So as most of you know by now, it seems that every time I travel, I come back with stories. And I just returned from an amazing trip up North which couldn’t have been more wonderful. My children’s play, “Threads – The Musical!” was produced for five performances in Pennsylvania and I had the privilege of attending one of the performances. I had the time of my life.
However, this post is not about my wonderful experience. This post is about highway robbery, figurative and literal.
Part One of this tale occurred when I was in the Charlotte airport with a three-hour layover on my way up north. I had an early flight and hadn’t eaten anything nor had I had anything to drink since I had left my house several hours earlier. I did have snacks with me, but I really wanted some water and a piece of fruit, preferably a banana. Since I had so much time between flights, I thought I’d stroll around the airport in search of sustenance. It seems counter to the natural order to be strolling through the airport when most people are frantically shoving their way past the hordes of other frantic travelers in hopes of not missing their plane since usually the gate where you land and the gate where you have to connect to for your next flight are miles apart and you only have 20 minutes to get there before they slam the door to the plane shut just as you approach.
So anyway, I strolled through the airport in search of an affordable bottle of water and a banana. The thing to remember in an airport is, there’s no competition. If a bottle of water is $3.95 in one place, that same bottle of water will be $3.95 everyplace so you might as well buy it in the first place you stop at. Now, finding a banana was a whole other story. Because it seemed impossible to find one in the little convenience stores that pop up every six feet throughout the airport. I didn’t want to sit in one of the “restaurants” there. I just wanted a simple piece of fruit. Finally, I found a place where you could buy bowls with yogurt and fruit. And in their display case must have been 80 bananas just sitting there, waiting for someone to ask for just one. And so I did. I waited on line and asked the cashier if she would sell me one banana. I don’t eat dairy and I didn’t want a big bowl of fruit anyway, I just wanted a single piece of fruit that I might be convinced to pay a dollar for since I was at the airport after all. After waiting for several minutes, I approached the cashier who looked at me in confusion and told me they didn’t sell bananas. I stared at the 80 bananas in the display case and asked if she could just sell me one since I was very hungry, getting hungrier by the minute, and this shouldn’t have been so hard. She pointed across the way where there was a little alcove where you could choose your food and then put it on a scanner and pay for it, all without the benefit of having contact with another germy human being. She told me they sold bananas there. So I walked over to the shelves and guess what – there weren’t any bananas! There were drinks and sandwiches, but no bananas. So I walked back to the yogurt bowl place and told her there were no bananas and once again, asked if she would just let me have one of her 80 bananas and I’d give her a dollar for it. She shook her head but then handed me a banana. She said I could put it on the scanner across the way and pay for it there. I knew it was pointless to argue, so I thanked her and walked towards the scanners, noting that there were several people shaking their heads and waving their fists in the air, directing their wrath at the scanners.
“These aren’t working?” I asked as I approached.
The fellow travelers were so frustrated they sputtered, and no intelligible words actually came out of their mouths. They eventually stalked off with empty hands.
Just for the heck of it, I tried. I laid the banana on the scanner. Soon, the price appeared. But this couldn’t possibly be! $3.79 for ONE banana! Maybe it had mis-scanned. But no, the banana image had the word “Banana” right above it. Well, I have my principles even when I’m faint from hunger, so I trudged back to the cashier across the way, wordlessly handed her the banana, and left. Highway robbery right there in the light of day!
Part Two occurred when I left PA and headed to NY via bus where we were let off at the Port Authority and I walked the nine blocks to Penn Station, dragging my suitcase and dodging all the people who don’t look up from their phones as they navigate the sidewalks, and I was proud of myself for not knocking anyone over and not getting knocked over at the same time. Fancy footwork was involved. Because it was a Sunday, the Long Island Railroad trains were departing every hour. There is also a lot of interminable construction going on meaning everything I ever knew about Penn Station is no longer true or where it should be, but there are signs and they are accurate and I made it to the track that listed my destination. And when I got there, I saw that my train had left five minutes earlier and I now had nearly an hour to wait. There is no longer anywhere to sit or even browse near the tracks. I had had such an amazing night the night before and had been so wound up, I could barely sleep. So once again, I went in search of food and drink, taking the escalator upstairs. I walked in and out of the little eateries, once again frustrated with the prices. This time, I had eaten a little bit before I left PA, but even so, I was curious to see what was available and what it cost. Between being tired and shell-shocked at the prices, I wasn’t paying attention to things as much as I should have. So, as I walked out of what was probably the fourth place I had stopped, a young man approached me, standing way too close for comfort, and asked me for change.
I normally don’t carry change these days, and I was lugging around two personal items, plus dragging my suitcase, and I told him wearily that I was sorry, but I wasn’t carrying any change. And then, before I knew it, he jumped closer to me and said, “Stick ’em up!” He stuck his arms forward towards my stomach and I stared at him. A million thoughts raced through my mind at that moment, but the funny thing is, I wasn’t scared. My heart didn’t pound, my adrenaline didn’t pump through my veins, no fight or flight reaction. Instead, I looked down at his hands – which were balled up into fists with his pointer finger sticking out, but there was no gun, no knife, just empty hands. And he didn’t look scary. In fact, he now had a strange smile on his face. And the inanity of hearing someone say “Stick ’em up” like we were in an old heist movie almost made me laugh. I mean, who says that? I felt as if none of this was real, like he was playing a part and I was supposed to play along. So I just shook my head and told him I had to go. As I walked away, I heard him shout, “But what about last summer? You promised!” And then I had to wonder if he really was playing a part. Or maybe he was just crazy, or on drugs, or a student doing a sociology experiment, or all of the above. So as I continued to walk, I called back, “Sorry, but that never happened!” And I continued on my way, taking the escalator back downstairs to wait for my train with no further incident.
So I can’t really explain why my heart didn’t race, why there was no adrenaline, why I didn’t perceive him as a threat even before I saw he didn’t have a gun pointed at me. It just seemed so cinematic – an absurd scenario being played strictly for reaction. Of course, my gut reaction could have been wrong, but fortunately, it wasn’t. But for whatever the reason, I was more outraged by the figurative holdup I experienced at the airport by the corporate greed and indifference I encountered just trying to pay for a piece of fruit, than I was about this guy jumping out at me and claiming it was literally a holdup. Which of course, fortunately, it wasn’t. But I’ve told way more people the banana story than the story of the guy and the fake holdup. That was largely because I wanted this trip to be remembered for the wonderful and special things that happened, not anything even remotely distressing. Or nuts.
And in the end, both stories are bananas, that’s for sure!
Copyright Nancy Machlis Rechtman, all rights reserved