The summer I turned 16, my sister Jackie and her boyfriend were living in New York City so she convinced our folks to let me go for a visit. Alone. It’s a testament to how persuasive Jackie can be that they agreed without a fuss.
Not only had I never traveled anywhere by myself before, I’d never been on a plane.
I set off from the commercial airport in our little Iowa town on a plane so tiny it only seated 12 people. That’s including the pilot and copilot. There was no stewardess. The two stout businessmen flying that morning were asked to sit on opposite sides of the aisle so that our weight was properly balanced.
Thirty minutes later, in St. Louis, I switched to a plane so large that I couldn’t quite see the screen of the in-flight movie. That was my first inkling that this trip might be kind of a big deal.
My sister was working that day, so she arranged for her boyfriend to pick me up. No problem – I’d met David many times. Easy-peasy. Except …
Problem 1. We’d agreed to meet at the stairs. Possibly anyone familiar with LaGuardia airport would know this meant a rather grand staircase near the entrance. I did not. I stopped at the first set of stairs that I came to.
Problem 2. The first airport I’d been through that day, in Iowa, was one large room. Nobody told me that the LaGuardia terminals covered 750,000 square feet. I quit walking long, long before I should have.
Problem 3. This was before cell phones. By the time I finally admitted to myself that something was wrong, tracked down a payphone and placed a collect call to my mom, she already knew I was lost.
See, David had waited patiently for everyone to deboard. And waited. At the point the captain and crew walked past him, he panicked and called my sister at work.
Problem 4. I didn’t have my sister’s work phone (we never thought I’d need it) so the next several steps of coordination involved me calling mom, mom calling Jackie, and Jackie waiting to see whether David would get restless and call her back. So they told me I couldn’t deviate from the original plan: meet at the stairs. Wherever they were.
I finally made it to a staircase so wide I figured it had to be the one … only to find hundreds of strangers idling there, also waiting to meet people. It felt hopeless.
Problem 5. At this point, I realized I hadn’t actually seen David in a couple of years. I’d never thought to ask whether he had changed his hair, started growing a beard, or anything like that. I started staring intently at every man who passed.
I’m going to guess that about 20 minutes had passed by this point. My first big trip and I couldn’t even get out of the airport!
Standing on about the 5th step from the top, I admitted defeat. I wasn’t going to find him. He’d given up and left, probably.
I remember leaning back, rolling my eyes up to the ceiling, then looking downstairs again, behind the backs of a few dozen people. I noticed a man who was doing exactly the same “I give up” pose.
It was David!
He pointed at me.
I jumped, then started running downstairs. He ran up to meet me. We met in the middle, hugging in relief.
Around us, everyone applauded. I’m sure we looked like the end scene of a great movie.
Nope, just rescuing a yokel who didn’t know how to navigate terminals.