It’s 4:15pm and I’m probably going to miss my flight. I pull into Avis Car Rental at the LAX airport and toss some rastaman employee my keys. “I don’t need a receipt!” I shout as I run towards the airport shuttle bus. From the driver seat, a Latino lady calls, “Ándale mami – we’re about to leave.” I sling my guitar onto the luggage racks and plop into a seat. The bus jolts, and we make a slow wide swing out of the parking lot.
My iphone stares up at me from my lap and 4:25 turn to 4:26. I bounce my knee up and down impatiently, and my eyes dart back and forth. This is the last flight of the evening – Delta’s 5:25 flight from LAX to Austin – I’m flying standby, and not only am I late, but the flight is also very full: -1 seats in the back, 1 seat in first.
“Breathe in 1,2,3, breathe out 1,2,3,” I remind myself, and as I take a deep breath in, sweaty socks fills my nostrils. My face wrinkles in disgust, and I lock gaze with a man who’s face is buried in a smelly Shwarma. He just stares back at me as he chews, taziki sauce dripping from his lips. I avert my eyes and go back to nervously tapping my foot. “Estop 1 – US Airlines,” the señora calls from the driver seat, and a Midwestern family collect their matching Hawaiian print suitcases and clamor off the bus. “Estop 2” …. “Estop 3” …. “Estop 5, Delta.” Guitar strapped to my back, and my shabby luggage in hand, I charge out the door as soon as it cracks open.
“Excuse me sorry, excuse me sorry!!” Juking people left and right, I make a run for the Delta check-in counter. I tap on the electronic check-in station, and a message displays, “Sorry, you are unable to be checked-in. Please see an agent.” Shit…this usually means that I’ve been cut off the flight. As I stand in line, the toe tapping turns into leg shaking, as I earnestly watch each agent serving passengers and quietly urging each one of them to hurry up.
“I can help the next passenger down here!” waves a young girl. I run down to her, and dial up my charm. “Hi there, I’m so sorry I’m a little delayed. I need to check in this bag for the Austin flight and get a boarding pass printed — the kiosk wouldn’t print it. Seriously, thank you so much!” I see the girls name is Angel, and think, ‘Ha! I’m in good hands. By merit of her name she has to help me.’ Angel’s long faux finger nails click as she quickly types on her keyboard. “Oh my goodness, I have 13 seconds!!” she exclaims. *Tap, tap, tap, tap* “Phew…” She steps back from the machine and looks at me in disbelief. “….I just got the bag checked with one second to spare.” I grin at her, “Well done!!! Can I get a boarding pass from you?” Angel turns back to the computer and grimaces, “Uh, I can’t print one because the flight closed down…”
A flamboyant attendant to her right leans over and says, “Honey just print a security clearance…the gate agent can print her ticket. You should probably escort her there too otherwise she’ll miss her flight.”Angel fidgets uncomfortably, “Nahh I can’t do that….I mean don’t know how….I never have….” The attendant, Anthony, playfully rolls his eyes and says, “Girllll don’t worry about it, I’ll do it, let me just finish this ticket.”
I’m wishing I had my mom with me so we could exchange a sideways glance, because I can’t believe this luck. A typical LAX Delta attendant is grade-A jerk with a vendetta for standbys. I’m used to them saying “no,” “not possible,” “I can’t help you,” “I need to serve paying passengers first…” (“Shoo little fly shoo!”) But not Angel and Anthony. Somehow they commiserate with my situation, and recognize, ‘hey she’s one of us, and when I’m a standby in a pinch, I hope to get the help too.’
Anthony finishes his ticket and swoops up my guitar – “Follow me honey.” Despite his small frame, he’s got authoritative gay-man swagger, and as we strut through the halls toward security, I feel like Beyoncé’s song, “Who runs the world? Girls” should be playing behind us. Anthony walks straight up to TSA Pre Check, flashes his badge, and gives the agent my security clearance. In stereotypical TSA fashion, the agent looks at the paper and says, “she’s not Pre-Check, she needs to go to the back of the line.” I grimace, it’s 5:10 at this point and I know the plane is just about finished boarding. But Anthony isn’t concerned, he just takes the paper back, turns on his heel, and mutters, “Bigot TSA.” He waves me to follow him to the regular line, where we squeeze past travelers as he brandishes his badge at them. “Excuse me, thank you, excuse me thank you.” It’s funny how understanding and passive people are when you’re following someone in uniform.
We reach the second TSA agent, and this one respects Anthony’s ticket-agent authority. He waves us through, and Anthony cuts everyone waiting to push their things through the security machine. I try and avoid eye contact, because I’m feeling a little bossy. Anthony struts through the metal detector and gives a sidelong glance at the agent that says, “uh uh, no touchey.” Meanwhile, I enter the scan machine, put my hands up, and then get my bra underwire patted.
Strapped up with luggage and ready for the final sprint, I see it’s 5:15 – 10 mins till lift-off. Anthony breaks into an accelerated version of the Beyonce swagger, parting seas of people. I follow close behind, flush with adrenaline. We get to gate 26A and no one is around. The gate agent is literally closing the door, and Anthony walks up to her and whips out his badge one last time.
“Hi darling, did you call standbys?”
“Yes I did…Adelle?”
The attendant extends a ticket to me, and I glance down at it – seat 1A. First class! I’m dumbfounded; an oversold flight and somehow by chance, a few folk didn’t show up and I end up in first. I turn to Anthony, we high-five, and then I pick him up and twirl him around. He’s grinning ear-to-ear with me, and I can tell he enjoyed that adventure as much as I did. As I wave goodbye to him, I swear up and down that I will pay forward the elaborate favor to the next deserving stranger.
As I sit on the plane waiting for takeoff, I think to myself, ‘We could live a great story every day if we choose to. We could go on great adventures with strangers if we dare! All we have to do is model a couple Anthony-like characteristics: boldness, confidence, and a dash of Beyonce-ness.