As Levi waited at baggage claim, he listened to a phone conversation he’d recorded with his girlfriend, Alice. She was teaching him a “good luck” saying she’d learned from Vladimir, her Russian lab mate:
Alice: I say, “Ni puha ni pera,” which literally means “not down and not feathers.” And then you’ll say, “K chiortu.”
Levi: What does that mean?
Alice: “To the devil.”
Alice: So, say it.
“To the devil,” Levi mouthed silently to himself as he grabbed his backpack off the carousel. Outside the airport he saw a white girl with dreads in a T-shirt with the Rising Phoenix logo — a bird with wings on fire. She’d even written his name with a Sharpie on a piece of paper, along with the word MEDIA, which is what he’d claimed to be. He held his microphone out to her, and she reached over and petted its gray, furry windscreen as if it were a cat’s head, sending a loud rustle into his headphones. She said her name was Nancy and that she’d be giving him a ride to the Rising Phoenix base camp on the back of her motorcycle. He’d never been on a motorcycle before, but he wrapped his arms around her waist and tried to lean when she did to avoid throwing them off balance with his large backpack.