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We flew down from New York to North Carolina this afternoon. I hadn’t been in North Carolina in over 40 years, and even then, my time here was brief. I visited my sister in Durham between semesters of my junior year in college, then came down again a few months later, when she was leaving, to drive up to New York with her. That’s it. Gail’s lone visit was last July, but she came with a narrow mission and didn’t see much. This is our chance to explore.

We had a bit of a surprise at LaGuardia, when we returned our rental car to the Hertz lot. The woman with the hand-held computer/printer asked if I filled the gas and I noted that I was returning it with more gas than Hertz gave me. Another attendant said we should stay in the car and he’d drive us the mile or so over to the terminal. I thought this was a good-natured joke, a funny way of acknowledging their debt to us as we pulled out our luggage to walk over to the terminal shuttle bus. But Gail took him seriously, left the bags in the trunk, and got back in the car. I looked at her dumbfounded. “He’s joking.” She said no, he isn’t. I said of course he is. He said sure, he’d drive us, pushing the joke a little further. But, would you believe it, he was serious!

What gives? I don’t know. I got in the car too and off we went, chatting a little about his home in Ghana, wondering what we did to deserve this. Were we chosen randomly for this special benefit? Were they over-staffed and sending people on runs? Did some cars need a little cool-down drive before being returned to the lot? He told us his name, suggested we call whenever we need help. Like, do we call next time we land at LGA to ask for a personal pickup to the lot rather than waiting for the shuttle? Beats me.

It was my lucky day for sure. Not just Hertz, but TSA also selected me for special privileges. At security, I put my bag and assorted items on the conveyor belt, walked through the metal detector, and it beeped. The guy stopped me, said I had to go back through again. I felt in my pockets, confident I had nothing in them, and he said oh, it’s not that, I’ve been selected for extra screening. Whoopee! I came through, he called for another TSA agent, I pointed out my belongings and the second agent carried them to a table. I was asked to put my hands out, he rubbed them with some wet cloth, put it in a machine, I waited, and after 30 seconds, he told me I could go. No bomb residue on my hands.

That was about it for special privileges today. Heavy winds were delaying some flights at LaGuardia, including the inbound from Minneapolis that we would be heading out on, but we were delayed only 10 minutes or so in boarding our Bombardier commuter jet. We took off to the north, with surely fantastic views of Manhattan to the left, but I was on the right. As we turned northwest and then west, I saw the Hudson in the distance, then the Tappan Zee, then we turned southwest over northern Manhattan and to the left, thanks to the tilt of the plane, I could see some of Manhattan. Amongst the buildings, a lawn stood out that I needed a moment to recognize as the heart of Columbia University’s campus with Low Library. We completed our turn and headed south, probably right over the Hudson, more or less duplicating the route of US Airways flight 1549 (at a higher elevation) three years ago. I could no longer see to the left, but there to the right was MetLife Stadium, home to the Giants and the Jets.

That was enough excitement. I proceeded to read until we were low in our descent, at which point I strained to find North Carolina landmarks, with no success. I was surprised at how large Raleigh-Durham Airport is, and it’s a hell of a lot nicer than LaGuardia. What a dump! But that’s hardly news.

Long wait at baggage claim, short wait for Hertz shuttle bus (no private ride this time). On the bus, we were told by the recorded announcement that if we don’t like our assigned car, we can choose another, drive it to the exit gate, and get new paperwork. Our assigned car was to be a Nissan or similar. Similar turned out to be not a car but a boat, a good old Crown Victoria, bench seat and all. (Do people actually buy those things?) It had 14,000 miles on it and no redeeming features. Across the way, in the pool of cars we could choose from instead, was a Toyota Camry with 2200 miles. We took it. Half an hour later, we were driving through the campus of the University of North Carolina and arriving at The Carolina Inn, where I now sit. Lovely place, and a lovely room.

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