Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Humanity Illustrated, In 20 Minutes

On the way home from a recent trip, there were some flight delays. It was the day after tornadoes ripped through central Arkansas, and the weather front had moved all the way through to the East Coast. The worst weather had yet to reach that far, but it was causing problems with flights getting in to some places (like Nashville--just ask poor Jamie about that), so when I got to the Continental terminal at the Newark airport, I was greeted with at least 10 lines of people whose flights had been canceled and were being re-routed on later flights. I lucked out--my direct flight to Little Rock was just late enough, and Little Rock was just enough west of the worst weather (flights into Memphis were being canceled), that my flight wasn't canceled. Of course, other delays with other flights were having a domino effect, so my flight home was delayed a couple times and moved to a different gate, but it still left within 30 minutes of its scheduled time. I considered myself fortunate.

people mover

As is usually the case when I'm making my way through the enormous, sprawling, sometimes dirty airports in major "hub" cities, I could not help thinking how very much I love Little Rock's Adams Field. Yes, it's tiny. That can be an inconvenience at times, like when you can't get a direct flight to a major destination, and sometimes the pickings are slim as far as flight availability, but that smallness is also kind of the point. It took me all of 10 minutes to arrive, check in, go through security, and get to my gate on the morning that I left. I love that. It's also a clean airport, with free wi-fi and plenty of electrical outlets for the public (I'm looking at you, Newark--I saw all the black holes where the outlets used to be). Seriously, airports of the world, let's get rid of "Boingo" paid wireless, OK? If Little Rock, Arkansas can do it, then you certainly can, too.

cockpit

So, back to my flight--it was on a very small plane, just like the one I'd had on the trip out, so I had one of those seats that is, by virtue of being the only one, simultaneously window, middle, and aisle. I was seated at the front of the plane, just behind the cockpit. A cheerful young(er than me) man in a Houndstooth tee and some very blue running shoes sat across the aisle from me, and a woman I'll refrain from describing, for reasons which will soon become obvious, sat behind me. The flight was uneventful, the hostess pleasant, the turbulence minimal considering the weather. I had a great book to read, the plane was full of fellow Arkies, and I was feeling pleasantly nostalgic for home, despite only having been gone for two days. I'm sappy like that. And then we touched down in Little Rock.

First, something happened that I've never experienced in air travel before. We were parked out a good distance from the Continental terminal, because there was another plane occupying the spot (remember, this airport is tiny). I didn't think much of it, because, as I said: weather, domino effect, many delays and cancellations. I was still feeling lucky to have been able to get home that night. Then, through the cockpit door, I hear the plane's Captain (who may or may not have been John McEnroe) yelling out the window of the plane, and some mumbled responses from a grounds-crew person with a pronounced foreign accent. I couldn't understand anything the groundsman said, but here is the gist of the Captain's end of the conversation:

"What's going on?"

"How long?"

"Twenty MINUTES? Are you kidding me?"

"Can't you bring out a hard-stand?"

"Are you kidding me?"

"Get me a manager I can talk to on this frequency!"

"Are you KIDDING ME?"

I have to admit, I was chuckling to myself. Because it was just funny to me, an airplane pilot communicating with the ground crew not on a radio, but by yelling out the window. I was smiling to myself, and thinking, "only in Arkansas." And it was only 20 minutes, and in the grand scheme of things, with the perspective of just having had a tornado ravage my hometown and surrounding areas, and knowing that my family was safe and that I'd soon be joining them, I just settled back in with my book. Not a huge thing. The captain was plainly upset, though, and announced the 20-minute delay over the plane's PA system, encouraging passengers to fill out a Continental "customer care card" and express our displeasure at not being able to get to the terminal when we landed. That kind of made me laugh inwardly, too, because honestly--on a day like this? I think the airline had bigger things to worry about. Again, just ask Jamie. 20 minutes? Well, it's not as good as right now, but it's no big deal.

Except to the woman behind me. First, she began just complaining out loud to no one in particular, saying intelligent things like, "Come ON--the weather hasn't even been bad here today." Nah, just tornadoes that flipped airplanes over a few hours earlier, followed by massive power failures and flash-flooding. You know, nothing major.

And then she got on her cell phone, and called some (presumably) loved one to advise them of the situation. Naturally, I only heard her end of it, but she was speaking loudly, apparently wanting the rest of us to hear her conversation. Try to imagine the intonation and nasal whine of Lovey Howell, without the class:

"Well, we're heeeere, but we're just sitting on the taaaarmac. For twenty miiiiinutes."

"This is reason number THREE to get OUT of Little Rock. I swear to Gaaaawd, I am sooooo OUT of here. I haaaate it."

"I don't know; typical Little Rock moronity. Everyone in Little Rock is a moooooron." (At this point I was biting my tongue so hard I drew blood, at the intense desire to inform this paragon of class and manners that if you're going to malign the intelligence of an entire community, including a good many of your cabin-mates, you might want to stick to using actual WORDS.)

The conversation went on for most of the not-quite-20 minutes we sat there waiting, and several things were discussed, but the overriding theme was other people, and how they are essentially wastes of skin. A couple of snippets I can't seem to cleanse from my brain:

"Oh, and when you saaaaaid it, did you just feeeeeel the biiiiiiile rising in your throat?"

"That probably makes me a bad mother, doesn't it? Well, I don't caaaaaare."

