By Julia Hayden
Over the last decade - or perhaps even longer - all of the adventure, the fun and the excitement of traveling by air has been removed with cruel and surgical precision. Slowly, slowly, all of the frivolous extras have been chipped away, or become expensive add-ons. A small bag of peanuts and a cup of juice, enjoyed while sitting elbow to elbow in a tight-packed flying cattle car, and the only thing to look forward to (aside from the whole journey being over) is a long slog through the wide-flung nodes of a hub airport in order to catch a connecting flight at another gate. Which as luck usually has it, is as far from the gate where you were unceremoniously decanted as it can get and not be in another county. Or state.
No, about the only good fortune one can hope for these days is meeting a congenial person, whilst waiting for your flight or during it, and passing the idle hours in interesting conversation. Here I was most fortunate - even with the East Coast being socked in with Donner Party levels of snowfall, and the West Coast being served up with relentless rainstorms - I passed the time traveling home with a succession of no less than three very congenial fellow travelers.
The first of these had been at the San Antonio airport all day, trying to get onto flight to Salt Lake City and very tired of working Sodoku puzzles. There is only one kind of young man under the age of 21 who routinely wear a black business suit, conservative tie and white shirt. LDS missionaries - they hardly need the nametag, at all. Turned out his home was in Windcrest, he was going to the 9-week long LDS missionary training course in Salt Lake City before going to South Florida for his tour of mission duty, because he was fairly fluent in Spanish. Then, he thought he might join the Air Force. I don't think he had ever been to Salt Lake City - and I used to live there.
The hour on the ground - and the two hours in the air to Salt Lake City were enlivened by the guy in the seat next to me; he was going to Park City for the skiing and a better time to do that doesn't exist. He's a native Texan - and it proves that San Antonio really is a small town because he had gone to school with one of my former employers. Turned out that we had some other mutual friends and interests, including one for local history. His grandfather and great-grandfather were cattle ranchers out in West Texas and I had written a book touching on the great days of trailing cattle north to Kansas - heck, I even had a copy of J. Frank Dobie's book about longhorns in my bag.
Because of the delay on the ground, I was pretty sure I'd miss the connecting flight to San Diego ... but they had just begun boarding as I jogged breathlessly along the concourse between gates (note to self: start jogging regularly again). Made the flight with about fifteen minutes to spare; I could have just walked fast, but not keen on spending the night sleeping in the terminal, fond as I am of watching the sun come up over the Wasatch Front. For the fight to San Diego, I shared a row with a young Coast Guard member's wife, who was coming home to San Diego after a flying trip to Fargo, N.D. We had a lot in common, as it turned out: her trip was a last visit to her grandfather, whose health was failing rapidly, mine to be with my family and to sort out matters after my Dad's death. She had three-month old baby son whom se adored - and laughed and laughed when I told the story of how my father had snake-proofed my brother and I. On one of the first dates with her husband, he had proudly brought a rattlesnake that he had killed, and skinned it in her kitchen sink
So, the flight from San Antonio to home in San Diego was passed very agreeably - although Delta did their part, I think the people I met along the way were the main means of making the journey at least a little pleasanter than it could have been.