June 15th, 2006

Coventry and Boston -- A Tale of Two Surprises...

I had my alarm set for 8:00, but woke up at 7:05.

I got up, removed my underwear and socks from the dryer, which I had let finish last night with the timer, not caring whether or not they wrinkled.

I put in Robert's Jeans my t-shirts, and my shorts, set them for an hour, and went back to sleep.

By 7:35, I hadn't fallen back asleep, so just got up and made breakfast -- eggs, toast, and coffee.

After that, I packed.

Robert and I left the house at about 9:30, and on the way to the airport, I asked him if we could swing by his place to get his camera for me to take, since we really had plenty of time. My flight wasn't until 11:30. We did that, and got back to the airport at about 10:15, which was in plenty of time.

While he got my bags out of the trunk, I slipped five ones in his console as a combination gas money (for going out of the way back to his place), and as fast-food breakfast out, since he didn't eat before we left my place.

I went inside to find the line at US Airways ridiculously long. Since I'd already checked in on the Internet, I went back outside to do curbside check-in of my one bag.

As I walked to the curbside station, Robert called to me from the car -- he hadn't left yet -- waving the five dollars at me. :-)

"For breakfast," I said.

There was an Indian (dots, not feathers) couple in front of me in the curbside line, and I stepped up as they stepped past, and behind, me. All of a sudden this screech came from behind me, and we all turned around to see what it was about.

The Indian lady had pulled her bag right in front of this older, black lady who had completely fallen down -- on the cement pavement.

The Indian woman was so apologetic -- over and over -- until one of the family members of the woman who had fallen snapped at her, "It's okay, you didn't mean it, and we know that."

The flight from Raleigh to Philadelphia was on time, and uneventful. That is, if you don't call someone dipping a Toastchee nab in her tomato juice an event.

The woman sitting next to me (in the middle seat) had opened the bag of nabs, and gestured toward me. I had my iPod earbuds in, and saw her mouth, "Would you like one?"

I took out my earphones, and she said, "Take two."

I did, and said, "Thank you." I left my earphones out, because I thought, "She must want to talk."

She turned to the man on the other side, who at one point I thought was her husband, but was really never sure, and made the same offer to him.

She took the two remaining and dunked them inside her tomato juice with each bite of them. She never said another word to me, and after a couple of minutes, I put my earbuds back in.

I hate dunking of solid foods into liquids -- like Oreos in milk. Yuck! The Oreos get soggy, and the milk has shit floating in it.

Thinking of that, I already didn't like the dunking idea—especially the thought of these two things together, it just seemed wrong. However, the more I thought about it, I decided, "Well, perhaps, it's like a grilled cheese sandwich with some tomato soup."

My layover in Philly was short, so I enjoyed a quick lunch of Bourbon Chicken with some steamed rice, which was delicious.

The Philly-to-Providence flight was not full like the previous flight, and we had vacant middle seats, which was nice. I was in the window seat, and the guy in the aisle seat was a business traveler, who I think had just gotten into management in his job.

He had the book, The One Minute Manager, and he was reading some educational materials entitled, "Boiler Room Management Training" -- something like that.

In Providence, my bag arrived promptly, my car rental went smoothly, and I hopped in my Chevy Cobalt (which was Cobalt blue, or do they only make them in that color), and headed to Coventry.

In West Warwick, I stopped at a Sunoco gas station to buy a tin of Altoids, and while in there, asked the help if Fairview Avenue was just up the road.

I was following directions from MapQuest, and felt pretty certain I was on the right road and traveling in the right direction. However, the unrecognizing looks on their faces when I said, "Fairview Avenue," didn't at all give me a good feeling.

None of them recognized this street, which is the one I was supposed to make "the next right" on, but were so helpful, immediately pulling out a local map, and looking for it.

I was going to ask them if Ianotti & Sons Funeral Home was nearby, as I remember that as being by my Aunt and Uncle's House, but thought, "You know what, it's been 15 or 20 years since you've been here, Ianotti might very well be dead by now, or at least out of the funeral business." Who bury's the funeral home's dead, by the way?

Finally, they found Fairview Avenue, and said, "Oh! It's way over in Coventry." Okay, Coventry is less than three miles away.

