“I bet they’re asleep” my sixteen year old sister Sarah said. She was whispering from the top of one of two bunk bed sets placed side by side in the bedroom the four of us were sharing. I was below her in the bunk and the bunks beside us held my oldest sister Rachel who was seventeen. Above her was my cousin Kristina who like myself was fifteen.
We were all (with the exception of Rachel, who had to work early in the morning) completely dressed in our daily uniforms of cut off jeans, flannels, and striped socked with hiking boots. We were trying to keep our voices down so that we did not wake my parents who were asleep on the other side of the paper thin wall. We hopped out of bed and after grabbing our mini backpacks which doubled as purses and topping our heads with caps labeled in skateboard company logos we tiptoed to the front door. Our apartment unit was right next to the main entrance. After locking the deadbolt we were able to run to the hand me down 1977 Chevy pick-up and buckle up in fifteen seconds flat.
Sarah turned the key and I popped in my latest mixed tape into the cassette player. The Gin Blossoms, Beastie Boys and U2 sang along with us all the way to the Minneapolis St. Paul airport. We weren’t heading out of town and we were also not picking up anybody.
This was not the first time we had visited the airport without reason in the middle of the night. Looking back there was no reason for the offbeat adventure other than it was something we did, that nobody else did. We claimed the after hours airport as our own. The first time had been about a month earlier, when things in our lives seemed to change drastically overnight
I grew up in a “normal” household. I thought my parents were nuts, of course. But in the inner parts of brain I knew that we had it good. In the spring of 1994 I was living in a sitcom worthy suburb in a two story well decorated home in a cul-de-sac. It was me, my sisters and our weird semi-strict and very loving parents. Our aunt and uncle and cousin slash best friend Kristina lived a few blocks away in the same neighborhood. Our fathers were both managers at the same business and our mothers both had part time jobs and full time gossiping duties.
One day that spring my both our families decided that we were to be Minnesotan’s no longer and our lives would be uprooted. The parents decided that we were going to go West. And that was as specific as they told us. This was the end of the school year and when people began talking about the classes they would have and the sports they would be in the following year. I could not chime in. I just told people I would be moving to Montana to avoid strange looks when I said I had no idea where we were moving or what we would be doing. In May Kristina began living with us because her parents who had decided to move to the west before the end of the school year. They had at this point settled on a river bank in Idaho and were planning on camping until the end of the summer before looking for jobs or a home. A lifetime of suburban living and minivans and church potlucks and what I considered total normality had just been lifted out of my life like that plate of food that I had not yet finished though the waitress believed I was done eating.
The sale of our childhood home closed at the end of May. We spent the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend moving out of our beloved home and into a budget two bedroom apartment a couple miles away until my parents finalized where we would be moving out west. The four of us girls were to share a bedroom and the six of us a bathroom. I was scared of the change, but having my sisters and cousin with for the journey helped a lot. After saying good bye to our amazing yard and curtains and mailbox the four of us knew nothing would ever be the same. And we said that out loud. We spent hours talking about how this was the end of something and the beginning of another. Several times we confided in each other that after this, nothing could seem really weird ever again. In hindsight I realize how naive that was and how good we had life to that point.
As a reward for helping with the move our parents allowed us to take the pickup to the drive in movies. After the movie we headed straight home as we were notoriously “good girls” and also because the police had a habit of calling the parents of those underage who would wander about town after 12am. When we drove up to our new apartment we realized that none of us had keys to get into the apartment. We could get into the building, but not the actual unit that we lived in. Lucky for us we lived on the ground floor. We walked around to the bedroom that our parents had taken over and banged on the window. Forever. They didn’t budge. They didn’t look up or roll over or anything. They were conked from the physical labor they had put out that day and our efforts to wake them did nothing. This was before cell phones had made their way in to the purses of teenage girls. Even if we had them we had not yet had our home phone installed.
At this point we were tired as well and decided to drive to the old house to see if we could get inside. The new occupants had not moved in. We were able to get in and lay down on the floor of our empty family room and tried to get some sleep. It was useless however. It felt so weird to be there. The previous day we had been sitting in that same spot watching television and now it was empty and creepy. It didn’t feel like our home anymore and we left because it brought out unpleasant emotions that I don’t think we were able to deal with yet. So, back into the Chevy we went.
Driving around for a bit and playing with the CB radio while unwisely chatting it up with truckers from all over held our interest for a short time. But we were tired and wanted to be out of the truck. We discussed where we could go that would allow us inside and not call the police. After a bit my sister had a light bulb flash, “Airport!” she said. And so we went. We drove to the airport, parked the pickup and walked in. About this time it was two in the morning and there were no travelers around. But it was not empty. There were other wanderers in there at this time. Remember this was seven years before 9/11 and every corner of the airport was open for roaming. I remember one man in particular dressed in the brightest red tux with tails and matching top hat. . That’s an image I cannot wipe from my brain, though it felt like something you’d see in a dream. After raiding the vending machines, walking to all the gates and basically loitering we decided that it was about that time when we could be out of the house without consequence. So we drove back to the apartment . My parents were still dead to the world. We then drove to a nearby diner called Bob’s Country Kitchen for hot chocolate. At this point coffee was still a dirty adult beverage. When we finally got home and our parents were awake we braced ourselves for our punishment. I mean, we were out all night long. But nothing happened. Nothing at all. They DIDN”T EVEN ASK!
Throughout that summer we felt this new sense of freedom from parents that we had never known before. Looking back I am sure it had something to do with the scary endeavor that they were embarking on. Their minds were occupied with more things than keeping a head count of us. I did not know then that my parents were capable of anxiety.
We made a couple more midnight airport runs that summer. That felt like our place. We shared our new secret with other friends who in turn would go as well. I would LOVE to know what would have happened if we were caught. I think the conversation with the authorities would go something like this:
Police: where are you young ladies headed?
Us: the airport
Police: you picking someone up this late?
Police: uh, well, why are you going there?
Us: it’s super duper fun and we like to and there’s a photo booth and OK Soda in the soda machine and I want to see the top hat guy again…it’s like a quest!
Police: I’m gonna give you a narcotics test now
But, we never did get caught. We went out at night and just being out felt awesome and rebellious. During the day we began going places for hours at a time without asking for permission or letting anyone know our plans. It was scary and wonderful.
When we finally said goodbye to Minnesota that August we knew that there was nothing more we could have done to make that summer the best one any of us would ever have. And, moving to our new town we had a sense of self that I am sure helped us out as we were now the outsiders in a school where we knew nobody and a place where nothing was familiar.
Not long after I turned eighteen we confessed to all the midnight journeys we took during that summer and others. It was as though there were things we had wanted to share with our parents for so long, but only could after we knew that it was far too late for any consequences. I hope that when my son gets to be the age when he first feels freedom he will choose activities as silly and trivial as I did.