Saturday, 17 Nov 17
Fayetteville, GA
3:30 a.m.

The alarm clock goes off. The Engineer and I dress and make our way to the Atlanta airport. We are flying to Florida to fetch Nancy today and bring her home for Thanksgiving.

9:00 a.m.
Arriving at Nancy’s house, I ask her for a hug and get a two-armed hug instead of the usual lean-in-my-direction with her upper body. She’s ready to “go home for Thanksgiving.”

10:15 a.m.
Andy drops Nancy and me off curbside while he goes to return the car. As I toss the carry-on over my shoulder (I make it sound so light and easy!), freeing up one hand to roll the checked-bag while the other hand holds onto Nancy, Wayne Friday, a Southwest Sky Cap, leaves his station and walks over to the curb. He takes the suitcase then tells Nancy and me for us to stay where we are while he goes to get a wheelchair “’cause I can tell you need one.” He is gone several minutes, then returns smiling with a wheelchair in hand. As I struggle to get Nancy seated  in the wheelchair as expeditiously as possible so as not to hold Wayne or any other customers up, Wayne assures me he will wait as long as possible. He is calm, kind, and patient. I want him on my Committee of Jeanne.

He checks the three of us in, then pushes the wheelchair inside the terminal and down I don’t know how far to the elevator he says Andy will surely be taking. “This way,” he tells me, “you can see him right when he gets off the elevator and you won’t have so far to walk.”

“You can’t leave yet,” I tell him, “because I have absolutely no money for a tip, and if anybody ever deserved a tip, it’s you, Wayne Friday.” He chuckles and says, “Just keep flying Southwest. That’s more than enough.” When Andy gets off the elevator, just as Wayne promised he would, we walk back to Wayne so I can leave $10.00 in his hand. It’s not nearly enough, but all the cash we have. That with the letter I intend to write will have to do.

11:05 a.m.
We arrive at gate 120 and position Nancy’s wheelchair just behind the sign that says “Preboard Area.” Twenty minutes later, two women come – one pushing her wheelchair, the other walking hers – and get in line behind Nancy, but only for a few minutes, preferring to sit directly in front of the gate agent’s desk instead. He tells them that while they don’t have to go back to the Preboard Area, they will need to move because there’s a plane landing in a few minutes and people will need to go right through where they are sitting. Perhaps fearing they’ll be forgotten, they don’t budge.

11:35 a.m.
I take Nancy to the bathroom where women don’t wait for me to ask for help. They simply see what I need, and they do it, all the while offering me reassuring words as I apologize for inconveniencing them. I didn’t know until we had everything off that Nancy wears two pairs of disposable underwear, and I only brought one. There’s nothing to do but go back, fetch another pair, then find our way back to the bathroom.

On our second trip to the restroom, a plane has arrived, so there’s a line. The woman in front of me holds the hand of her young daughter, and when it’s finally her turn, it’s the handicap stall that becomes available. “You go ahead,” she tells me with a smile as she steps aside to let me pass.

Now our first trip was to the handicap stall at the far end of the bathroom where there is a sink and room for the wheelchair and my mother’s family. This stall is mere steps away. It is much smaller, and when I finally manage to get me, Nancy, and the wheelchair inside, I am sitting on the toilet with my feet on the arms of the wheelchair, the feet of the wheelchair touching the toilet, and not nearly enough room to close the door. Though it disrupts the flow of things, I open the stall door, stand Nancy up, then push the wheelchair out. I catch the eye of a woman and ask if she’ll roll the chair over to the little cubby I spy. It’s a small bathroom, and to leave the wheelchair just outside the door would mean nobody could enter or leave the entire bathroom. “Of course,” she says with a smile, and when I open the door to leave, I’m greeted by the same smiling face. “I thought you might need help again, so I waited on you,” she tells me. I resist the urge to  kiss her.