I continued, following the MapQuest directions, and shortly came upon the "T" intersection where Ianotti's used to be, and there it loomed still, Iannotti & Sons Funeral Home, with Ed & Armand Ianotti Florist right next door. Who knew?

I made my way to the house of my aunt and uncle, whom I haven't seen in about 16 years, and I thought, "I sure hope they're not out of town or anything."

These are a special aunt and uncle to me, and I'm always sending them post cards from my travels, Christmas letters, and have lately started sending them my blog entries, generally a month at a time. I hadn't sent them May's blog entries yet, and had them in my hand in an 8.5 x 11 manila envelope.

I rang the doorbell, and my uncle came to the door. "Hi. I thought I'd deliver this month's copy of my blog entries in person."

While I was saying this, I could see his eyes squint a little as he was processing who I was. Before I finished the sentence, he said, "Johnny!"

It was a great surprise and welcome, and we talked for about 30 or 40 minutes, during which time we looked at a lot of pictures laying around the house, and I asked a lot of questions about a lady in one set of them.

Eventually, he said, "Johnny I'm going to tell you something that no one else in the family knows. You can't tell anyone. Many years ago, your aunt and I had a baby girl, and we gave her up for adoption. This is her!

They were surprised to receive a call from her about nine years ago, when she tracked them down by phone after many years of searching. Of course, she thought she was just finding her mother, so imagine the surprise of finding out she'd married the man who was her father!

I felt so warm learning that I had another cousin, that my aunt and uncle really had had a baby after all, and honored to be the first on our side of the family to be entrusted with the information.

Aunt Annette was grocery shopping, and I didn't see her at this time. She was going to be back in about 30 or 40 more minutes, but I had to leave for Boston, so said my good-byes to Uncle Frank, leaving my cell phone number with him, and telling him I'd call him by 10:30 to let him know if I'd return that night or tomorrow.

The traffic was heavy on the two interstates -- I-95 and I-93 -- through Providence and into Boston. Particularly, where 95 merged into 93, traffic came to a dead stop and absolutely crawled for about 20 minutes.

Just as I got into downtown Boston, my cell phone rang, with a display of "Private Call."  It was Aunt Annette, excited to hear that I'd been by, and we made plans to meet tomorrow, since I had pretty much decided to go ahead and spend the night in the Boston area.

MapQuest did not do me proud in downtown Boston, and after two stops for directions, I made it to Copley Square, and parked in a parking garage. The Legal Sea Food at which we were meeting was in the mall connected to the parking garage.

I opened my trunk, got out my change of clothes from my suitcase, and then walked around the front of the car to change out of my shorts and t-shirt into my long paints and a polo-type shirt.

It's Maria's 75th birthday tomorrow, and her two daughters, Irene and Susan, have taken her to Boston to see an Andrea Bocelli concert tomorrow night. Tonight, unbeknownst to Maria, I am joining them for dinner. She has no idea I'm in Boston.

Irene, her sister Susan, and her mother were supposed to be arriving at the restaurant at 7:15 for their 7:30 reservation. It was about 7:05 when I got up there, and I slipped into a foo-foo store, Barney's of New York, and I hid behind a rack of what I believe were "linen tops."

The rack they were hanging on was in the shape of a plus sign, or cross, and I stood behind the blouses, which hid my body, and peeked through the area between the top of the hangers and the bar they were hanging on, watching for them to arrive and go in.

I was there long enough, that I was really surprised that "store security" didn't come over to ask me what I was doing there. At 7:20, they still hadn't arrived, and killing time, I grabbed the price tag on this (really nothing to it) linen top right next to me, and flipped it over to see:  $320   $209.

I 'bout crapped my pants. Ridiculous. This is supposed to be a bargain at $209? Whadaya? Nuts?

At just after 7:25, I saw Susan and Maria coming up the escalator. Peeping though the overpriced tops, I watched them go into Legal Sea Food. I didn't see Irene, but after waiting until about 7:35, decided she must have gone in ahead of them, and I must have missed her.

I walked cautiously up to the greeter at the door, and asked if the "birthday party of three that's expecting a fourth to join them" were all already there, and seated. She said yes.

"I'm the guy who's joining them," I said. "Do you have an order pad that I can borrow?"

