It’s after midnight. The plane spits us out at Birmingham-Shuttlesworth Airport and we trot across the empty building. We stand before baggage claim with a bunch of weary passengers, staring at the large Roulette Wheel of Luggage with tired looks on our faces.
But the baggage treadmill hasn’t started moving yet. We are gathered around it, waiting, but it’s been thirty minutes.
There is a man next to me who is wearing a business suit that looks like it cost more than a three-bedroom-two-bath in Mountain Brook, and he is clearly ticked off.
“$%*#!” he says.
Over and over again.
He looks like the kind of guy who, whenever he doesn’t get what he wants, always asks to speak to the manager. You know the kind I’m talking about. You can’t take these people anywhere.
“$%*#!” he says again.
I’ll bet this guy was no day at the beach when he was a kid, either. I’ll bet when his childhood friends were busy playing cowboys and Indians, he was dressing up as Ted Turner and firing the butler.
My friend Darren used to be like that. Before he would come over to play, we all had to participate in group meditation just to prepare for him. Because we knew how things would go:
We would all want to play Lone Ranger, but Darren would want to play “accounting firm,” which was a make-believe game wherein we would pretend to be H&R Block professionals doing tax returns in cubicles. Darren would play the role of boss, patrolling the cubicles and shouting, “Come on people! Time is money! Chop! Chop!”
And eventually we’d tie Darren to a tree and scalp him.
So this guy is a lot like Darren. He’s pacing around, getting angrier by the second. He removes his watch and shakes it.
“$%*#!” he says again.
He sits on a chair and starts making loud sighs. People are looking at him. At this point, we aren’t nearly as concerned with our bags as we are with him. He’s adding anxiety to the entire zip code.
Several of us look at each other with the kinds of faces that passengers probably wore on the Titanic, just before it sunk, and someone’s irate mother-in-law was asking to speak to the manager about this.
We’re looking at each other with looks that both say, “Can you believe this guy?” and “Do you know how to scalp a man using only a pair of TSA-approved nail clippers?”
But nobody says anything to the man because what would we say? After all, our words would only make him worse.
Soon he is pacing. Whenever he sees an airport employee, he approaches them and starts using wild hand gestures. “$%*#!” he shouts. But the airport employees keep apologizing.
“$%*#!” he answers.
One lady beside me says, “This is why I hate airplanes, you never know what kinda nut you’re gonna get stuck with.”
I, too, hate flying in airplanes. Though my last two flights today haven’t been so bad. I sat next to a kid who played a video game on his on his cellular phone for two hours.
With the volume all the way up.
Then, on my flight out of Atlanta, my passenger-mate was a man with no arm-rest etiquette, chronic body odor, and a runny nose. A man who, partway through the flight, disclosed to me that he recently got over a strain of walking pneumonia that doctors had never seen before. He kept asking if I wanted a cough drop.
“$%*#!” the guy says again.
Finally, I decide that someone has to say something to the unhappy man. I don’t often do this sort of thing, but he’s yelling at an airport employee, an innocent young woman. And I cannot watch this. I take a few breaths and stride over to the man. But I am too late.
Someone else has beaten me to it.
An elderly woman. Small. Very skinny. She is wearing a surgical mask. She steps right up to him. She removes her mask. She says, “Do you know that you remind me of my son? You look just like him. So handsome.”
This man is taken off guard. He is dumbfounded, actually. He can’t think of anything to say.
Soon, he forgets all about the airline employee he just beheaded. In a few minutes, he’s talking to Gram Gram who doesn’t even give him a chance to answer her, she just keeps talking in that pleasant voice. And he keeps listening. After a few minutes, she has actually calmed this man down. He is even smiling.
The sound of machinery. The huge Wheel of Fortune awakens. Our luggage is starting to appear on the conveyor belt. People applaud. But the man in the suit is too busy talking to the old woman to even notice his baggage.
After everyone gets their bags, the old woman tells this young man to fetch her luggage from the belt. And if I am not mistaken—get a load of this—Granny even tells the man to help her CARRY HER LUGGAGE TO HER CAR.
And I can’t help but think to myself that, in this world of angry people who shout too loud, who point too many condemning fingers, who yell at managers, and complain about circumstances they can’t control, we could use a few more Grannies.
And since I brought it up, I’m sorry we scalped you, Darren.