Line Management

For the past 50+ years I have celebrated Christmas in exactly the same way – family get togethers and toting casseroles from suburb to suburb, trying to make sure that everyone had the same quality and quantity of gifts and filling up stockings with crappy little
shit.  Two years ago as I was gathering stocking stuffers I noticed the exact untouched pile of deodorants, socks and ramen noodles on our son’s bureau from the previous year, so I just scooped them up and recycled them.  As teenagers, all the kids really wanted was some money, but it was just too crass to hand over a check on Christmas morning, so for a couple of years I made up a Christmas Jeopardy game – Family pets for $10, please!!
But even that was getting stale.  It was time to get out of town and put Christmas behind us.

So with great foresight, researching and planning, we arrived at O’Hare airport as 6:30 AM on Saturday, December 23rd to start the first leg of our trip to Ecuador.  It had never occurred to me that this was possibly the busiest travel day of the year, but as we entered the airport, we were greeted with an absolute seething mass of people.  It was an overwhelming morass of gridlocked families, huge baggage carts trying to pick their way through braided lines of jostling people, all encompassed in an atmosphere of frustration, panic and weary resignation.  Everyone realized that there was no way that you could get through the sequential bottlenecks of baggage and security to emerge free in the golden land beyond toward the beckoning gates.

And there we were the four of us, feeling absolutely doomed and helpless, witnessing the first domino tipping and slowly falling.  If we missed our flight to Miami, we would likely be a day late to Quito, in which case our guided trip would have to leave without us, and we would probably only be able to catch up to them via an airlift to the Amazon basin.  But one thing that I have always told my kids is to make sure you are in the right line and best line, and not to just stand meekly in amongst the other herded masses.  So I told them to stay put in the doomed line while I reconnoitered.  In some airports there is a secret check in counter around the corner that is ostensibly for checking oversized baggage, like a bass fiddle or bicycle (please don’t tell anyone else).  One year when many flights were cancelled, I was able to triumphantly break through the clutter and successfully rebook to San Jose, saving a weekend trip to San Francisco.  But no such luck here.

The clotted crush of people and merged lines made it hard to notice, but I spotted one line that had only four or five people in it.  As I approached I saw that it was marked “For Airport Personnel” only.  But I also noticed that one young woman in this line was clearly not personnel.  She was wearing tight fitting jeans, some sort of abbreviated top displayed her taut midriff adorned with a belly button ring, and was saying, “Like when I get to Cabo, like I am really go to get tan.”

“Do you work for the airlines?” I asked.  her.  “No, she said,” someone just told
me to stand here.”    “Well guess what,”  I said, “That the same person told me to
stand in this line next to you.  Could you please save my place so that I can find the rest of my family?”

She was clearly unwilling to commit to saving my place, since we both knew were on the knife-edge of disaster, and she, understandably, did not want to be responsible for the
downfall of our vacation.  But I hurriedly corralled the rest of my family and established our undeniable and resolute presence in this line.  Although I was still as tense as a tick, I now had a plan that had some chance of success, and I felt a moment of superiority as I surveyed the scene.  It occurred to me that this barely controlled airport chaos represented the foundation of democracy.  Democracy can only work when there is some respect for the law and for rules.  As I looked around I realized that my fellow Americans were by and large willing to follow the rules and meekly stand in futile lines waiting their turns.

And then with horror, I realized that one of the American airlines service representatives was escorting people to cut in line ahead of us.  He looked at us and said “I’m sorry, these folks will be late for their plane unless they check in.”   At this moment, I realized that this guy was tugging at the very fabric of democracy – bribery.  Clearly these desperate and
clever families had slipped the airport guy a $20, $50 or $100 to skip ahead of the line.  Yes perhaps I had stretched the rules a little bit by finding a better line, but bribery was clearly breaking the rules.  There was now only one person ahead of us in the line, and I knew that we had to make it the finish line quickly before our little democracy collapsed into chaos – at any moment this line could be over run with people claiming that they would be late for their plane.  And certainly the majority of us were well-heeled vacationers and not a desperate people trying to escape the icy grip of Communism, but a scene like the last plane out of Saigon came to mind.

And then we were through.  Last step security.  If could have hoisted this heft, I would have done a cartwheel though security in my stocking feet, but I settled for a grateful jig.  We made it to our gate with 20 minutes to spare, and I became the Mom Who Saved Christmas.

The missing words in the following poem are anagrams (i.e. share the same letters, like spot, stop and post) and the number of asterisks indicates the number of letters.  One of the missing words will rhyme with the preceding or following lines.  Your job is to solve the missing words based on the above rules and the context of the poem.  Scroll down for answers.

The airport was jammed and without a ——– plan I knew we’d be late

Unable to check our bags, get through security and get to the gate.

Unless there was some sort of miracle and the  line magically diminished,

I knew that our Christmas vacations was totally ——–.

I should have just —— — my wallet to find money to give to the counter clerks,

Because now I now that bribery is the best way to grease the works.







fiendish, finished, fished in

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