Wednesday morning I woke up early. My weird work schedule has me basically nocturnal of late, so I was shocked to discover that a. 6:15 a.m. is an hour that exists and b. it’s light outside, at least in my corner of Brooklyn. I stumbled through the steps of getting ready: brush teeth, wash face, yawn vociferously, put a little mascara on. A couple taps of my phone and I was out the door, waiting for a man named Nessely to take me away.
We rolled through the streets of Crown Heights, and Bed-Stuy, and Williamsburg, finally sweeping onto the BQE. The Manhattan skyline looked groggy, too. The early morning sunshine streaked the office towers and apartment buildings, still scrubbing the sleep from their eyes, as we passed into Queens. Nessely didn’t talk much, just bobbed his head along to the radio — a Cameroonian station, as best I could tell, from the bits of French I caught, the lilts and slurs so different from the Parisian accent I’m accustomed to. Dropping me off, he swung my little suitcase out of the trunk with practiced ease. “Have a safe flight,” he said. “You too,” I replied. ‘Oh, um, I mean…,” but he was already gone.
The reports of long TSA lines have not, I fear, been greatly exaggerated. With the businessmen and the moms wrangling toddlers and the overexcited Midwestern tweens fresh off their first New York experiences, I began to regret my decision to forgo coffee and breakfast at home in favor of a few more moments sleep. Inch by inch, we crept forward. A caravan of wheelchairs blocked the line for a good five minutes. The Au Bon Pain man stopped us again to run several large plastic boxes of sandwiches and wraps through the x-ray machine. My toes shrank from the cold tile floor as I juggled tote bag and suitcase in one hand, industrial grey plastic box containing my laptop and sandals, lotions and potions in the other. “Welcome to LaGuardia,” an LED sign flashed at me, optimistic. I texted a picture to a friend who replied, “Hey look, they misspelled hell.”
I like airports, as a rule. Despite the security hassles and long lines and bad food, there’s something about them that thrills me, scratches my wanderlust. They’re places of potential: to go anywhere, be anyone. I settled into a cracked pleather seat for a breakfast sandwich, a coffee, and some people watching. The sandwich was cold. The coffee was needed. The people watching yielded a smattering of solo travelers like myself, but a much larger number of family units, all seemingly headed back to Somewhere, Middle of America after a jaunt to the big city, bearing plastic bags from the M&M Store and Madame Tussaud’s bulging with souvenirs for the folks who didn’t make the trip.
I always have ambitious plans for my travel time, stocking my laptop with movies and TV shows and bringing multiple books and a magazine or two — something for whatever mood I find myself in. But instead, as usual, I slept. I snoozed right over New Jersey and Pennsylvania and Ohio, waking up somewhere over Indiana with just enough time for an episode of “You’re the Worst” before I landed in Chicago.
The flight from Chicago to Louisville is, as our flight attendant kept reminding us, extremely short, so we better “chug-a-lug those drinks.” Less than an hour (and one hastily drunk ginger ale) after take off, I peered out the windows, hungry for a glimpse of familiar landmarks. The brown and green patchwork remained largely anonymous, but I still felt a frisson of excitement, and something deeper too. I was making my descent to home.
It was hot when I got off the plane, hot as I waited by the curb, hot as my brother drove me home in my, now his, car, which has many wonderful qualities (among them the fact that she has kept running for 22 years), but air conditioning is not one of them. Lucy got us back to the house, sweaty and disheveled but in one piece, which is the point, really, when riding in a Volvo older than its driver. A quick shower, a round of hugs, and some scarfed leftovers later, and I was back in a car: dad at the wheel, brother in the co-pilot seat, my sister beside me in the back playing DJ.
Cincinnati, Ohio, is 100 miles from Louisville, give or take. It sits on the river, like us, a city straddling two regions, but leaning on its Midwestern foot where we tilt Southern. We were eager to arrive at our destination, opting for a dinner of drive-thru Steak and Shake so we wouldn’t lose any time. We arrived, finally, as storm clouds were just starting to darken the sky. Thirty minutes of attempting to find parking and few last-minute checks later, we were on our way, so close to victory we could taste it.
I don’t know if any of you have ever been to Riverbend Music Center, but it is a strange place. The complex seems to go on for miles, encompassing a water park, race track, casino, movie theatre, a carnivalesque cluster of rides and games dubbed “Coney Island,” and who knows what other entertainment. Our goal was the J. Ralph Corbett Pavilion, which turned out to be a large hill constructed of concrete and covered in bright green astroturf. The place hummed with chatter. Having come from Crown Heights that morning, the sudden onslaught of cut-off shorts, cowboy boots, fake tans, Bud Light tallboys, and other accoutrements of Middle America was a bit jarring. We spread out our blanket, dubbed the drunk biddies squawking to our left “basic bitches,” and settled in to wait.
You know what livens up 20,000 people waiting for a show? A sudden and fierce influx of rain. The skies above the Ohio opened up with a vengeance, dumping a sudden load of large drops on the crowd the way only Southern rainstorms can. There was a moment, among the squeals and frantic covering of hair-dos, where I feared there might be a riot, but everyone seemed to accept the wet. We were all so excited to be there. We had been waiting for years. And nothing and nobody was going to rain on our metaphorical parade.
Luckily for us, the skies did clear eventually, turning a delicate shade of cotton candy pink. The openers came and went, and the crowd grew restless. We were all damp and frizzy, our beers long gone. The obligatory family selfie had been snapped. And then, just as I started to really feel the meager four hours of sleep I’d gotten the night before, I heard a familiar strain of guitar. It was joined by a banjo and a fiddle. The crowd rose up. And onto the stage stepped the Dixie Chicks.
Now we’ve written on here before about our love for the Dixie Chicks, those three Texas gals that provided the soundtrack to our childhoods. I’ve loved them for as long as I can remember, dating back to elementary school carpool rides (I still expect a skip when I listen to “If I Fall You’re Going Down With Me,” even though I now jam out to my phone or computer instead of the battered CD that I received for a single-digit birthday many moons ago). Scout and I lost our goddamn minds, in all caps, when they announced their reunion tour. And my family was equally excited. Music is a big deal in my house — my parents did meet in a choir, after all, so the nightly songtime and many family singalongs shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise — and one of the largest figures in our familial canon is the Dixie Chicks. So when the tour was announced, with the first stop a mere hour and a half from home, my siblings and I had an idea. We would buy tickets, four of them (my mom, while a great lover of music, is not a lover of loud concerts or large crowds, so she opted out). And for Christmas (albeit 5 months delayed), we would take our dad to the show.
So it was that I found myself on the banks of the Ohio, with my favorite people in the world, listening to one of my favorite bands. And it’s true, there were mosquitos and rain and a group of obnoxious women next to us who kept yelling at Natalie Maines to play fewer slow/new/cover songs. But overall, it was perfect, from “Taking the Long Way Around” to the Ben Harper they closed with, the whole crowd chanting about how we believed in a better way. There was a moment, in the throes of “Goodbye Earl,” when I realized what was so special about it. There were older people at the concert, and some skinny teenagers who documented the entire occasion on Snapchat. But the vast majority of the audience was between the ages of 20 and 30 and female. They, like me, grew up with this band. We loved them, fiercely, in the way you only really love bands or books or other cultural touchstones that you encounter as a kid and take on as such a fundamental part of your identity, you can’t fathom your life without them. As Natalie put it when she opened the show, “Well, it looks like the kids grew up. And y’all look fucking great.”
To that I can merely say: thanks girl. We learned it all from you. Welcome back. Welcome home. And I can’t wait to see y’all again in a couple weeks.