MADISON TO ATLANTA TO HOUSTON AND BACK
This is strictly a Lee Melahn posting, Rick was smart enough to have nothing to do with it. Back in Mid-January an email showed up in my inbox from our Houston showroom letting us know that they were consolidating their showrooms and wanted to know what to do with all our furniture samples. An excel sheet was attached and a deadline of the end of the month was slapped onto the tail-end of the communiqué. Knowing the cost of shipping and in desperate need of a getaway I decided it was time for a road trip to the south…to Houston. A chance to escape the eight foot snow banks of Madison, a chance to put myself behind the wheel of a another Penske truck and drive the twelve hundred miles from Houston to Madison.
Here’s a record of the trip:
February 14th, Valentine’s Day
The cheapest flight out was via Milwaukee at 6:30 in the morning. That meant taking a 3:45 bus from Kelly’s Market and gas station to General Mitchell Airport on the banks of Lake Michigan. My sister graciously offered to take me to meet the bus. The gracious part due to my first asking her to take me all the way to Milwaukee so when I countered with the shorter drive she relented, the inconvenience didn’t seem half as bad.
Arrival at General Mitchell was right on time, 5:30, giving me an hour to get to my gate for the first leg of the air travel part of my adventure. It seems that in order to get to Houston from Milwaukee you need to sidestep through Atlanta. To first go east in order to ultimately go west never added up to me but since I wasn’t flying the plane I’d have to go wherever they wanted me to go.
I try to be as prepared as possible when traveling. I had gotten my boarding pass online the night before. I had selected my seat. I had packed my carry-ons making me ready to go. All I needed to do was go through security and get on board. I sauntered up to security, a swagger to my gait on the way to my gate. The line for security was longer than I had expected but I was still ahead of schedule. Boarding pass and driver’s license in hand, I patiently waited my turn. I even let one guy cut in front so he wouldn’t miss his flight. Now Milwaukee has one of those new body scanners but apparently not everyone has to go through it. There’s some arbitrary selection method in place. Signs with images of what the scanners see are posted along the journey from the back of the queue to the point of entry. Each posting shows a front and back image of a man and a woman in that x-ray skeletal way with their private parts somehow blurred out. It made both genders look like they were having sonograms rather than scans for hidden weapons. I’ve never been particularly prudish about my body so I wasn’t about to protest if I had to go through the scanner. Embarrassment averted, they waved me through and had me do the metal detector instead. I was ready to grab my bag and head out to gate C25. Hold on! Not so fast!
Shoeless and devoid of all my possessions I was waved over to the conveyer and asked if these were my bags, panic slide down my throat and into my churning stomach. What kind of contraband could I have tried to slip through? Could it have been the two rolls of plastic wrap, or the 30 feet of rope, or maybe the metal bullet proof lock? Fortunately I decided to leave the set of metric allen wrenches at home. I realized I had everything necessary for tying up the crew packed neatly away in the bottom of my Takashimaya leather backpack. I was never so thankful for having bought new underwear the day before as the security guard unpacked every last article in the bag to get down to the bottom and the devices for hijacking I had hidden there. I would have gladly opted for the scan rather than this public humiliation and airing of my “clean” laundry. It was the cardboard handle on the plastic wrap that set off the alarm. The x-ray machine thought I might have brought a bottle of liquid on the plane. They weren’t concerned about me tying anyone up, they were worried I might get thirsty. The guard offered to repack my bag but I decided that would only add on more humiliation for both of us. I took my belongings and shoes over to the recombobulation area and did the repacking myself.
Atlanta was much less eventful. Off one plane and directly onto another as a sea of effervescent teenage girls walked in front of me from concourse C to concourse D all with Minnie Mouse ears and big red bows with white polka-dots attached to their heads. I think someone got to go to Disneyland.
Houston socked me in the face the moment I got off the plane. I was totally over-dressed; a henley tee, plaid wool shirt, canvas vest and a thick black winter sportcoat. I had already left my nine-foot scarf rolled up in my backpack. I had just come from eight-foot snow drifts and a week of watch Super Bowl XLV where the commentators wore earmuffs and their breath make those clouds of freezing smoke when they spoke. The seventy degree temperature was not what I had expected. To top it off when I arrived at the showroom the air-conditioning had already been disconnected. I hope you can feel the rivulets of sweat rolling down my back. Thankfully the showroom manager had helped to arrange for two big muscled guys to help move all of the furniture from the showroom into the truck. Three hours later I was on the road behind the wheel of my twenty-two-footer.
