Me and Roscoe, my dog. What you can’t see is just out of frame, I have a big-ass American cup of my coffee. It’s so good to be home.
You know you’re home if you make it there just in time to watch the LSU Tigers lose a big game at the last minute — though it must be conceded that that touchdown drive led by Alabama QB A.J. McCarron was one for the ages. I was touched, really touched, by the emotion McCarron showed on the sidelines. I don’t blame the kid one bit. He did something astonishing and admirable. Still — damn, Tigers!
It was a hard crazy slog home, and by the time our heads hit the pillow, we had been up almost 24 hours (the little ones slept maybe two hours on the plane). I have to say — and I can’t believe I’m saying this, but it’s true — that our journey home was helped immensely at every turn by caring and kind airline and airport personnel, including TSA agents.
It started at Charles De Gaulle Airport, where we stepped into a terrible mess, not of our own making. The airport was mobbed because it was a holiday weekend; when we booked the trip, we unaware Americans didn’t realize that All Saints is a big deal in secular France, with kids on school holiday and the airports jammed. (Here’s another hint to Americans planning travel in Europe with kids: Make sure you know when the local holidays are before you go, because it could make a big difference in your ease of travel).
So, we got to the Air France counter after a long, long wait in line, and were told by the soft-spoken young woman behind the desk that she was sorry, but the flight is oversold, and we couldn’t all go home together. Four of us could get on this flight, but one of us couldn’t — and we four couldn’t sit together.
“How could this happen?” I said. “We booked this flight five months ago?”
“I’m sorry,” she said sympathetically. “This is how we do it. And it’s a holiday weekend. You should have checked in early online.”
Well, okay, I guess I should have. But you know what? Five month ago I contracted with Air France to provide me and my family with seats on that flight home. And now I’m told that because I didn’t do something not required by the contract — check in early online — we might not be able to get home together? That’s crazy.
But this was not the time to make a stand on principle. We needed to get home. The young woman, whose name I never got, was calm and gentle and really did do her best for us. “I feel sorry for you,” she said, in a sweet, not condescending, and not very French way. “You are a family trying to get home.”
Eventually she brought in the manager of the section, who seriously could not have been more helpful. He did some finagling, and because there was a weather delay in a flight coming in from Italy, four Italian passengers were going to miss their connection on this Atlanta flight. We got seats. And they didn’t charge us extra for our massively overweight (68 pounds!) big suitcase, jammed with jars of mustard and confiture.
“We can do that for you,” said the kind young woman, saving us $100 in penalties.
“Man, I can’t thank you enough for this,” I said to the Air France manager.
“No problem,” he said, in perfect idiomatic English. “Hey, it’s father solidarity. I have three kids too.”
So what started as Julie and me being justifiably furious at Air France turned into a situation where we left with good feelings about the airline, all because of — yes, even in France! — excellent customer service. I was too anxious about missing the flight after all that to get the names of the two people who helped us, but if it matters to anybody at Air France and their Delta codeshare partners, two of their employees working the No. 2 counter at CDG Terminal 2E on Saturday morning deserve a Legion d’Honneur for basic human decency.
Somehow, it was like that the whole way home. The Air France flight attendants were lovely. When we landed in Atlanta, we heard the big booming cheerful drawl of a Southern black man directing folks to the right line at passport control. It was the voice of Home. The passport officer was cool. The customs people were cool (we must have looked so harried and pathetic, dragging three sleepy kids and all our baggage), the Delta baggage transfer people were unbelievably nice (“We’ll see you in Baton Rouge!” the young man said to me as I handed over my bags), and with God as my witness, the TSA woman was a gem. The young woman behind the Delta help counter in Terminal C was a doll.
Julie said, after it was over, “Maybe it’s just me, but I think it makes a difference, flying into the US through a Southern airport.” Me too. When you are as tired and anxious as we all were, and rushing to make a connecting flight, to encounter people like this — people who have stressful jobs — makes a huge difference for the better.
On the last leg of our flight — need I tell you that Carmen, the flight attendant, was kind and attentive and generous to the worn-out children (“I always make sure kids have extra Delta cookies”) — I heard someone behind me say, in a thick country Southern accent, “Man, you got to read the Fathers of the Church. That really gives you a perspective. Take that Justin Martyr… .” They were sitting too far behind me for me to eavesdrop effectively, but I picked up bits and pieces of their conversation. I turned around at one point to look at their faces. The Justin Martyr guy was a skinny middle-aged white man; his interlocutor was a stout middle-aged black man sitting across the aisle.
“I tell you,” the black man said to the white man, “it all comes down to this: ‘Who do you say that I am?’ Either He is your Saviour, or he ain’t. It’s as simple as that. My favorite passage of Scripture … .” And then I lost the thread of the conversation between these two Christians.
As the plane descended into Baton Rouge, I heard the skinny white man say, “I’m so glad I met you. This wuddunt an accident. God does amazing things. We just have to be ready for Him when he moves.”
“Yes sir,” the stout black man said. “He’s gone come after you. It’s like the old folks used to say, ‘Jesus has been chasing me my whole life –”
“…and I ain’t tired yet!” they said in unison, then cracked up laughing.
I thought: yep, it’s the American South, and I am home.
UPDATE: Look, that didn’t take long: