After a week away, all I wanted on Saturday was to get home.
So much so that I got to Baltimore/Washington International at 1 p.m. for a 4 p.m. flight. You know, so I could beat the swell of Father's Day travelers. And that security check. Madon'!
So I goofed around in the glorified mall. I looked at magazines I would never ordinarily pick up in the terminal book store. I studiously examined every Maryland-themed trinket in an effort to determine it's intrinsic value. I used the lavatory in a leisurely manner. Multiple times.
And still, that only got me to about 3 p.m.
So once boarding began at 3:40 p.m. at gate 26D, I was more than happy to get onboard US Airways flight 1073 to Charlotte. I waited my turn and then walked all the way to the back, second to last row, middle seat.
To my left was an exercise physiologist named Brandy from Phoenix. On my right, a large man named Dontrell who was on his way to Las Vegas.
We get situated in our cramped confines and settle in. We do our Baby Census, in which we try to identify every potential crying infant before the cabin door shuts and the pressurization begins.
"I counted three,'' Brandy says.
"Damn, I only saw two,'' I tell her.
"You got on before I did,'' she explains.
And then we waited for the door to close. Four o'clock comes. Four o'clock goes. Nothing. So much for taking off on time.
Then comes 4:15 p.m.
"A cop car just pulled up under the wing,'' Brandy says.
"I've never seen that before," I tell her.
Five minutes later, another cop car.
"Folks, this is your captain speaking."
Oh, this ought to be rich.
"We're about to be boarded by a K-9 unit so they can do a security check. Once that's completed, we should be underway shortly.''
Great, I think. Someone's trying to hide some ganja on the plane.
A few moments later, a rather tall man dressed in all black walks down the aisle. I can't see his dog, but I can hear the cavalcade of, "Awwwwwwww"s from women as the animal passes their row.
The dog gets to my place on the plane and I can see it's a yellow Labrador.
Hmmmm. Beagles search for ganja. Labs and goldens look for bodies and bombs.
I'm pretty sure body smuggling is out of the question on this one.
I whip out the camera phone and digital Canon. Everyone around me sees what I've done and follows suit.
The dog is pulling on his leash like, well, a dog that can't wait to get at something. He's scrambling all over the back of the plane, putting his paws up on the counter, scratching at hatch doors. This is a dog possessed by his task.
"Here, Cujo," I joke.
He waits patiently as a flight attendant opens every latch.
He sticks his head into any compartment he can find.
He takes an unexpected lurch toward the passengers.
Great. Another shoe bomber, I'm thinking.
He alerts on one of the two bathroom doors.
I start to giggle. Just my luck that I'd be dropping a duke in there when Old Yeller comes scratching.
The dog gets in there and jams his head into the blue-tinged bowl, but finds nothing.
Not satisfied, he goes to the second john.
On this one, he spends a little more time. The dog's tail is thwacking every surface in the cramped stall.
The longer this goes on, the more anxious the passengers get. Everyone wants a look but can't see a thing.
A pilot deadheading in the seat in front of me plays it cool, reading a newspaper. What's he reading about?
Great. Super. Something related to the genre.
I then realize I'm reading this book.
"Stiff." It's a humorous look at the history of cadavers.
I'm sensing a theme here.
And then, just as abruptly, the episode ends.
The dog and the officer exit down the aisle. After 15 minutes, there are no "Awwwwww"s to say goodbye to the dog. Only heavy sighs and worried looks.
"Folks, we'll be getting underway now,'' the pilot announces. "The security situation has pretty much been resolved to everyone's satisfaction.''
It has? I don't remember being asked. And what's this pretty much shit?
"I know we're running late and many of you have connecting flights, so I'll do my best to make up for as much lost time as I can."
Yeah, that's what I like. A pilot in a rush with 200 passengers on board a plane that might have explosives.
Stewardess, I'm going to need a lot of drinks. Preferably the free kind.
Then I notice that one of Dontrell's hands is gripping the arm rest, and the other has a death lock on the magazine folder of the seat in front of him.
"You okay?" I ask.
"It's my first flight."
"Oh. Well, you're seeing things I've never seen,'' I told him.
"I knew I should have taken a muscle relaxer,'' he says in a hush.
Since I'm writing this now, you know how the story ends. Everything turned out fine.
Dontrell was in panic mode the entire flight, as well he should have been. This is not the way a man should travel on his first airplane ride. Or his second. Or his hundredth. Every bump of turbulence was a harbinger of doom for him. Every tilt of the wing needed to be explained away as normal. And then for good measure, the flight attendants spilled my drink on him and ran over his foot with the beverage cart.
We all got off the plane late for our connecting flights, unconcerned for each other's well-being. But before running in search of our next gate, I did catch Dontrell lazily strolling in front of a sports bar in the Charlotte terminal. He had a smile on his face. We shook hands.
"Good luck in Vegas,'' I said.
"I will,'' he said. "I will.''