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I smiled until I reached the Airtran gate at Midway Airport.

It was packed. People were everywhere and the whole place was humid and alive. I looked at the placard to see that some flight to Atlanta (flight 30) was delayed. Apparently it was supposed to have left at 8. My flight to Atlanta, 27, was supposed to leave at 9. What the hell had happened? There was a obviously a problem. I asked an older gentleman if he was waiting in line and he said yes. So I moved in behind him and began my wait. After 20 minutes it started to get nasty. The masses were getting upset and the line I was in didn’t move… at all. We stood. At the ticket counter some guy stood arguing with an agent for almost an hour. I don’t really know what happened to his flight but apparently it was completely fucked up - I was pissed that he was taking up so much time.

I called Stefanie and started the process of getting on another plane if I needed. She called my travel agent then came back to tell me that my flight had been cancelled.

Shit.

They called for boarding on flight 30 to Atlanta and the mass of people sitting in the area rushed the doors. The Stewards were holding people back, they were calling out names of people who would be going on standby. It was very ugly. There were over bookings galore, the weather was causing all kinds of havoc, people weren’t getting on this flight and they weren’t quiet about sharing their frustration. It was a nightmare.

I adjusted my stuff on my shoulders and steeled myself for the worst. I needed to come up with a plan B. I tried to think of one but failed.

I waited impatiently.

I tapped my foot

I called Stefanie again, just to talk

I tried to think about the whole hot damn party, I thought about the flight to Chicago and the asshole that kept glaring at me and how that had changed my mood twice.

Ok, regardless of what was happening so far, the party was still worth it.

It took another ten minutes before I finally got up to the front of the line and my shoulders were burning knots. I refused to stop holding my computer or set down my backpack, my legs ached, I was sweating from all the humidity and I was thinking about Hot Damn and in a better mood for it.

The lady at the counter was a short red-head in her late 40s. She had the tired, worn look that only a woman dealing with five hundred angry passengers (or childbirth) would understand. I don't remember what her name was so let's call her Doris.

Doris looked at me, faked a smile, and asked how she could help.

Sometimes ignorance can be the best ploy to see just how bad it was and how much people are willing to spill.

I flipped out my identification and told her I was booked on flight 27 and was quite confused.

She made a good attempt to act suitably bewildered (it seemed that I wasn’t the only person who felt ignorance was a good excuse). She blinked down at her screen as if she didn’t know it was cancelled - I was impressed. My travel agent had told me it was cancelled at least 45 minutes before - and I was quite certain that I was not the only person who had come to her asking about that flight. She knew, of course she knew. Who did she think she as kidding?

She blinked again and leaned over to ask the other girl about the status of flight 27 then turned back to me.

“It looks like that flight was canceled” Doris told me after pantomiming a series of typed commands at her terminal. ”We’ll have to put you into a hotel for the night and send you out tomorrow.”

“I can’t do that,” I explained calmly. “I have a class at 9 am in Atlanta that I can’t miss.”

Doris didn’t pause at all, just nodded and said her speech: “Let me check if I can get anyone to volunteer to let you fly in their place.” It had the practiced feel of a bad actor reading Hamlet for the 1000th time. Doris walked her well-worn track to the door and added another name to the list of names for the flight.

When she came back she said: “take a seat we’ll see what happens”.

I feebly held out my ID for her to check and she dismissed quickly it saying “Unless I can give you a boarding pass I don’t need it.”

I nodded, walked out of the line and to the split pleather seats beside the counter. I called a few people and stared at the dark window and at the reflection of all the people in line.

I relaxed. I wasn’t going to be on this flight, I knew it and began to accept it.

I called Stefanie again and asked her to check the departure times in the morning.

She said the agent told her that the earliest flight was at 6 am and they could get me on it. I nodded and did a quick calculation of time. If we left at 6 and arrived at 8:30 (time difference) I could make class and only be late by an hour or so. I gave up fighting and looked back at Doris.

An older gentleman in a navy suit and dark tie had appeared at the front of the line. He was old and angry about it - and apparently upset that someone of HIS status would have to wait in line like everyone else. He slapped his ticket to the counter and glowered at Doris.

“I paid enough money for this goddamn ticket and I better get on THIS FUCKING FLIGHT RIGHT NOW.”

Everyone went silent at his hostility and I gaped at him. What an ass!

I gave it a moment of thought then looked back over at Doris, a strip of sweaty red hair had fallen in front of one eye and she gingery picked up the man’s ticket and handed it to him.

Sir.” She smiled as well as she could at this point. “You’ll need to hold on to your ticket, I can’t do anything right now, but let me check if I can get anyone to volunteer to let you fly in their place.” She fled to the gate and talked to the steward again. She pointed back at the ass, I mean, older gentleman, then walked back to the agent counter and fumbled to deal with the next lady.

I didn’t feel like adding to this frustration so I walked forward to her and touched her on the shoulder.

“Ma’am.” I said, leaning forward.

She turned toward me with wide eyes - hadn’t she already dealt with me?! I was supposed to be SITTING and WAITING!!

“Look,” I said, “I’m on the phone with my travel agent and he said that another flight leaves at 6 am. If I can get on that one I should be fine to wait overnight. If someone volunteers to get off the plane please go ahead and let someone else have it. I’m fine.”

Doris stared at me with an open mouth - as if I had been the old man for a moment. Her face lit and she smiled.

“That was the nicest thing that anyone has said to me all day.” She smiled. “Thank you.”

I smiled. I didn’t have anything more to say than that.  I sat down and waited for the entire hubbub to calm so I could make arrangements.

I watched her for another minute as she talked to the woman, then shuffled some papers and typed on her terminal. She hustled over to the gate, grabbed a sheet of paper and then rushed back to me.

“You’re on this flight.” She said handing me the paper in her hand. “This is your boarding pass. I’ll need you ID quickly if you want to make it.”

I stared down dumbly at the paper. It looked like a blank cash register receipt with the handwritten words “seat 3d” on it. It curled in my hands while I fumbled for my ID.

Doris pushed me toward the gate. “You can go behind the counter if you want.” She said. She grinned. “Have a good flight, Mr. Young. You’re flying first class.”

I was too confused by the sudden change in fortune but thanked her and fumbled my way to the gate. The woman standing behind the counter smiled at me and said, “Do well in class.” and I wondered if somehow she'd been involved. I don’t remember what she looked like at all - but I do remember that old man behind her fumed. I smiled at them both - and that one smile meant two totally different things..

I boarded the plane and took my seat in first class, sitting beside a young black woman, named Janice, who laughed at my complete lack of coherency and eventually made the trip to Atlanta utterly enjoyable.

The steward brought me a cup of coffee and I closed my eyes.

The old man got on the plane ten minutes after I boarded - he was seated a few seats ahead of me - but he still had to wait- I loved that. I looked up from my seat and beamed at him as he entered the plane.

As we took off from Chicago, I stared out the window and watched the jumbled lights slide across the ground and take form. In the darkness the area around Midway was an immense grid - as if I were looking too close at a CRT and could only see pixels and not a picture. I grinned as we gained altitude and searched every word in my mind for a single word that would describe what I saw. Before I could think of the it, we rose into the clouds and the lite brite landscape vanished into the dark.


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