Flying JetBlue out of SFO five days after Christmas was a far less stressful experience, once I finally located hidden underground gate A1A, than my narrow escape from a body cavity search conducted by Francina, the JFK TSA screener who had half the poise and none of the cheer of a concentration camp guard. At SFO I was subject to a full body screen, albeit not one of my favorite joys in life. Yet, when I compare that indignation to being pat down by a woman resembling Don Knotts cross-bred with Lassie I welcome being viewed front and back in naked x-ray by a cluster of bleary-eyed strangers.
On my return flight, my seatmates were 8-year-old Wyatt and 6-year-old Adelaide, two California kids who were visiting their Uncle Travis in New York City. At first, when I saw that I was going to be flying six hours across country with unaccompanied small fry, I thought:
Me: Ugh, kids.
Very Considerate Woman, who was seated adjacent from me, looked back, smiled and said, “They’re so sweet.” I considered replying:
Me: Wanna trade seats?
I reasoned that my young seatmates would be completely preoccupied with the excellent in-flight entertainment system. Therefore, I’d be able to read my book, Tinkers, essentially undisturbed. Then, a member of the flight crew announced:
Member of Flight Crew: Folks, we’re real sorry to have to tell you this, but the in-flight entertainment system is not working on this aircraft. We’ll give you a $15 voucher for the inconvenience.
Immediately, I revised my thinking:
Me: Jesus Christ, I’m going to fly six hours across the country with two rugrats denied Nickelodeon! This is cruel! This is torture! This is inhumane!
Adelaide: Does that mean the TV doesn’t work?
Adelaide: Will they fix it so we can watch it later?
Me: I don’t think so.
Wyatt: Are we not gonna have TV when we fly back?
Me: Let’s hope that you’ll fly back on an airplane where the TV works. JetBlue has a lot of airplanes, so hopefully, when you guys fly back, you’ll be on a better one.
Adelaide: I hope so, too!
Following that exchange, the three of us hit it off quite well.
For a while Wyatt, who is a very artistic, somewhat shy boy, drew in his diary, and he also made a paper airplane with nice lift, but we only flew it amongst ourselves. Child expert me laid the ground rules:
Me: Let’s not do anything too stupid that gets us in trouble, but a little stupid’s okay, all right?
We were all in agreement and I was Marshall of Stupidity, a role I was born to play.
Adelaide, who has endless personality, confided that her brother’s nickname is “Quiet Wyatt” and she’s “Applelady Adelaide.” I resisted the urge to deliver a boring lecture about Wyatt Earp and the Broadway musical Guys and Dolls featuring a character called Miss Adelaide.
Adelaide wove a worm into her wooden apple toy during take-off. We played with Wyatt’s stuffed blue dog, Spots, and Adelaide’s elephant, Stuffy. I pointed out that Stuffy and I had comparably sized noses. I taught Adelaide the word ‘tomato’ off the beverage card. I got one of the crewmembers to give airplane-loving Wyatt a copy of Popular Mechanics to peruse, but explained to him that the $7 in his pocket was not quite enough to purchase the $54 million helicopter that caught his eye. They used their useless headphones to play racecar. Adelaide had the card game War in her backpack, but they converted it to Go Fish and cheated each other ruthlessly, reminding me of when I played cards with my brother, Axel.
I regretted not buying a fresh pack of gum when I picked up a New York Times pre-flight. I always purchase fresh gum when I fly, but I still had a few pieces of the stale stuff from six months ago, and figured I’d make due since I am not a gum chewer. I felt selfish sneaking a piece into my mouth as we took off, but when we were descending Very Considerate Woman offered her gum. I handed it to the kids. Wyatt took a piece and shouted, “Thank you!”
Adelaide the Alpha took four pieces, prompting me to gasp in a voice worthy of Dave, the Chipmunks handler:
Me (as Dave): Adelaide!
Adelaide (as Alvin): They’re for my uncle!
I mouthed “real sorry about that” to Very Considerate Woman.
Very Considerate Woman: It’s fine.
Upon landing, Adelaide announced triumphantly:
Adelaide: I was bored the entire time!
I was primarily focused on the kids throughout the flight, but I did notice the guy sitting across the narrow aisle from me praying silently and deeply into the religious medallion around his neck during takeoff and landing, prompting me to think, “Like that’s gonna spare us from doom bub.” Possibly, Adelaide noticed him, too. I am by nature fatalistic, except when Adelaide asked me if we could crash. Then, I dug out a degree of moldy optimism that had gathered cobwebs in my mind over the course of the last 40 years, dusted it off and assured her:
Me: We’re going to arrive New York safe and sound.
Apparently, Very Considerate Woman glanced back at us so often, it prompted Adelaide to ask me:
Adelaide: Is that lady your mom? She keeps looking back at you!
Very Considerate Woman was easily five or ten years my junior. At that moment, I felt so flattered I would have voted charming little pistol Adelaide for mayor – and I am sure she would have taken the recent epic snowstorm that buried New York City far more seriously than a guy named Bloomberg.