Tomorrow we fly out to Ireland. We presented a concert at Deerfield, which is a large retirement community in Urbandale. I drove from Chicago, picked up Brian on the way and we are driving the five and a half hours it will take to get back. We finished our concert with "Simple Benediction.” I told the audience that would be the last song we sing in America until we are back in Arizona on October 22. It is a funny thing to think of it that way, but being Irish, I do have a sense of the fatalistic and melancholy. I always am aware that this moment might be the last moment singing. Like Buck Owens, who sang for some folks who drove in from God-knows-where, late, and he didn't let them down. He ate chicken fried steak and then died. You never know when it is your last song or your last chicken fried steak, so enjoy the moment.
The first day is the longest day of the tour. We plan it that way, as we know everyone is tired to begin with, so what are a few more lost hours of sleep? I always have a strange ritual of leaving things to do to the last moment. So about four hours before takeoff, I am mowing the lawn. I would have washed the floor too, but Annie put her foot down. She likes things the other way in the sense that it is nice to come home to things the way they were left. Both have their merits and when I argue that Buck Owens ate a chicken fried steak and then just died, she reminds me that no one comments on how clean Buck Owens house looked after he was dead. So I don't wash the floor, but instead take one more shower so I can be that much fresher for the flight to Ireland. We're taking Áine and she is probably the more relaxed of the two of us.
We arrive at the airport and I am so relieved to see that Aer Lingus has no one in the lines. We roll our suitcases, my bass case, the baby in the stroller, and backpack in a higgledy-piggledy fashion, slowly pushing the stroller, a suitcase, the bass as if they were blocks of rock for the pyramids. Once settled in at the desk, I glance over to see a long line of people standing and not moving anywhere. "What's going on?" I ask. The person at the desk says, "Oh, that's just people waiting in line for security."
"What?" I ask.
And so it began. TSA, which must stand for “Terrible Service Always,” had about 1000 people snaking through the airport, in two lines, looking like the damned on their way to Hades. I know I personally have no control over TSA, but I was embarrassed. Embarrassed that the usual brisk security was horribly wrong on the day fans from all over the country were coming to Chicago to fly out to Ireland and had to endure over two hours of standing in line. Embarrassed that the poor visitors to our country, visibly bewildered and frightened, were not being helped by anyone in authority. And embarrassed that the TSA staff acted like they had nothing to do with this stupid backup. No tubs to put the articles for x-ray in and barking orders that made no sense to anyone. Still we slumped along in the line until we got up to where they check your name against your passport. Åine, the only ray of sunshine and the only one waving and bringing a smile to people’s faces. At the desk sat this young blonde-haired woman who looked at all our papers and scrutinized Annie's boarding pass.
"They wrote in your last name, but did not stamp that they wrote your last name,” she said. I looked over at Annie, who chose to keep her maiden name, which is fine except that it is Baudouin de Courtenay, which is French for "this name will be a plague on your boarding pass.”
"We just spent two and a half hours in line," Annie said. "What is the problem with the boarding pass?"
"You're going to have to go back and have Aer Lingus stamp that they wrote your name in."
This was a new one on us. The woman could see that even Åine was clenching her fists.
"Uh, let me ask my supervisor," she said. And she leaned over to a guy and asked if we would have to go back.
"Yeah, you have to go back," he said.
The young woman turned to us and looked at Åine, “You can stay with your baby here sir, or you can go back with your wife."
Annie and I decided that I would stay with the baby. The agent told her to come back through a line reserved for flight crews and folks needing wheelchairs. It was supposed to be the fast line, which meant another half hour later Annie could be seen slowly inching forward. Meanwhile, Åine kept asking, "where's Momma?" I watched the last of our tour group go through and finally Annie made it past the second circle of hell. And we went into the third, with four more to go it seemed. The line kept twisting and weary travelers, not yet even to their gate, gnashing their teeth as we were prodded by airport staff into various lines. One young man started gesturing with his two hands. "I want a line to form here," he said, swinging his hands down in reverse touchdown motion. No one followed his lead as we could not see what x-ray machine he was pointing to. I now started to think that we might miss our plane. The TSA worked on the milk bottles and then started swabbing Annie's laptop. Two workers were laughing off to one side about something and everything crept along. A British woman watched as her husband was being searched. "Why is this so disorganized?” she said. I shook my head, "embarrassing," was all I could say. "Embarrassing."
Later I asked our Canadian fans how the airport at Toronto was. "Fifteen minutes, tops,” Max said. “My belt set off the alarm, I started to remove it and the agent said, ‘Don't bother, you're going to Ireland, aren't you?’"
We made it to the gate as people were filing onto the plane. We all got aboard and congratulated ourselves on surviving the first leg of the journey. Everyone made it safely. The flight itself was quick, with us arriving at Dublin a little after five a.m. the only incident being my learning the hard way to open the yogurt container away from oneself when in flight as the contents may be under the pressure. But after the event s six hours earlier it was almost like uncorking champagne at the Indy 500.
The Canadian fans arrived the same time we did at the airport and it was a wonderful reunion to see our friends from Ontario. Things were brightening up in spite of the outside misty weather.
After customs, Mick was there to greet our group in Dublin and along with Terry, driver of our second coach, we got everyone out to the coaches and into the early morning traffic of the ring roads of Dublin. We moved along slowly and proceeded to start our journey to Killarney. After a while, we took a break in the town of Adare. Åine, asked to be set down and all 20 months of her took off for the souvenir shop. She ran her hand along a pair of finer, blue, woolen gloves. "Ooh, nice!" she said, much to my surprise and alarm. Brian approached Annie and myself. "I have chosen not to be grumpy," he said. Later, he emerged with a chocolate ice cream cone. "You're not grumpy as you are eating ice cream," I said.
Pretty soon we were crossing the Curragh, which Mick explained means “cloak” in Irish. It refers to St. Brigid, asking for land to build the first convent in all of history. The king would not grant her wish. After many visits with the same request, the King, exasperated, said, "take your cloak and throw it on the ground and all it covers will be the land you shall have." Brigid did and immediately the cloak expanded and covered the land of the King, and the land it covered was fine, rich, even land. The King begged her forgiveness and learned never to mess with a nun, which is a lesson learned by many a Catholic school kid and the city fathers of Jackson, Mississippi, the latter a story for another time.
We crossed over to County Kerry and the sun began to play on the sides of the mountains. Mick explained that the mountains averaged around 3000 feet in height, but from our coach, they looked as tall and regal as the Rockies. We rolled into Killarney, tired but thrilled with the view from the Lake Hotel. Red deer walked along the shoreline and past the picture windows as we dined together for our first night. We had been on the road countless hours and through a lot, but all was forgotten and forgiven upon reaching the beautiful McGillicuddy Reeks.
~ Marty McCormack
Click here to read Day 2