that were still in service - big, gorgeous Constellations with three tail fins or awesome DC-3’s. There were lots of seaplanes too. I was always fascinated with the metal-cast scale models of airplanes in the huge display cases in the lobby. I wanted to be a pilot.
My mother took us to the Lakefront airport one weekend. My grandparents were out of town. She wasn’t quite sure of the way. She made a wrong turn and we found ourselves at the nearby boat launch. She made a big deal of it. She said “I almost drove into the lake!” about a zillion times. She had me thinking we had almost died.
I’m 12. We’re going to Pensacola to stay at the summer house of a friend of the family, Mr. Chanel. He’s French. And rich. My Dad is driving the station wagon to the beach. The bridge across the bay is very old, narrow and seems rickety. I’m scared the bridge will collapse from age. That night I have a dream which combines my memory of my Mother declaring our near-death by boat launch with the scary bridge. In my dream, we’re driving across a rickety bridge which angles down into the water. I wake up crying. The dream occasionally resurfaces even today, but I don’t cry anymore.
I’m 23. I have a part-time job driving a truck transporting mail at night. I drive from the main post office on Loyola Avenue to Picayune, Mississippi to meet another driver from Jackson, Mississippi. We’d swap trucks and I’d drive his mail truck back into New Orleans. My friend Mike and I share the job; he drives 3 nights a week, I drive the other three nights a week. One night Mike decides to ride with me even though it’s his night off. He wants to meet his girlfriend, Sherry. Sherry is driving back into town on the same highway from a trip. We meet Sherry. Her friend Iliana is riding with her. Mike gets into Sherry’s car and Iliana rides with me in the mail truck. Iliana is from Cuba. I’ve known Iliana for a few months and I like her. She holds my hand as I drive.
I’m 25. I live in Listowel, Co. Kerry, Ireland. My friend Mike has asked me to come with him on a tour of Europe. On the overnight ferry from Ireland to England, we are bored, so we make up a story to occupy the time. It tells of César and his friend (whose name I can’t remember) and their adventures. The story serves as a running theme for our own adventures all over Europe through the next month.
I’m 34. I have Eric as my permanent partner in the ambulance. He is also a paramedic, so we can swap duties - he drives one call, then I drive one call. We get along incredibly well. He is my partner at work and has also become a friend. I love going to work because we make each other’s day pleasant. Our partnership only lasts two months. I am then assigned to work with the medic that no one else can get along with. I spend several months with my new partner. I am miserable. Eventually, we start to get along. Eventually, I start to like working with my new partner. Eventually, I look forward to coming to work so I can be with my partner. Shortly thereafter, I am assigned a different partner, the latest one that no one wants to work with.
My sister Shannon is in the hospital. She is eleven; I am exactly one year older. We both have the same birthday, a year apart. Shannon is having her tonsils taken out at Hôtel Dieu Hospital. Children are not allowed in the hospital. My parents tell me and my other sister Erin to wait in the car. We do. It’s hot. We’re there forever, it seems.
I’m 30. My parents have entrusted me to keep their car while they’re out of town. My wife and I leave the house; we’re going to take their car to go wherever it is we were planning on going. Their car is no longer in front of our house. It’s been stolen. I file a police report. Four days later I’m working on the ambulance with my partner Mike (not the same Mike as I mentioned). My cell phone rings. It’s the police, saying they’ve found my parents’ car after a police chase and it’s been crashed into a parked car. The driver has been taken to the hospital. Mike and I drive to the scene where I confirm it is my parents’ car. Later at the hospital, I see the punk who stole the car. He’s lying on a spineboard, strapped down. It would be so easy to kill him, or at least beat the living daylights out of him. My partner Mike sees how angry I am and physically pulls me back, away from the teenage punk.
I’m 16. My year-younger sister has a license to drive. I do not. I’m in no rush to get one because I don’t really care if I can drive or not. She is driving to school and will drop me off at my school. We pick up her friend Michelle who goes to Shannon’s school. “1999” by Prince comes on the radio. Shannon and Michelle sing and car-dance to Prince. I don’t particularly care for Prince, so I stare glumly out the window.
I’m 3. The school bus picks me up for my first day of school. Mr. Jimmy drives Bus #22. Later, he would also teach Catechism, though it wasn’t a Catholic school. I ride Bus #22 for the next ten years. Forty years later I meet the brother of one of my co-workers. He also rode Mr. Jimmy’s bus, #22, though I don’t remember him. He didn’t go to Mr. Jimmy’s Catechism class because he was Jewish.
I’m newly married at age 28. My wife Grainne and I are driving across the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway. We watch the ducks, seagulls and cormorants flying and floating on the lake. While driving across the 24 mile-long bridge at 60 miles an hour, she locks the electric door locks. Mystified, I ask her why. She says “You never know who’s going to rob you.” I consider the logic of her statement but can find none. I ask her, “Who do you think is going to rob us? A rogue pelican?” She turns up the radio.
I’m 10. We’re going to Pontchartrain Beach, a local roller-coaster type theme park. My sisters and I take turns chanting “Pontchar” - “train” - “Beach!” each of us taking a portion of the name, splitting the four syllables as fairly as we could between only three children. I am dying to ride the Zephyr, the biggest roller-coaster New Orleans had ever seen. In the line for the ride, I confide to my Dad that I’m scared and I don’t actually want to ride the Zephyr anymore. We quietly leave the line.