If you’ve been following along – and thankfully many have; we’re up to over 5,000 views! – you know that I typically post something each weekend. I skipped last weekend to treat myself to a Mother’s Day weekend in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, with my handsome, smart, sweet 20-year-old son, Burke. Over the weekend, we moved him from the frat house to a tiny apartment on the fringe of the University of Alabama campus, cleaning out the Tuscaloosa Super Target, a local grocery store and my bank account in the process.
A few weeks ago, during the “Tax Day Flood” that occurred here in Houston, I reached out to my son to ask about plans for Mother’s Day. When I learned that he had to move that weekend, I made the impetuous decision to fly to Alabama to be with him. Natural disasters have that effect on me. They make me physically yearn to be close to my son. I felt the same urge on 9/11, when he was just a tot. (And my ball-buster female supervisor at BMC Software said I couldn’t leave. Something like that happens again, I am not asking anyone for permission.)
I should also say, and I have debated whether or not to share this part, I was a little unsettled about going to Alabama. My husband, Jim, and I recently watched The Sixties documentary series on Netflix, which is excellent, by the way, and the episode about the Civil Rights Movement really struck a chord with me. Coincidentally I was wearing my BAMA t-shirt (the one I picked up at Burke’s new student orientation) as I sat on the sofa watching the evil unfold on TV. Alabama and Mississippi were ground zero for pure human evil, ignorance-driven, but still, pure evil. I felt guilty wearing that shirt as I watched vintage footage of the Governor of Alabama literally barring the door of the University of Alabama’s registrar’s office to the two courageous “Negro” students as they arrived to register. It makes me sick to think this occurred during our lifetimes, so recently. The episode concludes with the heart-breaking assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968.
That scene still haunted me as I landed in Birmingham, and when I arrived I told Burke I wanted him to watch the episode sometime. To my delight, he suggested we watch it together, which we did after dinner Friday night on his giant TV in his tiny apartment. Seeing it a second time didn’t make it any less painful. I felt the presence of the Ghosts of Rednecks Past as we drove around campus going about our business.
No sooner had I arrived and it was time to go. I managed to keep it together until after Burke dropped me at the Birmingham airport. But just inside the door the tears came. I miss my son. I had to get myself together before approaching the ticketing desk to drop my bag. There I learned that my flight had been delayed, which I have come to expect from United Airlines. I would estimate that easily more than half the United flights I have taken over the past three years have been delayed for one reason or another.
Rather than get upset, I decided to take the delay in stride. As I headed to Starbucks for a Mocha Frappuccino, I passed by the Ebony Newsstand, which is adorned with old Ebony Magazine covers. There, smack in front of me, was the 1968 cover featuring Martin Luther King. Seeing it scraped away the barely formed scab over my bleeding heart. I am not big on coincidence, and this was one too many.
I settled in at the gate with Brene Brown’s latest book, Rising Strong, on my Kindle. The book is uplifting, Brene’s messages coming at just the right time for me as I contemplated a major career change.
So that’s the backdrop. For the rest of the story, I will share with you my response to an email survey I received from United this week. The email acknowledged the flight delay and asked me to share my experience. (So caring, they are!) I honestly would have put the incident behind me and not made a fuss, but since they asked…
It’s a long story but the woman at the gate was incredibly rude to me. I took the flight delay in stride. A man announced over the microphone that due to my flight’s delay, there would be some gate changes. My flight was to stay at C-4, but two other flights, including one to Chicago, were being moved to nearby gates. No big deal. Then, about 10 minutes later, a different United rep, a black woman probably late 20’s, got on the microphone to announce that because of the flight delay, there were going to be some gate changes. It sounded as if she didn’t know that these announcements had already been made. She said my flight was departing from gate C-6. I asked for clarification, since we had just been told the flight was staying at C-4. And she went off. That is the only way I can describe it.
Me: Ma’am, are you sure, because the other gate agent just said…
Her: I AM THE GATE AGENT, AND I AM TELLING YOU THE HOUSTON FLIGHT IS LEAVING OUT OF C-6! (She was shouting. It was unreal.)
Me: OK, I just wanted to make sure.
Her: IF YOU DON’T WANT TO GET ON THAT FLIGHT, YOU DON’T HAVE TO!
I was stunned at her rudeness and embarrassed. But I picked up my bag, and before I headed to my new gate, took her picture with my iPhone. I didn’t say a word, just took the photo and walked away. It was such a disturbing incident that I felt I should capture an image of her.
Five minutes later, as I was sitting alone at C-6, I checked my phone to see if I had received a text from United notifying me of a gate change. There was none. Then I texted the photo of the woman to my husband remarking on how rudely I had been treated. A man (mid 30’s, polo and khakis) walked up to me and asked if I had just been at C-4. I said yes. He said, “I am from Birmingham, and I just wanted to apologize. That gate agent, she was so rude. That is not how we (people from Birmingham) are.” I was so surprised by this man’s kindness. He went on to say, “There are five of us there who witnessed the whole thing, and we would be happy to vouch for you. You did nothing wrong, and she was so rude to you. And I wanted to tell you, she is threatening to not let you get on that flight if you don’t erase that photo from your phone.”
Now I was stunned and scared. Just wanting to get home to Houston, I deleted the photo from my phone (having already texted it to my husband; I still have it) and I checked my phone to see if the flight was still on my phone (MileagePlus account). I didn’t see it so was now seriously concerned. I walked back to C-4, noting that the sign (marquee?) there was still showed my flight to Houston was leaving from C-4, and sat down by Barry, the nice guy from Birmingham. He and his co-worker were heading to Chicago. His traveling companion offered that he had taken the initiative to speak to the rude agent’s supervisor, to make sure she got the facts. Apparently the rude woman had even said I used foul language, which I absolutely did not.
The whole thing was so bizarre. Random acts of aggression are thankfully so rare that when they do occur it’s upsetting. I thought you should know. I wish I had asked Barry for his contact info, but I was too shaken to do so. But I do have a photo of the agent, and her supervisor was told precisely, truthfully and accurately how the whole thing went down by those kind strangers. I hope someone speaks to this woman, to spare future passengers from being subject to her hostility and aggression.
I am sharing this story not to vent or whine about United’s ineptitude, or the rudeness of their twisted gate agent, but to share how thankful I am for the kindness of these two strangers from Birmingham. They could easily have done nothing. Isn’t that what most would do? But Barry took it upon himself to stick up for me and to give me a heads-up that there was potentially more trouble brewing for me. How awesome is that? I was (again) in tears as his traveling companion told me that he had voluntarily and proactively spoken to the agent’s supervisor on my behalf.
These simple acts of kindness, shown by these two Birmingham residents, restored my faith in mankind. If only there had been more like them living in Birmingham in the 1960’s.