Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Strangers on a Plane

     Recently, I had the good fortune to travel up to Boston for a surprise visit on my Dad's 80th birthday.  My middle sister cooked up the surprise part and generously funded my flight, so all I had to was show up.  Jonathan and I dutifully left for the Augusta airport in the pitch black dark at 4:45 a.m. to ensure that I'd have plenty of time to make the 6:20 a.m. flight.  The Augusta airport is very, very tiny as airport's go.  It's like a little boutique airport, with tiny planes and one terminal, but it's very convenient for us since it's super close.  I kissed Jonathan goodbye once he made sure that I had my itinerary set and stood in the TSA line.  The line was full of groggy adults, a few kids that parents hadn't even bothered to take out of their pj's,  and one enormous woman in a wheelchair.  This lady wasn't that old, maybe 50, but she was incredibly obese.  I always wonder how a person gets quite to that level of obesity. Its not like it can't sneak up on a person.  I mean for most people you gain a few pounds and your pants get tighter, you lay of the ice cream and that's that.  This level of overweight takes some real commitment.  As in Olympic level amounts of food are needed to maintain that bulk.  Anyway, this lady gets to the front of the line and the TSA lady makes her stand up out of her wheelchair. Okay, that's fair, but then she proceeds to frisk this woman like she's hiding a machine gun under her gut fat.  I was watching this scene unfold, thinking to myself, "Is this normal protocol for incredibly overweight traveler's?" I mean, call me naive, but I didn't know that whomever likes to blow up airplanes sought out the most gigantic passenger they could find to stash bombs, etc.

"Hey, you fatty...I have a bag of Big Macs in it for you if you let me tape this device between your rolls of back fat,"

 As I'm still saying What the Fuck in my head, a man behind me starts muttering how ridiculous it is that the TSA agent is making such a meticulous process of searching this poor lady so thoroughly.  We both stood there shaking our heads, until finally the heavy woman was cleared to go on.  I sailed through security and sat in the tiny terminal to wait for my flight.

  After about a half hour, we were cleared to board, but the funky tunnel that connects the airport to the plane was broken so we were ushered out onto the tarmac in the dark, like pre schoolers going on a field trip to the zoo.  Climbing the stairs, I checked my seat number again. 23C.  Being careful not to clock anyone in the head with my bag I made my way down the aisle until I arrived at my seat number. A man in a business suit was in the aisle seat of my row and he gave me a pained, apologetic look. My seat was the window seat (my least favorite) and in the middle was you got it, the obese terrorist.  She gave me a smile and as she struggled to free her ass from the seat she said, "This might take me a few minutes."   Why on God's green earth wouldn't this woman request any seat, BUT the middle?  Not only for her comfort, but what if I had been a big gal myself?   When she finally wedged herself free, I slipped into my seat and looked out the window as she got herself re-situated.  It's a good thing that I'm reed thin, because there was quite a bit of overhang infringing on my seat.  And then it hit my nostrils, a faint, yet pungent sour scent of flesh that hadn't seen soap in more days than one wants to know.  A mild panic reached out from my brain, and I struggled to control my breathing.  I was trapped in this seat next to a very nice, but giant woman who smelled like a dishcloth that hadn't been washed in a year.  Somehow I managed to keep myself from losing it through sheer mind over matter.  I could just scramble over her if I had to leave my seat in a hurry, I told myself over and over again.  The plane eventually taxied down the runway and soon we were in the air.  I put my nose in a book for the entire flight, while my seat mate played Candy Crush like a boss. Luckily, it was a short flight to Atlanta and we landed without incident.  My captor released me from my seat, with great physical effort, and I wished her a good day. Oy, what a start to my trip.

   My next flight to Boston was filled to the gills.  This time my seat assignment led me to the very back seat in the plane where I learned that I was sitting next to...an infant.

"Hi," I said shyly to the mother. The baby gurgled and wobbled about in her lap.  I'm not really a baby person, not that I have anything against kids, but infants aren't my strong suit and I know that flying can be hell on little kids. The mother was very tanned, with her hair thrown up in a messy knot on top of her head. She looked exhausted, but she gave me a nod as I sat in the middle seat.  The woman who was in the aisle seat of my row appeared to be around my age. When she sat down she launched into some quick small talk.

 "Whew, I'm sweating so much. Hot flashes, " she said with a giggle. "I had to have an emergency hysterectomy six months ago and it threw me into early menopause. I'm always so hot!"

 I smiled at her all the while thinking to myself, really?  That was too much information to tell a stranger on an airplane.  This flight seemed doomed. Caught between a tiny baby and a woman who was telling me intimate details about her recently removed uterus. To top it off the sweaty lady confessed to having a bad cold, otherwise she would be holding that baby the whole flight.  She broke out her kleenex, pulled out her laptop and launched into a vigorous game of Candy Crush. Am I the only person who hasn't ever played Candy Crush???  Again, I pulled out my book prepared to be tuning out the wails of an infant any second. Much to my immense relief and surprise that little boy baby fell asleep for the ENTIRE flight!  And the sniffling Candy Crusher was so involved in her stacking of sweets that she never opened her mouth again, except to cough.

