“‘Cause I’m leaving on a jet plane, Don’t know when I’ll be back again.”—Song lyrics by John Denver (1943-1997) American singer-songwriter.
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Part of my love for old sayings came from listening to my grandfather when I was a kid. A favorite was his reply when asked for directions involving any degree of complication. “You can’t get there from here,” he would shake his head and smile. “You’ll have to go back to where you came from and start over.”
Trying to learn the intricacies of airline travel for a job some years later, I decided the airlines had proven grandpa wrong. Flyers of the friendly skies can get you anywhere you desire, so long as you don’t get too excited about what direction you’re traveling at any given time.
That job had me crisscrossing the country working trade shows promoting American ingenuity. Outdoing the ingenuity of the airlines in plotting their paths back then, however, was impossible. So, the old saying took on new meaning the first time I tried to get from Center, Texas to Atlanta, Georgia.
Having said all that, I distinctly remember Mrs. Page at South Ward Elementary in Mount Pleasant. She extolled the geographic fact that Georgia is one of the states due east of Texas. She even showed us maps.
So, if Center is in Texas, driving somewhat east to catch a plane at Shreveport, Louisiana, would seem like a head start in the right direction. Not according to the airlines, however.
“That’s correct,” I told the agent. “Shreveport to Atlanta. (Pause) What’s that? To Dallas? That’s the wrong direction.” My argument was to no avail. All connections East went through Dallas to fly back over Shreveport, heading in the right direction.
“Do you have a better fare if I drive on down to Jackson, Mississippi, then fly back to Albuquerque and start over,” I asked with a twinge of humorous sarcasm? Who would have ever guessed some airline agents lacked a sense of humor?
Deciding to make the best of the layover in Dallas, I called a friend living there. “Hey, man,” he asked. “What’ cha doing in Big D?” Telling him I was on my way to Atlanta, he asked, “So when did you leave Center?”
Early this morning, I let him know. “Drove to Shreveport to fly to Dallas so I can turn around and go to Atlanta,” I moaned.
“Are you kidding me. At least they didn’t send you father west to some place like Albuquerque,” he laughed out loud.
“Yeah. Well, I tried that too.”
Getting from Atlanta back to Center several days later produced its share of humor as well. Joining a colleague who had worked the Atlanta show with me for the return trip, we decided to grab lunch in a popular barbecue restaurant at the airport. As we finished eating, he placed a “to go” order for some of their famous ribs. “Wrap them up good for me,” he told the waitress. “I’ll sneak them in my carry-on.”
“So how far you guys going,” she asked?
“About 650 miles.”
“Better make that 2,000,” I joked. “They might route us through Albuquerque.”
Taking our seats on the plane, my co-worker put his bag with the ribs in the overhead compartment and settled in for the trip.
Moments before takeoff, the third seat in our row was filled by another hurried business type who hastily loosened his tie and stuffed his jacket in the overhead compartment. The one with the ribs. “Going home is great, huh,” he offered.
As the flight leveled out, attendants made their way down the aisle with snacks. Looking at the bag of peanuts the late-arriving passenger was handed, he frowned. “I thought I smelled barbecue coming. I’m really disappointed.”
“Me too,” I said as I looked out the window, watching Shreveport from 30,000 feet as it passed below me.
Deplaning in Dallas, our last minute fellow traveler walked through the terminal with us, pulling his roller bag, his jacket draped over his shoulder. “Funny, I can’t get that barbecue aroma off my mind.”
“I know,” I agreed. “The power of suggestion can be powerful.”
“You guys have much farther to go,” he added?
“Shreveport … via Albuquerque,” I quipped.
“Shreveport,” he asked? “That’s back the way we just came. And you still have to go through where?”
“Yeah, I know,” I said. “It all started last Wednesday when the airline agent said I couldn’t get there from where I was. Said I had to go back to Dallas and start over.
“I think she knew my grandpa.”
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Aldridge columns are published in these Texas newspapers: The Center Light and Champion, the Mount Pleasant Tribune, the Rosenberg Fort Bend Herald, the Taylor Press, the Alpine Avalanche, and The Fort Stockton Pioneer.
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