She sat there in row 27, seat A looking out the window at the world below. She was wringing her hands and was lost in the moment.
Her mood was blank, just like her stare out the window.
Her eyes never blinked.
I left her alone.
We took off.
There was some turbulence and my stomach churned a little. I looked to my left to check on her. Her eyes never blinked.
Ma’am, are you okay? I asked her.
She shook her head slowly, turned to her right and forced a smile.
Clearly, she didn’t want to be bothered. The wrinkles on her face were the patchwork of years of happiness, tears and struggle.
Her eyes, though, were glassed over. Her eyes were tired. Her eyes have a story.
Telling it may be the final thing that pushes her life to the light. Her stories are those most bury deep in their minds. Her stories have all been replaced by the ones she never wants to relive. Her stories have been taken from her.
Her stare drew blanker and her hands held onto each other as if they were her sole possessions in life.
Back to the window.
Her dress was once a bright blue and the roses patterned throughout once beamed the most radiant of reds. It was surely her Sunday dress worn many of times for church services, weddings, funerals. She wore that dress when she wanted to feel young again. She wore that dress when she celebrated.
She wore that dress on the plane.
She had a bracelet with a charm.
A New Orleans Saints logo.
She stroked it when she got nervous.
The drink cart was coming down the aisle.
Would you like a drink, ma’am, they asked her.
Water, she said.
I took the drink from the aisle and handed it to her with both hands. We touched. She forced a smile.
Are you coming or going? I had to ask her. Conversation was a gamble, I thought.
Another forced smile. A pause.
Both, she said.
New Orleans is where I lived my life.
She finished her water. She looked at the seat in front of her. She fumbled around with the trey handle and spilt some ice onto the floor. She was embarrassed. She was frustrated.
Let me help you. I unlocked the trey in the middle seat, took her cup and placed it down.
Her hands quickly clinched, rather cinched, together.
Thank you, she said.
First time to fly, ma’am?
It is okay. Those things are hard to open. It is okay.
I am 83 years old. I swore to my children that I would never step one foot on these things.
Her voice was soft. Her voice was sweet. Her voice was vulnerable. Her voice was ready to speak.
Do you live in Atlanta now?
No, I was in Savannah for a couple of years. I lived with my friend.
Savannah is a beautiful city.
Savannah is a nice place. She smiled.
Are you returning to New Orleans to see family?
Pause. No, she said.
That ended our conversation for the moment. Pause.
I didn’t want to ask her. The pain was spelled out still.
She started to say something but retracted.
It’s okay, ma’am. I understand.
You don’t understand, but thank you.
We landed. The quick jolt of hitting the earth startled her.
Can I ask you a question, ma’am?
Where did you live here in New Orleans?
5212 N. Miro Street. Lived there 37 years. Lived right across from the park. I lived there.
I smiled. Are you going there again?
Yes. She cried.
I gave her my business card and wished her well. That was the last I ever saw of Mrs. Etta Bailey Jones.
Nothing was there. Overgrown grass over a cement foundation. No trees. Few sounds. No life.
I drove down the street time and time again, looking for a park.
There was nothing there.
I found a trailer. FEMA, probably.
A man, probably mid-50s, answered curiously. He cursed at me. Told me that this was not a fucking tourist stop.
Mrs. Etta Bailey Jones, I said.
Pause. Stare. Silence.
Is she okay, he said. A woman came to the door.
My God. Tell me she is okay.
She is fine.
Who the hell are you?
A friend, of sorts. I told them our story on the plane.
We began to walk down N. Miro Street.
They finally tore their home down about two years ago, he said, pointing north.
Her family died here, man. Her whole family.
The bodies bobbed in the water and sludge like buoys. They were bloated and lifeless, always face down. Their faces were too embarrassed to be seen, he said. They didn’t want to be seen like that.
They tried so hard to live. They just couldn’t get out, man. They couldn’t get out.
They all died, he said.
Her husband, Otis. Her sister, Jacqueline. Jacky’s husband, Edward. A nephew, Edward, Jr. Two of Otis and Etta’s grandbabies. Trey is four. His sister, Alicia, is eight. No family lost more than Etta did that day, man.
I knew why He stopped.