Friday, January 15, 2016

The Cowboy Way

     It was a bright April morning when Kenny, the trainer at the race farm where I was working, introduced  me to our new exercise rider.  A slim figure, around 5'7 wearing a straw cowboy hat and scuffed boots slipped around the corner of the barn. A cigarette waggled precariously between his lips.

  "The name's Jerry," he said, offering his hand. I shook it and gave him a big smile. "Nice to meet you," I replied, stepping back from the cloud of smoke that was surrounding him.

"Jerry here is going to straighten out all of these knuckleheads, " Kenny said.  I refrained from saying "about time", since I had to parse out my smart ass comments judiciously, lest I get fired.  Truthfully, the string of racehorses had been running rough shod over all of the young girls who'd been riding them over the course of the winter.  It was becoming a joke all over the farm on how many times we'd have to yell, "Loose horse!!!" each day, because they literally got dumped multiple times per morning.  Jonathan and I had debated about getting on some of the horses, but in the end we decided we didn't want to take any risks on these two bit, flea brained idiot race horses. It just wasn't worth it, despite the frustration of watching them leap, wheel, go sideways and flat out run off with the girls.

  I set about tacking up the first set to go out that morning.  A tall rangy dark bay gelding would be Jerry's first steed.  This horse was as dumb as can be, but he was smart enough to have terrorized everyone who had ridden him for months.  All he needed was someone who could sit up there, take hold of him and get him going in a straight line.  Jerry walked into the stall wearing his skull cap, jockey bat in hand.  He started checking over the tack, muttering about how it should be adjusted, tightening this, shortening that, basically rearranging everything that I had already carefully set up.  I kept my mouth shut and silently smoldered.  Just give him a chance, I told myself, it's no big deal.  I legged him up in the stall and with great pomp and circumstance he shooed the horse out into the shed row and began to kick him in the ribcage, yelling "HAA".  The horse shook his head back and forth in protest, but he listened. Soon they were jogging around the shed row, with Jerry hollering, "Coming around, jogging in the barn" before each corner.  After a few minutes, he jerked him out of the barn and galloped him up the driveway to the race track.  Though the guy had irritated me, by treating me like I didn't now what I was doing as his lowly race groom, I had to hand it to him; the dude could ride.

  The rest of the morning went much the same.  The naughty horses all got a dose of what they needed, which was a positive, confident ride.  With each ride under his belt, Jerry got more and more cocky himself.  Crowing about his skills, like a banty rooster.  He'd been riding race horses for over twenty years at tracks all over the country.  His face was a battle of wrinkles, from years of riding in wind, rain and heavy drinking.  Most of his teeth were gone, but he had a fastidiously manicured mustache perched above his upper lip.  I suspected at one point in his youth he'd been able to seduce many women with his pretty blue eyes and long lashes, but there was a sense of deep fatigue in them now, like he'd lost too many nights of sleep that he'd never make up.

   It became a routine that Jonathan and I would pick Jerry up on our way to the farm, since he had no transportation except a bicycle with a hinky motor that left him stranded more often than not.  At a quarter to seven his powerful odor of Irish Spring and cigarettes permeating our car was nearly gag inducing.  He began to refer to himself in the third person, using his nickname of "Cowboy".  It was so absurd that I'd have to hide my smiles and snorts. As he got comfortable he starting regaling us with tales of his conquests from the previous nights. Often, I had to put up my hand and tell him to just stop. He had no filter. Some days he'd be so hung over we'd have to stop and get him a beer on the way just so he could get through his rides and collect his paycheck.  It was pathetic, but he was still doing a good job on the horses.  We had to give him that credit.  If he was still drunk from the night before he'd get a little uppity and start giving me advice on riding. I'm all for learning new things, but listening to him slurring tips on basics, just made me crazy.  Being a groom was already kind of bumming me out from a professional standpoint, but to be treated like a moron by this washed up dude? I've always been a fairly civilized person, but this guy would get under my skin. I started to really let him have it, and sometimes I even shocked myself with what I'd say to him.

"Jerry, just get on the mother fucking horse and zip it!" I'd yell, causing my co-workers to titter and scuttle off.

  He'd act all offended, but he never argued back, no matter how mean I was to him.  I reckon he was conditioned to being yelled at. You can't be that big of an arrogant jerk, while swaggering from too much beer and not get some payback for it.  In fact, he admitted that he was usually the guy at the bar who got beaten up, because he was big enough so it wasn't embarrassing to kick his ass, but little enough that he got his ass kicked.

   And so it went for four months, until one morning Cowboy announced that he'd be moving on.

"You two are real decent people,  and I want to thank you for all you did for me while I was here," he said, tipping his crumpled straw cowboy hat, a small belch popping from his lips.

  I wasn't going to miss him, but he sure was a character, unlike anyone I'd ever met.  He was true to himself, for better, or worse, which is more than you can say for some people.  He'd created this persona for himself as "Cowboy" and he was going to ride it to the bitter end. We wished him well and he took off, with his bike motor sputtering.

Happy trails, Cowboy.