The Flight from Hell

Article by Jack Olson

This column has gone on, in some form, for well over a decade. It has usually involved hikes, or something driven to and then a walk. We’ve never involved a plane flight as the featured mode of transportation. That streak has ended.

I was down in Florida visiting my sister and the whole family for the holidays. Fun, food, and exploration as always, from the beginning. That streak was about to end. My sister and brother-in-law drove me to the airport in Ft. Walton Beach. A nice woman at the American Airlines desk recognized that I didn’t know what I was doing concerning the boarding pass or much of anything else. She also advised me that there was a 45 minute delay on the flight, but that I should still make it to Dallas in time for my connecting flight. Just a minute, was that the soundtrack from “Jaws” playing in the background?

I should admit now that I am 74, and will turn 75 in April. But when I got to the man checking IDs in security he told me I didn’t have to take my shoes off. On this trip I seemed to run into kind people who appeared perhaps to be noticing my bumblingness. Another TSA man sidled up to me as I was beginning to dump the possibly suspicious items in the plastic tub for scanning. He whispered, “You are over 74, aren’t you?” I fumbled with the truth but he cut me off with, “You ARE over 74, aren’t you?” I finally got his drift and confidently avowed the fact that I was indeed over 74. But being a professional, he inquired if I was wearing a belt. I couldn’t much hide that so I came clean. He replied, “I think you might do something about the belt.” His integrity remained intact.

The nice lady who had checked my bags in was now working in the boarding area. She announced that there had been a further delay in the flight. It only took some simple math to realize that I was not going to make my flight from Dallas to Denver. The nice lady confirmed my math. So, instead of the 7:05 flight she rebooked me for a 10:30 flight from Dallas. Goody, more time in Dallas. But the plane from Ft. Walton did make it out and landed in Dallas in a driving rainstorm.

The impending trouble was that it happened I was on a small plane, the overheads weren’t far overhead, and the “Jaws” soundtrack was getting very close to the young lady’s legs. I stood upon landing, cracking the top of my head and, as we all know, the scalp is a rich source of blood. I checked and my hand had acquired a red hue. When I entered the terminal I wobbled to a restroom and dabbed a paper towel on my head. Not too much blood. I’m OK.

I walked into a newsstand to buy a newspaper to pass the time, and a Milky Way for comfort food. The stand was operated by three people who I took to be Pakistanis. I went to pay for my items and a tall woman in a head scarf looked at me and gasped, “Did you fall down?” The smaller Pakistani woman came over, and after the first woman told me to bend my head down, she gasped, too. The Pakistani man came over but didn’t gasp.

The tall woman exclaimed “ointment” and “bandage”. They seemed to be concerned, worried sick really. The woman crossed over to their displays and picked out a $1.99 medical kit. She instructed the man, “alcohol”, and he somehow produced some. She daubed it on my head and asked if it hurt. I grimaced “no”. She ordered the man “tissue” to wipe the alcohol running down my face. Then she applied the ointment and bandage to the top of my head. We both beamed at the results. I got out a five dollar bill to pay for the medical kit and told her to keep the rest for nursing services. She would have none of that.

I sat down in the waiting room to occupy my mind before the 10:00pm boarding call. I completed all the crossword puzzles and the Sudoku, just as 10:00 rolled around. Then came the dreaded announcement. The flight has been delayed until midnight. Oh great, the Milky Way is gone, puzzles finished, and the concession stand closed. Time to walk, and walk.

The plane did leave at midnight and streaked its turbulent way to Denver. Finally, I’m almost home. But why do I hear the climactic chords of “Jaws?” My bags were among the first off the carousel, soaking wet from sitting in one of those carts in the rainstorm. I limped over to Super Shuttle at 1:00am to catch my prepaid whisk into the city. But wait (wait). There are no people behind the counter. Maybe they’re taking a bathroom break. No.

A man at a nearby information counter asked my problem and I babbled to him in one syllable words. He said the Super Shuttle people had left for the night and wouldn’t be back until about 6:00. He questioned where I wanted to go and I croaked, “Home.” The nice man said he would call Super Shuttle and see if they would get me a cab ride. I was on hold for a long time but eventually talked to an unrecorded person and begged or demanded, I forget which, to get a cab ride on them. The man put me on hold but came back and triumphantly announced that they would put me on Yellow Cab for a free ride. The cab was the car for which the word “Rattletrap” was coined. I wondered to myself if I had gone through this only to die when a cab disintegrated on the Interstate.

There was one last challenge after reaching my apartment building. My suitcase was very heavy and I didn’t think I could carry it up the stairs to the third floor. I’d probably have to take the smaller bag and cane up, bring down a shopping bag, take half of what was in the suitcase and then come back for the suitcase. Funny how something like that seems like such a big deal in the middle of the night. But I couldn’t hear “Jaws” anymore. A couple was talking outside at two in the morning, for crying out loud. The young man asked if I could use some help. My guardian angel. Ten minutes later, bags unopened, I was snuggled in bed.

Two things I learned from this experience: There are kind people you meet all over the world, if you are nice to them and are, perhaps, a little pitiful. I imagined I had the word “Help!” tattooed on my forehead. And…..

I wonder how long it takes to walk to Florida?