life raft

Tonight, at the airport, we had to wait outside for about twenty minutes for a van to take us to the long-term parking deck where we’d left the hybrid (while we were in San Francisco). This, in itself, wouldn’t have been too big of a deal, if not for the fact that it was well below zero outside… By the time Linette, Clementine and I got outside, there were already about fifteen people waiting for the van. As it was toe-snappingly cold, I suggested to Linette that she take Clementine back inside until the van got there, but she wanted to stay, fearing that we’d lose our place in line if she left. As there wasn’t really a line though, I don’t know that it would have mattered much. Instead of a line, there was just a heaving mass of desperate, freezing people jockeying for position. As more and more people came out, we grew more and more concerned that we might not make it on one of the first vans unless we were right there on the curb, ready to claw our way on… So, we stood there, huddled together on the curb, trying to keep Clementine warm as best we could. (As we didn’t have our winter coats or our gloves, it was pretty fucking bad.)

So we stood there, with our bare hands pressed over Clementine’s tiny, red ears, as new people kept joining our swelling ranks. And, because there wasn’t a formal line, some of the newer people were staking out locations either in front of us, or further down the curb in one direction of another. (As we didn’t know where the van would stop, one guess was a good as another.) After about fifteen minutes, I’d say that there were about fifty very cold people waiting outside, in the howling wind, muttering expletives. I wanted to pipe up and say something, like “let’s form a line,” or “hey, we’ve got a six-month old,” but I thought that I’d just wait and see how many vans came. As each one sat about twelve people, I thought that we’d have a fairly good chance of getting on the second, if people did the right thing and respected the order we’d been waiting in.

Finally, at about the twenty-minute mark (or what seemed like the twenty-minute mark), a man who was there ahead of us, said, “We’ve got to make sure this lady and her baby get on the first van.” Not surprisingly, no one else seconded him. There was just silence. He, however, said it again. He said, “I’ve been here from the beginning and she can have my seat, but she needs to get on that first van with her baby.” I smiled at the guy and thanked him for his generosity, but went on to say that I was sure multiple vans would be coming for us… As it happened, however, there weren’t multiple vans. There was just one, and it opened its doors a little ways down from us, in front of a bunch of people who had just gotten there.

The scene played out like that famous one during the fall of Saigon, when hundreds of people, standing on the roof of the American embassy, fought for a position on the last American helicopter to leave Vietnam before the return of the communists. It was ugly. The man who spoke up earlier, however, was good to his word. He saw Linette and Clementine get in (by pushing them forward and holding others back) while I made my way around back and got our luggage in. By the time I was back around to the side door, the van was packed full. There were close to 20 people inside. People were sitting on each other’s laps. The faces of ugly people were pressed against the frost-covered windows. People left outside were screaming. And I stood there, in the doorway and said, “I’ve got to get on. My wife, my baby, and my suitcases are in here.” No one made eye contact though. They just looked away…

So, when it became clear that no one was going to either get out or make room for me, I decided to make room for myself on the lap of a young Japanese woman (who had, along with three of her friends, pushed their way on in front of several others who had been waiting there longer)… I could go on and on about this last leg of our trip, and what it taught me about our society, but what I really need to do right now is go to bed and put this behind me… I just wanted to get it on the record that there was one good man in a large, and otherwise nasty, group who went to the effort to see my wife and Clementine get on that van. I’d like to think that I’d do the same thing in his shoes… Here’s hoping he’s somewhere warm now.

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9 Comments

  1. Mr. Smallwood
    Posted January 18, 2005 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    I think this entire story is just a setup for you bragging about giving a Japanese woman a lap dance. I hope it was good for you. Did she tip well?

  2. Alicia
    Posted January 18, 2005 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    Had that man been on your plane and it crashed into the Detroit River, he would have passed the life preserver to other people until he drowned. How nice that he didn’t have to die to show a little kindness.

  3. Posted January 18, 2005 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    Cripes, you try to be serious and everyone just replies with a smart-ass remark. Deep down, I’m afraid we’re all just dumb pack animals.

    I think you should write this story up a bit. Add some more dialogue and that sort of thing. I don’t know what everyone else thinks, but I think that it would make a great made-for-tv movie.

  4. chris
    Posted January 18, 2005 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    Dear Mark and Linette,

    Kudos to you and the mystery man. I spent the first six months in therapy discussing the nazi factor…did I have it? When it somes to my children and their safety/comfort I am like a rabid fucking dog. Tell me more about this man. My first impression is that he must be African American. Every time someone has looked out for me and mine like that, more often than not this has been the case. Then, I had an image of some big ole white guy, and I thought..do you think it could have been a Republican? I am constantly doing these measurements…Republican or Democrat. Like, SUV driver with suuport our troops yellow ribbon magnet cutting people off=Republican. Tell me more about him, I want to know who he is.