The stare turned more into a face full of tears. He turned and looked south, saying nothing but saying everything.
Etta was the only one that lived. God saved her, man. He saved her.
It was like any other day, really. The short walk to the mailbox was always the same. It was a quick trip, a simple glance inside. Bill, junk mail, and a post card.
The postcard simply read:
“Mrs. Etta Bailey Jones died on Tuesday.”
Mrs. Etta Bailey Jones died in New Orleans Monday, August 29, 2006.
They buried her in a bright blue dress with red roses and with the Saints charm bracelet.
The New Orleans Saints won the Super Bowl on February 7, 2010. The world celebrated with them. Etta Bailey Jones is probably smiling.
Friday, February 27, 2009
As a teenager, I’d wake up every morning on 2002 Lewis Trail, walk outside to the dark morning and grab my daily present.
The Dallas Morning News and the Grand Prairie Daily News were waiting for me in a plastic bag on my front sidewalk.
I’d eat my cold cereal or slices of toast smothered in peanut butter and devour both papers from start to finish. That was my routine until the day I owned a computer.
I grew up reading the best sports journalism has to offer. Ed Werder, Randy Galloway, Skip Bayless, Tim Colinshaw, Kevin Blackistone, D. Orlando Ledbetter and so on and so forth. Those men told me the stories. The scripted out my childhood memories.
When I was a young writer, I would sit next to Randy Jennings of the Grand Prairie Daily News and watched him cover sporting events. I would stand in his interview circle and listen to ask simple questions to simple high school coaches. I learned a lot from him in those moments.
Nearly 15 years later, I ask those same questions to those same simple high school coaches and simple high school athletes.
There is nothing else that I love more.
But the days of walking to the sidewalk to get the paper are long over. The days of thumbing through the paper are dying. Newspapers are quickly dying off in a day and age of instant information and an eroding economy.
The Rocky Mountain News announced it was shutting down it’s presses today. The paper released a terribly depressing online documentary that told the story of the importance of it’s paper in Denver. The scene has been and will be played out in newsrooms all over the world in the next year or two.
There was one moment in the video that was poignant. A gentleman standing outside in the cold Denver air at a transit station said something very profound.
“An uniformed society breeds social evils,” he said in his west Africa accent.
We, the journalists, may be perceived as bias, agenda-driven liberals. Not so. The newspaper has always been the social cross-examiner.
The newspapers informed us. Good papers and good journalists told the stories and let the reader make up his or her mind. Now, and I’m equally guilty of it, we find our news online. We find our news in blogs. We find our news on our “phones.”
The day after I watched Nolan Ryan, my boyhood idol, toss his 5,000th strikeout from the first row of left field bleachers with my family, I bought a paper. The day after I watched Mr. Ryan toss his seventh no-hitter, I bought a paper. On September 12, 2001 I bought a paper.
I still own those papers. I will own them until the day I am buried and leave this Earth. I don’t read them very often, if ever. I don’t recall their words but I have those moments, my moments, in history.
That is what newspapers are to us. They are our lives journals that we don’t write.
The newsprint stains on my fingers that I acquired after 32 years of reading the paper will never go away.
Musician Ben Folds penned a song, “Fred Jones part 2” in 2001 and the story rings true today more than it ever has.
“Fred sits alone at his desk in the dark
There's an awkward young shadow that waits in the hall
He's cleared all his things and he's put them in boxes
Things that remind him: 'Life has been good'
He's worked at the paper
A man's here to take him downstairs
And I'm sorry, Mr. Jones
There was no party, there were no songs
'Cause today's just a day like the day that he started
No one is left here that knows his first name
And life barrels on like a runaway train
Where the passengers change
They don't change anything
You get off; someone else can get on
And I'm sorry, Mr. Jones
I, even a young writer, became Mr. Jones last year. Life has barreled on and I am still looking for a place where I can tell stories as a career.
Do yourself a favor today or tomorrow or Sunday or whenever and buy a paper.
It would make Mr. Jones smile.
