I’m just delighted to see a cat in the Atlanta airport.
His mom pulls him out, and he sits calmly in her lap. She lets me pet him. This is his 2nd cross-country trip in his 10 months of life. The last was a 12-hour drive from Chicago to Philly. He handled it like a champ and spent a clandestine night in a no-pets-allowed hotel.
He is less bothered by the turbulence than the rest of us.
“If there is a doctor on board, we need your assistance at this time,” the flight attendant says over the intercom. “We have a medical emergency on board. Again, if there is a medical doctor on board, please ring your flight attendant call button.”
A tall man with glasses and a Mets hat rises and motions to the flight attendants. He stands in the aisle talking to a passenger for a little while before eventually sitting down next to him. The flight attendants bring oxygen and a first aid kit. There’s a lot of activity for a little while, then it all stops.
“Please remain seated when we reach the gate. Paramedics are meeting us there and will assist a passenger off the plane. Once they have exited, you will be allowed to gather your things and de-plane.”
The tall man with glasses and a Mets hat stays on the plane with the flight attendants while the rest of us exit. I never know–I will never know–what happened to the gentleman he sat next to.
Tasha moved to Phoenix two and a half years ago. A year ago, she left her corporate job to start a cake decorating business, which is going well. She misses her family in the Bronx, but she likes the Arizona sunshine. Like a lot of people, she drives for Uber on the side for a little extra cash.
She was in Manhattan on September 11th, just a few blocks from the World Trade Center. She heard the towers collapse. She and a friend walked two miles up town, where they were picked up by a another friend with a car. It took them over three hours to get home. None of them spoke on the way home that day. There was simply nothing to say, she said.
Miss Annie is 83 years old. She’s dressed in a turquoise pants suit, brown heels, and a fuchsia manicure. She’s flying solo from Phoenix to Atlanta to celebrate her daughter’s retirement. She will stay for three weeks. Her main goal on the trip is to celebrate. Her daughter is meeting her at the airport with a gin and tonic in a thermos. Miss Annie has marijuana edibles in her bag.
“I didn’t put my teeth in. I came to party!” she says.
Chris has been driving for Uber since August. Last Friday, he picked up a man whose wife had just kicked him and his dog out of the house. The man stood in the rain crying while he waited for Chris to get him. He directed Chris to a bad part of town, where the man picked up a prostitute and went to an hourly motel with her. He paid Chris $50 to wait outside. The dog waited in the car, too. When the man came back to the car, he said, “I just wanted to feel loved for a minute.”
Chris’s own wife moved out of state last year. They’re still married. She took the only paid-for car they owned, leaving him with two car payments and the care of their three children. She doesn’t send home any money to help out. Occasionally, she comes back to town to ask Chris for money.
I hear them coming before I see them. A family of ten–five adults and five children–up the stairs of the Mega Bus headed back to Birmingham. They fill the seats on all sides of us with their bodies and their noise. There’s a lot of profanity. They pass children back and forth between the seats. One older lady appears have a hard time breathing, but no one in their group seems especially concerned with it. One young woman has everyone’s attention. She’s visibly drunk and worse and has an ace bandage wrapped around her elbow. She alternates between passing out on her seat mate and stumbling up and down the aisle yelling at people about nothing.
The driver kicks her off the bus before we leave the station.
Everyone quiets not long after we hit the interstate. The bus goes dark, and most people go to sleep.
I look at the children around me. Their tiny bodies are curled in on themselves, reclining on and surrendered to the forms of the only adults they know. I wonder what their lives are like. What are they learning from the big people in their lives? Will they finish school and have careers and love themselves and make good choices? Am I imposing my values on them? Would I worry about them less if they–or the adults in their lives–had skin the same color as mine?
I say a prayer and thank God for putting me face-to-face with my own prejudices. I can only change my biases when I confront them.
I ask for the blessing of travel for as long as I live. Please let me see many faces in my life. Please let me hear many stories.
It’s 1am, and the bus is silent. I questioned the wisdom of taking the bus over staying overnight in Atlanta. Until we crest the hill and see the lights of downtown Birmingham, glistening and fluorescent and familiar. It will feel so good to sleep in my own bed tonight.
I say another prayer of gratitude. Thank you, God, for a home to come back to. Please help me remember the lessons learned on the road.
I check my email one more time as we wait for a final Uber ride, the one that will take me back to the softness of my memory foam mattress and comfort of purring cats next to my head.
I smile. I haven’t forgotten, I think. Let me get a good night of sleep. I’ll be ready to head out again soon.