On my Delta flight to Boston, I was squashed between Jabba the Hut on my right and Tony Soprano on my left.
Tony accused me of crowding him. Somehow, he had overlooked the obvious: his muffintop spilling over to the armrest and his two titanic legs, both as thick as mine put together. Before I start sounding like a weightistâ€”a person with a prejudice relating to weightâ€”I should add that I know some large people are just built that way with big frames, thick bones, and massive muscles.
When I was a sophomore in high school and holding the tackling dummy for the tight ends, I envied those guys. Knowing the difference between iambic and trochaic meter didnâ€™t do much for me when my 145 pounds went airborne. Believe me, I wished I were a hundred pounds heavier. The six inches of fabric hanging down on my football pants where my butt should have been lacked the desired intimidation factor. I wanted to be swift-footed Achilles, but I got Scarecrow with a Sagging Diaper instead.
Being skinny is supposed to pay off later when my metabolism kept me from becoming another type of large person who may as well be wearing t-shirts reading, â€œThree cheers for bad cholesterol!â€ or â€œHey, Mr. Heart Attack, Iâ€™m over here,â€ or â€œWaddling Stereotype.â€
Tony was bothâ€”big and fat.
â€œSir,â€ I said to him, â€œneither one of us has much room, but letâ€™s work something out so that we can both have a pleasant flight.â€
â€œWhatever,â€ he said in response and put in his ear buds.
Glad to know Iâ€™m dealing with an adult.
His rudeness and immaturity concerned me for about thirty seconds before I folded my corduroy sports coat across my knees, and passed out.
I slept for the next two hours and woke up as the pilot came over the PA system to announce our landing. Though our flight was scheduled to touch down at 10:19am, we landed at 10:00am, an amazing 19 minutes early. I had a shot at making my 10:30 appointment at the Regional Passport Agency.
I said another prayer of thanks.
Tony Soprano didnâ€™t matter in the least now. He could go back to his dark world of greed, lust, and violence, and I was going to sunny Turks and Caicos.
In the terminal, I pause for a moment to appreciate the ship iconâ€”the prospect of traveling by seaâ€”before following a scavenger hunt of taxi signs to a stretch of sidewalk with the retractable nylon belts and metal stands like you see at a movie theater.
Guess who was in front of me in line?
Oh, so sorry you have to take a taxi too. None of your cronies came to pick you up. I guess the impression he made on me is par for his course. The man needs a new set of clubs and more fruits and vegetables.
I stepped into line at 10:13am, and was riding in a cab four minutes later.
When I told the driver my destinationâ€”10 Causewayâ€”he said in English with a tinge of Eastern European, â€œOh, you must be getting your passport renewed.â€
I told him yes, and that Iâ€™d really appreciate it if he could get me there by 10:30.
That was all the encouragement he needed.
He slammed on the gas. One of the pistons in the engine was misfiring, so the cab lurched forward.
He was, as my father would say, â€œdriving like Jehu,â€ weaving in and out of traffic, slamming on his brakes, critiquing other drivers, all while telling me how strange it was that we didnâ€™t have a passport agency in Tennessee. We were getting all green lights, and he was easily the craziest driver Iâ€™d ever seen. I was hopeful. This was the perfect time for traffic violations and automotive bullying.
He stopped in front of 10 Causeway at 10:31am, I paid him $32 in cash, and I ran up to the doors.
Security checkpoint. The line was coming out the door.
I got behind a younger couple speaking in what sounded like French.
Once inside, we went through the dog-and-pony show. Take off shoes and belt. Take laptop out of satchel. Remove all items from pockets. Refrain from telling guard that you donâ€™t have all day.
An older man stepped up to the line in front of the metal detector. The guard gestured to him to continue forward, and as he walked through, he set off the alarm.
â€œSir, please back up,â€ the guard said.
The man nodded and backed up.
â€œAre you wearing a belt?â€ the guard asked.
â€œWhat?â€ the man was hard of hearing. â€œOkay,â€ he said and walked through again.
The alarm beeped.
â€œNo,â€ the guard said. â€œBack up. Are you wearing a belt?â€
â€œWhat?â€ the old man said, â€œOkay.â€ He walked forward.
The alarm beeped.
The guard was getting agitated. â€œNO! Back up! Do-You-Have-A-Belt?â€
â€œWhat?â€ the old man yelled, â€œOh! Yes!â€ He took off his belt and tried to hand it through the metal frame to the guard.
â€œNo,â€ the guard said, and jabbed with both of his pointer fingers at the x-ray machine.
The old man handed over his belt and walked through the metal detector.
Why is it that these things happen to us when we are in the most hurry? I felt sorry for the old man, but I also felt my frustration rising. I would have only been five minutes late, which was a miracle, if he had watched the person in front of him in line and taken off his belt. That will probably be me one day.
One of the guards asked that I turn on my laptop. I guess he thought it might be an Apple MacBook bomb.
I threw everything back in my luggage and pockets, asked for directions, and ran up the stairs.
When I saw a line at the window, I felt the first wave of relief. Even I had walked in five minutes early, I still would have been standing in line.
â€œExcuse me, sir.â€ I got the attention of a security guard. â€œAre the appointment times a formality to limit the number of people who come here every day?â€
â€œI guess you could look at it that way,â€ he said and smiled.
Fifteen minutes later, I slid my documents through an opening in the glass. The woman looked them over, made a few notations on her computer, and then gave everything back, along with a number.
According to the digital sign at the back of the room, about fifteen people were in front of me. I was in Boston, Iâ€™d made my appointment, and I had everything I needed.
I smiled. So many things could have gone wrong, but they didnâ€™t.
Now, I just needed a new passport and a plane ticket to Providenciales, Turks and Caicos.
Piece of cake.