Tony Woodlief | Author

Speaking lips closed

The woman in the last booth guarding the Wichita airport parking lot exit likes my music. She has gray hair and a hardworn, windswept face, the kind you see here on the heartland plains. We don’t speak, except for her to tell me how much I owe at the end of the week, me leaning from the window of my idling truck, eager to race home through the cooling dark to kiss my babies.

But I turn up my music for her. I do it because she laughed one night when Over the Rhine spilled into her booth.

Down south where Elvis is king
And Jesus is Lord
We drove just shy of forever
In our wheezy old Ford
Hey love, don’t you think this life
Has grown a little absurd?
He said, ‘Not bad for a Yankee girl
Destined for Betty Ford. . .’

Sometimes Lyle Lovett rasps from my window, me waiting to sing along until I’m on the highway. She nods her head in approval.

And this travelin’ around
It’s gonna be the death of me.
And this travelin’ around
It’s gonna be the death of me.

Once it was Claire Holley‘s soft southern voice, crying forth Yeats’s “The Lake Isle of Innisfree.” I wonder if the booth lady likes poetry, if maybe she went to school in a day when students still read it.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the mourning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

Last night it was Dawes, the vocals for “That Western Skyline” echoing like they were crooned in the back corner of a smoky brick roadhouse. I was in a roadhouse mood, tired and dusty-feeling and half-inclined to stop somewhere for a glass or maybe half a bottle of whiskey.

So I wait for her all through the day,
as if I wait for her surrender.
And every time I get her to look my way,
she says I’m not where I belong.

I’m thinking one day I might make the gray-haired booth lady a mix tape. I wonder what her mix tape for me might hold. Willie Nelson, I’ll bet, and Chris LeDoux and Van Morrison and maybe even the Stones, before Mick Jagger became absolutely insufferable. Whenever I think of the booth lady, I think of coming home, and I think I’ll be sad if one day she’s no longer there.

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