Last year, Rich took a business trip to Columbus, Ohio – out of his usual travel zone – and came home kicking himself for realizing, too late, how close he was to the Air Force Museum in Dayton. For months after, he would mention how he should have spent an extra day or how, if called back, he would make time to go. I started blocking out this conversation with a quick nod and smile while mentally working on my grocery list.
‘Dayton, yeah, sounds cool (granola bars, creamer, asparagus or another hated vegetable…)’
‘Amazing, planes, wow, yes (how long is that lunch meat going to last? )’
The chatter lessened over time, but the seed remained planted firmly in Rich’s head. And also in mine – now and then, I’d think of the Air Force Museum and think ‘oh, that’d be a fun fiftieth birthday trip’ followed by ‘I wonder who I could send along with him?’
But as we moved through this year, which, frankly has been extremely trying in the world of Rich’s career, I started thinking ‘why wait?’ Just a whisper at first, but then louder with each rough day or week – until I tallied enough reasons to talk myself into the zany idea.
Forty-nine is not a big birthday – yet one I knew Rich was dreading because of what’s next (turning fifty is intimidating enough, but this will be the year Zoe leaves for college – and the two events and there proximity has been weighing heavily).
We’re fortunate enough to be able buy things when we want them – there’s generally no ‘wait until Christmas,’ or ‘maybe for your birthday.’ But we just have all sorts of stuff (most of which we use, but still…). The idea of not having to drop four months of hints to gain a clue as to what other stuff he might want was very refreshing.
Did I mention that his job has been a bit on the trying side this year? Pulled every which way, loaded up with task after task – always with a wink and a ‘do your best’ from one person or another. We thought this was a first quarter thing. But it continued. Okay, maybe a first half of the year kind of thing. But on it goes. Pulling him out of the fray for a few days seemed genius. I did get the blessing of the boss before doing anything.
Finally, and frankly, life is short. This is a guy who already has one heart attack under his belt. Though that was two years ago, it stills lives on in my worry filled brain. He’s gotten the all clear many times – yet I still keep sending him back for tests every time he feels down, breathes funny, stubs his toe or let’s me see a RomCom. And with work the way it is – I worry even more. What if the stress just does him in? What if I miss my chance?
Oh, plus, we had a whole bunch of Skymiles and Marriott rewards and I’m literally the stingiest person I know.
Operation AFMA was born. Come July, I booked the trip (Glorious! Enough miles for first class! Mimosas by 6am!), changed all the Delta alerts regarding this flight to my email address and sat smugly in my success. Until five second later when Rich asked me if I’d booked something with his miles. Stammering, I begged him not to look – said it was a surprise – and begged him again not to look. He agreed, no problem, he promised. Okay, weirdo person who actually likes surprises. Another five seconds and he asked if I was destroying his Delta status. Oh. Right. Rich flies Delta so much that when he shows up at the airport, he’s escorted in by hookers on unicorns. Uh oh. A few clicks with Delta Customer Service and I learned that there would still be an 8 piece band, free foot massages and a moist washcloth on his upcoming flights. Back to breathing a sigh of relief and relishing my success.
I repeated this process with Marriott – spending rewards frivolously on the nicest Residence Inn in Dayton. This may have been my first clue that there wasn’t really too much to Dayton.
I then spent two months avoiding any sentences involving the words trips, airplanes, museums, Dayton, Delta, Marriott, connections, birthdays and surprises. Except for the weekly ‘are you sure you don’t want to know?’ question begging for a ‘yes’ so I could stop walking around with a secret. Rich never did want to know. It drove me bananas. Who doesn’t want to know?
Wednesday, October 23rd:
The night before a 5:40am flight.
What was wrong with me??? Who books a flight that early on purpose?? I was already exhausted from the months spent avoiding hints and eye contact. I’d told all this friends and lived in a state of low level annoyance because he hadn’t even tried to guess, not even once.
I did provide Rich with a special airport shirt that read: Mystery Birthday Trip #Imlost #wifepoints. It would have worked better if it wasn’t so stinking cold at 5:40am.
I’ve never wanted to throw my phone across the room more than when it started bitching me awake at 3:15am to nudge me to the airport. What a moron. For me, vacation starts upon arrival – so the quicker the journey is over, the better. For Rich, it starts with the journey, so he’s never in a rush. A 5:40am flight. Why….? There is a direct correlation on how bad one will sleep based on how few the hours available are. The day loomed as one full of tired crankiness.
We arrived at the airport a bit later than we wanted. Or than I wanted. I like getting to the gate several hours prior to my flight so I can stress over whether I’m going to miss boarding with a last dash to the bathroom. Rich likes strolling in ten minutes before boarding, sitting down, then immediately standing back up the second the people with strollers get their turn. Which is what we did. Which is when he learned we were travelling first class. Which he already does all the time because he has so many Skymiles. When he travels with his family, he has to slum it in the back of the plane. His face sparkled with relief.
Upon arriving in Atlanta for our 90 minute layover (I’d already researched exactly which omelet I’d be getting at Phillip’s Seafood), we were met by a dozen other planes fighting for the parking spot closest to the store. The clock started ticking. At one point, we drove away from the terminals and did a u-turn, in a plane, to join another line. Tick. Tick. 60 minutes to go. An announcement here and there about a back up, not enough gates, Atlanta’s evident surprise that planes had landed at their airport. Tick. Tick. 30 minutes until our next flight started boarding two terminals away. Tick Tick. I was officially sweating through my shirt.
