Tampa, The Ticketing Desk, and how dynamic-duo sized families look from the outside.

I don’t write often here about solo parenting for the same reason Gwenyth Consciously Uncoupled: Because Branding. But this has got under my skin for some reason so I’m going to try to work it out. WARNING: Contains strong language.

This morning my daughter and I left Tampa to come back to Austin. It’s a flight we’ve done at least ten times before, but under normal circumstances my parents walk into the airport with us when we have as many bags as we did this morning. We’d been gone a week, my daughter had her carseat with her, I had extra carry-ons, etc. But time was a factor so they got me a luggage cart at the curb and we said good-bye.

I was on a singular mission this morning because a computer glitch had caused my Known Traveler number to be lost in transmission when my company made my reservation. This has happened before and I knew it was fixable, since the lovely folks at the Southwest counter in Las Vegas had gone to the trouble of figuring out how to do it.

The reason the pre-screen is important is that security is a bitch and I paid good money last summer, over $300, for both Chloe and I to have known traveler numbers, which is supposed to guarantee that you get TSA pre-screen whenever it’s available. It saves me having to juggle taking off my shoes and pulling out my laptop(s) while getting us both through security. This was more important when we still traveled with a stroller but the principle still stands: a solo parent needs their bit of bought-and-paid-for travel sanity.

Chloe’s car seat fell off the luggage rack as I charged up to the counter but I ignored it. The calculus of traveling alone with a child allowed me to quickly tabulate that I was in no danger of having any items (or my daughter) stolen and I knew they’d be there when I had a moment to turn around. Preferably that moment would be when I was having my ticket reprinted with my TSA pre-screen on it.

That didn’t happen. And I would go ahead and call this Runway I in the overlapping ground traffic routes of why I got so upset. The lazy sun lizard at the counter got off to a bad start being actively pissed of that she couldn’t understand my last name, and then after one half-assed attempt to enter the number (which I knew wouldn’t work without the workout I was prepared to share with her), she refused to try anything else. So we sat there and stared at each other, me basically trying to out wait her expectation that I would give up and her trying to figure out if I was too dense to know I was being shut down.

In the middle of this standoff, a nice gentlemen who’d been behind me in line walked up to our luggage cart, placed Chloe’s carseat on the top of it, and went to go check in at the kiosk next to ours. In case you’ve never seen this particular configuration, it meant that he was standing next to us and being served by the same ticket agent.

She and I continued to fence over her complete disinterest in helping me out. I was getting ready to drop “I need to speak to your supervisor” onto the counter whenRunway II opened up.

Runway II was about 60 years old, dressed in head-to-toe denim and reeked of stale beer. He was waving his license around as he walked up to my left and told me to get my stuff out of the way of the kiosk I was standing in front of. Now let me reiterate, I was in the middle of checking in. I was actively talking to a gate agent. And this drunk idiot is coming up and trying to check me the hell out of the way of my own kiosk? The following conversation ensued.

Him: Can you get out of the way so I can check in? *elbowing in to the side of my personal space*
Me: No!
Him: What?
Me: NO! I’m standing here checking in!
Him: You’re not using the kiosk.
Me: I’m STANDING HERE. This man to the side of me is almost done.
Him: But you’re stuff is in the way here.

He was genuinely shocked that I wasn’t going to walk away from checking in. I was completely stupified. Outraged, to be honest. Sober up in time to make your flight. And who the fuck are you to tell me to get out of the way? While the words “Fuck off” were not yet approaching the Runway, they had definitely made contact with my brain’s tower and were looking for an updated flight plan into this guy’s face.

Just for fun, check out this Vine. It illustrates my internal monologue beautifully. #capscapscaps

The nice gentleman standing to the side of me was almost done checking in, and to diffuse the chaos he offered to let Drunky McYankeepants use his kiosk. It was at this point that the woman at the kiosk (aka the one I was trying to outwait) realized I was being harassed by a drunk and told him to go wait in line like a normal person. She gave him a pretty experienced airline employee stink eye and I hoped the fact she’d let me be harassed by a drunk would move her into trying my number again.

Not so.

So I get back on Runway I, where I’m pissed because I don’t have my Pre-screen and I have one ticket with it (because Chloe’s worked) and one without it. I try at every possible vantage point in the security line to make them see sense, but no. We go through the whole thing. Shoes off, laptop out, huffy huff huff huff.

In the background Runway II had a ground halt on it that was seriously backing up traffic.  That traffic was going to need to be processed at a quieter time when there wasn’t quite so much else going on to be mad about. I didn’t see the man again anywhere, but I was naturally still a little amazed at his balls and not a little worried he might get nasty with me if we saw each other. Okay, I’ll be honest. It was sort of half worried and the other half was this feeling of “OOOOH WISH he would. I WISH he would…do you know what I’d do? WISH HE WOULD” that has no succinct english word but still made my hands itch when I felt it.

It was only in a quiet moment after Starbucks walking to the gate that I realized what that asshole thought he’d seen. My daughter is blonde with blue eyes. I’m dark haired with brown eyes. The guy who picked the car seat up for us? Who was standing next to us using a kiosk while I argued with the agent?

Blonde hair. Blue eyes.

We’d looked like a “normal” nuclear family checking in at the gate. And for that reason my non-use of the kiosk had actually seemed like I was blocking a kiosk as my husband checked us in. The fact she and I had been staring at each other for long stretches, combined with the beer goggles he’d brought with him to the airport served to make him decide that I could and should be jostled out of place. Meaning that unless he was watching when the nice gentleman walked away without us, he had actually walked away thinking *I* was the asshole.

Update: Having written this last night I’m still not quite sure what if anything the whole encounter really meant.  I have a few observations.

1) My heart broke a little.
2) The fact that it took me so long to figure out why the guy tried to boot me out of the way probably means that after three+ years I’m further out of contact with the “mores” of dual-parent families than I realized.
3) I’m confused about what I would have done in the same situation had I actually been traveling with someone.  My suspicion is that I wouldn’t have been standing in front of the second kiosk, I’d have been standing either behind the person I was traveling with or they would have been standing behind me.  Runway II added one to one and got five. So the odds are that the whole thing wouldn’t have happened had Runway II had all his faculties.
4) Don’t show up drunk (next day or otherwise) to the airport. Given this guy’s approach to the situation, which was to bomb down from the left and start demanding things, I don’t think he’s all that much of a peach sober.  Beer made it worse.
5) My initial impression, that he targeted me because I was a woman by myself, was dead wrong.  The cardinal opposite of right in fact.  Sometimes a pipe is a pipe.

But then last but not least…our family isn’t broken  in any way that shows from the outside.  We looked just as happy and complete as we would have looked were we three.  And that, my dears, is probably the best thing that could have come out of not being able to pre-screen.