Terminally A

A foreboding exit from the gates at the airport.

She was ecstatic when his mother texted back a, “YES!”, punctuated with a smiley face. She was going to be in the greeting party. Airport reunions were romantic. Like Love Actually.

She carefully meted out her hair product to hold her waves while still letting them gaily bounce. Not too stiff, just a jauntily released coil when she turned her head. After she positioned her Santa hat, she rewrapped a few strands of curl on her hot iron. Everything would be perfect. She looked a bit wistfully at the special lashes. She loved how they looked, but he thought they looked phony. She lightened. She’d wear them on New Year’s Eve. He’d be down with it for a party. She put gloss on the middle of her top lip to feature her Cupid’s bow. So selfie ready!

She climbed in the back of the Rover with his little sister. Madison was the only member of the family who was indifferent to her. She felt that his sister was exhibiting classically petty tween jealousy. Maybe Madison didn’t appreciate having an extra sister since his parents loved her. Maybe Madison was out of joint because her brother had another girl in his life. Her own squad agreed with her analysis. She was the insightful one among her friends.

Beau’s plane was due in at 3:40 p.m. They had to leave at 1 p.m. to be sure to get there, park and be at the gate for the reveal. She and his mom chatted about how much they missed him. He left in August, so it’d been four months. He didn’t make it home for Thanksgiving because he had papers to research and exams around the corner. He’d been so busy the past few weeks that he’d barely responded to her texts and no longer hearted her Instagrams–even when she tagged him.

His mom said that he’d been stressed, but that she was so happy that he was able to share Thanksgiving at a classmate’s house. Two or three of the “out-of-staters” were generously taken in by her family. Today, though, they’d all get to catch up, hashtag IRL–or as his mom said, “in person.”

Madison barely looked at her, but she was okay with that. She chatted on with his mom about her college applications. Beau’s mom was always so supportive. When she texted his mom that she’d like to surprise him with the family, she got an immediate invitation.

The dad dropped them at the arrivals entrance at the airport. He left them to park the car. They walked into the airport and Beau’s mom eyed the monitor. She couldn’t find his flight until she remembered there was a connection in Atlanta. There it was. Arriving on time in Terminal A at gate 5. They posted up to wait for the plane to land.

She sat next to his mother. Madison sat across from them. So annoying.

She pulled out her phone and took a selfie and set the location to the airport. She selected the filter that made her eyes look brighter, tagged Beau and captioned it “Having myself a merry little Christmas.” There was an immediate fifteen or so likes. She put the screen in front of his mother’s face. The mom smiled and nodded, but was distracted by Madison’s childish self-isolation. She didn’t know why the mom didn’t just make Madison behave. If she had kids someday, she’d make sure that the family stuck together. Then the dad joined them. He announced that Beau’s flight had landed.

They walked up to the gate exit. They’d have to wait for him to cross the line and enter the teary, kissing transition space. She stood just to the left. She wanted him to turn to her and be so surprised. His parents very kindly stood a few feet back from her. They knew it was her show. She hoped that they had their phones at the ready so they could capture their airport embrace after so many months apart. She left her phone in her bag. She couldn’t get a shot of them together. She was getting antsy.

A few people trickled out of the safe part of the corridor into the general population. Then a few more. This was first class. There was a pause and then the bodies came fast and furious. She quickly scanned the faces. She looked up higher. No reason to look at the people under six foot-two. She ran her tongue along her teeth. She knew they were clean and shiny, but it was a habit. Clearing the decks. She tasted the last hint of the wintergreen mint. That was their favorite cover up. Usually between themselves after spicy pizza, but sometimes to hide the evidence of booze. Next semester, she was going to see him at school and drink as much as she wanted like the other college students. Maybe they’d screw later in his dorm room. That seemed very grown up to her.

She glanced back at his mom. She was trying to share a smile, but the mom was still looking at that selfish Madison. She was on the right, in opposition to the rest of them. Ugh. What a drama queen that kid was becoming.

Then, there he was. She took in a breath and blew out through her plumped shiny lips. He crossed the line, and she waited for him to see her. But he looked right. Right at Madison who squealed and ran into his outstretched arms.  Madison threw her own arms around his neck as he lifted her up and swung her around, a complete 360°.  The parents walked up to welcome him, and she found herself alone on the other side of a parade of people with their wheelies and their bags, some stopping to share hugs and others powering through to the baggage claim.

His mother gave him a hug over Madison who still clung to his neck, her legs wrapped around his waist. The mom pointed over the crowd to her. She watched as he looked over at her and then jerked his shaggy head back to his mother. He shook his head in an agitated way. Madison looked over at her, still draped all over her big brother. She narrowed her eyes and slightly turned up the edges of her mouth.

Then she knew what only Madison and her brother knew. Her smile faded. She dropped her head a bit, and she navigated her way through the crowd to the family who would give her a ride home.

There’s No Place Like Home

I texted the Baby Bear this morning.

