I flew up from Sarasota to New York on Wednesday to review the Broadway revival of Sunset Boulevard for The Wall Street Journal. My plan was to go straight from the theater to an airport hotel, write and file the review there, grab a few hours’ sleep, then take an early-morning flight back to Sarasota and Mrs. T.
It was a good plan as plans go, and as plans go, it went. No sooner did I get off the plane in New York and turn on my cellphone than I discovered that the pending arrival of Winter Storm Niko had already brought about the cancellation of my return flight on Thursday, as well as every other flight from the New York area to Sarasota, not to mention hundreds of other flights to and from other cities. The chaos arising from these cancellations was so profound that JetBlue threw its corporate hands in the air and simply stopped answering the phone for the rest of the day, thereby leaving me high, temporarily dry, and irked beyond belief.
I sat down at my desk when I reached the apartment, plugged in my laptop, and started hunting for alternatives. I didn’t have many from which to choose: I had to find a way to get back to Sarasota in time to see a show on Friday night, then get up the next morning and drive myself and Mrs. T to Winter Park to see another show on Sunday afternoon. Fortunately for me, not to mention The Wall Street Journal, I was able to book the last remaining seat on the last remaining Friday-morning flight from Newark to Sarasota. Having done so, I breathed a noisy sigh of relief, then started opening three weeks’ worth of accumulated snail mail. I went to Sunset Boulevard that night, wrote my review at home the next morning, and spent the rest of the day looking out the window at Winter Storm Niko and thinking unlovely thoughts.
At three-thirty on Friday morning I woke up, confused and disoriented. Where am I? I asked myself. Then it hit me: I was in my own bedroom in New York. An hour and a half later I was on my way to Newark International Airport, and by noon I was back in Sarasota again, singing “Happy Birthday” to Mrs. T.
One of the packages that awaited me in New York contained a copy of Mark Vanhoenacker’s Skyfaring: A Journey with a Pilot, a memoir by a 747 pilot who gave up a promising career as a management consultant to spend his life flying all over the world. It contains the following passage:
Jet lag results from our rapid motion between time zones, across the lines that we have drawn on the earth that equate light with time, and time with geography. Yet our sense of place is scrambled as easily as our body’s circadian rhythms. Because jet lag refers only to a confusion of time, to a difference measured by hours, I call this other feeling “place lag”: the imaginative drag that results from our jet-age displacements over every kind of distance; from the inability of our deep old sense of place to keep up with our aeroplanes.
I read those words somewhere in the skies between Newark and Sarasota, smiling wryly as I did so. While I don’t travel nearly as much as Mark Vanhoenacker, I do it often enough to know just what he means by “place lag,” and I was definitely suffering from a mild case of it by the time I returned to Mrs. T on Friday. To travel from a cozy beachfront condo on Longboat Key to the aisle of a Broadway theater and back again in the space of forty-eight hours is disorienting enough. To travel from the Gulf of Mexico to a snow-clogged city and back again in the same span of time is…well, downright confusing.
Snipping a whole day out of my carefully planned schedule inevitably made Friday a bit hectic. We’d planned to cook out on Thursday evening, then see our show the following night. Instead I took a hasty nap as soon as I got back to the condo, lit the charcoal and grilled hot dogs late in the afternoon, then changed clothes and drove into Sarasota with Mrs. T to catch the opening of a revival of Born Yesterday.
We got up first thing Saturday morning and packed the car, then hit the road for Winter Park. Fortunately, the sun was shining and we weren’t in a hurry, so we decided to get off the interstate and retrace the route of a magical and unforgettable drive that the two of us took five years ago:
On Monday Mrs. T and I decided to take the long way from Sarasota to Winter Park. Shunning the interstate highways, we drove down two-lane roads that passed by countless orange groves and through tiny towns with names like Ona, Zolfo Springs, Avon Park, and–my favorite–Frostproof. Even the landmarks along the way bore picturesque names (first Troublesome Creek, then Peace River). Alas, we were only passing through, for I would have liked to spend a night at the Hotel Jacaranda, whose website recalls the long-ago days when Clark Gable and Babe Ruth graced its spacious rooms. But we had to return to Winter Park in time to meet a dinner guest, so we kept on driving.
We didn’t spend the night at the Hotel Jacaranda this time, either, but we did stop, much to my undisguised delight, in Frostproof, eating lunch there at a diner called Johnny’s Egg Works that serves, among other homely but delectable dishes, chicken-fried steak smothered in sausage gravy. It was a blissfully uneventful trip, and by the time we pulled into the driveway of our rented bungalow in Winter Park, I’d succeeded at last in catching up with myself again.
Kierkegaard said it: “Most men pursue pleasure with such breathless haste that they hurry past it.” I don’t think I do that, but I know that being a peripatetic drama critic occasionally requires me to cram too much life into not enough time. Not on Saturday, though. Instead of trying to beat the clock, Mrs. T and I spent the whole of a sunny day doing nothing but getting from point A to point B in the most unhurried way possible, and when I woke up the next morning, I didn’t have to look out the window to know where I was.
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Pat Metheny and Charlie Haden play Henry Mancini’s “Two for the Road”: