Friday, February 15, 2013

Cal and the Rolly Bag

I like being new places. It's the getting there I could do without. Especially these days, when taking a flight means wedging as much as you can into a tiny suitcase and choosing between a sample-size conditioner and a hand lotion, since your quart-size baggie is already filling up with a mini-toothpaste, mini-contact solution, and other mini necessities.

you leave approximately two days early to get to the airport since the search line can get long, then silently curse that you forgot and wore shoes with laces, a belt, and earrings. You remove said offensive articles and dump them in bins with your baggie, coat, laptop, and anything from your pockets. you make the moose hands for three seconds, then stand there and try to believe what they say about the image not actually showing your naked body until someone says you can go, then make eye contact with no one as you put all your clothes and accessories back on.

At the gate, you hope the gate agent doesn't insist you shove your carry-on in their little size checking frame, which more accurately represents an ice cube than an overhead bin, and then stand in line. If you're a Southwester, like me, and everyone else checked in two days and twenty-minutes early so you're the third to last person to board, like me, things get dicey at this point. You don your backpack, throw a coat over your arm, and juggle a coffee in one hand so you can manage your rolly bag with the other.

You follow the butt in front of you down the gateway praying that, although you're resigned to a middle seat, you'll at least  be able to find one with some overhead bin space. After all, what does it matter if your bag will fit if there's no room? There's nooks and crannies here and there, but none that look big enough for a rolly bag.

It doesn't bode well when the flight attendant tells you all the seats in the back of the plane are full. When you ask about room in the bins and she tells you, "You better find some," well, lets just say she wasn't showing her Southwest spirit.

And then, everything changed. I turned to the two guys framing the middle seat to my right and asked if I could sit there. Guy one, who we will call Cal since I never did get his name, asked if I wanted him to hold my coffee. I think a bit of desperation may have escaped when I thanked him. He took my coat too, and I flopped my backpack on the seat and then tried to figure out how to wiggle the rolly bags and carry-ons overhead so I could fit mine in.

Then Cal says, "Do you want me to help you?"

I'm not a feminist in the sense that I see offers of assistance as an assault on the equality of women. I'm just not used to a lot of people offering to help, and don't expect it.  So it took me a second to realize instead of being demure and saying, "Oh, I couldn't trouble you," to say thanks and hand off my bag.

He handed me my coffee, told me to sit, then magically rearranged the overhead bags so my rolly bag fit. Then he found one of those nooks that was big enough for my coat, and I had just about crammed my backpack under the seat in front of me, when he said he thought he could fit that too. The Hallelujah chorus played in Dolby digital surround sound in my head.

Cal sat down and asked if I was going or coming, and for the entire flight to Dallas Love Field, I talked to a bottled water salesman from Minnesota about travel, family, career paths, church, writing, friends, and golf.

If he hadn't been there, I would have made it. I may have splashed my coffee and had to gate-check my rolly bag under then snarky gaze of Southwest's only grouchy flight attendant, but I would have survived.

But he was. A guy just being nice who made my day. I definitely said a little thank-you prayer for the encounter.

Today I'm thankful for Cal, and yes, for air travel (grumble), and to be home.

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