It’s always interesting visiting the Upper Peninsula. The people are friendly (provided you’re not a deer or a fish). The river is beautiful. And there isn’t a modern, properly configured computer in sight.
To give you a sense of what it’s like, I present to you my offspring, rendered just as they appear in The UP, in sepiatone and everything. Yes, it actually is 1937 there. Albeit, subject to some radical climate shifting. (The St. Marys River, in background, was once many feet higher.) And more vibrant swimwear.
Which might explain why my emergence from The UP felt a bit like Future Shock. The sequence of events went something like this:
At the Sault St. Marie airport, the TSA not only confiscated my torch lighter, they called me over the loudspeaker and photocopied my ID as a permanent record of my nefarious attempt at smuggling hazardous materials. Never mind that this was >Trip #50 for that particular torch lighter and somehow we all managed to live to tell the tale. But no matter, I suck.
I arrive in Detroit. While waiting for my connection to LA, I discover that the number of views for “101 Photoshop Tips in 5 Minutes” has increased tenfold. Plus (!) lots of new comments from lots of wonderful people on this very site. I no longer suck, and celebrate with a tall Sam Adams at a bar off Terminal A.
Lying before me is a 5-hour flight from Detroit to LA. And I’m in Seat 22E, ass-end center. When checking in at SSM, the machine had offered me a $250 upgrade to first class, but no means to execute it. The SSM attendant had told me to check in at the gate in Detroit.
Newly buoyed by the success of the podcast (and the ample beer that followed), I approach the gate and explain my situation. The woman at the gate looks into it and discovers that yes, I can upgrade, but for $750. We banter, but ultimately, I say that’s too much. She says, of all the people she’s talked to today, I’m the one she’s most inclined to help me because I was honest. Go away, me. She’ll look into it.
Following a break for a gin and tonic (I’m not much for sobriety on fly days), I board the plane, last guy on. (Tip: There is no reason on Earth to be the first guy on the plane. What are you people standing in line, eager-as-hell-to-board thinking? “Gotta shove my enormous bags in the overhead compartment! Gotta shove my enormous bags in the overhead compartment!”) When I present my boarding pass, my same woman is scanning. A coworker stands near. I say, alas, I guess I’m SOL. Coworker smiles. My woman scribbles something on my ticket but says nothing. I enter the jetway thinking, well, not much actually. A beat later, my woman shouts after me, “Did you notice your seat?” Duh, I look down: 22E crossed out; in pencil 4D. I look back, give her a thumbs up. “Thanks!” I shout.
Then it occurs to me. (I’m slow at these things.) 4D = first class. That beautiful, delightful woman just snuck me the golden ticket. I turn around, march back up the empty jetway, slip behind the desk where the two women are working, tell my woman how awesome she is, and plant a kiss on her cheek. Coworker says, “Oh, now that’s sweet! That’s how you do it!”
So let’s revisit: I got upgraded from cramped, sweaty, elbow-wrestling coach to first class on what? Some plain talk, some kindness, and some breezy disregard for convention. In short, the very same skills that get you a date.
Made up for the fact I had to pay $25 for an extra checked bag. Twice, into Sault St. Marie and back out. And the fact that the very same airline delayed me five hours flying into The Sault, so I didn’t touch ground on the trip in until 3:3am. And the fact that one of my bags didn’t show up until the day after that, and when it did arrive, it and all the clothes inside it were soaked from having been left out in the rain. Fu . . . jerks!
But I and a gate employee worked everything out, so that her day was a bit livelier and mine was dramatically improved. I’m not sure that’s how air travel should work. (Frankly, United States Air Travel is one of the few industries that treats the customer as a necessary evil. I blame the TSA: You are guilty until shoeless. Plus they stole my lighter.) But bereft of a better macro system, me-and-my-gate-woman’s micro system worked. And because of that woman’s kindness, I’ll use that carrier again. (That and the fact that the carrier is the only one that flies into The Sault.)
Moral: Air travel is stupid and fickle and human. Just as are we all. It’s just like The UP, with one big difference: The plain folks and hunters of upper Michigan are unflinchingly honest about their humanity. South of the peninsula, down in Motor City, they pretend to deny it. But when push comes to shove, we’re powerless to shut down our subjectivity, fleeting affections, and desire to be appreciated.
Alternative moral: Upgrade everyone to first class and we’ll all be a lot happier.