I worked for United Airlines from 1989 – 1997. I had a whole lotta fun during those years. Chicago was my home domicile and O’Hare airport still feels like my home away from home. I lived here in Champaign but drove up North to work. I typically flew 4 day trips or 2 day trips back to back. On for 4-6 days and home for 6 days. Most days it was a really awesome job. There were the tough days, difficult passengers and horrible co-workers. If a Flight Attendant is rude to you, 99% of the time they are just as awful to their fellow FA’s. There was only one trip out of all those years where I got off the plane and wanted to cry with relief. The entire crew was HORRIBLE and I couldn’t wait to get home. Later on I found out that I was covering that particular trip for another FA that lived right here in Champaign. Witch.
My travels have taken me far and wide. I’ve seen the world from many vantage points and time zones. I learned that being patient pays off and that kindness gets you a lot further in life. I learned to treat others just as I would want to be treated if I were in their shoes. One of my favorite memories was walking from the B Concourse to the C Concourse in Chicago. I was in uniform and heading to in-flight to end my day. I got to the escalator and at the top – blocking the way – was an elderly gentleman. People were brushing past him in irritation. It is an airport after all. People are typically in a hurry. I stopped and watched him for a second. He was afraid. Afraid of the escalator. I approached him and gently laid my hand on his arm so that I wouldn’t startle him. He was almost in tears, red in the face and began to stammer to me in German. My heart broke for this man. He could have been my father and here he was in a strange country, strange facility with foreign items that he obviously didn’t know how to navigate. I smiled. That is a universal language. I looked him in the eye and offered my hand. He took my hand – his was shaking and very damp – and we rode the escalator together. We held hands all through what I called the “disco hall” that connects B & C Concourse in Terminal 1. I asked him during our walk for his ticket. I took it and figured out where he was going. Home – Germany – and I walked him all the way to his gate, helped him check in and seated him in an area to wait. I went to in-flight, checked out and drove the 3 hours home.
It was all in a days work for those of us who work in the airline industry. There are those who dismiss us, make fun – hell I make fun of myself – and those who have no idea how much thought we give to passengers. There were plenty more people who smiled back, treated us nicely and said “please and thank you”. It was worth it.
Being thrust into the world of disability and Down syndrome put me in the position of being at the top of the escalator. I was in a strange land, strange language I didn’t speak, in tears with facilities I didn’t know how to navigate. However I met someone who smiled at me – universal language – took my hand and helped me navigate the path. My friend Melissa took my ticket, showed me the way to check in and helped me find the waiting area. I’ve met many more friends just like her on the Internet. I belong to an online group where we can vent in our own language, say things we need to say and still feel safe and understood. I love those people and I love my friends that I have met here locally. In the beginning I didn’t know if I could ever be that person who smiled and took someone else’s hand in this journey. Now – I am that person. Larkin’s Place is the biggest way I know how to reach out, smile and take your hand. There are quite a few people working on this project with me – they will hold my hand and yours. Just like the gentleman I helped in the airport that day – I feel blessed to be surrounded by others who even though they don’t know me or speak my language (acronym) they reach out – smile and off we go.