After a long week in New Hampshire, I was looking forward to returning home. The people I worked with had been nice, but I craved familiar surroundings, the company of my family, and people who didn’t ask me to “say ya’ll” and who understood what gravy is. As I drove toward Hartford Connecticut to catch my flight I knew that I’d probably have an interesting security check, but at least I would soon be on my way home. I planned for an uneventful flight. I didn’t get one.
I arrived at the airport in plenty of time for my usual “random” screening (fun fact: you should be careful what you step on at construction sites). I had to check in since there hotel didn’t really have internet service (they advertised that they did, but it was only in the lobby, on one computer, and five dollars an hour). I pulled “B” seating for my Southwest flight. I determined not to worry about it and relax. I got through security and made my way to the proper concourse. The long hours and poor eating of the week had left my stomach a bit unsettled, so I bought some ginger ale. I relaxed at the gate, sipped my delicious ale, and read whatever magazine someone had left behind.
I finished my drink. It was so tasty I decided to have another. This was a mistake. When I returned to the gate, there was a lot more people than when I left. I asked one of the gate attendants what was happening.
“There’s some storms in the Midwest so a couple of flights have been cancelled. Everyone’s now trying to get on your flight to route around it,” she explained.
“So, I guess the flight will be full now?” I asked.
“To the brim.” Great.
The conversation was also a mistake, because the lines formed while I was talking to the attendant. I ended up being the very last person in the “B” line. Since no one could now get in front of me, I decided to get one more 20 ounce bottle of ginger ale, even though I knew I probably shouldn’t (it was extremely refreshing). This was also a mistake.
The flight finally began boarding. I watched as all the people in the “A” line made their way to the plane. I cheered myself up the only way possible. I looked at the “C” line and thought, Suckers! I eventually made my way on the already seemingly full plane. I quickly stowed one of my two carry-ons in the overhead bin and settled in to the front row on the left of the plane. I didn’t want to go any farther back on this jam-packed flight and the lady in the seat seemed normal enough.
More people poured on to the plane. Once everyone sat down, we seemed to be waiting. I overheard the pilot telling one of the Flight Attendants that it was for the last two passengers. There were two empty seats left. One beside me, and one across the aisle next to a woman and her grown daughter. When the two finally arrived, they were out of breath and harried. They were obviously married. More obviously, she appeared terrified of flying. She made her way toward the empty seat next to me. I looked from her to her husband.
“Would you like to sit together?” I asked.
“I don’t have much choice. It’s one of the only seats left.”
“No, I mean would you like to sit together?” I gestured to her husband. “I’ll move. So you two can sit together.”
She still seemed a little confused, so I unbuckled, grabbed the bag from under my seat, and moved across the aisle. The couple looked grateful, but caused a problem for myself. The seats on the right of the plane did not have luggage storage underneath. I looked around and realize I might have to take it to the back of the plane. Suddenly, one of the flight attendants took it and said, “Allow me.” She opened a storage compartment and set it inside.
“Are you allowed to do that?”
She gave a mischievous grin and asked, “Are you going to rat me out?”
The woman beside me turned to me and said, “That was really polite of you.”
“What? Not telling on the flight attendant?”
“No, giving up your seat for that couple.”
“Well, it’s what we do.”
“You must be from the South! I knew it. I’ve heard that before.”
“Wait . . . what?” But I would have to wait for the explanation because the plane began backing away from the terminal. I prepared for the closet I had ever been to the pre flight safety speech, when the plane lurched forward, right back to the terminal.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is your Captain. We’ve got a little blinking light for one of the engines. Since it’s a warning light, it’s the kind of thing we like to check out before we take off. It’ll hopefully be just a few minutes.”
I was completely okay with the delay. I prefer engines when I’m flying.
I looked to the woman beside me and said, “So what did you mean before when you said I was from the South. How did you know?”
“Well, my other daughter is at Vanderbilt. We went down there to move her in a ran in to another student. He was . . . what am I supposed to call him?”
“Right, he was a goth and the most polite young man I ever met. He was just another student, but he showed us around and everything. When we finished up he said, ‘I wish I knew you guys were coming down here.’ I asked him why and he told me he would have made dinner! Isn’t that the most charming thing? I asked him why he would do that and he said just what you said. ‘It’s what we do.’ Is that a slogan or something.
“Not really,” I replied, “it’s kind of just who we are.”
We were having a nice conversation for about half an hour when the plane finally started backing away from the terminal again.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve been cleared by the mechanics to go ahead. The light is still on, but don’t worry, that’s why we have two of most things.” I assumed he meant engines and not lights.
Th woman across the aisle who was clearly afraid of flying did pretty well during takeoff. The two forward flight attendants joined our conversation. I had never had this type of conversation before. Of course, I never sat this close to them. I was actually enjoying myself, but I slowly realized that I had consume 60 ounces of ginger ale recently. I rarely took advantage of in flight facilities, but knew it would be necessary on this trip.
I waited patiently for the flight to level off. The flight attendants were about to unbuckle for snacks. I reached for my buckle . One flight attendant stood up.
“Uh, ladies and gentlemen, this is your Captain again. Were getting some reports of turbulence up ahead.”
He had barely finished speaking when we hit the turbulence. I stared at the flight attendant who was suddenly off the floor.
“I’m going to need everyone to remain buckled.” You think?
It got bumpier as the flight attendant sat back down and buckled in. It got fairly rough. I was a little worried, but not scared at all. Then I noticed that the two flight attendants did look scared. I became terrified. Fortunately, concentrating on not wetting myself focused my mind.
After an infinite few minutes. The turbulence abated though there were still a few bumps. The captain allowed snack service to resume, but told us to remain seated. I’m usually the type to follow all the rules (even speed limits!), but the lavatory beckoned. The moment the flight attendants were behind me, I unbuckled and made for sweet relief.
When I exited, much calmer, the flight attendant looked at me. “You weren’t allowed to do that!”
“Are you going to rat me out?” She just smiled.
When she made her way back to get our orders I requested ginger ale. Sometimes I never learn.
When we touched down in Nashville, I said goodbye to my seat mates and the two flight attendants. I made my way out of the airport and called for my ride. I was still waiting when my seat mates passed by. They looked back and asked if I needed a ride.
“No thanks, someone’s coming. Good job on the Southern hospitality though, you could blend in.”
“I hear it’s what I’m supposed to do here.”
As I waited, almost every single person that passed by spoke a greeting or at least nodded. The people were nice in New Hampshire, but it was nothing like this. I felt the odd community of strangers. It was good to be back.
This is brilliant writing…and a brilliant life! I’ve been in those “B” lines and full flights more often than I can count. I am a ‘left coaster’ learning and loving the Southern ways… and 37128 has become home.
Wow. Thank you so much for the kind words. I’m glad a part of Tennessee feels like home for you. Hopefully the Southerners around you will get you acclimated enough that when you hear “tea” you think of something very cold and very sweet.