She rushed to the next gate at the SeaTac airport cussing at herself for not eating a real meal while she had a layover in San Diego. If she timed it right, she had enough time to get one of those pre-made sandwiches and a drink. Hell, she might even have the time to grab that new book by Kevin Kwang Rich People Problems. She had hoped that her plane would land in the C-D gates area where the marketplace was located, but her shitty luck landed her in the N gates. The gates known to be the crap heaven of all crappy airport gates.
She stood in line at the Starbucks and grabbed a sandwich that had an expiration date of the next day. 10 minutes before boarding. As soon as the barista smiled at her and handed her the sandwich, she walked towards her gate and had 5 minutes before boarding time. Oh hell, I have enough time to grab that book! She ran over to Hudson and looked around the new release area, and there it was. She was the only one in line, and as soon as the cashier handed her the book, she sighed quietly in her head. 3 minutes before call for boarding. I’ll let these people board first. She was heading back to Fairbanks and the chances of her bumping into someone she knew was likely. She skimmed the crowd to look for any familiar faces: if she knew them and liked them, she’ll be nice and say hello; if she knew them and thought they were assholes, she’ll act like she didn’t see them.
Good enough plan, she thought.
She noticed an old man sitting with his family. He had a long gray beard that needed a good trim. His clothes looked as if they needed to be washed. His face underneath that beard was accessorized with long hair, and skin that showed many years under the sun. He reminded her of a homeless man that she often saw in San Francisco–hell, a homeless man anywhere (he could have also been Gandalf at one point in his life). She bitch slapped herself in her mind for thinking such idiotic thoughts. You don’t know where he came from, or what life he’s led. Quit being such a judgy bitch, you bitch. She told herself. She noticed that he had three people with him, two other adults and a young girl. He was giving the little girl a piece of gum.
When her seat assignment finally came up for boarding, she walked along with all the others. She was telling herself that the 4-hour flight will be fine. She’ll read Kwan’s trashy novel that doesn’t require some philosophical understanding of the narrative that would have been required after reading Solnit’s Hope in the Dark or Coates’ Between the World and Me.
As she walked down the narrow aisle of the plane, she looked for her row. She hoped that she wouldn’t have to fly up with someone who forgot to take a shower, or who snored loudly. If she sat next to a mom with a baby, she’d be delighted and would take that over a passenger who snored. As she approached her row, she noticed the old man sitting on an aisle seat. As she got closer, she realized that he was on her aisle seat.
“Ooops, excuse me. I’m in the window seat,” she said.
“Sure thing,” he replied as he got up to allow her through. He had a voice that sounded like scotch on the rocks–Demi Moore style.
She smiled at him. As she sat down, she made sure she got settled right away. The old rugged man sat in his seat, but was nervously shaking his leg.
Fuck, he doesn’t like to fly. She thought to herself.
She looked out her window and prayed that he would be alright–because she does not know CPR and had wished that she took it years ago.
She became distracted when she felt another passenger sit in the empty seat beside her. He was another old white man, and he was sporting a hat from the university where she worked, and where she graduated with her degrees. He was wearing a button down shirt, and a NorthFace vest. His gray hair was slightly showing under his hat, and he looked like he spent years teaching engineering to a bunch of undergraduates who spent their days mastering beer pong, and discussing steel bridges.
Great, no babies. Just stuck with two old men from the polarized side of the earth.
“Nice hat,” she told him.
“Oh this thing? My friend gave it to me. He said he didn’t like the colors, but I do,” he said.
“Oooh, got it. I work for the university and it’s my alma matter. I don’t care for the colors either,” I replied.
“Ahh, tumultuous times for the university with budget cuts, right?” He asked.
Oh, I am not going to get into this trap of a conversation. He may be wearing the university hat, but for all I know Gandalf is hiding his red ‘Merica hat somewhere.
The discussion will lead to political discussion, and Retired Gandalf on your other side might just go off on your ass, sir. She wanted to say, and instead she half smiled at him, and simply said, “we all make do and go on surviving.”
That was the end of that conversation. Dear God, please let these two old white men avoid one another for the duration of the flight, she prayed to whatever God was listening.
As the flight went on, she noticed that old white man #1 (OWM1) continually became agitated. He’d move his seat, and often kick the seat in front of him. Old white man #2 (OWM2) simply ignored him, as I did. When the stewardess came around to offer the usual snacks, she was glad that they no longer offered nuts, because there were enough on the plane. They did offer the adult drinks, and she was grateful they did—not for her, but for OWM1 who ordered his liquor one after another.
She began to ponder in her mind the many scenarios that could occur—those scenarios she’s read about of passengers who became uncontrollable while they were up in the air, and as such the pilot had to re-route the plane. She thought that if they had to do an emergency landing in Canada—that it wouldn’t be so bad. Justin Trudeau is the PM after all, and they’d welcome these Alaskans on this plane. She also started planning her reaction if she found herself to be in the middle of a brawl: she’d just make sure that OWM2 was right in front of her.
