Thursday, August 12, 2010

What Would You Do?

I'm on the road again.  I've left my flowering plants in CT's capable hands and TBG to fend for himself as I fly east.  MTF and Roomie and I are gathering this weekend on Long Island for another mini-reunion, and, for $30 more I tacked on a quick visit to the Little Cuter and her boys.  Airline pricing remains a mystery to me, but I was glad to take advantage of this peculiarity for the chance to hug the kids. 

American Airlines has bizarre overhead bins, smaller on one side than the other.  There were many helpful tall men available to assist me as I shifted my rolling suitcase, having misjudged the depth at first.  For some reason, I'd selected a window seat instead of my usual aisle, and the two men I dislodged were glad to see a small person curl up against the side of the plane.  The guy on the aisle slept, but the middle seat was occupied by a tall, dark and handsome 20-something test pilot.  Had he not been married and the proud papa of a 2 month old daughter, were SIR not the world's best son-in-rent, making the Little Cuter as happy as a clam, I probably would have his contact information in my phone.  I never talk to my seatmates when I fly; for this guy, I made an exception. 

O'Hare is huge. Absolutely huge.  We arrived at Gate A8.  In Tucson, that's 100 yards from the security station.  Yesterday, I walked through the terminal for 5 minutes before I found the escalator to Ground Transportation.  It was a short ride down to the baggage claim area and then two moving sidewalks, another long hallway and another escalator down to the CTA platform.  The ticket kiosks were working and I was able make my purchase and board a waiting train without delay.  The station was clean and bright and there were helpful police people ready and willing to answer my questions.   For $2.25 I sat in a comfortable seat, speeding past the cars stuck in the 5:30 in-bound traffic.  In less than 30 minutes I'd be downtown, drinking a brewski at the Blue Line Lounge and Grill.  No hassles, no exorbitant taxi fare, no unwanted intrusions into my personal space.... I was a public transit groupie and I had a smile on my face and love in my heart.

At the second stop, a man and his son boarded the train.  They were well-groomed.  They each had a backpack.  There were no available seats, so I wasn't surprised that they stood in the open space between the doors.  What was surprising happened next.  The father cleared his throat and announced
This is my 11 year old son.  I am unemployed.  I don't do drugs and I don't drink.  I am trying to make ends meet and I would like to ask you something.
Can you help us?
Suddenly, the silence in the car was different.  There was no more idle chatter between the airline workers to my left.  The student was no longer buried in her Latin text.  My novel lay unopened on my lap.  We were a captive audience, watching one another and the two who had interrupted our individual reveries.  There was a palpable sense of embarrassment as we watched the 11 year old boy shrink down into the collar of his sweater.  His eyes never left his father's back.  As his dad finished his appeal, the youngster hid his face behind the safety panel.  His shoulders were bowed in, his head was down, his feet were shuffling back and forth.  It was awful.

As the father made his way through the car, the kid moved to the center of the aisle, swaying with the rocking of the train on the rails, not holding on, arms akimbo as he held his balance and smiled.  He looked like any kid on an uncrowded train, playing with gravity and laughing about it.  But he wasn't any kid, he was a kid being used as a prop.

I said "Nope" when his father approached me, sticking to my policy of not dispensing cash to people on the street.  But I felt guilty.  I smiled at the son as he followed his father through the doors to the next car, but it didn't feel like it was enough.

I wanted to take him home with me.  I wanted to spare him further shame.  I wanted to smack his father for using him as a tool.

Was I right?  Would you have done the same?  Wondering bloggers want to know. 

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