I nestle into my airplane seat, trying to make the unyielding chair feel more comfortable by wiggling this way and that. I fail miserably. There is no such thing as comfort in economy seating. The flight to Toronto and then to Miami will just seem that much longer. The short stop in Toronto to change planes will be a welcome opportunity to stretch my legs. It’s my first time on a commercial flight, any flight actually. Half way through the flight I feel slightly nauseous. The flying wasn’t bothering me at all. My guts ache whenever I think about my new boss, Mr. Red Pants, or Mr. Dick Fatterod, it’s all the same, except one suggests a pimp and the other a penis. I have all these nagging questions in my mind. Why did he want to know about my family? Why was he so concerned with what I looked like? I’m a stable hand. Who cares?
I try to forget my concerns as I stare out the window at the ever-changing clouds. How can anything look so solid, and yet if you set foot on the dense looking fluff, you would plunge to the Earth like bullet through the barrel of a gun.
I tap my foot and pat my leg. I tried to read, I have the focus of a gnat. I light a smoke instead. (Yes, this was back in the days when you could smoke on planes. My apologies non-smokers, for I lacked understanding until I became a non-smoker. I realize now, you still inhaled our filthy smoke. Smoking sections are a mythological area, one in which there is a giant open space where an imaginary line divides the smokers and non-smokers. Just like our borders between countries.)
The flight to Toronto took about a half a pack of smokes.
I thought the rest of the trip would be a balmy breeze, yet plans go sideways as easy as a Canadian car skidding on black ice. I have three words for you, Customs and Immigration. What is this strange beast of which you speak? Dammit, of all the things I conjured up to go wrong on my adventure to the tropics, Customs and Immigration wasn’t even a blip on my radar.
I grew up in a little place called Wandering River, they call it a hamlet in Wikipedia, it’s as close as you can get to being raised in a forest with wolves without actually doing it. I could paint granaries naked and no one would even see me. Of course with the insatiable swarms of the black flies taking large bloody chunks out of your nether regions I wouldn’t advise attempting it. Wandering River would be a good place to host Naked and Afraid Naked with a medical twist. It’s not conducive for building a nudist colony either.
My nerves were dancing to the tune Staying Alive as I line up to go through U.S. customs for my flight to Miami. The nearest experience I ever had to Customs and Immigration in my little world, was when the local fellas denied entry to out of town fellas at dances and parties. There were only so many ladies to go around.
At the customs Q and A booth, I had officially arrived at the ass over teakettle part of my travels. The official at the regular customs booth didn’t like my answers. My heart thumped in my chest as I was led into a private room. The door closed loudly behind me.
I study the bleak room.
The customs officer gives me a stone cold stare, “Go ahead— sit down.” He orders.
I sit in the chair across from his desk as though it’s electrified.
He studies my plane ticket and my identification. “I see your going to Miami. Do you have a place to stay when you get there?”
My eyes are wide, too wide. I try to relax my eyeballs. I end up cross-eyed. “Yes.” I give him the address.
“How much money do you have on you?
“Two hundred and fifty dollars,” I said with pride. It’s plenty of money for me.
“That’s not very much money,” he declares.
“Yeah,” I explain, “but I’m staying with people. I don’t have to pay for food or housing.”
Well done Deb, it’s always a good plan to argue with the customs officer. He loves it when people do that.
“You don’t have a return ticket. Why don’t you have a return ticket?”
Because Mr. Dick didn’t tell me I needed one, I thought. “Because I wasn’t sure of the exact date I would be coming home.” I answer. I can see my failure notice written in his eyes.
“Well, I’m afraid we can’t let you travel today, he said, handing me back my identification and ticket.
I do the walk of shame following a security officer back to the Canadian side of the terminal. I feel the tears building as I looked at the floor. What the hell was I going to do now?
Well, the first thing I did, was go and bawl my eyes out in the bathroom. After I pulled it together, I phoned Mr. Dick. He arranged a return ticket for me at the airline counter. My flight was at six o’clock the next morning. I only had a twelve-hour worry period in the airport.
I sat in a seat with my back against the wall, the safest place to be in a shoot out— not that I was expecting a shoot out, but you just never know.
I tried to read. I people watched. I watched a security guard while he watched me on and off.
Around eight o’clock the security guard stalks up to me. I looked into his face, prepared for the worst, but his dark eyes shine with warmth.
“I’ve been keeping my eye on you,” he said. “You’ve been sitting there a long time. You seem young to be traveling alone. Where are you going?”
