Last week I flew to Bethlehem, PA for my grandma’s memorial service (I will post about that when I’m finished writing it). Oddly enough, both flights were easy and on time, which I can’t say has happened often in recent memory. Nice work, Delta.
The sticky widget was the connection. The layover in Detroit was only 30 minutes. Perhaps they were just being kind by moving me out of Detroit as quickly as humanly possible. If that was their intention, then I tip my hat to them.
For the flight out of Seattle, I was seated next to an outspoken woman in her sixties, and an outspoken woman in her thirties. They had managed to bond in the ten seconds before my arrival and welcomed me into their sisterhood, even though I usually make a point of ignoring all people on planes.
They had just switched seats out of mutual preference, and when I took my seat in the middle (imagine, no one wanting to trade my seat) they were quick to cheerily ask each other and me, “Which would you rather be? The person who is inconvenienced, or the person who is inconveniencing others? I’d rather be inconvenienced. Definitely!” They each nodded in agreement, affirming their mutual self-sacrifice.
What is this, I asked myself, Girl Scout tryouts?
Before I could respond, the older lady turned to me and said the usual, “Where are you traveling?” After I replied, like clockwork, she exclaimed, “Me too!”
“Weren’t you thrilled by the fares? I mean, what a steal. Isn’t Delta the absolute best?” she inquired further.
Maybe it’s just me, but one does not typically compare airfare once airfare has been purchased, because most people understand that ticket prices fluctuate by the hour, and one is sure to either feel terrible about her own price or make someone else feel terrible about their price. This woman did not know this.
“Actually,” I replied (because why not make her feel a little remorse for starting this conversation?) “I am traveling for a funeral, so I had to purchase my ticket just last night, and I paid three times as much as you.”
“Oh!” she gasped. “Oh I’m sorry. Well did you at least take advantage of Delta’s fantastic bereavement program?”
Again, why ask this question when the opportunity for me to take advantage of it has already passed? What could possibly be gained?
“Um no, I’m afraid not,” I replied. “I called another airline who said they don’t offer those types of discounts, so I didn’t bother calling for Delta’s.”
“Oh that’s such a shame, because they do. They do!” she said.
I reached for my People magazine.
Four hours later we were about to land, and she turned to me and said, “We only have thirty minutes to make it to our gate, and I’ve already checked the map of the Detroit airport and it’s going to be quite a haul. So we’re really going to have to make a run for it.”
We? Did I fall unconscious at some point during the flight and say in my sleep that I needed a travel partner? I smiled sweetly and agreed that it would be close. As soon as the plane landed, she barked at me to get my bags, and then we filed out of the plane. I didn’t see her for a moment, and thought I’d be able to navigate the airport in peace, when I looked ahead and saw her up the galley waiting for me.
The walk that followed was ten different kinds of awkward. Since she set the standard by waiting for me, I had no choice but to stick with her the rest of the journey. And it was a journey. Long walk, moving walkway, escalator, air tram, escalator, moving walkway, escalator.
At every escalator or moving walkway, we’d do this horrifically awkward shuffle of not knowing whether we should get on side-by-side and openly acknowledge each other, or whether we should split up and each take our own, pretending we were not really together. Please don’t forget that in this whole “traveling companion” exchange we had not even learned each other’s names.
To add to the unbearable awkwardness, we had to keep up this fake I’m-waiting-for-you-but-I’m-acting-like-I’m-not charade. She’d fall behind, and I’d walk like a sloth until she caught up. We had to navigate the tram system together, with each of us telling the other where we thought we should get off and where it would lead.
One doesn’t realize how intimate these minute traveling decisions are until one has to perform them with a stranger. We’re actually pretty vulnerable when we’re in an unfamiliar place, and suggesting the wrong route or acting more calm than you feel is something we usually only share with those in our inner circles.
After about a ten minute walk/ride/sprint through the Detroit airport, we approached the last escalator. After doing what was by now our practiced dance of choosing which escalator to ride, we chose separate ones. We couldn’t see the top of the staircases, and there was only one major sign that said the escalators lead to our B gates.
All of a sudden, the few men in front of me started getting shorter. That’s weird, I thought. Are they all bending down…no, instantly I realized my escalator ride was ending much too soon.
I looked over to my traveling companion and she was already ten feet above me. She saw what was happening too, and shouted, “I’ll turn around! I’ll come back down for you!”
Suddenly all of our faking and subtlety and aloof attitudes were proven to be the lie that they were, and I was shouting back, “No! You go! I’ll find my way! It’ll be OK!” Desperately, she yelled in response, “I’ll hold the plane for you!”
At this point everyone around us knew for sure that I was an absolute idiot. Who doesn’t realize the escalator only goes two floors? To which I might reply, how often does this happen? When on earth are two escalators literally side-by-side, and one stops halfway up?
Immediately it was quiet and I was left standing in a much smaller space than the one I was sure my friend was walking onto, and I searched to no avail for a down escalator. I found an elevator and it opened to reveal several handicapped people. I felt like an absolute jerk as I interrupted their ride for my one floor gain.
As I exited the elevator and walked toward my gate, I realized my view of my seatmate hand changed. I couldn’t believe a stranger would embarrass herself by shouting in a public place, all for my comfort. Sure, she probably knew that I could find my way to the gate alone, but she acknowledged that together we’d gone ninety percent of the way there, and she didn’t want to let me walk that last ten percent alone.
After I arrived at the gate with minutes to spare, she found me and said, “You made it! Terrific. I’m going to go get a snack.”
And that was that. Our journey had ended. I sighed with relief that she probably wouldn’t be sitting next to me on the ride to Bethlehem. We would no longer have to overcome Lewis and Clark-esque challenges. I also realized, a little sadly, that no one would be by my side the rest of the way.