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Next Year, I'm Walkin' To California

A short story by Sally Berneathy

Air travel has become a lot more hassle over the last few years. We all understand that we have to arrive at the airport early to compensate for extra security measures, and that we can no longer carry on our fingernail clippers and other weapons of mass destruction. However, waiting in long lines and being forced to surrender our eyebrow pencils are minor irritations compared to the ordeal of my recent return flight to Kansas City from a vacation in California.


I arrived two hours early at the Ontario, California, airport for the first leg of my return, the flight to Denver. I had to wait in the check-in line for those two hours, and that was okay. I had a book to read. I boarded my flight on time and settled back, relaxed, pleased things were going so well.


I was incredibly naïve in those days.


A woman with two small children took the seats directly in front of me. Those children seemed to be named Brother and Sister. Apparently Mommy had never heard of a baby name book.


Sister's favorite activity was screaming. Brother's favorite activity was screaming very loud!


Not to be outdone by her offsprings' sibling rivalry, Mommy spoke…loudly and incessantly…in a high-pitched, little-girl voice, reminiscent of fingernails scraping on a blackboard. "Brother, I need you to cooperate with me and think happy thoughts. Sister, you need to leave brother alone. He's grumpy today. Sister, I need you to go to a happy place. Let's think about six weeks from now when we're going to Mexico."


I turned to the man beside me and said, "Write that down. Six weeks from now, under no circumstances should we or anybody we love be allowed to travel to Mexico!"


Mommy didn't hear me. She continued her monologue even while the captain announced we would not be departing on time because half the passengers were stuck in those 2-hour check-in lines. This meant those of us with connecting flights were not going to be in a happy place.


I suggested to the hostess that, since we had to wait, our connecting flights should wait for us. She smiled when she said that would not be possible. She continued to smile when she said the flights we were missing were the last flights of the evening, but everything was going to be just fine. I really wanted to wipe that smile off her face and put her on that flight to Mexico in six weeks. 


An hour later, all the missing passengers had been rounded up and herded on board, and we departed. I put on my headset and turned my IPod on high in a futile effort to drown out the Happy Place family.


The flight into Denver was noisy, but otherwise uneventful, and on our final approach, the hostess announced that passengers on three of the connecting flights were in luck. Those flights had been delayed and, if we hurried, we might be able to make our flights! The Kansas City connection was among those three. I was to be rewarded for my forbearance in not strangling Mommy, Sister and Brother.


The hostess went on to say that 26 people on the flight were affected,  and when we landed, everyone but those 26 should remain seated and let us exit first so we'd have a better chance of making our flights. I decided not to ship her off to Mexico after all.


The plane landed.


I stood.


And so did about 96 other people, all with luggage in the overhead bins and at least three small children underfoot. As we slowly wrestled our way down the aisle, the hostess became a bit frantic about the Kansas City flight.


"If you're going to Kansas City, you must run to terminal B, Gate 45. Your flight has boarded. I repeat, Kansas City, RUN to B45!"


There were 9 of us. We ran. Down the escalators to catch the train to terminal B, along the moving sidewalks, shoving slower people aside, racing frantically until we finally reached Gate 45.


This gate was guarded by a female airline employee conversing quietly with a young man. We descended on her, demanding frantically, "Is this the flight to Kansas City?"


Sheignored our rude interruption and continued her conversation.


I, no longer the trusting, naïve person who boarded that plane in California, ran to the nearest monitor. We were at the wrong gate.


"44!" I shouted back to the others. "Our flight is at gate 44, not 45!"


The airline employee lifted her head and smiled. "The Kansas City flight is departing from Gate 44."


I returned her smile. "Mexico in six weeks! Don't miss it!"


We all ran back the way we'd come, panting, perspiring and not happy. We slid into Gate 44 and charged down the skyway just before the plane doors closed. The hostess smiled and welcomed us aboard. Life was good.


As we ascended into the air over Denver, I leaned back in my seat and drew in a deep sigh of relief. I was going to make it home before dawn. The Happy Place family was not on board. No one was screaming. Life was very good.


For that fleeting moment.


We landed in Kansas City around 1:30 a.m., taxied down the runway and stopped. People stood and began tugging their luggage from the overhead bins.


"Please return to your seats. No one is allowed to stand until the plane has come to a complete stop."


We all looked out the windows. If that plane was moving, it was going slower than the hour hand of the office clock on Friday afternoon.


The hostess must have heard us grumbling, because she proceeded to explain that it might look like we were stopped, but, really, we were just waiting for someone to move the plane parked in our space at the terminal.


Half an hour later our plane started rolling again, down to the terminal, and we heard the welcome sound of that skyway rattling up to the door. Once again, passengers unfastened their seatbelts, retrieved their luggage and stood in the aisle…waiting. And waiting.


Eventually the captain announced that we had a slight problem. They couldn't get the door open, but they were confident they'd soon find someone who could.


Apparently employees with the ability to open a door were in short supply. It was another hour before that door finally opened. I almost knocked people down in my effort to get off that plane…before the door closed again, before the skyway collapsed, before the Happy Place Family reappeared!


I did not feel completely safe until I was home with the door locked behind me.


And that night I made a resolution. From now on, whenever I travel, my mode of transportation will be automobile, bicycle or feet!


That is the worst trip I have been on since I accidentally ate that electric Jello back in the 60s.


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