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The Social Opportunist

December 14, 2019

My alarm doesn’t go off at 4 a.m. as expected. I roll over at 5:04 a.m. and panic. Jump up, run to the bathroom. Splash water on my face. Blink. Brush my teeth. Blink again. Try to hot-compress-out the Louis Vuittons under my eyes. Check Uber. Get dressed. I hit the “Confirm Uber” button. Five minutes to make the bed, grab the kitchen garbage and scramble downstairs and into the way-too-dark foggy New Orleans morning.

I throw out the garbage and stand in front of the condo building, trying to stay near the porch and its protective light, in case an early-morning thief makes the rounds. Thankfully, the headlights of the Dodge Charger soon appear down the oak-lined street, like the eyes of a mechanical tiger.

Fifteen minutes later, I’m at brand-new terminal at Louis Armstrong International Airport with a handful of other sleepy flyers. Thankfully, I have pre-check and zip right through. This will give me time to grab coffee at the pristine new Starbucks. I get my tall, dark roast, throw in two equals and head to the gate to my interim destination, Charlotte. At 7 a.m. we take off. On time. Yippee! Things are looking really good so far for catching the flight to New Haven, Connecticut.

On board, a chubby and young African-American man in a Drew Brees jersey introduces himself as Jamar. He promptly falls asleep and exudes the slightest snore. Almost like a heavy breath. When we touch down, he awakens and asks me if he snored. I say with a smile, “Just a little, like ssssssssst.” We both laugh.

In Charlotte, I walk the terminal for at least a hint of exercise, bypassing the green beans I love at the Carolina Pit BBQ. I am saving myself for Sally’s Pizza from New Haven. In case you haven’t heard, New Haven pizza is the best on the planet. I can eat four slices of Modern APizza or Pepe’s or Sally’s pieces without taking a breath.

The Embry jet heading to New Haven seats two on each side. I maneuver my backpack below the seat in front of me and contort my body into the small seat. I am assigned the aisle seat on the second-to-last row. My row-mate is a thirty-something male who is returning to Connecticut for a quick visit. The flight is relatively quick. An hour and change.

Forty-five minutes into the flight we begin our descent. Having been a flight attendant a hundred years ago, I am familiar with all the sounds of the aircraft. Wheels down. Flaps buzzing into place. The sound of the ground drawing near. It is foggy in New Haven. And my hot pizza awaits in the Maxima on the ground with Steven.

The belly of the plane thumps—the wheels drop. We can’t see the ground because of the fog, but I know we are close to it. Any minute now the back wheels will bounce and squeal on the runway, followed by the front one. Unfortunately, as we almost touch down, the captain or co-pilot guns it and we go up again. I look at my neighbor and say, “Aborted landing. Must be the fog.”

After a minute or two the pilot comes on and says just that. We aborted because he couldn’t see the runway. Fair enough. He declares that we will give it another go, and we make a huge circle back to New Haven. The sounds of another landing become clear. Wheels down. The earth reaches up to us. Except, once again, when we should be touching the ground, he guns it again and up we go. That’s two aborted landings. Third time’s a charm?

I wonder if we might divert to White Plains, New York, incredibly close and not near the water, which I believe contributes to the fog. Or perhaps we’ll land at Hartford’s Bradley Airport, though my pizza and my husband wait in New Haven.

Instead the pilot again comes on the intercom. We are going to Boston. Boston! Did I mention that my pizza and my husband are in New Haven? Boston is 2 ½ hours from my town of West Hartford, CT and 3 hours from our original destination of New Haven.

In Boston, we sit at the gate. “Please don’t remove your bags from the overheads yet,” commands the flight attendant. For fifteen minutes or so, we remain at the gate, some of us (okay, me) crack jokes, make small talk. Finally, the flight attendants announce that we are to deplane and hang around the gate in Boston. We must await further instructions from the American Airlines agent.

