Saturday, June 27, 2020

Back In The Saddle

Well, here I am again. On a flight. It’s comes right back to me like riding a bike.  Oh, yeah, this was my routine.  Only, it’s not. No paper boarding pass (I’m old school); no magazine stands open, formerly my ritual to go to before boarding; new signage for distancing, and we’re all dolled up in masks.

The gate agent is cheery. No shouting into the microphone: “We. Will. Be. Boarding…” No, none of that. It’s: “Good morning, so sorry for the slight delay, our plane got in a little late and we need time to thoroughly sanitize the plane before we board. We will be boarding a little differently today. From back to front, so please listen for your …”

No line mash-up with other passengers breathing down my neck and butting up against the rear of my carry-on. There is, of course, still that guy who makes a beeline to be at the front of the little red First-Class mat.  You know that person. Eager. Entitled. “Me, first!”

On board, the flight attendant is not harried, overworked, and burned out from those annoying and sometimes difficult passengers who make their job difficult. 

Nope. She’s smiling with her eyes above her mask, greeting each passenger with a little packet of Purell Sanitizing Wipes. “Welcome aboard!”

Delta is flying at a maximum of only 60 percent capacity – at least through the end of September. Passengers are spaced, and it makes me wonder if being jammed together like cattle made for angsty travelers. 

Terminal 2 at LAX was like a trip back to the seventies.  People coming and going, but no crowds. No rush. No jamming and ramming to get to a gate. Except for the sloppy dress, it could have been forty years ago.

TSA brought me back to today and the reality of post 9-11 travel, but the passenger load is light, so security is smooth. CLEAR now checks your identity through your eyes on the screen. A little green light signals that you’re good to go. And, I got a toy – free wipes! “Take two!”

I’ve lost my travel game, though, as I’d fumbled to get my small suitcase (over-packed and heavy) on the belt, whip off the scarf and throw my small handbag into the tote. I used to pack light and be able to do that in seven seconds. Today, I was all over the place. What to do with the scarf?  “Put it on,” the TSA agent said, handing it back to me as I wrenched my crossbody bag over my shoulder to make it in time with the tote before it moved through the belt. Maybe it’s the keeping the mask in place? Still, how did I used to do it so seamlessly?

I’d told the man behind me to go ahead as I wrestled with it all. “Oh, no problem. Take your time,” he’d said, muffled behind his mask, “I’ve got three hours until my flight.”

“Thank you,” I’d replied, hoping that he could see the gratitude in my eyes.

Before take-off, the safety information is kinder, gentler, too. The usual safety announcements are now mixed with we care about your health…sanitizing each surface…proud to serve you in these challenging times.

No kitschy cartoon. Passenger safety is serious business these days.

As I fasten my seat belt, I think back to previous flights. The guy last summer who resisted putting his bag under the seat for take-off, swearing the whole way down the aisle as he was escorted off.

The man behind us on our way to New York in December who hacked and coughed for five hours into my seat back. I’d known we were doomed to catch his damn cold.

Or, the flight last September to Salt Lake when I took my seat only to discover the floor beneath it was a covered in amber dog hair from the golden retriever who’d exited the previous flight with its owner. 

It’s not all sweetness and light today.  There’s no booze. No hot coffee. No tea or soda. Just a bottle of water and a bagged snack is the big treat.

Who cares? I can go without all that. We’ve had to go without a lot lately. Very few “fixes” through this Pandemic and it’s not over. Not by a long shot.

And, while there has been so much sadness, loss, unrest, illness, and high anxiety in our world lately, I realize that we’d been teetering before. Right there at the edge of taking everything for granted. Our planet, our people, our freedom. 

There will always be “that person.” The person who feels that they need not comply or play the game for the greater good. But, today, today was about feeling a little bit of normal – or, rather “the new normal.”

And, if that means smiling eyes, I’m good. I’ve seen people who want to work. To be back at it, despite all the changes. It’s a sense of purpose. 

We all need a purpose.

So, thank you to every worker at the airlines, the restaurants, and the stores, careful, masked and gloved. 

You’ve joined forces with the grocery workers, the healthcare workers, the mailpersons, those essentials that have been on the front lines.  Thank you for making such an effort to help bring us back.