Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Home is where the house is

Author's note: The following was jotted down Sunday night on the back of a random sheet of paper I found in my blazer, composed after my seatback was up, and my tray table in its fully upright and locked position. It turns out the other side of the paper contained my notes from introducing the Capitol Steps when they performed in northern Arizona last year. That fact has no bearing on anything that follows.

I'm at 28,000 feet, in a Midwest Airlines Boeing 717. Nice spanking new airplane with big leather seats, free chocolate chip cookies, the whole works. It's a nice evening for flying. A little rough air (that proverbial "light chop" the pilots are always referring to, but not a cloud in the sky between northern Virginia and southeastern Wisconsin. And even though it's too dark to make out any landmarks, the spiderweb pattern of each set of city lights is distinct enough that I can figure out where we are - and right now, that place is just past Detroit.

I'm flying home to Milwaukee, which is odd, given that I've just left Washington, DC, which was my home for the better part of two decades. Odd, too, because the Milwaukee area has been home for the better part of four weeks. I have to consciously remind myself that I'm at the end of the trip, not the beginning.

The pilot's just come across the PA system, noting we're over central Michigan. He points out - marvels, really -- that it's such a clear night that we're still some distance from Lake Michigan, but he can already see the lights of Milwaukee, far on the other shore. My seatmate and I are looking out the right side of the plane, but it's not hard to imagine the skyline of Milwaukee, reflected in the calming evening water of Lake Michigan.

This is my first trip "home" since moving to Wisconsin last month. And though I'm not there yet, I'm thinking the landing at General Mitchell International Airport won't have the same level of intimacy flying back to some previous homes had. Flagstaff, Arizona, and Massena, New York are about as spiritually different as you can imagine, but their airports had two key similarities - parking lots that were a) free; and b) small enough that you could spot your car as you came in for a landing, thus saving you the trouble of trying to remember where you'd parked a week ago.

I had a love-hate relationship with Flagstaff, but it was home for the past seven years. When my wife and I moved there in 1999, it took almost no time to feel like a comfortable pair of jeans, already broken in. The problem was - like a pair of jeans - over time, it got small. Not claustrophobia-inducing, just small enough that it was harder to hide the imperfections. Bad Chinese food, an overbearing landlady, no place to buy decent donuts - and that's before you include an underfunded education system and 95 freight trains blasting through downtown every day and night.

But it was hard to pick up and move away from clean air, clean water, 310 days of sunshine a year, and a six-minute commute to work -- and that's before you include terrific friends, a terrific job, and even a terrific pediatrician. And the comfort of returning home to a too-small apartment with a too-large (and too-ugly) couch, where the two loves of my life sat watching "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood".

The couch is still in Flagstaff. The loves of my life have moved on to a new couch and, truth be told, a new TV show of choice. But the new couch is in a new house, in the city that's reflected tonight in Lake Michigan.

So, Milwaukee. It's nice to be home.

1 comment:

The Motor Moron said...

Very eloquent Mitch- I felt like I was inside your head a for a bit there. I cannot wait to read about how Milwaukee becomes home over the new few months- the in town commute, the return of the midwest cold, large city life, and most importantly, the finding of good donuts.