The airport. I wasn’t flying. I was filling out paperwork for a rental car. The woman behind the counter claimed she would upgrade me to a Super-Duper-Grade vehicle for only twenty-nine bucks.
So she pressed further. For another fifty big ones, she offered to upgrade me to the Ultra Super-Duper-Grade Platinum rental.
No can do. I’m allergic to platinum.
I heard applause from the other side of the terminal. It was loud. There was cheering. Whistling. Hollering. I turned to look—so did everyone else. It sounded like the Second Coming of Elvis.
On an escalator were men and women in camouflage and boots, carrying backpacks.
They waved to those hollering.
The first man off the stairs walked to a woman with a toddler on her hip. He dropped his bag and group-hugged them.
More young men and more young women in uniform rolled down the electric stairs.
A tall black woman in uniform. She set her bags down. Two boys came running—no older than three or four. They sprinted, full force, and knocked her over.
Next: a man. Broad shoulders and a strong walk. He made a beeline for an older woman. He stooped to let her kiss his forehead. She did more than kiss him. She almost broke his neck.
The clapping started to fizzle. But each new pair of desert boots earned at least a few shouts.
Even some strangers in the airport joined the cheering. Take, for instance, this redheaded stranger.
The woman from the rental company came from behind her desk and stood with me. The rest of the airport had returned o business as usual.
Not me and my new platinum-rental friend. We watched the reunions. Some were tearful. Others were pure elation.
Young men dropped duffle bags and rushed toward young women who held hand-drawn posters. Couples kissed. Kids screamed, “Mommy!” or, “Daddy!”
Some uniforms made their ways toward the exits without welcome committees or hand-painted signs. God love them.
Another young man deboarded. He was tall, slight. He had a lean neck and blonde hair. He resembled a telephone pole with freckles.
There was a family waiting for him, a big one. Mother, father, brother, sister, cousins, in-laws, neighbors, family physicians, yard men, and life insurance representatives. Everyone wore matching yellow T-shirts.
The boy’s fair complexion turned redder than a Venus Eagle cherry.
Another young woman in fatigues set her backpack down when she stepped off the stairs. She covered her mouth.
A man from the crowd walked toward her, carrying a bouquet. He touched her face. They pressed their foreheads together.
The rental car cashier beside me said, “Don’t you just love this?”
We talk. She is originally from Guatemala. She has lived here since age twenty. Her hair is faded now, and there are lines on the corners of her eyes. But she is American, even though her accent is thick.
“I work here four years,” she said. “Whenever I see the military people do like this, it make me feel so, so, what is the word?”
The word is “proud,” ma’am.