Don’t miss your plane.

I included that smiley face emoji with the hearts for eyes. It was mostly to annoy. Our children get very annoyed when us Olds use emojis. It’s best–regarding maximum annoyance–when I use them inappropriately, like using the pile of shit emoji as if it’s a beehive. But even appropriate emoji use is an affront. You know, parents trying to be hip. They hate that. So I do that for my amusement.

Seven hours later I texted him again.

You on a plane yet??

I wasn’t thinking that he was late, but there was no emoji.

We had to change busses on the way delayed us a bit. In security now.

Seemed on target.

Thirty-five minutes later my phone rings. Guess who was standing at his gate with the door to the jetway closed in front of him and no Southwest staff to be found? Yup. Our hero. As I was telling him to find an open counter, I switched from the primary conversation to talking to myself as he engaged a guy. It was like when you get butt-dialed from someone in a bar and all you hear is muffled words and clinks. Until the line goes dead.

I went online to see what was coming out of Denver into one of the three Washington airports tonite. Yeah, it’s good to have options. That said, it’s less good to be looking for afternoon options when you’re flying east.

Baby Bear swore that he left with enough time to get to the airport. He knows exactly how to miss a flight, and those hard lessons have prodded him to always take the earlier bus. I believe him. The problem was the early bus was driving into a blizzard.

Of course, the first snow in Boulder would occur as he’s trying to get to the airport. The roads were a mess and they were further delayed when they had to switch buses. The security lines were long at the airport and he was getting antsy. He texted.

Wish I could barge to the front

That’s where I lost contact. Adding insult to injury, when he finally made it to the security screening area, the puffer picked something up. He was moved to secondary screening. Mild panic was beginning to seep into the corners of the reptilian part of his brain. No reason to get huffy with TSA, though. That never goes well.

The Bear offered that he was pressed to make his flight as the burly man came up to him. The agent explained that he was in training and they needed to wait for his supervisor for the grope. Baby Bear was deflated and nearing distraught.

Can’t your boss just do it?

Of course not. The agent took off his blue gloves and pulled on a fresh pair. As he snapped one rubber glove on–latex free mind you–it broke. He removed that pair and walked over to get another pair. The clock in Bear’s head was ticking at greater and greater volume.

The agent pulled on another pair of gloves. He once again snapped the left glove on and broke that one, too.

C’mon, man!

Third time being the charm, he started the pat down.

Sir, I am going to put my hand along the top of your pants.

Fine!

Sir, I am going to touch the inside of your leg.

Really? The guy is going to insist on getting affirmation for each step in the process? YES! YES! YES! Said Baby Bear who simply wanted the guy to hurry up and pat his junk so he could make his flight.

Of course, his flight was in C. Translated that means the far end of the large airport. He hustled to his gate–risking breaking his swag–to that closed door. He could see the plane. So close. A man opened the door and told Baby Bear that he lost his seat ten minutes ago to standby.

But there is an empty seat on that plane!

There was indeed a seat on the plane. And, also indeed, the plane door was secured. They were not going to open it up. No way. No how. No matter the pleading of a young man who was just trying to get home. No matter that his solution was just beyond a closed door.

Sheesh.

Baby Bear pulled himself from the abyss of his disappointment that was flirting too closely with anger as he walked to the counter to see his options. He relayed his disastrous TSA delay to the airline staffer who nodded vehemently.

I don’t know what it is, but they’ve been really bad.

Baby Bear got rebooked through Nashville, which has the nonsense airport code BNA. He’ll be an hour later than originally scheduled, but, most excellently, he still comes into DCA versus IAD or BWI, two options much further from headquarters.

Call it National. We don’t call it Reagan in this house.

What a day of travel. Blizzards. Bad buses. Security delays. Poor customer service. And a door slammed in his face. I can’t wait to see him!

I’m thinking that Santa may put some TSA Pre-√  in somebody’s Christmas stocking.

Flyboy

DCA Terminal A. So lonely.

I hate dropping him off at the airport. Letting someone else drop him off is even worse.

I sit next to the wall on a mid-century fake leather held aloft by real chrome chair. I sit there because I want him to know that I’m waiting for him. That I’m aching for him. That him coming home is critical to my well-being. Because without him, I am less well.

I sit there so that he sees me and he knows that he is home because I am home. I carry home with me. I want him to know that he’s welcome and that this is–that I am–always his home.

While I’m waiting, before I see him, it’s like Christmas morning. So much anticipation. I don’t know what he’ll be wearing. Dressed for the mountains or the valley? Will his hair be at his shoulders or high and tight? Will he be wearing flip flops or boots? Hat? Beard? Shorts? Coat?

He never breaks his swag, except for maybe a twitch of a smile at the far corner of his mouth so from my angle I see the echo of his smile. He might turn his head and nod as I stand up and trot toward him.

