On another night, I find myself in a similar predicament. That evening, I have unexpectedly decided to return home. Normally, if not Mark or Ann, I am always picked up by someone upon my arrival and taken to the airport by one of our close circle of friends – curiously, often in my own Buick. But in this instance, I wasn’t able to get hold of anybody before I left, not even when I tried to call someone from Los Angeles. They all must have been some place together. So I board the plane and hope that I’ll still be able to call someone from the airport to come pick me up. Fortunately for me, on the plane I’m seated next to a middle-aged man with a weathered face, who too is quite drunk but is still coherent and introduces himself as an off duty airline pilot heading home. Let’s call him Joe. He tells me that he used to fly commercial jets but now in his semi-retirement, he flies small corporate type chartered planes.  Seeing that I am rushing for the public telephone upon our arrival, he offers to give me ride home.

‘It’s not too much out of my way.’ He says, even though taking me to Goleta would mean driving north first and then turn around and go south to Carpentaria, where he lives with his wife. I thank him and we walk to his Toyota Corolla parked in the airport parking lot. Like an old-fashioned gentleman, Joe opens the door and lets me in first. He gets in on the driver’s side of the car, puts the key in the ignition and then nothing. For a flicker of a moment, I think of the similar encounter in Chicago with an older man who turned out to be gay and had some amorous intentions for us. It took some doing for me to have him stop the car in the middle of the street and me getting out of it in a hurry and walking a mile home. Instinctively I put myself on the psychological alert.

When he still doesn’t start the car, I’m getting nervous. I sense his face turning to look at me, as if to lean sideways to kiss. But instead, I see a sudden string of tears rolling down his eyes. And then he just plain breaks down and like a lost little kid, begins to sob in big and loud sobs. Uncontrollably so.

‘I’m sorry. My life is all fucked up! I need to talk to someone.’ He mumbles through his tears, his voice cracking like a badly scratched vinyl record.

Imagine this. Santa Barbara airport is in the middle of nowhere. There are no houses, no commercial areas, no motels and the little airport itself is now closed down. Lights turned off. The only lights are on the airfield, which must have been a farmland at some distant past. I am sitting there with this stranger in his little Toyota sedan – the lone car standing in an empty parking lot. I no longer feel any danger of being made pass at. But I am alone, with this man who is probably in need of some professional help for which I don’t in the least qualify. All I could do is, what another human being would. I first let him cry, howls and all. When he has calmed down, something he says guides me.

‘And I’m starving. I haven’t eaten anything in the last twenty four hours. And I’ve been drinking!’ Suddenly I am hungry too. He is not familiar with this part of the town. I direct him to the nearest pizza joint that’s open late. We order a large pizza and beer. Now I’m in need of a drink.

Here is the story he tells me. Just the day before, he has wracked an airplane while landing. He has survived without a scratch, but his job as a pilot is in jeopardy. He couldn’t help having a few drinks before flying, feeling down and out and devastated, because his wife is lying home dying. Had an argument over her care with his step-son who punches him in the mouth. I see his hand automatically reach and touch the clear bruise on his face. Haven’t had a piece of ass in more than two years, man! He tells me. Probably alluding to his wife’s long drawn out illness. What I don’t ask or no longer remember. He is absolutely out of it, besides himself and is so miserable. He keeps saying all evening long: ‘You know, I am going to drive that thing off the cliff as soon as I drop you off.’ He is dead serious as he says it, every time ever more so. The more I try  to pacify him, the more he wants to end it all.

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