Thursday, January 8, 2009
1. Tim Brando on a clueless Auburn fan. Kudos Brando. Kudos.
2. Ryan Leaf, world’s greatest baby.
3. Classic. And boom goes the dynamite.
4. Not sports but she is Miss South Carolina. That accounts for something, doesn’t it?
5. Carl Lewis hates America. Absolutely hates it.
Tuesday, January 6, 2009
Everyone loves a list.
The top 10 movies of 2008. The top sushi bars in L.A. The 10 worst cities for air pollution. The top 10 lists of all-time lists. We’ve all read them.
We’ve all shook our heads and clinched our fists in disapproval at the computer screen when Pee Wee’s Big Adventure didn’t crack the list of best Saturday morning kids shows turned into motion picture list. I was pissed.
With my ousting at Yahoo! (screw you corporate America), I’ve decided to switch the blog up a little. It was, after all, a daily home to all things intelligent on the Worldwide Web, right? So my last entry was Oct. 30. Sue me.
JY on the Road is now the home of the list. I’m going to try to roll out some good lists over the next couple of weeks. If you have any ideas, I’d love to hear them. Leave me a comment. No, better yet, leave me a list of your list ideas.
Thursday, October 30, 2008
"And $1.34 is your change."
"Can I get some more Dr. Pepper?
"Would you like some help with your tray to your table?"
"That would be great. Thank you."
"Please drive around to the first window."
That's just a sampling of conversations I've had with people that work at Chick-Fil-A, arguably the nicest collection of well-groomed fast-food employers on the planet.
Notice a trend?
Apparently the company has a policy that whenever a customer says "thank you" the employee is required to say "my pleasure." How nice. Seriously. How nice is that? Recall the last time you went to McDonald's and the 18-year-old high school drop out is standing behind the counter and giving you that look.
Oh, c'mon. You know the look.
The one that says, "Oh my gosh. What do you want? My break is in, like, 17 minutes and 38 seconds. You better make this quick and don't ask me any hard questions." Yeah, that look.
You don't get those at Chick-Fil-A. You get "my pleasures!" Keep your kid meal toys. This is good enough for me.
Sure, the sandwich is simple. Warm, sometimes scalding hot, chicken in between two pieces of white bread bun. Pure, simple goodness. Throw in some waffle fries and a brownie and you are this close to seeing the light come from the parted clouds and a voice beckoning you to come home.
Now topping it off, you get a "My pleasure" after every "thank you."
GLORIOUS! Cue the angel's singing.
Don't believe me? Try it. Go to your nearest Chick-Fil-A and try it. Heck, get greedy. Get stupid with it.
Try different variations of "Thank you." See what you get. See if you can get the well-groomed teenager to crack under pressure.
What happens if you say:
Thank you, infinity.
Thank you so much.
I just want to say thanks.
Thanks a million!
(In a very depressed voice) Thanks, I guess.
Oh this is my order? Oh, thanks.
Try it. You'll probably email me and say, "Justin, you are right. That is awesome! Thank you."
Thursday, October 2, 2008
I've always wondered what prune juice tastes like. I've never tried it. Never really had a desire to. But now I do.
I go to bed at 10 o'clock these days. I just can't keep my eyes open anymore. The byproduct of going to bed early is drinking prune juice, listening to some Sinatra, talking about the good 'ole days and driving slower.
I'm two for three folks.
This getting old business is foreign. Nice, at times, but very foreign. I love midnight oil. No, not the band. Well, actually, yes the band. Great band. Very underrated. But I do love midnight oil. I love to burn it. Correction. I loved to burn it. Now the match just burns down to my fingers because I have fallen asleep in the process of trying to light it.
My on the road lifestyle is catching up to me. I'm fighting it but it is winning. I can't stay up late anymore. I can't make it to the 11 o'clock news, let alone my main man Conan O'Brien.
"In the year 2000, 31-year-old men will fall asleep at 10 p.m. every night."
That's Armageddon, people. The gas shortage, the stock market crash, the horrendous options for president of this great nation? Puh-leez. That's nothing. This falling asleep early is the beginning of the end.
I'm off to Louisiana and Dallas for back-to-back weekends for week. How will I survive going to bed at nine p.m.? Oh, the humanity!
Dr. Pepper used to work. But caffeine doesn't have an effect anymore. That is a problem, right? I must be immune to it.
Does prune juice keep you awake? Just wondering.