My improv audition ended at midnight today. I was definitely hungry and still nauseated from Saturday’s poor decision making and Sunday’s poor eating, so I drove over to 800 Degrees to get some pizza. I’m walking back to my car, pizza in hand and car keys in the other, when I see a homeless guy walking towards me. I’m fairly certain that I have something that he wants, or rather, needs, but for some reason, I try my best to avoid eye contact and just get in my car. I failed almost immediately, apparently, because despite my best efforts to make sure our paths didn’t cross, he pretty much tanked those plans just by walking straight at me. I remember that he asked specifically if I could help him out with something to eat, and it’s pretty hard to say that you don’t have food with a giant delicious smelling thing in your hand. Either that or you’d just have to be a really big douche. Anyway, I end up asking him if he wants a slice, to which he gruffly answers in the affirmative. So I open the box, pull out a slice, and gingerly hand it over to him. He grabs the slice in worn, weathered hands, and I find myself getting annoyed when he grabs an extra piece of prosciutto and sticks it on top.
I think primarily, I felt really irritated that I was getting annoyed at him, much less at my general desire to avoid this so called undesirable. In the midst of my annoyance at the fact that on top of being what I perceived as picky and ungrateful during the entire exchange, I looked at him for a second…and saw a hungry human being for whom this warm slice of pizza was something to be cherished. Forget about the stigma, forget about his perceived rudeness, forget about whether or not his hands were dirty. There’s just something so primal about hunger that food as a whole can be such a strong social connector that transcends class, race, and boundaries.
I very recently got to know somebody who works for a homeless shelter. I have so much respect for that because I can’t imagine myself giving the amount of empathy, patience, and humanity needed to constantly give and give without any expectation of reciprocation. But the beauty of grace is that it makes life not fair.
I later find out that we’ve been flying into a 125 mile per hour headwind. Has it really been that long? I have to promise myself that I will still have a chance to do everything that I wanted to do during my layover, which is just to read Blink. We’ve also been assigned some excerpts of cases to read, but they total nine pages and I should not have any problems finishing them. Plus, I have all of Thursday to read. As the time nears, I find myself checking my phone more and more often. 7:35. Maybe I can still make it. The harsh crackling of the PA system snaps me from my reverie.
“We have many passengers with us who will be connecting to other flights. We ask that those of you who do not have connecting flights or are not in a hurry give priority to those passengers.” Good, that’s me. “The gate attendants have been notified and will take care of you once we land.”
I sneak a glance at the passenger sitting to my left and see that his connecting flight is to Raleigh-Durham as well. Maybe he’s also going to Duke’s open house. It crosses my mind to forge some sort of an alliance, or at least a connection with a potential future classmate, but I’m too tired to give it any more effort. Besides, I have to watch out for myself first and make sure that I get on that plane.
It’s 7:40 when we touch down on the Tarmac in Charlotte. It’s going to be a close one. I see other passengers rustling their bags, all of us sizing up our potential opposition to getting to our final destinations. I almost feel guilty for planning my strategy in advance, but I remind myself that we’re all probably thinking the same thing. I put my backpack on my lap and finger the strap. I see the boy to my left do the same. We make eye contact for a quick second, but we look away because we’re enemies or something.
Organized chaos hits once the seat belt light goes off. Carry on compartments fly open, suitcases pulled down, distrustful glances passed around. The same flight attendant pleads with us to stay in our seats and make way for those who have connecting flights, but the aisles fill up with the standing, anxiously craning their necks like a herd of ostriches. I’m about to reach up for my bag, but my hands close around nothing. Panic sets in briefly.
10, 11, 12. A ruddy looking man looks up at me. 13, 14, 15, 16. The girl standing in front of me in line looks down at her phone. 17, 18, 19D, 19E, 19F. “I guess that one’s mine,” I say, mostly to myself.
“We have a family that wants to be together. Is anyone willing to switch seats?” asks a flight attendant.
The girl next to me volunteers to move, and unfortunately, I feel obligated to as well. I cast a glance toward the father, then down to his two little daughters. There’s no way I can grumble about this one. What I don’t know is that I am seated all the way in 8B, eleven rows in front of my carry on bag. Which means that to get off this plane, I need to fight my way past eleven rows of weary travelers who have no intention of letting me through.