Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Jesus in New Orleans (and San Francisco, and Saint Louis, and Ithaca)

"The road's been my redeemer," Karin Bergquist sings on Over the Rhine's 2004 album Ohio, and I wish I could sing that line a little more confidently, back in suddenly wintry Ithaca after two weeks of travel. (It was 39 degrees when I parked my car half an hour ago.) I love airplanes until I have to sit in one and nervously ascend, praying as hard as I ever pray, surrounded by fellow travelers I can't help hating a little when we're on the ground--everyone in SFO Sunday night looked shady, from the greasy-haired guy in the leather Mickey Mouse jacket who farted in front of me in the security line to the disheveled gentleman who abandoned his luggage for so long they had to make an announcement--but whose vulnerability becomes inseparable from my own once we're suspended in that narrow tube in the sky. If Jesus can be a woman drinking Bloody Marys in a New Orleans bar--as Over the Rhine would have it--he can also be a flatulent passenger on a late night flight; or, two weeks earlier, the impossibly young woman who came over to my table, ten minutes before closing, at the Culver's Custard in Corydon, Indiana, to offer me a sundae that someone had made and had no use for; or the surprisingly calm, tattooed bartender at the City Diner in Saint Louis who thought I'd just moved to town and gently suggested that I return on a weekend, late, to see the scene. Even the pale Portland kids in their peg-leg jeans. Even, tonight, the atheist father of one of my closest friends, as he reached across my legs to adjust the seat in his Porsche after I asked if he'd take me for a ride, touching my knee with a respectful, businesslike tenderness to make sure I wasn't hitting the dashboard; his dark brown eyes, liquid, inquisitive, so much like his daughter's. These are some of the folks I think of when I consider that redemptive road.