Airports seems to bring out some of the worst traits in mankind. At least that was my impression while returning home from a recent trip up the Pacific Coast.
Due to weather problems, I missed my connecting flight back to Tucson and as a result wound up spending the night in a major U.S. airport. Two unprovoked, unpleasant interactions involved only rude comments made to me by the men involved. Although offended, I chose to avoid any response that could potentially escalate the situation.
In the first incident, I had to go to the airline ticket counter to try and get rerouted back to Tucson. There were three distinct lines: two with around eight folks per line, and about five feet further on down the counter a third line with only two people in it. This was a no brainer, right?
Waiting my turn in the third line, I was suddenly aware that a man in the second line was complaining to me. "Hey, you're butting in line," he said sharply. How he came to that conclusion, I have no idea. My own conclusion was he spoke rudely to me simply because there was no one by my side to stop him; in short, he felt he could get away with it.
The second incident took place several hours later. I had taken refuge on a cot provided by the airport, and was in need of a precious few hours' sleep in order to function the next day. Surrounded by the high definition cacophony of announcements repeated on the loudspeaker, babies crying and folks coming and going in all directions, I did not find sleep to come easily.
While in the twilight zone between consciousness and slumber, I was suddenly aware of two men, who had started talking loudly just a few feet from me. They were engaged in the kind of chitchat one makes at airports just to pass the time. Fully awake at that point, I politely explained to the man closest to me that I was exhausted and could he please keep it down. He answered me gruffly.
"If you're really tired, you'll sleep. I'm going to keep on talking." And he proceeded to do exactly that, in the same tone of voice. If Ben had been with me, this never would have happened, I fumed to myself.
Filled with righteous indignation, I recounted these incidents to my friend Joe.
"A women traveling alone is an easy target for less than couth conduct, especially from men," I lamented. Joe turned the tables by describing an interaction at the airport when he, a big man, 6-4, had been treated abusively by a woman only 4-9 tall. Joe had finally made it to the head of the ticket counter after waiting patiently in line for about 20 minutes. The above-mentioned woman pushed him to butt into line. Taken aback, Joe nevertheless remained the gentleman that he is and quietly asked her to please move to the end of the line. This loudmouth then accused Joe of shoving her.
Luckily, the ticket agent witnessed the whole scene. Again the woman was told to go to the end of the line, this time by the agent.
We hear today about so many women treated carelessly by men, both verbally and otherwise, that we forget it can go both ways, especially in stressful situations. One of a woman's most powerful and deceitful tactics is to cry out abuse when none has taken place.
Airports today are overcrowded pressure cookers. Many passengers have missed flights, are sleep deprived, anxious, upset or fearful. Maybe all of the above.
Instead of simply shrugging our shoulders, as if to say, "Hey, gimme a break. These are everyday occurrences of stressed out passengers in airports," both sexes would do well to remember that we are intended to be allies, not just fellow travelers on this earth, and we should do better by one another.
Barbara Russek is a French teacher and freelance writer in Tucson. She welcomes comments, especially from travelers, at Babette2@comcast.net