Like a good New Orleanian, I spy the seafood restaurant close to the gate and bee-line for it. I sit at the bar and befriend the other passengers from my flight. Two young women—twenty-one-ish—learn that I am from Louisiana. “We’re from Bossier City!” they yelp. “What brings you to Boston—um, I mean, New Haven?” One of them, a cute blonde in a baseball cap, drinking a martini with three olives, offers up, “My sister is Miss Louisiana and she is in the Miss America contest." I find this totally fascinating. "Is it the Trump contest or no?" I couldn't help myself. She assures me it is not. The Trump contest, that is.

American Airlines finally cancels the flight and now wishes to put us in groups of 3 and taxi us to New Haven. New Haven! Are you still with me? At this point, neither my pizza nor my husband is in New Haven. Presto-change-o! They are in West Hartford, as my husband drove home by now. I team up with Juanita and Miguel who want to get to New Britain, which is not far from West Hartford. Somehow three of us talk the American Airlines agent into taxiing us to Hartford’s Bradley Airport, which is closer and may save it a few bucks.

The three of us pile into the backseat of a taxi. The driver, who we’ll call Bob, looks pretty old. Eighty maybe? He has a charming Boston accent. Pahks his cahr. He also wears the mandatory flannel shirt and baseball cap. Taxi driver gear. As I speak to him, I notice that one of his eyes is considerably larger than the other. Or is it glass? Or is he blind in one eye?? Which in our current situation is not desirable. Still, Bob is very eager to transport us. He adds that we’ll have to speak up because he can’t hear so well.

We are in an SNL sketch.

It’s raining. The sun has set, so now it’s also dark. The lights bounce off the wet Mass Pike, and presumably into Bob’s eyes. He leans in close to the driver’s wheel. My compatriots speak with heavy Hispanic accents, but their English is perfect. As a perpetually-curious (aka nosy), and, especially as an Immigration attorney, I ask where they you from? Puerto Rico! They announce proudly. Cool, I say. So sorry about the hurricane.

Along the way, Miguel shouts out various directions like “Sir, this is the best exit to take.” Miguel is obviously polite, but loud because he has to communicate in high decibels in order for Bob to hear him. Bob shouts back “A little louder!” I think that possibly Miguel’s accent is part of the conundrum, so I offer a “THIS IS THE BEST EXIT TO TAKE!” “Oh, this is the best exit to take?” “YES!” “Okay. I’m going to take this exit.” The three of us lean back exasperated, as though we have just won round one of a battle.

Along the way, I gather a bounty of information from Juanita and Miguel. I learn that they moved to Texas and both have jobs that they appreciate. I also learn that they do NOT have health insurance. My maternal nerves kick in. My eyebrows rise to the cab ceiling. “Don’t have insurance?! Oh my gosh. You need health insurance!” They are in my age bracket, and this causes me great concern. Anything could break at any time. “Yes,” Juanita confirms and adds, “And, Miguel has pre-diabetes.” Lord have mercy. Juanita explains that it costs half of her salary and she must use the cash on things like food, etc. Other necessities.

I tell Juanita and Miguel that my family growing up didn’t have it either. “My mom said she just prayed a lot. And they had five kids to worry about.” She nods but I don’t think it resonates. “I will give you my business card, which is currently in my backpack in the taxi’s trunk. Let’s keep in touch. You are bilingual and can probably get an employer who will provide insurance. For example, an immigration attorney’s office!

Meanwhile, Bob is wiping the windshield with his sleeve, trying to defrost as best he can. We just look at each other and giggle with nervous laughter. “I would appreciate that so much,” Juanita says to me.

After many shouts—with and without Spanish accents—and, one wrong exit, eventually we arrive at Hartford Airport. Hugs are exchanged and phone numbers. I dig out my business card and hand it over. “I’m serious. Please keep in touch. Let’s get that job for you. You gotta have health insurance.”

Juanita says, “Maybe this is God’s way of helping us…taking a cab together.”

Yes, Juanita. My thoughts exactly. There are no accidents. Unless, of course, you land in the fog.

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