“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.
“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!
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