"A Man In An Airport Café"
I met a man at the airport who let me share his table, paid for my meal, and wanted nothing in return. Let me back up.
I had just spend the whole month of December and better part of January visiting family and friends for the holidays. When you can fly for free, people expect that it’s no big deal for you to come to them all the time, and you are happy to try. Until you reach the end of a 5 week period and realize that you have only spend 5 days at home. No wonder you are so exhausted.
My last trip was over to Coeur D’Alene, Idaho to visit my dear from Saryl and her honey and meet up with a new friend now close to us all. We spent the weekend making forts, drinking St Germane, and learning to ski (only I learned to ski, sweet Saryl taught me how, the rest knew already). It was a lovely, cozy, snowy weekend and it was all I could to rustle up enough energy to be present with my dear friends as we danced to “Pump Up the Jam” and had late night whispers under chair legs and raised bed sheets. When I left my heart was full, my energy level was empty.
I got to the Spokane airport a little early, bought some relaxing tea and when to find a place to sit and read my book. That’s when I noticed two things: 1) both flights in my little terminal were delayed an hour, including mine, and 2) I was hungry. After some debate I decided to go check out the menu at the one little restaurant in the area. The options looked good, but the tables looked bad. I was about to walk away when I heard a middle aged business man say, “Are you looking for a table? You can share mine, I’m just doing some emailing.” Bless his soul, it was my only option.
I sat down, quickly put in my order for a burger, no bun, lots of fries, and pulled out my book so he wouldn’t feel obligated to play host to the stranger on the opposite side of the table. He struck up a conversation with me anyway.
“I noticed your badge, do you work for the airline?”
“Yes I do, I’m a flight attendant.”
“Then you spend a lot of time in airports too, huh?”
“You could definitely say that. Do you travel a lot for work?”
“Yeah. My family and I have just moved to a little cabin outside of Spokane when I got offered a position in Burlington. We really didn’t want to move so I rented a little condo and I live there half the week and come home on weekends.”
My burger arrived with a bunch of shredded, see through lettuce on top and fries spilling over the side of the plate. Airport food, its for survival.
“It’s a rough life huh? You are lucky your family is so understanding since you have to travel so much.”
“Yeah I was just talking to my wife about that. We were figuring out the numbers and if gas prices and plane tickets stay this low, it would actually be cheaper for me to give up the condo and travel home every night.”
“How far is that to drive?”
“If traffic is good and I am speeding, I can make it home in 4 ½ hours.”
“You know what’s hard about that? People like you and me make it so important to be able to be home. But to the people at home, they only know that we walk in the door every night for dinner. They easily take for granted that they are so important to you that you are willing to drive 4 ½ hours every night just to be home, or sit in airport terminals drinking crown and talking to strangers just so you can eat dinner with them and tuck them into bed each night. That’s a lot of effort to see your kids for three hours a night. I mean, take this month for example. It was so important for me to be with family for Christmas that I had to rush back from Medford where my grandparents live to Portland in order to get to work on time. I worked a horrible trip over Christmas so that I could get home on Saturday morning, the day we planned to do family Christmas, and have the whole day with my family. They still all didn’t show up until 2, but I was ready. Then I woke up early New Year’s Day, hung over and everything, to hop another flight up to Bellingham so I could be with my friends for one day while they were all home together. Whenever I finally get home tonight I have to do laundry, repack, and immediately go to sleep because I have to work tomorrow. Make no mistake, I am happy to do these things because these people are so important to me, but it is totally exhausting,”
“You are absolutely right. It is exhausting. But if that’s the effort I have to put in in order to have a somewhat ‘normal’ relationship with my kids, then I will do it. I just hope that they understand I am actually putting in all my effort in order to be with them. It would be so easy for them to be resentful that I am gone all the time, when that is the exact opposite of every goal that I have.”
The bill comes and he quickly snatches it up and places his card down. “This is on me.”
“No, you do not have to do that.”
“I want to. You work hard to get people like me to places that we need to go and I appreciate all your effort. Plus, we are in this together.”
They have begun to board his flight, the gate agents are calling for “all 75k, gold and mvp mileage plan members to begin boarding the delayed 5:30 flight to Seattle.”
“Thanks, and I appreciate the effort you put into your family. It really is inspiring to see people who care enough about something to be as creative as they need to make it work. Have a good flight.”
“Thanks, you too.”
He didn’t have to share his table, he didn’t have to pay for my meal, and he really didn’t have to talk to me. But after that conversation, I felt supported by a community greater than myself. A community of people who make relationships the most important thing, whether or not the efforts are acknowledged or returned in kind. We don’t do it for the acknowledgement. We do it because that what you do when you love other people, you make sacrifices and you put in everything you have. You by no means make yourself a martyr. You do it because it’s important to you and because you want to. Then you cross your fingers and hope that it’s enough.