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Earthlings 

The Observer recently flew for the first time in a little over 16 years, and to Texas, of all places. Spouse's car was getting a little long in the tooth, and the Mobile Observatory even longer of chopper, so we'd been scouting around for a new ride for a while now with very specific criteria: Honda, CR-V, low miles, within our budget, and a color other than grey, silver or the doughy tan that some automakers grandiosely call "champagne."

You'd be surprised at how hard it is to meet those bare criteria in Little Rock or even the state of Arkansas. So, using one of those "pick your color, your mileage, your price" car search websites, we finally got frustrated enough to hit "any distance."

There, halfway across Texas in Abilene, was our car: a lovely electric blue Honda with a mileage that suggested it had been owned since new by an agoraphobic. Dozens of high-def pictures, a printout showing the exact moment that it had been brought in for every oil change and tire rotation. No smell-o-vision, but we were willing to gamble. Best of all, the car was squarely in our price range, which we will optimistically describe as meager. You try paying a car note on a newspaper salary, pal.

The Observer called the dealership way out west, talked it over, struck a deal and booked a one-way flight. We could hear dear ol' Pa saying we were crazy for flying 500 miles to buy a car that we'd never laid eyes on. But it was a Honda, still under the factory warranty, and we've owned three of those at this point. What's the worst that could happen?

Taxiing out, The Observer remembered why we don't fly. Tiny seat, large posterior, that singularly weird feeling of takeoff, which we described once as like having a rocket strapped to your back, Wile E. Coyote style, and being thrust into the sky. Once in the air, the world shrinking below, we found again the wonder of it. Heading west at 31,000 feet, you can see the line where Arkansas becomes Texas or thereabouts: Arkansas a verdant wilderness, then the trees thinning and thinning, the forests becoming lines around champagne fields, then the fields growing until they touch, each trickle of water visible even from that great height as a vein of green.

We made Dallas and our connection to Abilene, a hop so short the flight attendant didn't have time to give us ice for our sodas. The attendant was a funny guy, a storyteller. All the way to Abilene, he walked the aisles, joking, telling tales, asking where people were going and why. When he stopped in front of our seat, we feared he'd talk to us, but instead he engaged a couple sitting nearby. One of them said he was on his way home to see his father, and so the attendant told the story of his own parents, who had adopted him and his sisters, who'd raised them, who'd cared for him for months when he'd almost died some years back, who had been together until death did them part, living in their own home. By the end, he said, the old man was so disgusted with languishing in hospitals and asking others for help that when he fell out of bed one night and couldn't get up, he'd forbidden his wife from calling the ambulance or the kids, preferring to sleep there on the hard floor than spend another night in some antiseptic room. A few months later, she passed. Seven months after that, he followed.

The Observer — a storyteller, husband, father and something of a sap — is not ashamed to admit that we were moved to quiet tears by the story; one son's tale of two lives on earth below. Wedged in our rented seat, we thumbed our tears and missed home like you would not believe.

Back on terra firma and our name on the dotted line, we thought of the attendant and his story all the way to Little Rock, blasting across Texas, window down and the sinking sun in our rear view, headed home. Back to where we belong. Until death do us part.

If you're up there, my friend: safe travels.

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