I flew Horizon Air from SeaTac to Spokane. My father celebrated his eightieth birthday in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, with family and friends. When boarding was announced, two flights were called. We hundred passengers walked onto the tarmac toward two identical turboprop aircraft. I stopped, backing up the line for a moment. Unobtrusive hand-scrawled signs said, “Portland” with an arrow pointing right, and “Spokane” with an arrow pointing left. I veered left. I put one foot on the stair, then boarding traffic began debarking. Seven people clambered down, dragging carry-ons. The last, mumbling, eyes downcast, fled to the other plane. We reboarded. I got to the forward bathroom this time, then retreated to the tarmac again. My third embarkation succeeded. I sat. The ritual, however, continued. One after another, passengers smirked at the plane-swap dance. Mirth turned to grimaces for some, as they realized the error was theirs as well. Twenty minutes passed before all mis-planed passengers sorted themselves out. The cockpit chimed, “It is a beautiful day in Spokane, 83 degrees the expected high. It’s beautiful, unless you were expecting to be in Portland. No day in Spokane seems beautiful, when you expect to be in Portland.” Everyone laughed. Many nervously checked their tickets one last time.
The public forbearance impressed me. Jockeying back and forth was difficult for some, frustrating for all. People, really, could have paid attention. And Horizon Air could have jumped for legible, well-placed laser-printed signs on colored papers. Still, no one bitched. No steward was browbeaten, no passenger belittled. Puget Sound politeness prevailed. Rabbinical scholars (1st-6th century A.D.) wrote: “Deeds of kindness are equal in weight to all the commandments” (Talmud). We were, publicly and collectively, beatific.
Privately, I was otherwise. I doubt I was alone. Faced with two mirrored airplanes, the question of which craft was which seemed pressing. What happened to the twenty percent who mis-planed? How many others got on the right plane by accident, without recognizing the puzzle? I felt impatient. Waiting, especially if tired, chafes me. Critical monologue kvetches in my head. A Yiddish proverb runs, “If you’re out to beat a dog, you’re sure to find a stick.” I had mine. Stanislaw Lec (Polish, 20th century A.D.) noted: “You have to have a lot of patience to learn patience” (Unkempt Thoughts).
The pilot was right. It was a beautiful day in Spokane.