And then, excusing the person on the other end of the phone with "I don't guess you need to be entertaining meeeee while I waaaaait," she finally hung up, and began pontificating to the hostess and other passengers about the details of this particular flight, how she took it "aaaaall the tiiiiiime," and that the employees were "aaaaaaaall on a break," because it wasn't this much trouble getting in at 1:00AM, and besides, "they didn't even have any weather here today." That was the only time I broke my silence, since I'd sat up the entire night before and into that morning glued to KTHV's streaming storm coverage on my laptop in a faraway hotel room, worrying for the safety of the family I was unable to contact. I didn't say much, only that I considered tornadoes and flash-floods to officially qualify as "weather." She just sputtered a bit and answered, "Well, that wasn't todaaaaaay." Well, yeah, actually, it was, but I let it go. I could have spit some bile of my own by then, though.

About that time, we were able to taxi up and park near the terminal, and allowed to deplane. While the crew was bringing out the hard-stand so we could get out, my pleasant across-the-aisle flight-mate brought out his cell-phone, and called his wife. His voice was quiet, full, familiar and warm. His conversation went like this:

"Hey, there, Honey. We're here."

"Oh, there was a little delay, and I didn't want to wake you just to tell you I wasn't off the plane yet."

"No, no...don't do that. I'll be there in (checks watch) 20-30 minutes. You just go back to sleep. I just wanted you to know I was on my way."

"I love you."

If that is "typical Little Rock 'moronity'?" I'll take it. I'll take it every. Darn. Time. I only had a brief, small-talk-ish exchange with this sweetheart of a guy, and didn't get his name, but if you recognize these blue shoes, you might tell their wearer that he restored my faith in humanity one 20 minutes upon a time.

across the aisle guy had some BLUE shoes

Cross-posted at The Arkansas Times Blog.

18 comments:

  1. Former Russellville/Fayetteville resident - now Philly girl (who has now flown out of ERW and PHL many, many times).

    The difference is that up here, the polite thing would be to tell the complaining Lady to knock it off (for the rest of the passengers), whereas in LR the polite thing is to not call attention to the lady's rude behavior.

    It is interesting, and I've been in yankee territory long enough to be torn between the two sometimes. I find a happy medium is a dirty look :)
    Glad your family is safe.

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  2. Belinda I am sooooo unbelievably glad she wasn't on my flight. She sounds a tad, I don't know, used to being catered to or something perhaps? ;)

    Yep 20 minutes is NOTHING but a little blip of inconvenience. I would have had to say something to her. Whew.

    I heart the blue running shoe guy and I heart you for taking a picture of his shoes.

    Thanks for the lovely story!

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  3. bless her heart.

    for you yankees, that is a ladylike way Arkansans have of saying something very unladylike about certain ladies.

    ;-)

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  4. People who are begging for an audience like that make me INSANE. I'd have (nearly) lost it. But we Canadians are probably to polite to say anything, also.

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  5. allinsone--That would have been the *perfect* happy medium, and I gave it my best shot, but she was sitting BEHIND me. UGH! You may be on to something.

    Jamie--she needed you there for some perspective. I couldn't believe how bent out of shape she was getting. And she got a couple of other people started, too. Yuck.

    Kyran--It was just the night before that, when I was hanging out with Liz and Mindy (Jersey gals), I'd exclaimed with delight, "I LOVE ME SOME YANKEES." ;-) Everyone I dealt with in New Jersey was wonderful--I had to come home to run into this bit of, um, ladylike behavior.

    assertagirl--Probably so. I also LOVE ME SOME CANADIANS.

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  6. 20 WHOLE minutes?

    P.S. Portland, the best airport in the country (for reals, ask Conde Nast) has free wi-fi. And if the best airport in the country can do it? Everyone can.

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  7. OK, that little exchange between the sneakers guy and his wife (well, his 1/2 of the convo that you heard anyway) totally gave me chills. I love when people restore my faith in mankind. It makes me tingly. :)

    It was so nice to meet you at Camp Baby! I finally posted my recap of the event.

    Oh, and I love our small airport here in Providence, too. It just big enough, and warm and welcoming.

    Jane, Pinks & Blues

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  8. Oh, after having had the pleasure of meeting and reading this post, I do SO want to visit Little Rock!

    Even with my fear of flying and having to sit anywhere near annoying people, considered.

    Got room for another chicken?

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  9. That is awesome.

    And really makes me miss home.

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  10. Yeah, I've only REALLY dealt w/ PDX (Portland), and I have to say, I've never waited for anything. Security? Like 10 minutes, top. EVERY time.

    And, I would have kicked that woman...if I was sitting behind her.

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  11. Well I was wondering what happened on your flight - I figured none of us were going to get out in time but I'm glad you made it home on the SAME day! I had this vision of you camped out in Memphis or something.

    You crack me up woman and HOLY CRAP those are blue shoes.

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  12. Some of us live in a very, very small world where we are the center of attention. Some of us live in a very, very big universe where our inconveniences are tiny compared to those of the rest of humanity. I try to remember when I am sitting in traffic that I am in a small blue car, on a small blue planet, in a small solar system, out in the boondocks of a galaxy, surrounded by infinite galaxies in infinite space and smile in wonder.

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  13. Oh my God. I would've shot her. I would have given up my pinko hippie antipathy to guns, gone out, gotten a gun, and shot her.

    You're a saint. And a fantabulous writer, as this piece proves. Again.

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  14. Wow, travel just seems to bring out the worst in some people, doesn't it? Glad you also experienced someone else's good example of humanity.

    I totally agree with you about some smaller airports. Whenever possible we fly out of the Milwaukee airport instead of the Chicago ones, because they're cleaner, easier, and less crowded.

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  15. I loved your post; born and raised in LR, and always loved the airport. I hope I see those BLUE shoes on a plane someday.

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  16. Yay, Mr. Shoes!

    As for Obnoxious Woman--what, did she really board a flight expecting everything to go smoothly? Did she really think there would be no delays, no sitting on the tarmac, no lines? Does she remember this is the airline industry she's dealing with?

    The world would be a better place if we noticed and remarked on the GOOD things rather than the bad all the time.

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