Sadly, I arrived in Fresno extremely tired, so I’ve not had a chance to hunt down either Jerry Tarkanian, eat at a good Armenian restaurant, or see if Al Bohl was hanging out in the driveway of his old home. I may be staying in the world’s least impressive Courtyard by Marriott. Disappointing. Very disappointing. Since I’m a Silver Member of Marriott Rewards, I will be registering my displeasure at the highest level.

My first flight today was from Indy to Dallas. A true gem of a man was sitting directly in front of me. Probably late 50s, solid southern Indiana accent, with an Operation Iraqi Freedom hat perched on his head (That’s what we’ve resorted to, advertising our wars on hats? As I learned later, his daughter had just returned from Iraq, but shouldn’t he celebrate her service by wearing something that specifically honored her unit? Maybe I’m just a pacifist and can never understand.) He was all about explaining all the functions of the aircraft to his wife. When I’m traveling, I achieve a level of Zen by keeping my nose firmly planted in a book. Whether getting me through four and a half hours in a crowded San Juan waiting area surrounded by whiny 22-year-old newlyweds, or helping me tune out the shrieking baby across the isle, books have been the crutch I can’t travel without. Unfortunately, this guy got in my head before I could get my Zen on. I got to listen as he explained what each flap on the wing did to his wife. He went on-and-on about how rainy and dark it was in Indianapolis. He informed his wife that “little machines” push the aircraft away from the jet way; they have no reverse gear. What really blew my mind what when he called out to the flight attendant, in a voice full of panic, “We can open those during the flight, can’t we?” after the overhead storage doors had been shut. So he understands that planes can’t reverse themselves, but he doesn’t think you can open overhead bins in flight? Had he never flown before or even not seen a movie or TV show that takes place on a plane?

He was entertaining, though. At take-off, he yelled, “WHHHHEEEEEE!!!!! GIDDY-UP!!!!! GO, BABY, GO!!!!!! WHEEEEEEEEE!!!!” Did I mention he was in his 50s, not five? Somewhere over southern Missouri, I noticed he had spun all the way around and had apparently been trying to talk to me for a few minutes. Being the seasoned traveler I am, I sighed loudly, pulled the headphones from my ears, and asked, “Pardon me?” He pointed out the window excitedly, looked at me with a face of total glee, and said, “See that circle out there under the wings? That darker section of the clouds? It looks like a rainbow!” I looked, and saw nothing that resembled a rainbow, so I just nodded. The poor guy had clearly been hitting the bottle early this morning. “Did you see it?!?!?!” he asked, eager as a preteen trying to impress his older brother. “Yeah, sure.” I popped my headphones back in and attempted to hide behind my book. At least four times over the course of the flight, he pulled out his camcorder and aimed it out the window. It’s at this point I’ll note that it was completely cloudy the entire 90 minutes from Indiana to Texas. Not interesting clouds, either. Just thick, featureless masses that completely obscured the ground. I can only imagine his poor daughter, happy to have survived her tour in Iraq, being forced to watch the video, “And here are the clouds near…Honey, is this near Fayetteville or Texarkana?”

He had a couple more treats left. When we pulled up to the gate in Dallas, he looked at his wife, and began saying over-and-over, “I want a steak with all the fixins. I want a steak.” His wife didn’t seem to pay him any mind, so apparently like me picking up a book as soon as I sit down, this must be the mantra he repeats whenever he arrives at his destination.

When it was their turn to exit, they stood, and he announced to everyone behind them that they had a lot of stuff, so it would take them a few moments to get moving. I really wasn’t surprised, so I prepared to catalog everything they pulled from the bins. I was a little disappointed when all they pulled was a small suitcase and a large blanket folded into one of those heavy plastic, zip-up carriers. It was one of those hideous blankets that only old people with rural roots give younger people, thinking it’s a beautiful gift that is both functional and decorative. I think it had horses and angels on it, with every earth tone imaginable. I know this because we just received exactly one of those monstrosities last weekend. But that’s another story altogether. He handed the blanket bag to his wife, snatched up the suitcase, and froze. He was still staring into the overhead bin and appeared to be confused. I knew exactly what was about to happen. He called to his wife, and the people they appeared to be traveling with who were at least 15 rows ahead of him on their way off the jet, “Is this yours?” he cried out as he pointed helplessly into the compartment. “No,” his wife responded and kept walking. Their companions said they had all their belongings as well. You see, it was my suitcase he was looking at. He looked at those of us still patiently waiting and asked if it belonged to any of us. “I believe that’s mine,” I said. “Oh. OK.” He was really thrown by this for some reason. “OK, well, I just wanted to ask and make sure. Just being polite.” “Thank you,” I thought to myself, “I had totally forgotten I had lugged a suitcase to the airport and threw it up there two hours ago. I appreciate you looking out for me. I never would have remembered it without your assistance.” Keep in mind, all of this is happening as he’s still just standing in the aisle, blocking about a quarter of the aircraft from deplaning. There’s a strict limit of 13 seconds that you’re allowed before you incur the wrath of your fellow passengers. He had at least tripled that threshold at this point. I mumbled something and looked away.

One final time he blocked my progress. On his way off the plane, he noticed the pilot was packing some federally authorized heat. That elicited many questions that the pilot seemed none-too-eager to answer. I was a little worried the weapon might be used. Fortunately, disaster was averted and I was able to enjoy my 45 minutes in DFW.

Moral of the story: keep your ass out of the aisle on a plane, face forward unless you know the people behind you, and when it’s your turn to get off, grab your shit and run.

My second leg, on which I typed much of this, has been much more to my liking. Knocked another 100 pages out of Waiting for Snow in Havana by Carlos Eire (brilliant), listened to two hours of good music, have an empty seat next to me, and quiet people all around me.

One of my favorite things about traveling is the excitement of what will be on the radio in my rental car when I turn it on. The friendly folks at Avis seem to enjoy the Latin music, whether I’m in Northern California, Southern California, Oregon, or Arizona. Thus, I was shocked when I turned the key on my beautiful blue Cavalier today and was greeted by… Australian evangelist. Well, I didn’t realize he was an evangelist at first. He was talking about relationship issues, and I wondered if Gordon Elliott was making a comeback. But then he launched into some scripture and I was amazed. The Australians are trying to convert us now? If you’re going on a mission, the US ain’t a bad gig.

Three touches of the scan button later, I hear the classic Bay Area ode to the blunt lifestyle, Luniz’s “I Got Five On It” followed by a lengthy, bizarre interview with Shock G, formally of Digital Underground. Brother always was deep, but it also sounds like he’s still got five on it most of the time.

Wednesday, I travel to exciting Visalia, CA. I’m not sure what goes on in Visalia, but I’ve got business there. Unfortunately, I don’t get to explore the city in depth, as I have to navigate the three hours to LA in time for the UCLA-EA Sports All Stars game Wednesday night. I’ve obtained a ticket in venerable Pauley Pavilion. I didn’t bring my camera, but I imagine I can paint a picture via the written word for you. Prepare yourselves.