The Terminal

Memories of the summer vacations of my youth tend to run toward a hazy recollection of freedom, sticky otter pops and endless possibilities. As an adult I am always excited to recapture that feeling each summer during our family vacation. However, I have a little more sense of urgency now knowing that time is finite and precious. Thus any delay in the long-awaited summer break can be a great source of angst.

Construction roadblocks encountered during family car travel makes me ponder 50 uses for orange traffic cones as projectiles. Flight delays that negate a day of sight-seeing inspire me to compose snarky letters to the CEOs of airline companies.

At least in a car you have the illusion of control in the situation. You can take an alternate route, build in an ice cream stop or extend the sing-a-long. When stuck at an airport you are bound by the “point of no return,” the ominous looking May-not-return-beyond-this-point signs.

In the 2004 movie, The Terminal, Tom Hanks portrays a man named Viktor who is trapped in a New York City airport for nearly a year. The movie was inspired by the real life situation of Mehran Karimi Nasseri, who resided in the departure lounge of Terminal One in Charles de Gaulle Airport for nearly 17 years. Currently, “NSA leaker,” Edward Snowden is rumored to be in limbo at a Moscow airport. While both men had political problems, not summer vacation snafus, it does make one pick up the pace when traveling through an airport.

A few days ago my sister was to visit me but became stuck in the Oakland, CA airport for a day after her flight was cancelled due to “mechanical problems.” She wandered the airport to kill time. She contemplated the art, browsed the limited selection of stores and purchased a meal. She still had a long wait ahead.OAK airport

Susan finally found a cavernous corner between terminals one and two and sat down. Shortly after situating herself she noticed a fellow passenger having a very animated conversation on a cell phone. The woman on the phone alternated advice with gesticulations and loud proclamations of “Praise Jesus.”

best terminal waiting areaSusan couldn’t help but listen to the conversation as they were the only two people in the echo-chamber terminal area. When the woman hung up she looked at Susan with a sigh and exclaimed, “Those veggies in my sandwich hit the spot, they’re just what I needed.” The lady, Victoria, was a talker. She and Susan were about to become terminal friends.

Victoria called herself a late bloomer. She had some hard knocks along the way in life. She was shot by her ex-husband while pregnant with a child; she had been on food stamps and lived in a tough neighborhood. However, she was blessed with a positive outlook on life and knew how to make the best out of a bad situation. With limited resources Victoria would make homemade ices out of powdered Kool-Aid and crushed ice cubes. She made her own donuts out of biscuit dough. She held coloring contests for the neighborhood kids and found something special to say about each child’s art.

Her house was the one that her daughter’s friends always wanted to go to after school. She truly was the Kool-Aid mom and very proud of that. Now she had grandkids and even though she is better off she told Susan, “I still like to do some of the cheap things with them to teach them you don’t have to have money to be happy.”escalators oak terminal

At the end of the conversation, Victoria said to Susan, “I wanna give you a hug.” The women embraced and Victoria parted with a twinkle in her eye and said, “I like making people feel good.”  When I picked up Susan at the airport that night she was upbeat, not in the least bit irritated. She had spent some quality time with Victoria and probably had one of the best starts to a travel day ever.

Carol Lewis Gullstad July 1, 2013


  1. Susan Stehn says:

    Another great one !

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