Saturday, July 30, 2011

No snow globes!

You heard me, no snow globes! This, according to several emphatic signs beside the security line at New York’s Laguardia airport. Seriously, at this point in the evolution of air travel, no snow globes was apparently the one thing the authorities most wanted us travelers to know.

When you think about it, you can kind of see their point, I guess. Because an evil person could, conceivably, fill a snow globe with acid or something flammable or explosive or what have you. And considering that possibility, the snow-globe ban will no doubt be the career highlight of some TSA employee-idea-box-enthusiast who potentially saved us all from the potentially inevitably-named Snow Globe Bomber.

Still, I say if they’re going to make people give up snow globes at Laguardia, they may as well just outlaw them altogether. Because who buys those snow globes on sale in Times Square, with the tiny Statues of Liberties amid the floating plastic shavings? Tourists do. And what do they do with them? They fly home with them. Do they pack them in checked bags? Are you kidding? A breakable orb full of water? Have you watched them load baggage from a window seat? No, they carry the snow globes on. Hence, the security-line snow-globe problem. Basically the signs said: Let’s not even discuss this, people. If you are entering the security line with a snow globe, turn back.

And yet, notable as the snow-globe ban was, its advent wasn’t the most noteworthy aspect of my trip from New York to Mississippi. The recipient of that honor would be a tie between the Ancient Flight Attendant and the Inspiring Bionic Guy.

I saw the former (the AFA) in the departure lounge at Laguardia: A wobbly old lady dressed, oddly, in a red Delta flight attendant’s dress and black high heels. I wondered: Why she is dressed up like that? Like, is it some kind of joke? Or maybe they’re going to film a humorous Betty White-type video about the World’s Oldest Flight Attendant as some sort of Delta Airlines promo, as a follow up to the in-flight safety video with the hot-babe flight attendant that ended up going viral, to the point that people (me and my friend Avin, anyway) not only watched the in-flight safety video on the plane (a first), but reviewed it repeatedly on our computers at home?

Then I thought, No, maybe the AFA had been a stewardess for, like, 40 years, and she had connections, so when she had to move into an assisted living place and, I don’t know, just… somehow, someone said, Yeah, let her fly in the getup one last time or something. Because it was her dying wish.

I’d have to say she was doing pretty good in those heels for being – and I’m not exaggerating – at least 80 years old, while pulling two roll-ons. What was a little distressing was the way she stared out the gate area window at the jet, almost as if it (or she) was some kind of ghost, like this was a movie about a flight attendant who got to go back and fly one more time, and that particular jet was where the most important event of her life took place, or something. You might also say she stared at the jet the way a very old Labrador retriever with cataracts stares at a bird flying by, while sitting on the porch.

She was a bit stooped and it looked like she may in fact have suffered a small stroke at some point. Her neck was stiff and twisted a little, and one eye was open more than the other. Admittedly, I could not take my eyes off of her. I heard the ticket agent whisper to one of the other flight attendants, “How old is she?” but unfortunately I couldn’t hear the answer.

Then we got on the plane and not only did she turn out to be an actual flight attendant, she was ours! Perhaps Delta couldn’t force her to retire for legal reasons, or called her back up at her former pay grade, and was therefore saving money. There were lots of possibilities. But as I watched her stiffly mime the safety procedures, I thought: The gods smiled on you, lady. Because you no doubt originally got your job (which was called being a stewardess back then) because you were young and pretty, and you stuck with it, and then, lo and behold, just about the time you stopped being young and pretty the world stopped requiring you to be young and pretty. Stewardesses were now flight attendants, and they could be old and homely and even guys. This due to a lawsuit, I think. Now look at you – you’re ancient, and you’re still here! The stories you could tell. About changing air travel, for example.

I did observe her drop a cup full of ice and it took a long time for her to clean it up, and I saw one passenger roll his eyes when she had to ask him to repeat something, twice, which actually made him seem like an asshole, because, you know what -- everyone gets old, unless they die young, and is that what have in mind to do, mister?

The woman seated next to me, who kept asking me to get things out of her carryon bag in the overhead, noted that the AFA was very stern, like a 3rd grade teacher. For example, when a woman got up to use the restroom just before take-off, the ASA (who, by this point, I’d been able to identify from her badge as “Shirley”) snapped, “Ma’am!” and jabbed her finger in the direction of the woman’s seat. The woman sat back down.

Even though she was elderly and a bit stern, was it not kind of amazing that she was still there? Even if she had to hold on to the beverage cart like it was a walker when we hit some minor turbulence? I studied her every time she came by. I noticed that her eyes unexpectedly glimmered now and then, and that, overall, she was quite efficient and nice. Her hair was faded blonde – she didn’t color it, though I’m guessing she’d had a lift here and there, and her makeup was surprisingly current. But what was most important was that she was pushing a beverage cart in high heels at 30,000 feet, at 80, through whatever meteorological eventualities might present themselves, and meanwhile asking us if we wanted some hot coffee. Although, she wasn't exactly obsequious. When someone asked for a cup of water she said, with some authority, “I can’t get you anything else right now because I want to get this coffee out while it’s hot.” After which she concentrated as she poured the coffee; I noticed her tongue moved forward and rested against the back of her top teeth as she did this. True, you should not ask her for anything else right now, but she was doing OK.

I thought to myself, Good for you, Shirley. One day you’ll drop dead midflight, or at the very least, ride in the Delta van straight from the tarmac to the nursing home. I’d love to hear what you have to say about the history of air travel. Because think about it, if Shirley was 80 and had started young, she could have been flying since circa 1950 (on prop planes! Back when people smoked on planes, and could carry on snow globes and perhaps pocket knives). And from the look on her face when someone asked for Splenda instead of sugar, I'd say there’s a good chance that if anyone in management suggested it was time for her to retire, her answer would be, “Like hell it is.”

Eventually, as we approached Memphis, Shirley disappeared into the back of the plane, strapped herself in for another landing, and we never saw her again.

So it was an interesting day of air travel, if you’re into the macabre. And if all you wanted was something Readers Digest-y and inspirational, it turned out we had something for you, too. As we waited at the gate in the Memphis airport, I saw a very handsome young guy wearing a Morehouse t-shirt, waiting to board a flight to Jackson, who was obviously an athlete, and who, I only noticed after watching him for a few minutes, had one mechanical leg. It was when he got up to walk around. Whoa. Missing leg.

Yet, what was most noteworthy was that it was quite beautiful to observe him just walking around, because it was like he didn’t even know one of his legs was missing. It was no doubt more beautiful to observe than it would have been if he had just been a very handsome young athlete, proving the value of humanity while walking on two good legs. Because never once did he falter. The way he moved was a product of strength and grace inside. You could take away one of his legs and it didn’t mean that much, really, didn’t change what really mattered. He had perfect balance.

I remembered how horrified I was when they discovered a tumor on my right leg, and I thought, What if I lose my leg and I can’t run anymore? Could I go on? Everything turned out OK, but the idea of losing a leg was absolutely terrifying. Now here was this happy, handsome guy, in short pants and Nikes, not at all self-conscious about his mechanical leg, and not at all hindered by it, either. I saw him grab the handle of a woman’s roll-on when it tipped over, and later, carrying his separate “sports leg” – with a spring on the bottom, rather than a shoe mount – onto the plane, joking about the fact that the plane was small and at six-two he was going to suffer from the lack of leg room.

“Lack of leg room,” I thought. And I was kind of in awe of him, too.


  1. ALAN, this is a beautiful piece of work.
    I needed that.