Sunday, September 14, 2008

Red Eye: The Kindness of Strangers

My mother had called me the morning of Friday the 5th to say she thought my father was probably in his last week or so and that I should come within the next few days. I went to work, applied for family leave, and made plane reservations that would put me out there Monday night.

Sunday around noon my cell phone beeped to tell me the battery was low. When I dug it out, I saw that my mother had called at 8AM that morning. Crap. I had meant to put the phone by my bed. I called her back. My father had started having extreme difficulty breathing in the middle of the night and had basically not been conscious since the previous evening. The hospice nurse gave him 6-12 hours at that point. My mother decided not to call right away because in that time frame, there was no way I could get out there in time. 12 hours later, though, he still had the same labored, steady breath.

I scrambled to find a flight. If I had actually answered the damned phone when it rang, I would have been able to get a flight that would get me there that evening. But at that point I was looking at red eye flights that would put me there first thing in the morning. The problem is that the airport there shuts down for the night. Not for the same reasons the Burbank Airport does, where it has to cut out the noise because of the residential neighborhoods surrounding it. The Podunk, Florida airport is in the middle of podunk-nowhere even by podunk-nowhere standards. The only thing the planes disturb are the mosquitoes.

I booked the flight that would get me there first, at 8:36AM. It left LAX at 11-something. I called my dear friend Steve, who was kind enough to drive me, then threw a bunch of stuff in a suitcase, then killed my back working on assembling my squares blanket while I waited.

I was in such a daze at the sirport that, although I thought it was odd that the woman at the counter stuck what I took to be a baggage claim sticker on the back of my boarding pass, I didn't really think about it. Yeah, that was no baggage claim sticker. I don't know if it was just random selection or because I booked a last-minute one-way ticket or because I had previously used the term "mail bomb" in my blog, but I had been flagged for a search at the security checkpoint.

Fortunately, I was dazed and tired enough not to care all that much.

At least I can assume that I wasn't the victim of standard racial profiling, since I'm a rather generic-looking Northern European female. Also, I've never heard of Fundamentalist Agnostic militants.

I went to the gate to sit and wait. A man was sitting next to me, asking the occasional polite question. I wasn't trying to be rude, but I was just terribly out of it. Finally, I ask where he was going. To Fort Lauderdale, after a business trip. I told him where I was going. He asked if I was visiting someone. At that point, I broke down and told him my father was dying, and I was trying to get there to see him before it was too late. The man next to me looked sadly away, then asked me if it was cancer. "Lung." He said a few kind but not cloying things and it was time to board.

When the woman scanned my ticket, it beeped "search baggage" again. "Um, they already did that at the checkpoint." She said it was normal and shooed me on my way.

The plane was a Boeing 767. It had those personal video things on the backs of the seats. We got on while they were still booting.

I had a window seat, and it turned out that no one was in the aisle seat next to me, so I managed to doze most of the way to Atlanta.

To be continued...

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