Sunday, August 27, 2006

Second Chance at First Love - Part 3

Welcome back to our ongoing story. If you missed any so far see Part 2 and Part 1. Here we rejoin Bill at the Staff Meeting.

The Staff Meeting

The morning passes by quickly as I focused on the tasks that needed to be done. Now it’s staff meeting time. I gather up my project reports, get one more refill in my coffee cup and head down to the gathering room. I survey the group consisting of the usual suspects: “The Boss; the boss wannabes “David”, and Karen; other co-workers “Carl, Bailey, James, and the lovely Barbara”. All are in their politically assigned seats. I too honor the pecking order and pull out the chair pre-designated for my use and ease up to the table. The large clock on the wall indicates ten fifty-nine as the last two attendees show up. The quorum is set – let the agenda begin!

“Anybody see that Tiger’s game last night, what a cliffhanger!” The boss offers attempting to get the meeting off to a comfortable informal start. This usually loosens everybody up and promotes the free exchange of ideas, if there is any bouncing around within someone’s noggin at the time. After a few folks offer some lame comments and small talk about the game and the weather, the business at hand starts, prompted by everyone directing their attention to the printed agenda. This is another vehicle that tends to keep things moving along in a structured manner. That and the fast approaching lunch hour usually keep these meetings short and on point.

After completing a couple of continuing project report items, my eye brows raise slightly upon reading entry number 3: “Arrival of new corporate staff for a briefing”. It looks like several newly hired employees would be flying in today from Headquarters in New York to get a field orientation at our site. “They must be a few notches up on the food chain to warrant the expenditure of travel funds”: I conjecture to myself.

Carl offered himself up as the sacrificial lamb by asking: “Who gets the honor to go out an pick their holinesses up?” In his usual sarcastic manner.

The boss looks Carl squarely in the eye with a “sacrifice accepted” expression on his face and responds: “Well, you do Carl, …, and also take Bill along with you. Their plane comes into Metro at Twelve-Thirty so you guys better get started.”

I glance up with a “just getting hit with the dodge ball look on my face”; however everyone was already dispersing and hooking up for lunch adventures. I had no one to vent my objections to except Carl who was just staring at me with a big smile on his face.

“Well, its not like you have a lunch date, do you Bill?” Carl offers in his sarcastic way.

“No, I don’t, but I can easily think of many other activities to do like maybe a root canal or two rather than tagging along with you to woo the out-of-towners”. I offer in a dejected reply.

“No pain, no gain”: responds Carl with that big grind still plastered across his visage. “We better get started like the boss man said”: as he slaps me on the shoulder and starts off down the hall to get the keys to the company’s 12-passenger van.

“Do you have the list of visitors?” I turn to Carl and say. “Not I that I really care who they are, it is just a way to try and get into the task at hand since it isn’t going away”.

“Of course! Otherwise we would look like a couple of bozos!” responds Carl with a still broader smile and another slap on my shoulder.

“Well give it up buddy.” I don’t want to fall asleep from boredom on the way to the airport.” I respond. It is my turn to give a slap on the shoulder. Holding the email containing the list of visitors up to my eyes, I absentmindedly click off the names in my head:

“Leon Clawson”, a HQ Senior Vice President acting as the good Shepard along with the rookies:
“Michael Lewis”.
“Maria Desoto”.
“Camille … Sanders!”

The Van Trip

The next thing I knew, I was sitting in the van with the air-conditioning blowing in my face through the center and side vents on the dashboard. Carl was babbling on about how we would be stuck babysitting this crew all during their visit.

I was still recovering from seeing the last name on the list. From time to time in the past I would contemplate on my reaction to encountering Camille in the present after so many years of separation. Would the moment be filled with passionate kisses and more, or just be drowned in emptiness and sorrow? How would she react to me? Our time together was so long ago, but not so far away. I would sometimes find myself driving through the old neighborhood attempting to invoke fond memories.

As cycle after cycle of white flight to the increasingly distant exurbs had continued, blacks filled in behind them. With the spread of the auto factories to distant states and even overseas, the heavy migrations from the South had subsided and even reversed. The results were additional cycles of blighted neighborhoods joining the legacy of Hastings Street as Detroit’s population shrank and shrank.

