yesterday, the husband and i were returning home from a ten day vacation. as we entered the airline terminal at jfk we encountered soldiers with rifles slung over their shoulders. i remember seeing these kinds of guards in our airports right after 9/11 but their presence had diminished in the ensuing years. as you know, from my previous blogs, i am not the world's happiest flyer, so seeing armed men in the airport did nothing to assuage my anxiety.
i used to just be afraid of natural disasters, thunder storms, birds flying into the jet engines, faulty mechanics ( one loose screw could bring down an entire plane) or human failures. i always question my pilots when i board the plane. after introducing myself and asking if there is any red on the radar ( a sure sign of a turbulent flight to come) i then discreetly ask them about their home life. if they are happily married or say, in the middle of an ugly divorce. i would walk off any plane if a pilot admitted his wife had left him for another man or he was currently in the courts over a custody dispute.
this particular flight both pilots seemed happy and fairly well adjusted. i did pause for a moment on noticing that the co-pilot was an attractive young woman. i am not in favor of hanky panky in the cockpit (at least not while i am on board) but she made a point of showing me a photo of her husband and twin daughters so i was reassured. it was only after we landed that i thought, perhaps, the picture show was just to throw me off the scent.
after the pilot interview, i made my way slowly down the aisle observing all the passengers as i walked. i am now on constant guard for potential terrorists, shoe bombers, unruly teenagers or just regular people who could tend to upset me, in any way, in mid air. i also try to identify the sky marshall. this is the tricky part. the husband is convinced that there are no sky marshalls. he thinks it is just another myth perpetrated by the bush administration to make the public feel safe while flying during these troubled times. i, who believe nothing our president has said since he first took the oath of office, choose to believe that there are indeed flying john waynes on every flight - just to keep me safe. picking him out, however, is not so easy. on this particular flight i choose to believe that the tall man in the business suit and the straw hat sitting directly in front of me was the one. when i made eye contact and smiled he did not smile back - a sure sign of a man on duty. having him and his trusty gun right in front of me made me feel safe. i knew he could bring down a terrorist with a single shot. what he could do about a seagull in the engine i wasn't sure but i wanted to believe, in my heart of hearts, that in addition to a gun, he packed a tool kit and could deal with any loose screw in a moments notice.
next i moved on to the flight attendants. this was disappointing. the two assigned to my section in charge of my soft drinks, vodka and salted nuts, did not inspire confidence. anthony was young, tall and very good looking. with a two day growth of stubble and his shirt unbuttoned one button short of his navel, he looked more like a gq model than the man who would save me from a fiery crash. anna, on the other hand, was only slightly more promising . picture janice soprano in a too tight sheath and a clippy desperately hanging on to her long, over-processed hair. she was a southern belle from north carolina and had definitely seen better days but i was not to be deterred. after befriending them, by sharing my ham sandwich and handing over my people magazine, they treated me to my second vodka and cranberry and we got down to business.
my theory is that of course the flight attendants are going to save the people they like best and i am always in first place for the miss congeniality award on any plane i set foot on. not only did i hang out in the galley with them (the best place to overhear conversations from the cockpit - like if we are going down i want to be the first to know) but i found out all about their lives. anthony really wanted to be a nurse but was flying because the pay was better. i think anthony wanted to be a nurse because the uniform was cuter but i didn't mention that observation to him. anna, well anna had had two failed marriages, was soured on men and was sorry she didn't become a movie star back in the day when she could have. i didn't ask what day that was - remember, i was back there to befriend not alienate - but i did wonder.
when i finally returned to my seat it was almost time to land. the husband didn't even ask me where i had been. years ago he would ask me, when i returned to my seat after a long absence, "where were you"? but after all this time, he knew. just as we were putting our seat backs in the upright position and stowing our carry on luggage back in the overhead compartments, anna and anthony approached and handed me a little plastic envelope. anna smiled and anthony squeezed my shoulder and moved on. i opened my hand and grinned. i had done it again. inside the little envelope was a pair of junior stewardess wings. "how many of those do you have?" asked the husband. "how many flights have we taken since 9/11?" i replied.