I saw a small, whining child in the airport who was probably 3 years old. His t-shirt read, “MY PARENTS ARE EXHAUSTED.” They were.
In Charlotte, N.C., I chose to eat at the BBQ. I like to eat food that reflects a regional personality, and I’ve just flown an hour and a half from Indianapolis to San Diego and am now, oh, an hour and a half further from San Diego. It seems small consolation to try odd and unhealthy foods. I order the fried okra and squash casserole with my sandwich. The okra is greasy and not that great, but the squash casserole is actually quite good – it could be served, in some fashion, in restaurants either crude or elegant.
But after I’ve chosen these sides, the man at the counter says, “Would you like a fried pickle,” with a southern accent that I can hardly refuse.
“Fried pickle,” I stupidly repeat. “Is that popular?”
“It is in more enlightened parts of the country,” he says. “But if you are from an undeveloped region of the country, you might not know about them.”
“That would be me,” I say. “Today I’ll choose enlightenment.”
He smiles happily and puts a breaded, fried pickle on my plate. About 30 minutes later, I swing by his station. “Here’s a sentence I never thought I would form when I woke up this morning,” I tell him. “That fried pickle was wonderful. Thank you.”
“Now you are enlightened,” he beams.
“Now I am enlightened,” I say. “And to think that all this time I was only one fried pickle away.”
“There you go,” he twangs.
As I walk away, I feel inexpicably pleased. This must be what enlightenment feels like, I think. I look back over my shoulder. My new friend at the counter has already turned his attention to the next person in line, but he catches my backwards glance. He smiles broadly at me and gives me a farewell nod. This must be the reason I’ve flown backwards to get home. A fried pickle. Suddenly blessed with enlightenment, I have a second realization: the pickle was not that great – I would have much rather gotten home a couple of hours earlier.
My enlightenment was enhanced when the next flight was delayed. Apparently, the folks at US Air sold us the tickets and boarded us on the plane before figuring out that we could not make it to San Diego on a single tank of gas. Stopping for gas in Phoenix turned our 5.5 hour trip into 7 hours. It seemed in-terminal (as in, I didn’t think that we’d ever make it off the plane and into a terminal).
Riding in coach, I once again conclude that I ought to have either been born rich or been short. A young teenage girl sitting in front of me with her mom and sister, headed to San Diego to vacation, put her seat back all the way even before we took off. About an hour and a half into our 7 hour trip, tired of contorting my legs into odd angles to conform to her seat back, I leaned over the seat and kindly asked her if she couldn’t sit up straight for at least two or three hours of our long flight. Looking startled, she quickly moved her seat up and did not once incline backwards again – for the next 5+ hours. When we landed in San Diego, I was so appreciative that I leaned forward one more time and thanked her for her kindness to my legs. She smiled and said, “No problem.” I then handed her a $20 bill and told her to take her mom and sister for fish tacos. Her expression of surprise and delight was worth some multiple of the $20.