Sitting around: at the movies or an airport

Spending time with grandkids or waiting on a flight—we should enjoy the journey that is life

By George Valadie

One of the real pleasures in my life is going to the movies. Good or bad, long or short, buttered or plain, I’ll go see just about anything. At least I used to, before popcorn went to $10 a bucket. Still, I do love the experience.

Whenever I take the grandkids, Brady has some rules. He gets to hold the popcorn during the show, but neither of us is allowed to have any until the movie actually begins. So he sets it on the floor out of reach. Unless he sneaks some.

Which he does. I called him on it at our last movie, leaning over, laughing and whispering, “I saw that.”

Never looking at me, and with no nod of guilt or admission of sin, he simply and slowly reached down, plucked a single kernel off the top, and held it out for me to take. Guess we’re even.

Keenly aware it’s not my favorite, Emma buys candy so she doesn’t have to share.

Psychologists would likely say these movies are my escape from the real world, two hours of going somewhere else, anywhere else. They may well be on target. Escaping isn’t all bad, if you come back.

In my new post-retirement second career of traveling and speaking with Catholic school faculties, I have found myself spending a lot more time in airports than I ever did before.

The rash of fewer pilots and flights naturally equates to a lot more time spent sitting and waiting and thinking and imagining.

On one recent trip, we had to endure what so many others are having to endure: the dreaded delay. It wasn’t days and nights or anything insane like you see on the news. Just a couple of hours, this one due to bad weather.

And that’s when I remembered one of my favorite old movies, “Airport.” Over 50 years old now, it may have started the trend of “disaster movies” so many of us enjoyed on the big screen.

As is the norm these days, I had arrived at the airport way too early. Combining that with the storm delay, I found myself replaying scenes from that famous flick.

I recalled one in which security was needed for a crisis. Rather than incite mass hysteria, double-secret coded messages went out over the intercom.

“Would Mr. Winthrop please report to Gate 98?” No real Mr. Winthrop, no real Gate 98, but everyone in the loop knew where to go and what to do.

Since then, I have imagined they have similar codes for other crises—calls for an imaginary “Mr. Jones or Smith” that tell insiders about heart attacks and bomb scares . And I guess I’m glad not to know.

Turns out they don’t have secret messages for all the bad news.

Our gate attendant was pretty blunt: “Ladies and gentlemen, Flight 42 from Memphis to Detroit will be delayed because the plane is broken. We will be boarding shortly.”

The plane is broken?! Any chance we could be more precise, please? Is it the engine we’re worried about, or is it an overhead bin that won’t fasten? Is it a flip-down tray that won’t return to its proper position, or is it the landing gear? There’s a difference. I have different blood-pressure levels, and I need to know which one is most appropriate.

We quickly (no, slowly) learned that “boarding shortly” is itself a coded message for “We don’t have a clue when that’s really gonna happen, but the boss prefers we keep your hopes up.”

Forty-five minutes brought a second update: “Ladies and gentlemen, the good news is we have defined the broken part, and it is on the way from the shop. The bad news is that the shop is in Minnesota. They’re putting it on the next flight, and it should be here in three hours. Isn’t that a bummer?”

I wouldn’t lie about that. She actually said, “Isn’t that a bummer?”

At that moment, 200 passengers randomly hollered out messages that required no deciphering or decoding.

Did y’all know food and drink in airports is incredibly expensive? To tide me over, I bought a Diet Coke and some M&Ms and spent north of $7.

I may have blurted out my own uncoded message.

But it’s at times like these when we don’t really know what to feel. So we say goofy things like, “Hurry up and take your time.”

One moment I’m thinking, “You fly 1,200 flights a week from this airport, but the parts shop is in Minnesota?”

Followed by, “Do you think working in the dark out there is the best idea? Can’t you taxi it under that big streetlight over there? I’m not in that big a hurry!!”

The only other update we received was a vague reference to a malfunctioning valve and another “we’ll be boarding shortly.” Which when issued a second time is code for, “I know I lied last time, and I’m lying again this time, but it’s less of a lie. Thanks for not hurting me!”

Seven hours behind schedule, we landed safely, with no need for any additional crisis codes. And my this year’s Thanksgiving list grew to include three mechanics, two pilots, and a new part for an old plane.

Dear God—Too much of our lives is spent sitting somewhere else. All too often we forget to enjoy the journey that is life. And what a brief journey it is. Please help us enjoy it. Amen.


George Valadie is a parishioner at St. Stephen Church in Chattanooga.

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