  5. [steph]
    Posted January 18, 2005 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    The night before this past Thanksgiving, Justin (my boyfriend) and I were taking the bus from Boston to Hartford, Ct. You wouldn’t think this would be the most insane route ever, but it was. We got our tickets online and got there an hour early and we were the last people to get a spot in the part of the line that was roped off. There were probably 25 people in front of us and pretty soon the line behind us wound its way throughout the terminal at least another 75 people long. I couldn’t be sure because the line disappeared behind the ticket counter and I wasn’t about to risk my spot to check. Apparently they oversold our bus by wayyy too many people. They brought in a couple of extra busses, but it became clear that it wasn’t going to be enough.

    We were lucky enough to get a spot on the first bus. It seemed that everyone ahead of us was travelling alone and so every aisle seat was empty and every window seat was full with someone trying not to make eye contact with anyone else. When I got on, I managed to squash my social anxiety enough to announce that I was travelling with my boyfriend and was really sick (I audibly had a bad cold) and since it was obvious that all the seats were going to be filled anyway and no one would get to sit by themselves, could someone please take one of the empty seats so we could sit together? Please? I didn’t want to get anyone sick.

    And of course, my request was met with silence, and shoves from the people trying to get on the bus behind us.

    I still can’t believe that someone who had boarded the bus sans travelling companion, knowing full well that the seat beside them was going to be taken by someone at some point, still refused to move across the aisle, even when not doing so put them at risk for getting sick.

    The truth is, people are assholes. This was confirmed for me when a mother who got on after we did made the same request so that she could sit next to her child, who looked like she was about 4. Again, nobody gave up their seat. I would have but I was already sitting next to someone who wouldn’t have moved so it wouldn’t have made a difference.

    Assholes.
    [steph]

  6. chris
    Posted January 18, 2005 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

    ok, I am going to share a secret with some of the people that I respect most, Mark and his readers. In the car service on the way to the airport on the way to Disney world my 5 yo son says, “I feel sick, I want to throw up.” I moved him to the middle and told him to look directly out the windshield. I should have known better as my son is EXTREMELY literal. eg-one of the rare times I lost it with him and said your going to get the shit smacked out of you he ran to the toilet to dump as there would be no shit and therefore no smacking (readers, I have never hit my son, only occasionally voiced my desire to do so. Those of you with children know of what I speak). So my son proceeds to puke, out comes palm bowl where I catch about a cup and toss out the window. The rest I clean up with a mega pack of wet wipes.

    I get to Song Airlines check-in (I so highly recommend this airline-its like cheap Virgin Air), tell the check in chick about Master explodo and she proceeds to give us an entire row!!!! Three seats for hubby and baby girl and three seats across the aisle for me and the amazing vomito. AND we had the same eats coming back!!! I would never feign such an illness, but we took those seats coming back. So, if you must, when neccessary, tell ’em you are going to puke. Nothing clears space faster.

  7. mark
    Posted January 18, 2005 at 11:35 pm | Permalink

    You’re right, Mr. Smallwood, under different circumstances it might have been fun sitting on the lap of a Japanese schoolgirl. This wasn’t the least bit erotic though. I was trying to keep my weight off her legs, which was difficult considering the position I was in, and the fact that I also had to brace myself in case the side door popped open. As a result, I was kind of contorted and my legs were under a great deal of strain. After about ten minutes of this, I began sweating, and shaking uncontrollably. (My legs were still shaking this morning.) So, I think it’s safe to assume that she wasn’t the least bit aroused either… As for all the rest of you, thanks for the comments.

    On a more serious note, this experience brought back to mind a story that Linette

  8. Posted January 19, 2005 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    Mark, SERIOUSLY, I will pick you up and take you and the family to the airport and home again, so you don’t have to go through that ever again! I don’t have a babyseat, but I’m sure we could figure something out! Thank God for that nice man. At the very least you could drive to the airport, park the car at long-term parking, and then when you arrive, call me (takes me 18 minutes to get to DTW), I’ll pick you up (while Linette and Clementine stay inside the nice warm airport) and take you to your car. That way we don’t have to worry about the baby seat issue! Problem solved. Remember for next time!

    Steph – you sound like me. Yes, people are generally assholes. They always have to be first, even when they weren’t there first, pushing to be ahead of everybody else for whatever. I only get like that when I know I was there first and been waiting 30 minutes and the people who just got to wherever feel the need to be first. The Me First Mindset has taken over.

  9. mark
    Posted January 19, 2005 at 10:27 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the offer Kathleen, but I think it’ll be a while before me and the family take another trip, at least by plane. Our travel budget, I’m sorry to report, is already shot for the year.

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