The flying experience takes many twists and turns. If one can keep his wits and not dwell on the inconvenience and lack of customer service, it can be an entertainment medium through watching the characters. It can be a lengthy version of going down to Home Depot.
In the long lines and mostly ineffective security measures employed in San Diego, i embarked on this business trip today. Even before i got on the flight, i witnessed a montage of characters that would have fit well into a novel of international intrigue.
Amidst the seasoned travelers, trying to act like they were seasoned while still perplexed at the continuing change in rules, regulations and procedures, and the wide-eyed questioning new air travelers, i found my way to the Delta counter.
A tall slender Muslim woman was at the next counter to the automatic ticket processing, which i have come to use rather than the redcaps. She wore a head-to-toe black veil that was attached across her face at the left ear. While checking in, she unattached the veil in order for the counter personnel and, later the TSA security guards to match her identification with her features. “Ahh, i wondered with no malice, “i wonder what Allah thinks about this particular waiver for progress?”
While going through these checks, she would demurely hold the garment across her nose with her graceful slender fingers of her right and touching the lobe of her left ear. When requested, she would open out the veil just enough for the evaluator to see that the face did indeed match the holygraphed photo on the plastic card.
After each check to see if she was really who she really was, she would reattach the veil so it would drape across her face of its own accord. From my vantage points, this semi-permanent visage reminded me of the “Black Bart” characters in the black and white western movies of my youth – Oh Hoppy, where have you gone?
For her, the veil enhanced her allure. The floor length garment was of fine material and it flowed elegantly around her slender frame. The garment would occasionally flitter open, revealing a blue and white sheer taffeta gown underneath. The chic, square-toed, black leather and low-heeled shoes slipped out from underneath the black folds when she walked. They strangely fit the image of this mysterious lady.
Her eyes were deep, dark and fetching. But in one of those vulnerable moments of identification verification, i caught a brief glimpse of her face. The skin was flawless and matched the beautiful eyes. The nose, however, was long and hooked, ill fitting, and it shattered my illusion of her allure.
Later while waiting for our aisle numbers to be including in the boarding process, a well-dressed lady with a sharply pulled back pony tail, short sleeve sweater and slacks passed the Muslim lady while moving toward the boarding pass screening. She looked directly at the lady of the veil. Her look was a combination of loathing and fear. Inexplicably, she made the traditional Catholic sign of the cross gesture and moved quickly away.
I felt sad and powerless.
* * *
In between the introduction to the Lady of the Veil and my final sadness from her repudiation, i crawled with the masses through the black ribbon maze toward the security check. i noticed a couple with two young children, a boy and a girl. From the young father’s haircut and mannerisms, i surmised that it was an enlisted marine family, likely heading for Quantico or Camp Lejune in a change of duty.
While i was looking at other interesting characters navigating the maze, the young marine slipped below the ribbons and took his position as close as he could get to the last turn. He was preparing for his farewell from close, but not intimate range before his wife and children would pass through the electronic screening and fade into the cavernous lobby and down a concourse to their gate.
I noticed his absence only when the line moved through yet another u-turn. The younger child, the daughter of about three was crying because she too had missed her father. The mother was attempting to console her.
As we snarled toward the last point, tears streamed down the distraught child’s face while the boy of six marched stoically at his mother’s side. The father, yet another turn from the point of no return, was attempting his own version of stoicism by feebly waving with his right hand and bearing a weak smile. He stood silently, unable to communicate verbally due to the din in the terminal. His chiseled, dark tan features did not fit well with his futility.
His wave died and he clutched a waist-high post of the maze. While i watched him, i found myself identifying with him. His jaw was clinched. The muscles tightened and rolled up his face from the lower jaw to his temple. I knew from experience more than i cared to remember that he was fighting back tears.
I saw his eyes and knew the tears were welling up in the lower lids like mine had done those many years ago. I knew the young marine’s feelings. I did not ponder the reason for the family schism. Later, i surmised the departure was most likely produced by an imminent deployment of his unit and that wife and children were headed back to their home of record to stay with the folks while he was gone.
The moment was over and the reunion, when it followed, would be just as joyous as the departure was sad.
At least, i hoped so.
I have my feelings about these two juxtaposed moments of observations. I recalled bus terminals and how they were lonelier but more hopeful than today’s airline terminals and how the business of our world overwhelmed moments of reflection. I have drawn my conclusions and i was tempted to pass them along.
But I trust you can do just as good of job of that as i can.
-- Bonita, California
-- August 19, 2003