I wait. I watch him walk under the arch of the spaceship white corridor in Terminal A. And when he sees me out of the corner of his eye, he doesn’t acknowledge me–except he veers a little, toward me. I stand up from my chair. I’m wearing a wig. It’s an Angela Davis style afro. I feel like a badass. Because I’m wearing a power prop, and because I’m going to make him laugh. He almost doesn’t acknowledge the wig, but can’t help it. He loves it. He’s home. He takes my hug, even in public. Even when I look like a freak.

When I take him back to the airport, it is not so much fun. I still want him to feel home, but this is the home he leaves behind. He’s going to his new home.

He has two homes. The home that I made and the home that he’s making. It’s all good. Really, it’s very good. But I can’t help feeling loss. But I can’t help feeling proud. And I drop him off because I want to have every second with him that there is. Every one.

Pass The Nuts

I know that lots of people only occasionally fly. I know that airports and airport etiquette can be very foreign. I do not expect expertise from my fellow travelers, and, in fact, sometimes exhibit airport clumsiness myself.

That caveat aside, seriously, what the hell is wrong with some of you?

How do you normally figure things out?

I recommend less going to your memory banks on how it was last time you flew–2008?–or a whack video you saw on YouTube. Also please disregard the purported inside tips from your somewhat-sophisticated brother-in-law or from your fantasy football league commissioner, especially if their great knowledge is based upon an email they received from an “expert” source. [PSA: please check wild claims that get passed around social media on snopes.com before adding to the noise. We all thank you in advance.]

Another idea is to use environmental information. One really great technique is to read the signs. There are many, many signs in airports. People actually have jobs to create signage. You don’t have to let all their work go to waste.

When I checked in for my flight, I was jazzed to see that the travel gods bestowed upon me a random TSA PreCheck. Jazz was induced especially because I was wearing boots–it’s the little things in travel. Also, I hate stripping down to my skivvies and filling up 4 or 5 gray bins with my laptop (must be alone in a bin) and shoes and scarves and a one-quart plastic bags full of liquids in containers all less than 3.4 ounces. You still can’t bring a bottle of water, though.

At today’s airport, there are two concourses. My flight was out of Concourse B. Only one had PreCheck open. Of course it was the Concourse A. The sign said the concourses are connected, so I turned around and walked across the mall and food court to the other security line. The woman in front of me read the PreCheck notice and did the same.

Concourse A displayed a 4×3 foot sign directing PreCheck travelers to the left and all others to the right. The sign explained the PreCheck rules which was pretty much put any bag you have on the belt and walk on through.

The woman in front of me removed her shoes and placed her coat in a bin. The family of four also in front of me confusedly pulled multiple bins out. Computers and tablets, belts and sweaters, watches and quart-sized plastic bags all unnecessarily placed with much consternation. The woman behind tapped my shoulder and asked if you could get from Concourse A to Concourse B. I told her yes, at least that’s what the sign said. She said she didn’t read that part.

It wasn’t crowded, so the passenger confusion was mostly self-inflicted. A TSA staffer reminded the six people in our line that they needed to have PreCheck on their boarding pass or go to the other line. A woman sheepishly ducked under the rope between the stanchions to her correct line. Another family crisscrossed to the PreCheck line from the standard line because they couldn’t read, either.

I put my backpack on the conveyer belt and walked through the magnetometer. Easy peasy lemon squeezy.

I’m at my gate fifty minutes before the flight. A man in black warmup gear and screaming scarlet kicks walked across the empty airport to the gate. The door to the jetway is wide open, but it’s not time to board. Will Scarlet looks around and, for some unknowable reason, decides to board himself. Seriously. He walked through the door and down the jetway a few steps and walked back out. He had his boarding pass in his hand and inspected the unattended desk and computer. He found the scanner and he SCANNED HIS BOARDING PASS. I am not making this up. Then some clueless woman saw him and followed his lead.

I waited for the monster to spit them out, but nothing happened. I looked at my watch and started to worry that maybe the flight had boarded and I blew it. (I have done this once before.) Now, I’m all consternated. But, unlike my fellow passengers, I walk up to the the kiosk for my flight and check with the people who work there. No boarding yet.

I walk back to my seat to see the two people who took the boarding into their own hands escorted out by an airline employee. She was explaining that boarding would be in 20 minutes. Will Scarlett looked like he didn’t understand. That was the only part that made sense, that Mr. Scarlett was confused. Still.

In my head I’m wondering, did they get all the way to the door of the plane? Did they knock on it? Or was the plane door open? Did they walk on the plane? Was the pilot there? Were there people cleaning the seatbacks?  Or were they just standing on the jetway until someone “found” them?

And damn them for making me look. I knew better, but vagaries in the travel system, the missing of flights, the capriciousness of rules among airports and heightened or de-heightened alert status (more working dogs!), means that you have to verify and not trust your experiences. So, you crazy mixed up travelers, my second piece of advice, in addition to reading signs, is ask the experts. The real experts. Don’t follow Will Scarlett down the jetway.

At least there were peanuts on my flight.