The orderly rules of airport conduct hit me the moment I pulled into the last available long-term parking space at PWM. Rules like: Make sure the weight of your bursting suitcase is under fifty pounds. Or: Keep departure lane cars moving but slow down just long enough for traveling passengers to hop out. And: One person at a time in the revolving door and no strollers on the almost-vertical escalators. And so on.
I was already irked. Neither Uber or Lyft had a driver willing to take me to the Jetport. Sure, it was four in the morning when I requested the rides — reserving one in advance isn’t an option in our area anymore — and yes, it was the Saturday after our first Nor’easter. But this cross-country journey had already been postponed once due to bad weather in another seemingly unrelated place, and the mix of snowy icy bits from near-freezing temperatures made a ride in someone else’s warm car seem luxurious. On the other hand, at the expense of $14-a-day, the remote lot provided an opportunity to meet my daily steps goal while calculating the cost of my nine days away, and to gulp some fresh cold air before sitting in stuffy airports and planes on my trip from Portland to Chicago to Sacramento.
But it wasn’t the exorbitant cost of travel on top of the parking fees that propelled me forward. Instead, it was the primal drive to get across the country with as little drama as possible so I could finally see my daughter, my firstborn child, whom I affectionately refer to as Number One, or, My Spawn.
But in retrospect, I should have known better than to agree to watch someone else’s stuff while they ran to Starbucks. I had passed the coffee kiosk on my way to Gate C and the line of people craving a cranberry-gingerbread latte was longer than the snaking TSA security line. Next to the cash register was another large group of people who had ordered on the mobile app. I couldn’t help but notice no place else in the terminal was open, leaving Starbucks with all the monopoly money.
But in spite of the rules, I agreed to watch someone’s matching duffle bag and backpack anyway.
For years, I had heard the recorded mantra over the loudspeakers at airports up and down the East Coast, telling me not to approach or agree to attend to anyone’s unattended bags. But these two pieces didn’t look suspicious at all. Here we were, just a week before Christmas, and those ingrained airport rules of conduct didn’t seem to apply because the young woman who asked me to watch her things looked to be a college student. She wore a tie-died Grateful Dead sweatshirt and Doc Martens boots. She looked stressed, but something about her smile reminded me of Number One.
By the time pre-boarding started, the woman wasn’t back. I began to worry. Should I leave her things and get on the plane? Should I say something to the desk agent and risk the fallout of breaking an airport rule? What if I was detained from boarding? What if the contents were insidious instead of just more sweatshirts? What if I was putting others at harm?
As the last group finished boarding, I saw the young woman running down the terminal, a coffee splashing in her hand. When she smiled, a huge wave of relief and then foolishness hit as I turned to the door.
“Wait! Wait!” she said. “Here, I got you something. I asked two people before you to watch my stuff and no one else would. I know we’re not supposed to, but you were so nice and said OK.” She handed me a tiny Starbucks coffee cup tree ornament. I was being rewarded for breaking the rules to help someone else. It was questionable and potentially unsafe, but I did it anyway. Even when I doubted myself.
Some rules are carefully crafted to keep us safe, others to blindly control us. Then there are those to be weighed carefully and broken. So, I’m going to hang that little cup from my car mirror. It’ll remind me to let someone else in my lane when the cars ahead of me won’t and the other cars behind me are honking.
Happy and safe travels into the holidays and throughout the new year to come.
Natalie Haberman Ladd is an award-winning columnist, freelance writer, and Portland restaurant veteran. She loves Boston sports, California cabernets, and has never sampled a cheese she didn’t like. Reach her at [email protected].