Shut up. You are being ridiculous. Is this what happens when you are hungry? You become this monster. This isn’t you! Stop this shit! Once again, she bitch slapped her mind.
What she started to notice was that the drinks actually calmed him down. His uncontrollable leg shaking slowly started to disappear, much to the appreciation of OWM2—who was at this point, asleep—or faking sleep. She thought this was a good idea, and decided to close her eyes.
The next thing she heard was the intercom informing them that they are 30 minutes from landing. She continued to keep her eyes as closed as she heard OWM2 slowly start to shift. He got up and went to the restroom. She refused to open her eyes.
She heard him return to his seat, and buckle his seat belt.
“I can’t believe that it is still sunlight out there,” OWM1 said.
“Oh yes! It takes a while to get used to the midnight sun,” OWM2 replied.
“This is my first time in Fairbanks. It’s been part of my bucket list. To take my family to places where I’ve never been,” OWM1 said.
She continued to keep her eyes closed, but her ears were wide open to this conversation.
OWM2: I’m just amazed at Alaska. It took me years, but we are finally getting to see what it’s all about.
OWM1: It took you years, huh? You retired?
OWM2: Yep, several years now.
OWM1: What did you do when you weren’t?
OWM2: Oh you know, I’m a man of all trades. I’ve worked at a lot of blue collar jobs, worked with my hands. It was years of hard work, any kind of work.
OWM1: That’s impressive. I’ve worked in agriculture business.
OWM2: That’s hard work too.
OWM1: Oh no, my work was focused on at the tail end of the farm work. Purchasing the fruits and vegetables—getting them out to the sellers and consumers.
OWM2: How is that business doing with this administration?
OWM1: Oh, pssshhh. Not good. Pretty bad actually.
OWM2: I bet it’s pretty bad—and you probably haven’t seen the worse yet!
OWM1: Yep. One of my good friends in Oregon owns and runs several orchards: pears, apples, peaches. All of his workers are Mexicans.
OWM2: I believe that. It’s hard work—working those fields.
OWM1: It is. He hires Mexicans because they are the only ones cultivating and picking the harvest. But, he found out many of them were slowly leaving and abandoning the fields. ICE was coming around the orchards and grabbing them.
OWM2: Jesus fucking Christ. I can see that.
OWM1: So, all them heard about ICE coming around the first time–they don’t return. In the mean time, harvest is coming and someone has to do the job of harvesting.
OWM2: I bet you that your friend can’t find workers for his fields that aren’t Mexican, huh?
OWM1: Nope. He advertised for the jobs, and some teenagers decided to work. They didn’t last a day.
OWM2: It’s back breaking work. These kids these days have no concept of back breaking work all day and all night. All they know is how to .. how to .. use their fingers on their smart phones, smart pads.
OWM1: Yup, and without the Mexican workers—these fruits and vegetables won’t get harvested—and from there grocery stores won’t get supplied. This is a problematic issue that will soon affect the country.
OWM2: It’s because this administration is a fuck-up. What kind of president is sitting up there who has no idea how this country needs to be run
OWM1: I agree with you. I have never seen anything like it.
OWM2: I have never either—and I’m 73 years-old. In all my life, I have never seen a president as worse as Trump.
OWM1: I agree. I believe he’s worse than Nixon.
OWM2: Much worse. His crimes will be worse too. I don’t know why there are people chanting about how these illegal labor workers in farms are stealing jobs—they wouldn’t be able to do those jobs day in and day out. They wouldn’t last!
OWM1: No, they wouldn’t be able to. Those teenagers had no idea how much work is put into picking pears. My friend’s orchard is currently in a disaster—pears and fruits falling from the trees with no one to pick them.
OWM2: These kids are pretty damn spoiled these days.
OWM1: We’re going to have rely on them one day though.
OWM2: I’ll be dead by then. I’ll hope that they won’t shit on the world they are left with.
OWM1: You and me both.
The pilot came on the intercom to let the passengers know to prepare for landing. She shrugged her shoulders, and turned her head left to right to rid of the kink that was sitting there as she faked her sleep listening in on the men’s conversation.
She had thoughts to herself, and moments where she felt like interjecting her opinions—but, held back to observe the conversation between two very different people. She realized, or for that matter, she already knew that observing the dynamic was something she’s good at doing. Years ago in her 20s she would have interjected to demonstrate that she understood what they were talking about and then, perhaps, also express her own thoughts. However, as she got older, she became aware when to pick and choose her battles.
She agreed with them. There was no battle needed.
As the passengers got up and prepared to leave, OWM2 had to rush out, and OWM1 made way for him. I waited a little bit, and I noticed that OWM1 was standing in the aisle, he had grabbed my bag with the sandwich and the book.
“Young lady, I’ll hold these for you so you can make your way over those seats,” he said. “I’m waiting for my family who’s seated in the back.”
“Thank you,” she replied. As she got up to get to the aisle, he handed her the bag.
“Enjoy your stay in Fairbanks. I hope you get to do everything on your bucket list,” she said.
OWM2 nodded, and smiled.
For more information on the agriculture of the state of Oregon, please visit The Oregon Story.