One of the girls tried to give me a sticky note pad -- pink paper no less. "Do you have something that looks more like what the waiters use to take orders?" She offered me a small clip board with some square pieces of paper on it. "That'll do it," I said.

I walked over to their table with the clipboard in my hand, with both Irene and Susan watching me approach. Maria had her head down in the menu. Perfect.

Standing at the table now, I said like a real nice, enthusiastic, gay waiter, "Hello there."

Maria starts looking up while I continue, "Well, I was going to wait on your table tonight, but you people look like so much fun, I think I'll just join you for dinner."

By the time I finished the line, she had processed that it really was me, and we had laughs and hugs all around. Great surprise.

We had a most delicious meal, accompanied by some cocktails, and consisting of three delicious appetizers (New England Clam Chowder, Hot Lump Crab Dip with Seafood Chips, and Blackened Raw Tuna Sashimi), three entries -- Maria and Irene split a lobster, Susan had a seafood casserole, I believe it was, and I had the Lobster and Crabmeat Ravioli.

We split three desserts several ways, with Maria having the Key Lime Pie, Irene and Susan having three or four scoops of lemon sorbet (more on the sweet side than tart side -- don't ask -- and it's the way they wanted it) in a wine glass filled with Grey Goose Vodka, and I split the Bananas Foster with Susan. The Bananas Foster was to die for.

At the end of dinner, the SHG (snobby Harrison girls) decided that they could actually slum in the back seat of a two-door Chevy Cobalt for the short ride back to the hotel.

They waited out front, at the entrance of the parking garage, while I went to get the stunted limo. Walking by some workers there, two young guys, they heard "the girls" back there saying something to me, and one of them said, "Man, you've got three girls with you?"

I said, "Yeah, and I'm gay. What a waste, huh?"

They cracked up, and started whooping and hollering about me giving their numbers to the ladies.

Heading toward the exit gate, I remembered that I hadn't asked Legal Sea Food to validate my parking ticket.

Before I handed my parking stub to the attendant, I told her that I'd just eaten at Legal Sea Food, but didn't get my card validated, and asked if there was any way to consider that. She asked me if I had a receipt from dinner, and I said, I don't but the people I'm picking up around the corner do. She wasn't impressed. Certainly not enough to "let me by."

I backed up intending to run up and ask Susan for the receipt, but thought, "You know what. How much can it be? I just had a free dinner (Susan picked up the tab; thanks Susan!). I thought the parking was going to be six or eight bucks.

I decided to just pay it and save a lot of drama, pulled back up to the exit gate, a different attendant this time, and handed him my ticket with two fives.

"Oh, it's going to be more than that," he said.

"It is?" I said. I've only been here about an hour. What was I thinking, an hour?

"An hour? Uh, it's been three hours."

Indeed it had been, and I said, "Okay, how much then?"

"$24," he replied.

What a racket.

I paid it, and drove around the corner to get "the girls."

The SHG managed to get their PLS (pretty little selves) in the back of the car, climbing over everything and each other.  Maria settled in on the passenger's side.

We had somewhat of an "indirect" ride back to the hotel, which, really, I believe was less than a mile from where we were, and when we got to it, the girls said, "Oh, this is the back. Just go around."

About 45 minutes later, driving in I don't know how many circles, and asking some hot valets at another hotel for directions, we finally got back to the Boston Park Plaza.

Irene went in to find out about parking, we let Susan and Maria out, and Irene and I went to park. Even with directions, we did not find the garage immediately, but did so after a few more minutes, and worked our way back to the hotel.

Susan and Maria were still in the lobby, and we all took the elevators up to the rooms.

Maria went to her room, and shortly after that to bed.

I hung out with Susan and Irene in the other room, where we started off by reading through my printed list of drag queen names, which they loved.

Eventually, the three of us did the USA Today crossword puzzle. Irene and I worked the hard copy, while Susan ended up being our point person for the difficult ones, using www.oneword.com's "reverse dictionary" function to help us out.

Susan was pretty jazzed about learning about that site and that capability. It is a crossword puzzler's dream.

Irene budged from an initial assessment of it as "cheating," to a gradual acceptance of it as "helpful."

Susan slept in the other room with Maria, and I shared the room we were in with Irene. Good night, Irene.