Time slows down a notch as you stand in a line, especially a slow one. Your body can’t relax for all the standing so neither can your mind. It speeds up, giving that illusion of time slowing down. And the speeding mind, like the speeding car, can be difficult to control. But it can also get you to places you might otherwise not reach.
I’m no expert, but this layman would posit that at any given moment, half of all people around the world standing in line are in front of ticket counters, departure gates and women’s restrooms of major airports. By luck of nature I don’t have to worry about that last one, but I’ve seen my fair share of the other two, as I did one day at Boston Logan.
I could have used a third and fourth hand that day at the gate, waiting for a boarding pass. In one tired hand was the grip of the stroller holding my two-year-old son. Fighting for attention of my other paw was his car seat, two bags of luggage, and the sticky exterior of a wide-mouth bottle of juice. Finally we’re at the head of the line when the agent takes a call, then a microphone to make an announcement. The air-conditioning on our plane was broken and we should expect cabin temperatures of 80 to 90 degrees on our flight to Chicago. (No thank you.) If we wished to take a different flight we should go to the end of the counter and see her for assistance.
Why we must move to the end of the same counter to see the very same agent I could not begin to surmise. Yet we dutifully relocated just as swiftly as we could. Which was not swiftly enough. A tan-bodied twentysomething of a young woman dashed quickly in front of us.
“Excuse me, but I think we were ahead of you?” She snapped back. “Like I’ve already been through the line, okay?!” The agent began assisting the young lass. “Excuse me,” I said with confidence to the agent, certain she would appeal to a plea for fairness from an adult travelling alone with a child. “This woman cut in front of us.” No luck. “She got here before you did so just wait your turn.” “Yeah,” chimed in the young one. “So like just chill out, okay?”
I felt a rush of outrage welling up inside, like red-hot magma wending its way through a fissure in the earth’s mantle to a waiting volcano. I was a split-second from erupting when I looked down at my son. He was fine. Had no idea what was going on. He just sat there patiently and inspired me to do the same.
So I took a deep breath and fought back the urge to lash out at both the tan-bodied interloper and her airline accomplice. My clenched teeth and I waited our turn. I listened to the young woman objecting to her seat on the new flight. “Can’t you, like, get me an aisle seat?” I wanted to ask her a question of my own. How can I, like, keep my kid from growing up into one of you?
I’m just glad my son was only two, unable to comprehend the act of inconsideration he had just witnessed. I resolved then and there to teach him the virtues of consideration for others. I know there’s no guarantee a kid will turn out the way you’d like, but I can sure try. I can also set good examples, something this young woman obviously didn’t get too many of.
Eventually we got our turn and two new tickets for a later flight. I set out for our new gate, pushing the stroller with one hand and pulling everything else with the other. As we approached the gate I spotted two nice seats against the windows. But who was there already? The tan-bodied twentysomething, sitting peacefully, reading a book. I wasn’t about to sit anywhere near her. But then again…
I got my son’s attention. “Hey… Do you want to sit by the big windows and watch the planes?” “Sure!” The woman looked up just long enough to see who it was. She knew what I was doing but decided to fight back. She pretended not to notice as my energy filled toddler burst out of his stroller not three feet away. At once he began describing everything he saw and sharing each of his thoughts out loud. “This is the big windows. And this is our door. Do you see the door, Daddy?” “Yes I do.” “This is where our new plane goes. Where’s our new plane, Daddy?” “It’ll be here soon, buddy. We have to wait.” “Have to wait. Have to wait…”
This was fun. The woman stared into her book. I could picture her reading and re-reading the same sentence over and over again, her own blood beginning to boil, as the chatter of an ever chatty toddler filled the air. But she kept her lid on tight; I would have to turn up the heat.
“Who’s this?” I pulled a small toy train from our bag. “That’s Percy!” “And what does Percy do?” “He goes fast when you wind him up.” “Should Daddy wind him up?” “Daddy wind him up!” I turned the little winder on Percy’s side until I could wind it no more, then set him on the floor. He shot out of my hand with a loud and annoying whir. “There he goes!”
And there she went. From the corner of my eye I saw a purse snatched from its seat and a tan-bodied twentysomething dash away. It worked. I had exacted my revenge. I felt heady with victory as I watched her bolt away, and was briefly tempted to jump upon her vacated chair and shout out, “Take that!”
I looked back at my son. His brow-knitted eyes met mine, knocking me from my perch. He didn’t know what was going on but certainly knew something was amiss. I felt, in a word, and not to denigrate our friend the donkey, like an ass. Not ten minutes had passed since I resolved to set good examples for my young son. What had I just demonstrated? My own ability to be inconsiderate.
“Two wrongs don’t make a right” is what my mother told me, decades ago. I could tell now from the empty feeling in my gut just how right she was. Revenge is enticing but non-satisfying, like a piece of plastic fruit. And that is the lesson I will teach my son, that indeed two wrongs do not make a right, that revenge is anything but sweet.
If he’s lucky he’ll believe me. But if he’s like his dad, he’ll have to learn it for himself before it really sinks in.