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Late night at the Airport
by Mark Harris
August 20, 2014

A little over a week ago I picked my mother up from the airport. It was an evening flight, coming in at 10:10 PM.

After putting in a long day at the office trying to get caught up, i arrived directly from work. I was exhausted and hungry and toyed with the idea of just meeting my mother curbside. Would be nice. But, I knew that wouldn't work.

With 20 minutes to spare, i parked my car as closely as i could in the parking garage and then proceeded to the arriving flights gate.

Like i always do, whether its me flying or I'm picking someone up, the first thing i do is check the giant screen to see if its on time. - It was.

I had plenty of time so i found a location along the stair rail, where i could wait as I watched people passing through the secured gate with their bags before descending the escalator or stairs to the baggage claim area.

There's a lot of places to "people watch" but people-watching at an airport has to be one of the best. I know nothing about these strangers, and more than likely i will never see them again. Whether they are catching a flight or exiting a flight everyone seems to be in such a hurry. In that brief glimpse, its funny what we observe.

Through my observations, This is what i found; First off, there's few things on this planet more sweet and tender as watching little kids greet their parents who've been away on travel. These kids should probably have been in bed, but i can only imagine nothing could keep them from greeting their dad. In unison, these small kids shouted out DADDY, while barreling through the determined and tired group of exiting travelers. The father dropped his bag and dropped to both knees to hug both his kids. The greeting only took but a few seconds, but that one was the best i saw that night.

I also think it's sweet when the boyfriend or husband greets his girlfriend or wife with flowers. Unlike the excited greeting of the parent and little children, the greeting of the "lovers" is quick. The kids and parents don't care if people are watching, but the lovers know. Few words are spoken, after a short pause to embrace and kiss, he helps carry her bags and they move on.

I then saw what seemed to be a gentleman picking up his brother. They looked very similar in stature and features. One was balder than the other. Let it be said, that sometimes guys have no idea how to greet each other. Handshake? hug? half hug? The half hug and back slap? These brothers shook hands. Such an awkward greeting. I would almost suggest these guys plan a curbside pickup next time. The guy who met his brother at the gate said to his brother as they passed behind me, "so how was your flight?" - The arriving brother looked tired, almost too tired for dumb questions and only said, "come on, you know." And just like that, they were gone.

Another thing that I've taken notice of awhile back is how people dress during air travel. Im not sure where this came from, but i recall as a kid dressing up for flights. Not in fancy church clothes, but maybe a notch or two below? I remember being 8 or so, taking a flight to Florida in my fancy pants and button up western two-toned, terri-cloth shirt. So its a bit peculiar to see a college girl dressed in pajamas and slippers lugging her pillow. I get it, you wanted to sleep on the plane. But its still a bit strange to me. The thought that crosses my mind is. . if my plane goes down . .and I'm going to live (Im convinced I'd live) is WHAT do I want to be wearing on a deserted island while Im talking to a volleyball? What? you don't think that? Thats why every flight I'm on, Im wearing jungle boots and cargo shorts.

Now let me tell you about my mother at airports. My mother prefers to travel with the aid of a wheelchair and airport staff pushing her. I'm not kidding. Perhaps she thinks its easier. Perhaps she doesn't want to deal with all the walking and standing around. Perhaps she wants to be escorted places. I can't answer that. I do know she's capable of walking on her own. She's slow. WOW, is she slow, but she still gets around. But as you know, You've heard me mention this, Im sure, she has had without question many health issues, lots and lots of them. And i guess who am I to tell her she can't have a wheel chair if she wants?

So after watching waves of hurried people pass through the secured gate, either being greeted by their loved ones or descending alone to the baggage claim area, it was nearing that time where I was wondering where my mother was. I would check my phone about every 30 seconds or so, just to make sure i hadn't missed her call.

Just then, i see her. She's being pushed in a wheelchair and i wait for them to reach where i am where i could hug and greet my mom.

We head downstairs where my mom miraculously felt like she could walk. She tells the kind airport employee that she'll walk from here. We thank and tipped the kind lady.

I havent seen my mother in a month, so we had plenty to say to each other as we make it to Baggage carousel #3. One of the things she says is, she gave most of her clothes to her sister, my crazy aunt Beatrice. Then my mother then informs me that she is bringing back an extra bag. and she says its really big.

Im too tired to get upset. Instead i sorta of laugh and think to myself, "ooof course you do."

"But wait - how are you bringing back MORE stuff if you just told me you gave all your clothes away?", i asked.

Her response didn't make sense, therefore I'm not including it here.

I then ask her how many bags we're looking for and she says 3.

