The elderly woman was mortified with embarrassment. We were about 30 minutes into our flight and she was sharing with me stories of another time, so many years ago, a funny memory of her as a young child being scolded by her mother. She took another dainty little sip of her courtesy beverage and set the cup on the lowered table separating our seats 46A and 46C, with the flight attendants listening intently from their cart, just a few feet behind us. She swung her hand wildly to emphasize a point of humor, and the back of her hand hit her cup of wine, sending it promptly into my lap.
Having only packed two pair of trousers for my two week trip to Morocco, I was less than thrilled, but the Irish stewardess clearly was, as she doubled over in laughter. This was contagious and instantly about six rows were all in stitches as I stood to reveal my purple crotch, drenched with Virgin Airline’s finest vintage, and now running down both legs. “Laugh it up, Ginger!” I encouraged her, who was still giggling uncontrollably, “I know, I know, it’s all good craic!” Katie informed us all that she would promptly wet her pants if she didn’t stop laughing, and the other attendant agreed, as if this was very normal and typical.
The eighty-six year-old Esther was now beginning to crack a smile, and I bent down to thank her, “We both needed a good laugh, and apparently they did too. It’s all good.”
Esther was returning home to Manchester, England, my first layover, because she had yesterday gotten that dreaded phone call, which I knew so well. Her “mum” had passed away, and so she was on her way back to join what was remaining of her family to bury her. I had made the mistake of embarking on small talk as we lifted-off, and asked if she was going home, or on “holiday.” She looked at me with deep blue eyes, blood-shot from the tears, and her head shook ever so slightly, as did her arm, reminding me of my own grandfather’s Parkinson’s disease so many years ago. Her voice trembled a bit as she told me that she had expected “the call” for years, but still found herself unprepared for the news. I asked her to remember a funny story about her mum, and she proceeded to recall having been a “bit of a tom-boy,” and bringing a snake into the house. Her mother had gotten so upset that she screamed, which startled her and so she dropped the snake. She proceeded to swing her arms wildly, showing how her mother attempted to clear the house of the vermin with a broom.
I assumed that Katie had disappeared, to visit the “loo,” hopefully not too late, but she promptly returned from the other direction, and handed me a pair of PJ’s she’d borrowed from First Class. She suggested I change into them, and she’d work on my stain with white wine and club soda. This seemed like a good idea, and I appreciated her efforts to soothe the wounds inflicted by her vicious teasing.
I was also getting a bit loopy as I had flushed my prescribed sleep aid with my own wine just before the food service had started. I emptied the ten dollar bill, my phone and a bit of change from my pockets onto my seat, and headed to the toilet to change into my luxury pajamas. That’s pretty much the last thing I remember until the red-headed laugh-track jostled my shoulder, “If ya don’ wake up, yal end back up in Orlando!” I had slept for six hours, and was already in Manchester. Most of the plane was now empty, and, forgetting I had a six hour layover I hurried to gather my carry-on bags to exit the plane. Katie pointed to the seat beside me, “Doun ferget yer trousers!” There were my neatly folded, and nearly stain free pants.
So off I staggered, in my new sleepwear, with my camino back-pack slung over one shoulder.
I know this might look a bit odd in your imagination, but the PJs were basically sweatpants and a sweatshirt minus the hood. Ok maybe it did look a little odd.
I walked about 200 yards, crossing over from Terminal 2 into Terminal 3, looking for a display monitor to learn which gate I’d leave from, eventually. From across the huge corridor, Esther came running over to me, apologizing for leaving without saying goodbye. “You did get your phone, didn’t you?”
“Uhm, yeah, I guess, why?”
The kind old woman explained that she had taken what I’d carelessly placed on my seat, and put them safely into the seat-back pocket in front of me. I reeled and ran back to the gate. That phone contained everything. All my contacts, and the Whatsapp messaging program to let everyone back home know I was with friends and still had my head. All my planned itineraries, hotel and hiking information, bus schedules, routes that I’d planned for months. All the music and playlists I’d spent hours creating. It was my camera. And I’d just unlocked it from ATT, so I could load a cheap prepaid African simm-card to be able to use my GPS and my Whatsapp.
I was quickly stopped by security between Terminal 3 and Terminal 2. “Hey Yank, ya can’t pass back to Terminal 2!”
I proceeded to explain my situation. He kept repeating the same thing, over and over. “Ya can’t pass back to Terminal 2!”
I thought this was all very logical and pretty much common sense. Couldn’t they just get a security guard to accompany me back there? We needed to hurry, before the plane left again! Didn’t he care how important this was? I quickly pointed out my “Gotcha” statement. “You said I couldn’t go ‘back’ into Terminal 2, so you must remember me walking through these very gates, less than two minutes ago!”
The kind and very obliging officer laughed, “Of course I remember you! How many Yanks are walking around my airport in pajamas, wearing hiking shoes and a backpack? But I still can’t allow it! Just go over to the customer service desk and they’ll tell you what you must do.”
Lots of fun words came to mind, but I elected to stay out of jail. Customer service told me all I needed to do was to inform the airport lost and found department where the phone was, and the cleaning crew would “surely turn up with it.”
Of course they would. An unlocked iPhone left on a plane.
I’m not gonna lie, I was not very happy. But after the past three years, I’ve learned that bad stuff just happens. And most of the time we could have prevented it. Perhaps everything happens for a reason, and it’s all part of the plan. I’m not so convinced of that.
But there’s one thing I am, beyond a shadow of a doubt, convinced of. We get to choose how we respond to this kind of “stuff.”
So I changed my clothes, got a cup of coffee, and realized my iPad could take pictures and download software like Whatsapp on the Manchester Airport provided free WiFi.
Like I saw on a bumper sticker on the way to work, just this morning. “If it can go well, it will.” I was “on Camino,” and about to have the experience of a lifetime. It’s all good.