The Seattle airport feels like 20 elephants have been crammed into a 20 foot room. I like to say, “help!” quietly in situations like this. When I go to check in with United, the employee standing at the ribbon rail accosts me with:
“Are you checking both of those things?”
“Yes.” I have a 54 pound piece of luggage and a 30 pound box of frozen fish. I know because a pleasant Alaskan Airlines lady weighed them before I left the Japonski Island's tiny airport.
“Is either of those over 50 pounds!!!” the United wench screeches with no inkling of a question mark at the end of her sentence. (You can’t make your intonation go up at the end of a sentence if it’s up during EVERY SINGLE WORD in that sentence). At this point, other people are looking.
“Yes. My bag weighs 54 pounds.” I tell her.
“Well if your bag is over, you’re going to have to pay ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS!”
“Ok.” Seattle is hot, too. I can feel the sweat pooling in the small of my back.
“How are you going to pay A HUNDRED DOLLARS?!?!?" More people looking at me. More sweat dripping.
“With a credit card.”
“A HUNDRED DOLLARS FOR FOUR POUNDS?!”
“Do I have any other options?”
She points at a scale and emits a series of angry directions. The man also weighing his things says,
"She's a real people person, huh?"
I lump and lob intimate items on and off a scale, all the while sweating over a melty box of slowly decaying king salmon. I remove seven pounds from one bag, and put it in the other, thinking, this is all going on the plane, and this is all useless.
When I return to the line the lady says,
“Did you fix your problem?”
“Yes." Did you fix yours?
“Well, you still might have to pay!!! Do you have a credit card?!”
When I arrive at the food court, I'm having heart palpitations. The sandwich place is run by the loudest gaggle of Asian women I’ve ever seen. They’re all screaming at each other. They have painted on eyebrows and looks of constant surprise.
“No cream! No cream!” yells the lady inspecting the cold case in front of the register.
“Cream! Cream! I put you hold there for cream!” she points at me and then goes running from the sandwich counter.
When I ask for wheat bread, she screams, “Wheat!” and does a little backwards jig over to the loaves of bread on the back wall.
When I get bumped off my flight, the woman next to me is squawking to someone on her cell phone about what she needs to bring to a dinner party, and I keep looking over at her to give her a subtle suggestion that I now know all about her chicken cacciatore casserole. But loudness devours subtleties for lunch. When she hangs up, she shows me a pink-lipsticked smile, and it’s almost an apology. Two kids, of book-reading age, are banging on their handheld computer systems, and yelling in victory at the end of each level, and an angry woman who also missed the Denver flight sounds like she might eat the United employee whole.
Today is one of those days I want to be something other than American so I can look at this scene of loudmouthed traveling fools, and think: at least I’m from somewhere else.
The only option left for me, during the two hour wait I now have, is to drink, and even in this airport lounge, with a server to customer ratio of one to one, the employees are clambering around popping aneurisms and yelling at each other about overstocking the drink trays.
Despite my aversion to directives like "relax" or "chill out," I still want to throw my 34 pounds of carry-on luggage on the ground and yell, “will everyone just settle down?!” My insincere server says, "You look like the kind of girl who wants a caesar salad with her wine," and then he almost knocks it over snapping my menu away when I say no thanks. It's like the last 10 seconds of Top Chef and someone already ruined the soup, broke all the dishware, and set the judge on fire.
Then he offers me another glass of pinot grigio. Three times. When I ask to change seats and seek relief from the bar circus, he yells, “Sure!” much more for the sound of his own voice than in an attempt to answer to my question, and when he turns his back, he says, “Why doesn’t EVERYONE change their seats so we can serve everyone in TWO places??!”
I wonder why loud people forget how much easier it is to be quiet. I wonder why loud people don't realize that quiet people listen well and inevitably overhear their frenzied blunders. I wonder how exhausted these people are when they go home, and why they don’t exercise reserve (which means to hold back until viewing with consideration), and I wonder what they have in reserve for themselves (which can also mean not doing something until its useful) after having held back nothing all day.
But there are others. A little girl is braiding her sister’s hair and singing softly. Two women in the bar are talking lowly about something important. A man with a thick burger makes the sign of the cross and wordlessly chows down. I like these quiet things because they all seem directed. Useful. Considerate. Like hidden diamonds brightening the Washington rough.