I thought I could make it out of Texas before I’d have to stop, but by eleven o’clock the appeal of a Super 8 hotel bed won out and I pulled in for the night.
February 15, 2011
I had the evening hostess put in for a 5:30 wake-up call. I was back on the road by six with no other itinerary than getting as close to Madison as I could. It was somewhere around Texarkana that I realized I’d be going smack dab through Little Rock, Arkansas – home of the Bill Clinton library. All of a sudden the road trip came full circle in my mind. This was to be a trip about our furniture. Back in 2002 we got a call from Kaki Hockersmith’s office about a couple of pieces of furniture she might be interested in for a project they were working on. Everything about the request was very low-key. Kaki was interested in an Emmy desk and an Emmy bed. Weeks later the quote turned into a request. This is when we learned the desk would go into a guestroom in the private residence at the new Clinton Library and the bed was going to be where big Bill would be sleeping everytime he decided to hang his hat in Little Rock. Kaki later told us when she presented the boards to the Clinton’s, Bill’s only comment in that Arkansonian drawl was, “Eye really Liake that beyad”. I decided I needed to stop and pay homage to the place that housed one of our most famous pieces.
Luckily the Library was in spitting distance from the highway. The lovely lady on my sister’s GPS guided me off and into the parking lot at somewhere around ten. I knew an artisan’s board existed with the names of all those who had worked on the Library. I didn’t know it was right as you entered mounted on a marble wall. There in column five, seven names from the bottom was “Rick Shaver”. I snapped a picture of Rick’s name. A security guard walked over and asked about the picture. I explained how we had designed a bed and writing table (although they refer to it as a desk) for the private residence and I wanted to take a picture of Rick's name as a gift.
“You might want to ask the people at the main desk if you could see your furniture.”
His philosophy was it wouldn’t happen if I didn’t ask. He was right, of course. After fifteen minutes of phone calls and security checks they decided to let me in to the private residence. A tinge of disappoint slipped in when they informed me that all the pieces had been put in the guestroom. It took away the titillation in saying Bill was sleeping in our bed. (I;m leaving Hillary out of this for obvious reasons). We were just about to rise up the private elevator to the residence when the fire alarm went off. I’m egotistical enough to think I had tripped some warning alarm. I was sure FBI agents would start swarming around the elevator and I was about to be put under arrest. The elevator did go into lockdown but instead of an arrest all of us were told to evacuate the building. For forty-five minutes we all stood outside the building waiting for the all clear to re-enter the building. By this time another one to two hundred people had come up to the building wanting for their turn to get in to see a piece of Presidential hsitory. This was going to add another hour to my wait now that there were two hundred more pockets of change and cellphones to be run through the metal detectors. I was concerned I’d never get back on the road. When they finally gave us the all clear we all queued up to get back in. Ann, my guide and host suggested I go look at some of the exhibits when I got back in while she once again prepared to have the residence unlocked. I was willing but I was a little afraid my bladder might not be as ready as I was. By the time I made it through security, a bathroom sounded more enticing than eight years of Bill Clinton. I raced to the nearest bathroom and just as I got to the urinal that damn alarm went off again. Now I was convinced it was me. They had found me out and it was only a matter of time before I’d be handcuffed and face down on the mensroom floor. I backed off that urinal and left the bathroom without getting any relief. Of course, the minute I left the restroom the alarm went off. I never did get to pee.
No FBI agents showed up but Ann did and said the residence was once again ready. She took me back up, unlocked the door and ushered me in. As opposed to the traditionally styled exhibits of the Oval Office and Cabinet room in the public exhibition spaces, the residence was sleek and contemporary. Ann walked me through the entry and living spaces and then into the guestroom. The custom Emmy writing table looked beautiful in the corner of the room bathed in sunlight, but the bed in the guestroom wasn’t ours. Maybe Bill was sleeping in our bed. Ann looked a little hesitant as she said the door to Bill’s room was usually locked but she walked me to the bedroom to check and see. She turned the handle and to our surprise the door opened, There, against the wall, was the king-size Emmy bed. I put aside the sordid history I had been imagining about what that bed might have seen and instead focused on how beautiful the bed looked and how proud of Rick I was. I had known before we went up that picture taking wouldn’t be an option but I burned the image of the bed on the backs of my eyes. I’m taking that image back to Wisconsin along with a truckload of furniture and the ability to still boast Bill’s sleeping in our bed.
WORD FOR THE WISE
A fancy word the French made up in the late 16th century to describe a small writing table with drawers and compartments.
Jaquess Henri Lartique
Represented by Staley-Wise Gallery