One Step Closer

I thought I’d take a crack at the Weekly Writing Challenge this week.  Here is my story:

On this particular day I was flying back from a trip to Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas.  The nearest sizeable airport is Kansas City, which despite its clever name, is really located in Missouri.  Oh sure, there is in fact a Kansas City in Kansas, but when you sing about how you’re “going to Kansas City… Kansas City here I come,” you’re talking about the one in Missouri.

Earlier in the year, I’d done quite a bit of flying on business and had racked up a fair amount of frequent flyer miles and some other perks.  One of the perks was a handful of 500-mile certificates.  Having discovered that I could use the certificates to upgrade from Cattle-Car-Coach to Actual-Customer-Service-Business-Class, I decided to upgrade my flight from Kansas City to Denver, and then the connecting flight from Denver to Palm Springs.

I’m not really a huge fan of flying as transportation.  I don’t think anybody is.  One jackhole decides to try putting a bomb in his shoe and now the rest of humanity is doomed for all eternity to walk through security in our stocking feet.  Given the option, I’d much rather take the train.  But business is business and when you’ve got to travel quickly, you fly.  When I can make it a little more comfortable, and get a genuine smile from a Flight Attendant instead of the airline’s equivalent of shoving a tray of food under my cell door, I upgrade.

It was wintertime, and Denver was a mess.  My outgoing flight from Denver was delayed about an hour.  The plane was a Boeing 737 which is not huge and so it doesn’t have Business Class.  It does, however, have a First Class cabin so my upgrade got me all the way up to where royalty and movie stars get to ride.  Nice.  As one of the privileges of flying First Class, you get to use the “red carpet” to board the airplane, and don’t have to go up the regular cattle chute.  You also don’t have to wait for your zone to be called.  You can just get on whenever you want.

Most people prefer to board early.  It doesn’t matter all that much to me either way because we’re not going anywhere until we’re all on board, but getting on sooner allows you to stow your gear and sit in a nice comfy seat.  Plus, they usually serve a drink while you are waiting, which is not only nice but it sets you apart from the lowing slabs of meat who’re being herded into their stalls behind you.

Some people are in a dreadfully urgent hurry to get onto the plane first.  I don’t really understand this compulsion.  Maybe they like to sit and wait longer than anyone else.  These are the same people who will jump lanes in front of you in traffic so they can be the first to arrive at the next red light one block away.

So when the announcement came that we’d be boarding in a few minutes, several of the First Class passengers began to move up to the red carpet.  I stood and gathered my things too, but I didn’t feel a great sense of urgency.  We weren’t boarding just yet.  I moved into the group of people who were waiting in front of the red carpet.  We were in that sort of undefined mass of people that eventually coalesces into an organized queue.  I didn’t feel a need to get personal with anyone just yet, so I stood back a few paces and waited.  We could all see that the agent at the gate wasn’t quite ready.  She was dealing with a couple of people up at the front of the red carpet and hadn’t actually begun the process of checking boarding passes and letting people through.  There did seem to be a general air of expectancy among the passengers.  We’d all been waiting for an extra hour and we were anxious to get going.  Seeing that the line wasn’t yet moving, though, I felt no need to collapse anyone’s bubble of personal space and move right up to where I could smell his after shave (or lack thereof).

As I’m standing there waiting for the small logjam on the red carpet to break loose, a man taps me on the shoulder and says, “Are you going to move forward?”  I do a slow double take.  I look at him, look at the line which clearly isn’t moving yet, and look back at him.  I smile.  It was supposed to be a friendly and conspiratorial smile, but it was probably half sneer out of derision for his stupid question and half grimace because I was tired of waiting.

“Eventually,” I say.

“But not right now,” he blusters and proceeds to shove his way past me in order to stand one step closer to the spot from which no one was yet progressing.

Less than a minute later another fellow politely asks me, “Are you in line?”  That is a much better question so I simply say, “Yes.”  I say so loud enough so that Rudely Shoves Forward can hear me.  The polite fellow says, “Oh.  I couldn’t tell where the line was.”  He is making a gentlemanly reference to the fact that I hadn’t moved to within impregnation distance of the person in front of me and thus boldly established my place within the pack.  I nod towards Rudely Shoves Forward.

“Apparently it forms behind this gentleman here.”  He hears me, because I have passively-aggressively made sure he could, and shoots me a look.  I pay him back with a smirk.  I am not intimidated, but I am still nonchalant about crowding forward in order to wait one step closer.  Had I been in a darker and bolder mood, which I sometimes am, I would have fought for my place in line and refused to allow anyone to punk me.  I’m not in that sort of mood today.  I’m on my way home, this is my last leg, and I’m patiently waiting to enjoy my luxurious seat and friendly service.

The line begins to move.  Rudely Shoves Forward now feels the need to establish that he isn’t a total dick, so he steps back and gestures that I should precede him.  I protest with mocking politeness, but he insists.  He now wants to win this contest too.  I briefly consider accepting this challenge, and doing a version of the old Alphonse and Gaston routine:  “After you,”  “Oh no, after you,” “Oh no, please I insist, after you,” but there are other people waiting and I have no desire to hold up a few innocent bystanders just to prove that I can out-dick the dick.  I proceed to board the airplane.  As I walk down the ramp, I wonder what motivates somebody to be such a colossal ass.

I find my big plush armchair and stash my carry-on in the roomy compartment provided for upper crust travelers such as myself.  I adjust my position and relax with a smug sigh.  In the aisle seat across from me, Rudely Shoves Forward assumes his position.  The herd of weary mortals now begins the slow march past us, wearing their Death March faces and gazing longingly at we privileged few sitting upon our thrones.

A fellow with an amazingly large bag slung over his shoulder makes his way along the aisle.  The line comes to one of its frequent halts.  Behind him, a woman with whom he is obviously traveling says something that clearly requires a response.  He spins around quickly.  I watch an old fashioned slapstick comedy as the heavy bag whips around and smacks dead full into the face of Rudely Shoves Forward.  To this day I still see in my mind’s eye a slow motion shot of his distorted features, like a close-up of the knockout blow at a boxing match.

It was a very pleasant flight all the way home.

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