STATIONS OF THE CROSS

Most of the two seasons Bev towed for us, she and I pointedly resisted the lure of ‘office romance’, making possible a fine ramp rat friendship. Only a month earlier had we finally succumbed to temptation — two distressful weeks before the inevitable breakup. Both now wished we hadn’t done it, but that bell could not be unrung. Every hour, it seemed, ordinary operations had us staggering into petty tensions where none existed before. The work was supposed to be fun, that’s why we did it, but this was getting awful.

Which is why the call for a cross-country tow came as welcome news. It would mean another whole day together, but going outbound I’d sit in back of the Bird Dog with ear plugs while Bev wore David Clarks up front, and on the way home we’d be separated by a comfy length of rope. Neither mentioned it in such terms, but each supposed this would see us through unscathed.

Yeah, right.

Of course we failed to plan for the obligatory long delay. Heavy weather was forecast for evening, but we expected to be back with hours to spare. That confidence began to erode when we found the place, an unmowed grass strip beside a neighborhood backroad, with no one there. Not even a windsock! The glider we were picking up was the only aircraft in sight, tied down near a hand-operated gas pump. This was way before cellphones. Was our guy with the paperwork gonna show? Having little choice, we waited what felt like forever, standing close in the only spot of shade, watching the tops of thunderbumpers grow toward us from a hundred miles the other side of home. Because we deserved it, a kind old woman ambling by just had to chortle that seeing such lovely sweethearts reminded her of all the romantic times with her late husband. How in the world do you counter smack like that?

When the guy finally came he’d forgotten his key for the fuel, without which we’d be unable to leave. “Dang!” he snarled getting back in his truck, “This shouldn’t take long.”
Breathe, I told myself. And as that lady approached on her return leg another half hour later, darned if Bev didn’t whisper, “Breathe!” Such lovely sweethearts!

Our tow home became a race against advancing weather, with the goal lying in between and contestants rushing toward each other — the kind of race where a photo finish means collision. When our airport finally hove into sight it was hard to recognize through rain at the foot of a dark curtain descending from low overcast. According to my watch the sun would be setting about then, right there ahead where things were bleakest. We were within maybe ten miles when ground fog began rolling over the field like the oily ooze in that 50’s movie THE BLOB. And then I heard thunder. This race was lost, and darkness would fall long before the storm passed. Now it was starting to rain where we were.

Yet on we came.

I know Bev couldn’t hear me from 200 feet behind, especially under those David Clarks, but eventually she answered my plea, deviating more than ninety degrees to the nearest airport furthest from lightning. Its beacon was already flashing, and rain began there too as we secured our birds. The terminal was locked for the evening, so the next station of our cross was its tiny foyer – because neither was willing to stand out in the rain – while mutual friend Jo came to get us. And yes, we then faced every agonizing minute of forty miles riding back in Jo’s Pinto…

Jo, who ran our office, was equally weary of the personal nonsense. “If you were still blissfully ‘involved’ this’d be a perfect excuse to hole up in a motel for the night and save me a lost evening. If only you’d held out a little longer, this could have been your first night! And being for a legit reason, it mighta stuck. But noo! Instead we’ll be having to schlep all the way back here first thing in the morning to collect your junk.”

“Sorry,” we both mumbled lamely, in annoying unison.

Jo declared that since this road trip would be miserable anyway, she was determined to make it worthwhile. She demanded we both confess what bothered us most about the other, “Just spell it out.” We went stone silent, naturally. Expecting as much, Jo spent half the trip reciting what apparently everyone knew but couldn’t say, and with such embarrassing precision, she must have been rehearsing it for days.

While we were absorbing all that, she flipped it. “Given you disapprove of so much about each other, what made you scoot closer on the seesaw instead of further away?” This drew a smirking glance between us, too dark for whites of eyes but held in the lights of passing traffic. (Jo, who was raised on a farm, was a fount of salty metaphors, but this was not one. Evidently she’d witnessed that spontaneous moment we betrayed ourselves in a playground after the 4th of July party…)

“You two need to stop putting us all through this dog and pony,” Jo said. We didn’t disagree. “Just for a minute, I want you to casually hold hands like the first time. Nothing strenuous, just a little genuine affection.” We peeked again at each other as if for consent, and it felt harmless enough that neither cared to pull away.

“While you’re there, remind yourselves why you thought yanking the cat’s tail was a good idea.” The minute was long and peculiar, our two hands involuntarily doing what hands most like to do. “Alright, enough of that,” Jo growled. Now go to your corners before we end up back where we started. Time’s come to decide which way to go and get moving again. Either climb carefully through an electric fence or stay away, but don’t keep grabbing the wire! That’s only funny to watch once, then it’s just tedious.” She turned up the radio and little more was said, or needed to be.

We all grow up eventually, to some extent anyway, yet I wonder if anyone ever quite completes the process. Bev and I never did hold hands again. Before season’s end she got her notice to report for training with an airline, so that electric wire would be no more. I however was always an unpenitent fool for office romance, and still am, in spirit anyway.

Takeaways? One, weather forecasts should always be taken seriously… Seriously! Two, ‘fraternization’, like so much else, boils down to risk versus reward, case by case. Is it worth jeopardizing what you already have? Sometimes, but maybe not for the reasons we imagine. And three, never volunteer for the back seat of a Pinto on a rainy night, especially when anybody else has shorter legs!

To put a cherry bomb on it, I got to cycle eleven miles home in a gusty rain. Good I was still young then.