He stood out – literally – he was, like, a foot taller than everyone around him. He had hair the color of copper and an Irish accent. She stood next to him – coming just below his shoulders – with dark hair and lively eyes and an accent that came from somewhere in the middle of America. We bonded waiting to get on the airplane – laughing together that we were in the “E” section and would get on last because “they always save the best for last, right?” and “E stands for ‘excellent’, doesn’t it?”
We were bound for Chicago. I mentioned that my husband and I had, just a few weeks before, driven from Seattle to Grand Rapids, Michigan – and had passed by Chicago on our trip. What had taken us five days to achieve then, would take five hours today. The couple told me then that they lived in Michigan – Kalamazoo, to be exact. I told them I loved the word “Kalamazoo” and the copper-haired man told me that before that he’d lived in another town in Michigan with a native name (maybe Missaukee?). And, he told me, he’d almost taken a job in Australia with a really cool Aboriginal name (maybe Woolgoolga?). I told him he needed to go to Walla Walla next, and he started laughing.
Eventually we boarded the bus that would take us to our plane. There were no seats on the bus and everyone had to find a pole or a bar or a hand-loop to grip during the ride. I was too short to reach the bar above me and all the hand-loops were taken. I was looking around trying to figure out how I was going to keep upright, when the red-haired man saw my dilemma and moved aside so I could grip the loop near him – he was tall enough that he could easily hang onto the bar above us. I’m so grateful to him for that because as the bus worked its way across the tarmac there were a lot of stops and turns and I would have ended up doing a face plant on the floor, for sure, if I hadn’t had something to hold onto.
The bus stopped and we all got out and I quickly found my seat on the plane. Or. I THOUGHT I’d found my seat on the plane until a man tapped me gently on the shoulder and asked me my seat number. I told him and, smiling, he pointed me to a seat a row up and over. “I guess you were wondering where you were going to sit?” I asked, laughing. He laughed, too, and everyone graciously made room for me to move across the aisle. When I got settled I looked up and recognized one of the people who’d been on the bus. She was standing in the aisle next to my seat, waiting to find her own seat. The aisle was kind of clogged up, though, and it looked like it might take a while. Recognizing a person with a sense of humor, I said, “You don’t get a seat. One of those hand loop things is going to drop down from the ceiling and you’ll get to hang on to that for the flight.” She started cracking up and said that she’d probably get to have the air mask first, though, if those things dropped down. 🙂
The flight was pretty uneventful – there were some air bumps for a while that forced the flight attendants back to their seats – but everyone was really calm about it all, and, in what seemed like no time, our plane had landed at O’Hare.
I had a wonderful day in Chicago – seeing old friends and getting inspired by this year’s speaker at the Christian Science association. I came away feeling revitalized and ready to heal the world.
But first I had to deal with my own neuroses. I’d worked myself into kind of a tizzy. When I was younger I’d traveled a lot on my own. But as I’ve gotten older most of my traveling has been with family members and friends. And now I felt like I was all alone, trying to figure things out for myself, and it was scary. My thoughts were going around and around in circles something like this: “I’m going to need to get up at 4:30 to catch the shuttle bus to the airport. How do I set the alarm clock? How do I turn it off? What if I sleep through the alarm? What if the alarm doesn’t go off? What if I miss the shuttle bus and then I miss my plane? And… and… what if I can’t find a kiosk to get my boarding pass? And… what if I mess up at the kiosk and can’t get a boarding pass and miss my plane and get stranded in Chicago for, like, ever? And what if the TSA folks think I look suspicious or something and pull me out of the line and I end up missing my plane and… and… how do I set the alarm clock? How do I turn it off? What if I sleep through the alarm…?
You get the idea. Sheesh.
Of course I didn’t sleep well – tossing and turning, my eyes continually going to the clock. I finally dozed off for a couple hours and came to with a start to find that I’d awakened at exactly 4:24. I got up and set about getting myself dressed and ready. At 4:30 the alarm went off and I pushed the little button and it stopped – just like that. By 4:45 I was joining other folks in the elevator (I thought I’d be the only one getting up at 4:30!) and heading for the lobby. By 5:00 we were all on the bus and heading for the airport. When the people in front of me got off the shuttle at the United terminal I moved to the front so I could hear our bus driver’s voice – it was really deep and beautiful – a James Earl Jones voice – he sounded like he belonged on the radio. I told him this and he started laughing and said that this was the voice he woke up with and it would get higher as the day went on. “This is your morning voice,” I said, nodding. And he laughed and agreed.