I admit, I looked young, I even look young in the future, when I get ejected from a bar at twenty four because the waitress didn’t believe the age on my drivers licence.
“I’m going to Miami.”
He shakes his head, and frowns. “There’s no more flights to Miami until morning.”
I nod, “Yeah, That’s right, I’m flying out at six o’clock in the morning.”
He takes a deep breath and sits down beside me, “You can’t stay here all night,” he said with care in his voice. “ Don’t you have a place to go until then?”
His interest for me triggers a sadness I was trying to ignore. Why did I l leave my safe little job? “No.” I answer. I don’t have anywhere to go.” Tears leak down my face as I continue, “Well, sob, my sister lives in Toronto, sob, but she doesn’t have a car.” I take a deep breath to try and stop crying, it sounds like I punctured a lung and someone’s trying to smother me, “I’ll just wait here until my flight.”
He pats me on the shoulder, “It’s okay,” he said gently, “Things are never as bad as they seem.”
I bob my head and sniffle.
“Listen,” he said. “I’ want to help you out. You can’t stay here all night. It can be a sketchy place for a young girl to be at night.” He holds out a hand, “If you give me see your tickets, I’ll go and talk to the airline and see if I can get you a place to stay.”
I hand over my tickets and watch my knight with no shining armor, no horse, and no sword, stride up to the airline counter. I guess all a knight needs is a good heart.
I watch him step up to the ticket lady at the airline counter with conspiratorial closeness. He is an animated talker, his hands are waving, shoulders shaking and his feet are shuffling. I didn’t think my story was that exciting. He winds up his pitch by pointing to me. The lady smiles, and I grin back.
He returns to me with a voucher for a hotel, courtesy of the airline. Amazing. Good luck doing that in this day and age, we have a tough time getting a bag of peanuts.
My rescuer walks me to the shuttle bus for the hotel.
“Thank you so much. “ I gush with glowing eyes. “You’re so kind. I never considered the possibility that someone would help me out. Yet, here you are.”
“I have a daughter.” He raises his eyes to the sky, “If she were in a predicament like you? I would hope someone would help her too.”
The hotel is lovely, a bit of safety for the time being. I call my sister Cheryl, who lives too far from the airport to come in person. It’s reassuring to talk to family.
I have a restless sleep.
The next morning I breeze through customs, and board my plane for Miami.
The trip is swift, aided by many mini naps. We begin our descent into Miami, and I press my forehead against the window straining to see the earth below. The crystalline blue ocean hugs the white sandy strips of shore, and vivacious green aligns with buildings, roads, and freeways.
We land on time. As I exit the plane behind a throng of other passengers I feel the damp air sweep me into a moist hug. It’s the only greeting I receive. I enter the terminal observing the action around me; people are hugging, shaking hands, laughing, smiling, and talking. I take at seat and light a smoke well aware there are are no red pants in sight. I still look. I’m checking out asses left, right, and center.
Soon I am alone, just me in my red coat that says TL on the back, it could mean terrible loser, which is exactly how I feel two hours later still waiting for Dick.
What if this is all an elaborate joke? I think. It’s not a logical thought, but based on my emotional stance it seems appropriate. I feel abandoned. The janitor comes by to empty the ashtrays and do a spot sweep. I try to make conversation but I can’t speak Spanish.
Two and a half hours later, I say, screw it, and go get my bag from luggage claim.
I traipse back to the original waiting area, hoping to find Dick. My stomach growls and the waiting room is empty.
I turn around to leave, and see red pants. He’s hard to miss, he is wearing a loud Hawaiian style shirt with buttons straining to hold the material closed, his arms stick out from his sides, his fingers look like plump pork sausages, his eyes land on mine with a beady stare. I lean to the side looking past him, hoping for a different pair of red pants to appear.
He sways towards me with a shark-like grin. “Hi, you must be Debby.”
“Yes, “ I admit, stepping up to shake his hand. “And you must be Dick.” I force a smile.
He gestures to my suitcase, “Good, you have your bag.” “Lets go.”
I follow on his heels. Me, and my herd of heebie jeebies which has materialized inside of me, reluctantly trail behind Dick. I am a big believer in the heebie jeebies. Some people think they are a myth, but ask any woman, and they can tell you without a doubt they are real. They are the silent creep alarm, pervert alarm, or ugly insect alarm. The thing is, when you get that feeling? You’d better listen.