Alas the neighborhood had changed … for the worst: most of the trees were gone; half of the houses were torn down or derelict with only weed overgrown lots remaining. My house and Camille’s still stood but just barely. Both showed crippling wear and tear and seemed to yearn for someone to pull the plug. It had been quite awhile since I had last made that side trip into the “old hood”.

My work specialty is statistics and I start wondering how many Camille Sanders are there in the world? How many live in New York right now? How many could be available and eligible to hire on at Robbins & Clark? Probabilities within probabilities within even more probabilities: perhaps one in ten million, one in a hundred million … it seems like a fool’s errand. I didn’t even know what Camille’s major was in college or even if she finished or even started for that matter? I only remember that she had plans to go, but we were both only sophomores in high school when she and her parents moved away. We kept in touch for a few months, but gradually faded out of contact.

“Oh well, speculation would confront reality in less than an hour.” I thought.

Carl’s banter finally seeps into my consciousness: “Earth to Bill, Earth to Bill. Hello!”

I fold up the email message, turn it over in my hand a couple of times then look over at Carl, but still absentmindedly fiddling with the note. “You loss or something?” I utter attempting to throw him off balance so that he wouldn’t start interrogating me about tripping out after reading the names of the visitors.

“Hey, my man, it’s you that seems to be loss”, he says, adding: “You look like you’ve seen a ghost! Recognize a name on the list?”

“I’m fine”: I say trying not to sound defensive. “Maybe, I didn’t get enough sleep last night, and your wonderful driving and boring conversation just put me out.” I continue using my best deadpan expression.

“It’s time for us to look sharp my boy. We’ve got visitors to pick up and asses to kiss!” Admonishes Carl with a wink, and sly smile.

As they approach the exit ramp for Metro, Bill re-checks flight arrival information via his cell phone and discovers that out of the blue, incoming planes are starting to stack up and their visitor’s will be delayed at least half-an-hour!

As Bill relates this tidbit Carl groans: “Well that’s just great. I say we stash this buggy and wait in the comfort of the airline lounge near baggage claim eh? We’ll get the newbies to foot the parking bill. I’m sure their expense account can cover it.”

Carl pulls the van into short-term parking and the duo proceeds to the airport lounge. A check of the arrival big screen confirms that it will be another twenty to forty minutes before touchdown.

Bill orders an iced-tea and thinks about the list of names, of one name in particular: “Camille Sanders”. In fact she had been occupying the recesses of his mind since he first saw the list. Actually, had she ever really left his consciousness since this morning’s dream? He hears Carl whispering wisecracks about the physical attributes of various flight attendants as they transverse the walkway outside of the lounge, but Bill is not really paying attention.

After about thirty minutes, the screen post: ”ARR Gate 15B” next to the flight number of their visitor’s plane. The email indicates that Mr. Clawson will call Carl’s cell phone when he gets off of the plane, and sure enough, about a minute later, Carl’s pants pocket starts buzzing with one of those irritating ring tones. After checking the caller-id, Carl pauses to compose himself, then says” “Hello Mr. Clawson, welcome to Detroit. Mr. Williams and I are near baggage claim. I have a gray suit on and Williams has a brown sports jacket.” After a brief pause and a couple of nods: ”Okay, see you in a few minutes”. Carl pockets his phone and turns to Bill. “Well, it’s Showtime, let’s look professional or something”!

They settle up their tab and saunter over to the baggage claim area and wait. Bill finds himself starring at the people on the escalator coming down from the arrivals area. His eyes dart from face to face; trying to pick out one from his past, his first love.

Suddenly a group of four seeming connected folks appear on the escalator, two males and two females all dressed in typical business attire. The first male is white, middle-aged, around six feet, wearing a tailored three piece suit – obviously Clawson. The second male is a tad bit shorter, a lot younger, also white, wearing a well-worn, off-the-rack dark blue suit – that would be Michael Lewis. Trailing slightly behind the males are two thirty-something women. The first one is around five and a-half feet tall, Hispanic looking, light brown skin tones in a dark green business dress – must be Maria Desoto. Bringing up the rear would have to be Ms. Sanders. She is standing slightly behind Desoto making it difficult to get a decent look at her features. She is slightly shorter than Desoto, wearing a dark black business pants suit with a red silky scarf. Her hair is close-cropped and straight. Skin is dark brown. I can’t make out any detailed facial features as yet.

Well, that's the end of Part 3. Stay tuned for Part 4 when we see the identity of that fourth traveler!


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