As we talked and slowly advanced a step here and there, we watched the other passengers, specifically their chest-high piled luggage. There were large cardboard taped boxes, large suitcases, and all stacked high on the luggage dollies or getting pulled by hand. I even saw a flat screen TV box later that was the size of a wall, placed near the line stanchions. Were they moving, or building a home theater? Another thing we noticed was that a lot of people were putting locks on their luggage. It was such a phenomenon that my father questioned me about it, and if I should get one or not. He kindly offered to buy one from the store that was conveniently right in front of us. When he returned he handed it to me. On the back were the instructions. I read it, and read it again. Perhaps I wasn’t fully awake but the instructions, as simple as they seemed, made absolutely no sense - even with the diagram. It almost seemed like the picture made it worse. I personally thought I hit a new brain low. I mean I have a graduate degree. It’s not in law, which apparently I needed in order to be the “Philadelphia lawyer” you had to be to figure this out, but I do know how to read, write and comprehend (most of the time). This short set of directions was beyond my understanding. I fiddled and faddled, and nothing happened. I couldn’t get it open. At first I was embarrassed to say anything, but my father made fun of me for not being able to open it yet. Passing it off to him was not a problem. My only fear was that he would take seconds to figure it out. That was not the case. He couldn’t figure it out either, at least, not at first, or second, or third. After a few more times he got it. And I have no idea how.
The line moved slowly and there was progress after I finally walked into the maze of a queue with perpendicular turns made of silly nylon straps. For the purpose of efficiency, I made sure I had my flight information and passport at the ready. Quietly on the inside, I was fearful that my luggage was overweight. I used my same method of weighing myself, then weighing myself with the luggage and calculating the difference to estimate the weight. Normally I feel pretty confident with this method since it had been accurate in the past. But this time, the luggage felt extremely heavy to me; there was no way it was the 33 pounds I subtracted. And then it dawned on me that because of my still fairly recent surgery, I have not lifted anything heavy in a while, not even a gallon of milk. Right...That was precisely why I made the decision to not take a carry on bag, because I was not physically prepared to have to lift the weight over my head to store it on the plane. At this point, I accepted that I might have to eat the fee. Add it to the trip tab. When I approached the counter I handed off my documents to the agent. While the agent was plunking away, doing whatever it is they do behind the counter, almost with surprise, the gentleman assisting with the baggage asked if I only had the one bag that I placed on the scale. We both chuckled. I told him I clearly under packed. And my weight estimate was exactly right.
After that, things moved much quicker. More than enough time was wasted in the line, and it was time to scoot. Now that I had my boarding pass and my bag was checked (fingers crossed that we would meet again in Zanzibar), I still had to deal with TSA and getting to my gate. By now my face had a look of fruit loops and excitement, almost mirroring the looks of my parents, who were at the same time happy and anxious for me. To date, this is the furthest I had traveled, and perhaps the most “exotic.” The moment had come for me to say goodbye and give hugs. I left them and their highly emotive faces in the hallway near the counter as I made my way pass the no man's land to head downstairs for the security screening. I was directed which way to go after I showed my boarding pass to the TSA agent managing the mouth of the line. All for another hurry up and wait. We all kind of stand around, looking and not looking at each other when we are in these airport lines. It’s almost like subway rules; you are so close, but too close to stare forever. You wonder when people are going start taking their shoes off so they don’t hold the line up even more. You wonder where some of these people are going and why. You wonder why you didn’t go ahead and register for every pre-screening program so you could buzz right by all of this. Note to self for the 3rd time. What are you waiting for? The one pre-thing I did in preparation was to try to make sure my instant film stayed in tact. Because I purchased an instant camera for this trip, I did some reading on the best way to protect your film from x-ray damage during the TSA screening. Most photographers suggested that you ask the agent for a hand inspection of instant film. I did exactly that. Unfortunately for me, it took a while for the second agent to arrive on the scene to do so. I had already gone through, put my arms up, collected my small bag and shoes by the time I was watching the second agent remove the film to do whatever testing he deemed necessary. Swab, dab, rummage. I kindly collected the film and kept my scurry going. What remained was the walk to the tram to take me to the terminal, followed by another trip up/or down an escalator, or both to get to the gate. Magically, I still had some time to use the restroom, quickly get the inconveniently largest bottle of water possible, a Gatorade to stay hydrated and full of electrolytes for the upcoming 20+ hour journey and my obligatory Oprah Magazine. I don’t know why, but I must buy the latest issue at the airport whenever I travel.
The line that was originally at the check-in counter basically relocated to the gate. Every single man, woman and child piled in the first line had now found himself or herself here sans the multitude of luggage. Even still, it appeared a bit more chaotic in the smaller space. There were only a few minutes before the line started moving and we were slowly herded on for boarding. The jetway was jammed for a while and I noticed a lot of people were wearing heavy coats, leather and wool. I was confused. Behind me, I also noticed a family who looked and sounded out of place compared to the majority of the travelers. Based on the way they talked and the fact that they had donned their dashikis for the trip, I deduced that they were “black” Americans. I was very interested in wanting to know more; was Ethiopia their final destination, is this for business or a vacation, and if so, what are their plans? The fact that they were a family of four with 2 preteen age kids made me assume the latter. I was excited for them if that was the case. I had an amazing childhood, with great vacations with my family, but traveling out of the country was not part of it. This was going to be a great opportunity for the children. To see a different culture than yours is a learning experience that stays with you; if it is possible, the sooner the better.
At the door of the plane, the flight attendant guided passengers to the proper side by asking for our seat number. I have to say that each and every flight attendant was absolutely stunning. When I say this, I do not say this in a misogynistic tone. I say this as a matter of fact. Between the precise application of the makeup, the hair just so, a lip color that was spot on, and the different shapes of eyes and faces, the natural and enhanced beauty of these women took it to another level. Again, having an entire flight crew that had brown skin (and not in an Atlanta way *that’s for you sis), including the pilots was so strange but right. I never thought about it as a self centered American, but the rest of the world is made up of many people of color, therefore, this should make sense. Our country is unique that people of color are not the majority, and I expect a multicultural scene most places. But in places where people of color are the majority, what was I going to expect, that things don’t get done, people don’t have these jobs and fill these rolls? Who else is going to do it? I felt ashamed on my Americanness to have the light bulb go off this late.