I walked quickly, my large bag hanging around me, crossbody style. My suitcase wheeled along behind me. I exited the cool, crisp hotel air through the doors that slid open seamlessly out into the humid Atlanta air. I walked slowly over to the bench off to the left side of the entrance as I waited for my Uber to arrive. I sat down, placing my bag between my feet, and rolling the suitcase right up beside my leg.
As I had rolled it through the hotel, I had gotten a few quick glances at it and then around me, as if someone were looking for the child that went with it, only to find none. It was a deep blue, carryon sized piece of luggage, brightly decorated on the front in the Avengers theme. I chuckled to myself. I had needed one before this trip and it had been on sale at Target for $11. No one in their right mind would pass that up.
When the trip had begun, a required meeting for the administration of a federal grant, I had run into one of our state administrators at the airport. She always carried an air of superiority about her. She had looked down at my suitcase and back up at my face with a raised brow, as if she were waiting for an explanation. I smiled at her, saying nothing. She finally said, “That’s quite a suitcase. It takes a certain amount of, um,” she thought for a second, “moxie. It takes a certain amount of moxie to carry around a suitcase like that.” Unsure whether that had been a compliment or an insult, I had simply raised my own brow and nodded.
Waiting on the bench, I was ready to be home. It was nice to travel for work occasionally, but I missed the boys immensely. I looked down at my phone to see how close my ride was. Just then, a small black sedan pulled up. Checking twice, I confirmed this was my ride. The driver door opened, and an older gentleman got out. “Are you Beth?” he asked me. “Yes!” I said, “I assume you’re John?” Laughing he said, “As far as I know!”
I quickly double checked the license plate as he opened the trunk for my bags. He took the Avengers suitcase with a chuckle and carefully set it in the trunk. I climbed in the back seat and put on my sunglasses. He started the car up and away we went.
He drove seamlessly through all the downtown traffic as we began the journey to the airport. “What time is your flight?” he asked me. After I told him, he nodded and said, “You left at the right time then. Sometimes I get these young people in here and they cut it awful close to get on the plane.” I said, “I like to be on time, really, I like to be early.” He nodded in agreement.
A comfortable silence filled the car for several moments. He wore a black ball cap with the words Vietnam Veteran embroidered on it in gold. Gauging his age to be about right, I said, “Thank you for your service.” As if startled, his eyes met mine in the rearview mirror. I had caught him off guard. “Thank you for saying that” he replied. “You know, back when we did it, people didn’t say that to us” he elaborated. I nodded and said, “I know, but I do appreciate it.”
He looked away quickly but not before I caught the quick shine in his eyes. He cleared his throat and said, “Where are you headed?” I answered him, “I’m headed home to my boys. I’ve been here for work.” We then had a conversation about what my work was. I gave him my elevator speech with a chuckle. People were generally left not sure what to say after I told them about my job. “Well, that’s really something!” he said. He told me about how he had ended up in Atlanta. After retiring he decided he could not take sitting around and had gotten into driving for Uber for something to do. “Some days I really love it, and some days, people are just terrible!” he told me.
His two children were grown and had moved several hours away. He asked about my children. I got the inevitable double take that happens when I tell people I have six sons. His laughter filled the car. “Well, you’ll never be alone then. By the time the last one is up and gone you’ll likely have grandchildren running around” he said. “Don’t rush that on me!” I said quickly, and he laughed again. The ride through traffic took us awhile, but we easily filled the minutes with conversation.
As we pulled up to the airport, he parked the car in the rideshare lane and turned to look at me in the back seat. “Well, young lady, this has been the best ride I’ve ever had. My day can only go downhill from here.” I smiled, appreciating his kind words. “I’d say the same is likely true for me, except I get to see my boys again today!”
When we got out, he got my bag from the trunk and shook my hand. “You have a good one!” he said with a wave as he got back in his car.
I stood there for a moment. Cars, trucks, and vans zipped by in front of me. The colors zinged by like someone had flipped a giant color wheel, the hues and tones blending in the blur. The sounds the vehicles made were occasionally drowned out by the sounds of the airplanes taking off or flying in close to land. The chatter of people talking surrounded me with occasional barks of laughter or anger. Everyone had somewhere to be, myself included.
I walked inside to find my terminal. The brief ride had buoyed my spirits. Every Uber ride from that day forward would be judged by the harshest standard. A standard that had been set by a Vietnam Veteran on a random ride to the airport in Atlanta.