On the way back to the gate area, we twice navigate our way past a woman who is leaning on her baby’s stroller, texting while she walks in leisurely, mindless circles, oblivious to the presence of anybody else. Three men stand in the middle of the aisle – also texting – their carry-on luggage on the floor beside them. For a moment, I wish the wheelchair came with a “wide load” sign, flashing lights, and maybe even the back-up beep of a golf cart. We must get past them to get back to Andy. I scout out options for other routes, there are none. In response to my, “Excuse me, please,” one grumbles, one signs audibly, and the other does nothing.

1:00 p.m.
I find the spot for my boarding assignment A55, leaving Andy (who has a higher boarding assignment in the C group) to board with Nancy. Eric, the gate agent, motions for them to board first because we were the first ones in line to Preboard. He notices, he remembers, he boards in order of arrival. I’ll write two letters to Southwest – Eric gets his own.

1:25 p.m.
Comfortably situated in the first row of seats, we get to hear and see Flight Attendant Bingo (“After four girls, BINGO, we have a boy!”), and that right there is worth the price of admission. He is firmly in control of this flight with reins we are happy to leave in his hands because he is so darn fun and pleasant. Friendly, really, affable. He greets every person – not every fifth person, not every time he happens to look up, but every single person –  as they board the plane as though welcoming us to a party at his home. He notices the bling of princess attire (we are in Orlando, you know), the hats of fellow veterans, reads the t-shirs on the young boys. This is going to be a good flight.

3:15 p.m.
We arrive in Atlanta, and because Nancy moves at the speed of frozen molasses, we wait to let just others get off first. Every passenger makes a point to smile and say “Thank you” to Bingo as they leave. It changes the air we breathe, all that gratitude. Yes, Bingo set the tone for the fight, and he is pitch perfect. I’ll write three letters.

Bingo frequently glances out the door to assure us there’s a wheelchair waiting for us. He even offers to hold up the line so we can get off, and we tell him we’d prefer to wait a little longer so as not to back things up. Finally it is time for us to get off, and just as Nancy’s foot crosses the threshold separating airplane from jetway, we spy a woman take her seat in the waiting wheelchair while her husband gets behind her to push, and off they go in a great big hurry. Bingo hollers after them, but they don’t even look back. We get Nancy completely off the plane and stop. It’s the only thing we can do. As they exit the plane, the pilots tell us they’ll make sure somebody brings back a wheelchair. Nobody does.

A female gate agent comes out and says Nancy will have to walk because there are no more wheelchairs. “It’s a long walk,” I tell her, “this could take a while.” I turn around so I can take both of Nancy’s hands in mine and walk backwards down the jetway, guiding her and alerting her to inclines and speed bumps. Though I know she’s anxious for us to get off the jetway so they can have an on-time departure, the gate attendant never says so, slowing her pace to match ours, holding onto Nancy’s left elbow as we make our way towards the terminal. Eventually, we make it to the gate area, and voila – there’s a wheelchair waiting on us . . . in the gate area . . . at the end of a l-o-n-g jetway.

On the train, off the train and into the l-o-n-g line for the elevator that will land us at baggage claim, we find ourselves behind the woman and man who took Nancy’s wheelchair. The man (her pusher) makes his way to the front of the line and informs people that his ride is waiting on them upstairs, and when nobody will let him break to the front of the line, a miracle occurs: the woman stands, hoists her bag, and the two of them walk back to take the escalator to baggage claim, leaving the vacated wheelchair sitting empty in line.

5:30 p.m.
We pick up our daughter, get a quick bite to eat, then drop Andy and Nancy back at the house to enjoy (I use the term lightly, as it turns out) the second half of the Georgia Tech game while we run an errand. Once back, I sit and try to write this post, but my brain is screaming for sleep, threatening to post unintelligible nonsense, so I prepare the photos then sit and stare at the screen until 9 p.m. when we can give Nancy her bedtime meds and call it a day.

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