Somehow, we made it. From Terminal A to C with fifteen minutes to spare. And as we rounded the corner to our gate, Rich crumbled and read the marque. Dayton. Dayton? Oooohhh, Dayton! Through his exhausted eyes I could see low key excitement.
Once in Dayton, we grabbed a rental, took a quick nap and finally made it to nerd mecca. Rich’s plan was to do a ‘preliminary sweep’ of the museum from two to five so he could figure out a game plan for Friday. Have you ever heard a 48 year old man squeal? Me neither. Until that day. As we pulled up to the museum – the enormity hit us. It hit Rich right in his joy spot. It hit me in the ‘holy hell…that’s a lot of museum’ spot. I spent the first hour listening to him talk to himself while bouncing from exhibit to exhibit.
“Keep moving, Rich,” he’d say, “You’ve got all day tomorrow.”
“Is that a BD485?! Holy shit!”
“Oh my God, (explains the differences in three plane engines)”
“Okay, 30 minutes for each of the four buildings today, that’s our goal.”
I cannot begin to guess the number of planes in this museum, though it covers four large hangars. What I can tell you is that this is not where Maverick’s plane is and that if you ask, you might get an eye roll. It was absolutely impressive, even for someone whose only interest in planes is that they stay right side up. So, eight more hours of this the following day was a bit daunting. Seeing Rich’s happy canceled out some of my boredom, but that’s a lot of planes.
We wrapped the day up with dinner at the Dublin Pub in downtown Dayton. And by downtown, I mean, you blink and you miss it. This was the sight of a mass shooting over the summer and I picked it purposefully as a totally silent show of support. The shooting took place exactly one week after I’d booked our plane tickets – to a place I’d never heard of and was suddenly all over the news. At the time, all I wanted to blurt out to Rich was ‘oh my God…we’re going there…’
We arrived at AFMA at about 10am (God Bless America, we got to sleep in!). We got to the gift shop (the first thing you hit upon entry) and Rich sort of started circling me until I said, ‘Oh, you can just go do whatever you want.’ To which he said ‘I’m not sure what to do with you here.’ To which I said ‘Uh, I’ll be fine. See you lunch-ish.’
His t-shirt of the day read “My wife brought me to the Airport Museum and all I got was left alone to enjoy it.” And he did. The end.
Okay – I did do some history stuff, just on a much smaller scale than Rich. I’m not sure what he did, but I suspect he licked several planes, talked to himself a lot and was probably followed by security at least once. We did find each other for lunch – there’s no phone service in the museum, so it was really just luck. Lunch involved him sharing a lot of words I didn’t understand and inhaling a hot dog so he could get back to it. See you at 5.
I found the theater, raided the gift shop for real and actually lasted until 4:25pm before I turned into a toddler at a restaurant and pulled out my iPad to watch my stories. Which is six hours longer than I thought I’d last. At 5pm, Rich showed up at the exit and I prepared for an evening of stories.
We went for dinner at a Peruvian restaurant in downtown Dayton – basically the ‘other’ corner from Dublin Pub. It was unreal. One of the best meals we’ve ever had. If you’re ever in Dayton…look up Salar. Even if you’re not in Dayton, look it up – the menu is fabulous.
This was supposed to be an icing on the cake day. I’d booked Rich a flight with the Butler County Warbirds, a group that restores vintage war planes and allows riders to take a thirty minute ride during which they also get to take a turn at the wheel. Or stick. It was going to kick ass – except that I’m neither a fan of flying (crashing actually) or of small places, both of which were covered in the tiny restored plane. I planned on a game day decision or a Valium or just telling Rich that we couldn’t both go as it wouldn’t be fair to the kids if we were both lost.
Unfortunately (or was it?), Mother Nature thought it a good day to drain herself on the state of Ohio and the flight was cancelled. My sigh of relief was quickly erased with the realization that we’d be back at the Air Force Museum. And we were. Thankfully, Rich took mercy on me and we were in and out pretty quick. After determining there were really zero other options for entertainment (specifically for me – he tried so hard to make it a Jyl day!), we ended up holed up in our hotel room reading, iPad-ing and being total slugs. Even housekeeping had to check our pulses. We were done. A sign of an amazing trip.
T-shirt of the day read “Forty Ninosaur” with a corresponding T-Rex.
The hard part about a whirlwind trip is coming back to reality. By Sunday, we were both ready for home – we’d been on the go for three days and the weather had socked us in a bit too long the previous day. But, still, time away, free from responsibility is always a dream. Rich had an amazing time – already talking about going back (while I talk about who he can take with him…that is not me…). I succeeded in keeping a secret, a big achievement for me, and one that I got so into that I eventually forgot to buy any cards or other birthday mementos.
It’s fun to step out of your life once in a while – to do something unexpected, create a list of new memories and write your own adventure. It’s even better when you share it with someone who really gets you.
I really don’t know what Rich’s favorite memory of the weekend was (guest blog, anyone?), but here’s mine:
On day three at AFMA, I told Rich I wanted to tour the presidential planes. There were four at the museum – each open to walk through. I was surprised at how tight they were and, as the aisles were lined with plexi-glass to disable the ability to touch anything, the aisles were really, really tight. And plastic-y. Now, I had a burbly stomach all morning due to eating a bunch of interesting food and being wiped out tired. Burble, burble, burble. The burbles were definitely on the move.
As we stood inside the tiny, plastic-y aisle on The Independence (Eisenhower’s plane), the burbles reached their destination. Handily enough, I had Rich trapped in the aisle – unable to go backwards and unable to push past me. The look of shock (yet, oddly, not surprise) was worth every second of the months of preparation and secret keeping. The look of panic (again, no look of surprise) will forever be seared into my memory.