She says a small one. . a big one. . and then one big "tanate" as she calls it. Now, side note . .growing up with my mother speaking spanish to us, we've heard this word many times. "tanate" - We always thought it to be spanish meaning a big lumpy bag or basket. Several years ago (I forget how this came up) I learned around these parts. . in Texas, "tanate" means testicles. I recall confronting my mother about this, "mom, did you know tanate means testicles? she looked at me like Im crazy, "WHAAT? no it doesnt." I told her i think in Texican Spanish it does. - So fast forward back to the airport. My mother in a crowded baggage claim area is telling me we're looking for a giant testicle. - I respond, "mom . . come on. . not so loud." She responds, "ahh, no one knows what I'm saying." - "MOM .. We're in Texas. . not Wyoming. People know." -- just then i notice an attractive woman 2 feet behind me laughing. I ask her, "Oh, no. you know what tanate means, don't you?" she laughs and says no.

I turn to my mother, "We found the one person who doesn't know. You're lucky."

"What is it? - the woman asks? - - I'd rather not say, if thats ok. Then i laugh.

She seemed ok with that response.

The baggage claim carousel hadn't started yet, so my mother felt at the heels of the tanate discussion, that she'd go to the bathroom.

I made small talk with the attractive woman. She asked if that was my mother, i said yes. She informed me her mom recently died. The rest of our discussion isn't really important, but in a nutshell, she was trying to tell me that it was nice to see a mother and son carry on without fighting and I should not take her for granted.

I agreed with her.

My mom returned, the baggage carousel started to move, and you've seen it before, all the people hoard around the conveyer belt looking for their bags.

Again, i was looking for 3 bags. Three bags i had NO IDEA how i was going to get them to my car.

The crowd begins to disburse. I smile and wave bye to the kind attractive women who lost her mother (Don't judge me, i was just being nice), and my mom spots the first bag. Its the bag i recall from her departure a month earlier. It WAS a big one. I pulled it off the belt. It was heavier than i recalled.

My mom practicing her mind-reading skills says " It has wheels" like she knew what i was thinking.

I stand it up and go looking for the other two.

One right after the other, "there they are." my mom points.

DEAR SWEET MOTHER OF GHANDI. . . That was no testicle. or tanate. . that was a balled up circus tent.. .perhaps with a dead body in it.

"mom. seriously? this isn't a bag? What is this?"

"it has wheels" - she replied.

"Where? i don't see wheels."

After lugging it off the belt, I try to pull it or move it around. If this thing had wheels, they were not doing its job. And how could they? This massive ball seemed to have no center of gravity. It would sort of ooze and reshape itself.

NOW, right then, i was concerned with the sheer logistics of how I would physically get all these bags to the car with the aid of a handicapable woman who can hardly lift a gallon of milk.

I stood before two giant bags .. and one small bag . . my mom's carry-on and her purse.

I was tired. I was hungry. My airport girlfriend was gone, I wanted to go home and these bags were not moving themselves. . so i grabbed hold of the handles of the two biggest bags and started pulling them towards the exit. Here we goooo.

Not only did the wheels of the balled up circus tent not function in any way that resembled an easy glide across the floor, but the other massive suitcase that seemed heavier than i recalled a month earlier, also didn't have functioning wheels. They were there, but the people who designed the wheels must not have tested it before selling it. The only way these wheels rolled is if the suitcase was upright. I tried that . .. it was like steering a refrigerator with 4 bad wheels.

So. . I pulled or dragged these monstrous bags 50 yards to the exit and out to the curb without wheels like i was lugging two dead bodies. (I have no experience in this, i am simply assuming)

I rested outside a bit while my mom caught up. Before I could reach my car, I had to find my way across 2 big lanes of curbside traffic. There was no way i could drag 2 lifeles Rosie O'Donnel's on their back across these lanes. - I guess that was kind of mean. Sorry, Rosie.

I also couldn't get the car and bring it around, because that meant driving around the poorly planned airport out of the garage, pay the toll. . then make the big loop around. It would just take too long.

So. .I told my mom to stay there and I'd be right back. . i took hold of the massive giant circus tent ball and threw it as nearly over my shoulder as I could. It was off the ground. i began to move as quickly as these legs would let me. I stopped midway in the median to regain my grip, they heaved it up again. Here i was, nearly 11 at night. Im tired and hungry and now Im sweating unnecessarily.

I entered the parking garage to find my car. - I was certain I knew where i parked but while focusing on keeping this lumpy bag elevated, i overshot the aisle. I could have cried or yelled out. But instead I laughed to myself.

Finally, I find the car. Sweet relief.

I dropped off the bag .. then, ran back to find my mom with the remaining bags back at the curb.

I then grabbed giant bag#2 with the busted wheels and with my mom in tow, I dragged that sucker all the way to the car.

My mom decided to throw in a poorly timed joke to lighten the mood as Im wiping sweat from my brow, "See? thanks to me, you got a good workout."

Yes. thank you mom for a fun night.

But through my sarcasm I thoguht of the kind Airport lady who lost her mother and i felt grateful I still had mine.

Welcome home, mom.

Oh wait. .These bags still need to make it to my mom's place - 4 floors up.


- m a r k


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