Picture
Photo Credit - Adrian Snood
I noticed him right away.  He sat in an airport wheelchair, the overly wide kind with my airline’s logo stamped on the back.  He was hunched over, the shoulder blades beneath his shirt pushed high into the air like a kid portraying Quasimodo in a school play, but his “costume” of neon orange sunglasses and a lopsided beanie hat made him look less like the hunchback bellringer and more like a certified beach bum.

“Punk,” I thought, as I crossed the airport lobby, disgusted.  A thousand people were crisscrossing the area, scurrying and panicked, getting checked in for their flights out of Los Angeles.  Most didn’t notice him, but I did.  Even though I wasn’t in flight attendant uniform, just being in the LAX airport awoke my instinctive need to plaster a smile on my face while simultaneously putting my brain on high alert, looking for suspicious activity.  That is my job after all and despite being on vacation, I couldn’t just set aside my training and NOT notice this punk kid sitting in that wheelchair, pathetically pretending to be an old man just so he could have a comfy seat next to the one and only wall outlet in the lobby!  I couldn’t help but peer closer and see his fingers poking away at the cell phone tucked between his legs.

Part of me could empathize with him. There’s never enough seating in airports.  I too was hoping to sit down and the airport lobby was like a barren desert when it came to seating.  Fortunately, the hubby and I found a place to rest; a ledge near the escalator that led upstairs to security.  At its base was a young lady, probably only in her early twenties.  She stood at her full-height, chin held high, and eyes fierce as she demanded the tickets of everyone who approached her. 

“The Gate Keeper,” I observed.  A very young woman, entrusted with much authority.  I didn’t envy her position.  A minimum wage job, probably.  A job with plenty of confrontation, certainly.  As the Gate Keeper, she was in charge of turning away passengers who had oversized bags.  She was in charge of telling them to “make it fit in the bag sizer” or go back to the ticket counter and pay hundreds of dollars. 

“She’s just a kid, really,” I decided, feeling that early twenties still warranted a “kid” title.  Behind the bag sizer I saw a fabric sling purse, something I would have owned back in high school.  It was colorful and bright and probably what the Gate Keeper would wear after work.  I could just imagine it.  She would sling the cute purse with its stripped blue and white print over her left shoulder and trot down a California beach with her friends, looking like a completely different person once she had changed out of her black slacks and hideously maroon airport vest.  She would be smiling and happy and certainly not resemble the type of person who could stop you from going up an escalator.

I tried not to stare too long, but I found it fascinating to watch her and think about her life, to imagine me being one of her friends and how we would hang out at the beach together later.  It was probably during one of these musings that the punk came over.  I glanced at him warily.  He was just a few feet away from me now, dragging behind him a rollaboard suitcase as if it were Linus’s filthy blue blanket.

“What are you up to?” I wondered silently.  “Trying to find a way to sneak past this girl?  Trying to find a way to get up the escalator without her knowing?”

It was strange.  He was just standing by the bag sizer and looking at her.  Waiting.   

“Oh, no. Please don’t make a run for it when her back’s turned.”  I groaned inwardly.  I didn’t want to get involved, but it was too late now that I was conscious of the pending situation.  What would I do if he tried to sneak past her?  As an airline employee, heck, just as a concerned citizen, I felt obligated to stop this guy. 

I tried to shake off my paranoia, but then during a break in the passenger traffic, the Gate Keeper turned her back.  In two giant steps, which to me were the size of football fields, she walked away from her post even and then to my horror, turned her gaze around the corner and starting addressing another airport employee!  That’s when the punk moved.  I caught my breath. He stepped forward and completely surprised me.  Instead of making a run for it, he stepped forward and then simply bent down, picked up his rolling bag, hugged it to his chest like a teddy bear, and walked away.

“That’s right.  Keep walking,” I growled at him, narrowing my gaze and feeling quite certain that somehow my powerful mind had deterred the punk from doing something terrible.  Of course, after ten minutes had passed without incident, the punk now completely out of sight, my earlier judgement seemed silly.  I had been completely overacting.  In fact, I ought to feel a bit sorry for the guy.  Here I was, calling him a punk and completely judging his appearance because –

“My bag!” I looked up. The Gate Keeper was looking straight at me, the fierceness from her eyes replaced by a wide-eyed look of distraught.

“Did you see my bag?” the Gate Keeper asked me and for a moment, I was completely thrown off guard.  I had been watching her from a distance almost as if she were on a television screen and so, for a brief second, I had forgotten she could see me too.

“Your bag…” I repeated, as the invisible wall between us faded.  Then, it all became clear.  The bag, her cute fabric sling purse that had been discretely hidden behind the bag sizer, was gone.

The girl lost her wallet, a phone, and car keys.  She was devastated.  We talked with the police.  We rattled off the details as if we had rehearsed it, like actors in a skit.

“Caucasian man.”

“Probably late twenties. He was wearing, um..”

“Neon colored sunglasses!”

“Yes! That’s right.  They were orange.”

“Bright orange!  Neon!  And he was sitting in a wheelchair earlier…”

“Yes! The ladies over there had to kick him out of it.  He was a real jerk about it.”

We had paid attention.  We had done our jobs.  We had both noticed the most suspicious person in that airport lobby, but in the end, he got away with it. 

This time, I failed.  Next time, I won’t dismiss my instincts. 
=========

The type of crime I witnessed is known as Slider-Theft.  Learn more HERE.

Stay safe out there!
Jenn Grahams


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Comments

Sharon Flynn
08/17/2015 16:14

Loved this, Jenn, you have such a gift for writing. Such colorful descriptions. Loved it!

Reply
08/17/2015 19:13

Thanks for the encouragement, Sharon! I'm glad I could capture it in words. It's unfortunate that the event, though inspiring for writing, was such a devastating moment for that airport employee.

Reply
09/29/2015 10:07

Too lucky that my teacher, as well as my parents, always reminds us, her students, to always take care and be vigilant. We'll never know what will gonna happen. She always reminds us to be home early as much as possible and spend our times in studying, reviewing and reading, instead. In this way, we are keeping ourselves safer and at the same time, gain a lot of knowledge and learning.

Reply
Josh Martin
08/17/2015 21:32

I, too, am impressed with the storytelling. I was wrapped up in it from the first paragraph. Too bad the punk got away this time, but at least your were ready and wary in case he tried to do anything more serious.

Reply
08/20/2015 09:46

Thank you, Josh! It's always a bit scary to share one's work, but I am thrilled that you found the writing style captivating. :D Thank you!

Reply
Luanne Bell
08/17/2015 21:45

That is something else! What a jerk! You have a gift for writing! When is your 1st book coming out?

Reply
08/20/2015 09:50

I agree! I like to hope for the best in people, but in this case, he was not a good guy. I'm pitching my book right now to select literary agents. It's tricky to pitch a work of fiction about flight attendants because there is nothing on the market right now other than flight attendant memoirs. I'm going to keep working hard and I will keep you updated with next month's newsletter! Thanks for posting your comment. :)

Reply
Angela Martin
09/23/2015 20:00

Very well written story, I was scared for you! Too bad he got away but good you were able to notice so much about him so maybe they eventually found him?

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    Jenn Grahams

    is a flight attendant and an aspiring writer.  She lives in the Midwest with her husband, many pet fish, and two chinchillas named Kuzco and Pancho.

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