(Note: All the employees you’re going to read about who helped me – the lady at the kiosk, the security folks, the vendor who showed me where Starbucks was, and the man who assigned me a seat on the plane, were African-Americans. I always feel this kind of weird self-conscious awkwardness about mentioning a person’s race – like it shouldn’t matter, right? – but at the moment I’m feeling the need to share that all the wonderful folks who helped me at O’Hare were African-Americans.)
The Delta terminal was the next stop. I got off there and as soon as I walked in the door found a kiosk waiting for me. A Delta employee immediately joined me at the kiosk to help me get my boarding pass. She asked me for my confirmation number and I showed her the teeny tiny letters on my phone and asked her if she could read them because I couldn’t make them out without my glasses. She laughed and said she needed her glasses, too, and quickly pulled them from a pocket and put them on to read the number to me. She soon realized it would go faster for us if she just punched the number in herself – so she did that for me. I made some comment about “women of a certain age” helping each other and she started laughing with me in middle-aged sisterhood. Soon she’d printed out my boarding pass for me, found out what gate I needed to go to, and pointed me that direction.
When I got in line for security I expected to have to go through that cubicle where you have to put your arms up and the body scan dealy checks you out. But this time the security people pointed me into a line where I got to by-pass the scanning machine altogether. That was cool.
And so there I was – safe and sound on the other side of security. All the things I’d been so nervous about were now behind me and looked ridiculous to me from this vantage point. I could feel the Cosmos laughing with me. I imagine the Cosmos finds me pretty entertaining.
Next it was time to find a Starbucks. I stopped at a small vendor of cheeses and fruit and asked her if she could point me to the nearest Starbucks. She looked up at me with a kind of exasperated disbelief and pointed behind her – “Right there,” she said. I saw that the Starbucks was right next to her! Humbled, I said, “Oh, thank you! Sheesh.” A stunning African-American woman – she looked like a competent, confident put-together lawyer – happened to be walking by us as this exchange was going on and she looked over at me, a grin on her face, and said, “I heard that.” I laughed with her and told her I was embarrassed, and went to fetch my pumpkin spice latte with whip. Once I had that familiar cup of latte in my hand I went back to the fruit and cheese vendor and bought myself a snack for the plane ride. The vendor graciously thanked me for my business and I thanked her, again, and went to sit in the waiting area.
I had been given a boarding pass without an assigned seat. So when the man appeared behind the podium I went up to him to get a seat. And oh! – he was so fun! I told him I needed a seat – and he grinned and pointed to the row of seats behind him – joking – and then he asked some quick questions, made some snappy small talk as he clicked away on the keyboard – et voila! I had a window seat!
I found a place to sit and, as the waiting area started getting more crowded, I picked up my bags and made room for Mike and Lisa, a middle-aged couple from Indiana. I really enjoyed talking with them. Lisa had arranged an Alaskan cruise for her husband and herself. They were going to visit all the places my husband and I had visited when we went up the Inside Passage seven years ago – Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, Sitka – and we talked about all the cool things they were going to see. This was Mike’s first-ever airplane ride. In fact, he told me he’d just had his first-ever train ride, too. In FACT, they’d already taken a car, a bus, and a train to get where they were. “Trains, planes, and automobiles,” I said, and they laughed and said “exactly.”
When it was time to get on the plane I stopped at the podium and made sure to let the man who’d assigned me a seat know how much I’d enjoyed listening to his comedic patter over the microphone as we lined up for boarding. He grinned and thanked me and wished me a good flight.
I got my window seat and spent the first half of the flight looking out the window and watching a movie on the screen in front of me. Towards the end of the flight I got into conversation with Eliana, the young woman seated next to me. I’d noticed she was taking an online college course, and shared with her my experience as a high school teacher. We talked about what she’d like to do when she gets out of school – she said she’d like to be a fashion designer – and I could totally picture her doing that. I told her she could name her line of clothes “Eliana” – and that I expected to see her fashion designs out there in a few years.
The plane landed a half hour early. I’d left rain in Chicago, and landed in rain in Seattle. There was something very symmetrical and pleasing about that.
As my husband drove me back home, I started thinking about all my ridiculous worries and the fear I’d had of being all on my own, trying to figure things out by myself – and I suddenly realized that I really hadn’t been alone at all! The entire trip I’d had people stepping up to help me out – to give me directions, to make room for me, to laugh with me.
How blessed we are to have each other on Life’s journey!
Chicago O’Hare’s Airport