Monday, December 8, 2008, a small but busy airport somewhere in the rust belt of the U.S. Outside heavy wet snow is falling steadily from a cold gray sky.
Having extracted myself from a cramped coach window seat after the two-hour ride from Atlanta, I was anxious to get to the baggage claim and was feeling good stretching my legs as I left the concourse. Approaching the “once you pass this point you must reenter through security” line, I heard the following announcement over the airport’s public address system (Note, names are changed to protect the guilty…and, also, because my old man’s memory can’t remember the real names):
“John Williamson, John Williamson, please return to security with your companion’s passport and boarding pass so that she may pass through security. John Williamson…(repeat).”
“Wow.” I thought. “What an error. To get through security with his companion’s documents and leave someone stranded. Good thing there is a paging system.”
As I passed beyond the security line, I noted an attractive early-thirties woman, tall, slender, blonde, dressed stylishly in black slacks and a black-and-white sweater, arms crossed, looking up the concourse passenger exit expectantly, tapping her foot. “Hmmm,” thought I, “this must be Mr. Williamson’s ‘Companion’.” I moved past her, never making eye contact, and proceeded to the near-by baggage claim. About then, I heard the earlier announcement for Mr. Williamson repeated.
At baggage claim, the flat-screen monitor over carousel ‘A’ announced the arrival of the luggage from the arriving Atlanta flight. The carousel was not moving and with about 120 other passengers, I waited. During a wait of 5 or 10 minutes, the announcement for Mr. Williamson to please return to security was repeated again.
About the time I began to get impatient for my luggage, a different announcement, this time aimed at passengers of my arriving flight from Atlanta, announced that bags were delayed and that the arriving passengers from Cincinnati could get THEIR bags on carousel ‘A’ and the bags from Atlanta would come soon. This announcement was followed almost immediately by a repeat of the plea for Mr. Williamson. I don’t know if it was my imagination, or what, but it seemed that the plea for Mr. Williamson’s return to security was getting more strident and forceful each time I heard it.
Since I had nothing else to do, I strolled back toward the security checkpoint. Ms. Companion was still there, arms still crossed, foot still tapping, now more slowly and with more deliberate force. The look on her face had changed from expectant to concerned. As I stood unobtrusively observing, her look morphed from concern to anger. I slowly shook my head, wondering just how dense Mr. Williamson could be as I headed for the Starbucks franchise for a bracing beverage. Meh, who knows? Perhaps he was detained in the men’s room.
While I was in Starbucks, the airport PA system informed me that baggage carousel ‘A’ was malfunctioning and the Cincinnati luggage could now be claimed on ‘C.’ No mention was made of the Atlanta luggage. The paged plea for Mr. Williamson’s return was repeated, twice, while I waited for the baristas to do their job. After I got my coffee, I headed back to the baggage claim area where I observed 120 other arriving Atlanta passengers doing what airline passengers do: Wait. Since I had nothing else to do…well you get the picture. I went back to check on Ms. Companion. Still there. Then, finally, after what seemed like forever waiting, an announcement for the Atlanta bags up on carousel ‘C.’
Poor Ms. Companion. I last saw her on my way to the rental car kiosk, after I finally got my bag, the last one in on the carousel. She was still standing near the (only) passenger exit from the concourse. By now the look of expectancy, concern, and anger had melted to a look of distraught shame and despair. She was openly sobbing with huge tears streaking makeup down her face. Her arms were no longer crossed but hung to her sides, hands clenched into fists. About 50 minutes and at least a dozen repetitions of the announcement had passed since my first sighting. Can you even begin to imagine how she felt? I was impatient and I was only waiting for a piece of luggage. It reminds me of an anonymous quote that I once heard, that, to the world, you may only be one person but to one person you may be the world. Was Mr. Williamson, at that moment, her world crashing around her? Can you imagine Mr. Williamson, cold as the winter day, when approached by the airline’s gate agent as the flight for Bermuda boarded, saying, “I’m not going back, she can take care of herself.” The audacity is breathtaking; the agony heartrending. I don’t think this method of dumping another was even mentioned in Paul Simon’s 50 Ways. Did Mr. Williamson plan this? Or did he find himself separated and spontaneously decide to make the split permanent?
This story has no real ending. In fact, most of it is my impressions and my interpretation of what was happening at a small airport on a winter afternoon as snow fell outside. Perhaps the dreary weather made things seem more grim. Of this I am sure: The tears on her face looked very real, and hot enough to melt the falling snow.
Originally published at http://ez-dunne.blogspot.com.