An Essay on the Website of
the Red Dirt Writers Society

As We Approached LaGuardia International Airport
by Jayme Howard (Aug 2012)

The sky was a beautiful soft blue; framing puffy, thin, white clouds, as dark roof tops and bright blue dots of swimming pools appeared scattered throughout neighborhoods along the freeways on the outer edge of the city. We approached the LaGuardia Airport from across the Upper Bay of the New York Harbor. Along the harbor, boats speckled the glistening water and then the most amazing site came into view as she stood tall and proud welcoming everyone to “her” country. My chest swelled with pride in anticipation of visiting New York for the first time. And then as if the world opened up, there was the famous island itself, looking exactly like what it so often bragged to be; the center of the world! These are my first memories of New York City.

I have always loved to travel. Flying the skies to new and unknown mysterious destinations has appealed to me since my first airplane trip to visit my grandmother in Long Island, New York. This trip was a momentous occasion for the two of us and we were dressed to the “nines” for it. I remember how beautiful my mother looked in her pearl necklace and stylish pillbox hat. For me, I had on my favorite pink ankle socks with intricate lace edging and my black patent leather Easter shoes. We were quite the pair looking as if we had just climbed out of a band box, except for the cumbersome canvas my mother was clinging on to. It was an oversized painting that she had just completed in time to bring as a gift, and as it was almost Christmas, it seemed that everyone’s arms were spilling over with packages of all sorts and sizes as they stood in long lines waiting for their own adventures.

Now this was a time period when air travel was a luxury. (We even dressed in our Sunday best, to pick someone up from the airport.)  I was almost six and very excited about my first airplane trip.  As we entered through the narrow cabin door, the most elegant woman I had ever seen approached us. She promised to keep the canvas safe and opened up a small closet, moving the coats aside and unburdened my mother. We then brushed by, through a little curtain and found our seats. The plane was a buzz of activity, but I sat quietly mesmerized by it all; until after take-off when I was served my lunch tray. The woman who had taken the canvas from my mother stood before me. Her uniform was crisp and perfect, a striking, rich, earth brown with a hat that matched the style of my mother’s.  She was the stewardess and my eyes had been transfixed on her every graceful move. When she served my tray, she spoke to me as if I was an adult and made me to feel so grown up. My eyes must have become as big as saucers when I saw a small box of cigarettes on my tray. Suddenly, out of my trance, I sat up straight, taking notice, wondering how she didn’t know I was only six! Then my mother spied them and snatched them away, but it was too late, I was already hooked. I loved air travel!

That first trip was the first in a long line of holiday air travel adventures for me, but as they say…you always remember your first! Since that inaugural flight for me some 50 years ago things have certainly changed for air travel. The carrier I flew that first journey with was Trans World Airlines, commonly known as TWA. To my surprise, many of my young coworkers had never heard of TWA, or some of my other favorites that no longer exist, like Braniff, Eastern, or Pan American, to name a few big ones. O.K. folks, I’m feeling really old here, but never as old as I did this summer on my flight back to “The Big Apple.”

Admittedly, life for me during the past decade has become quiet and I’ve had no reason for the inconveniences that air travel in the twenty-first century now encompasses. And, now that I have lived it, it’s still unfathomable to me that there are… luggage check-in fees, carry-on limitations (certainly no canvas paintings on this flight), liquid amount directives from (Soup Nazi-like) Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents, who inspect my identification with neon painted fingernails longer then my best Cross pen, and… the fearful random beeping of an infamous body scanner. Already I’m at a disadvantage, as I have bad feet. I mean really, air travel now even holds me accountable for my bad feet. That’s right…go ahead, sigh in disgust, because I must wear lace up shoes…OMG the faces of despair from the queue of passengers behind me as I start the unlacing process! You would have thought I had murdered someone with the veracity of reproach I received from the TSA agent.  Within the first thirty minutes of being dropped off at the departure terminal and I had already caused a scene and had to be taken out of line. But really, how could I have known that my tubed lipsticks were to be included in my one quart baggie of 2 oz. or less liquid quota? In my desperate attempt not to check luggage, the result was tossing my “pearl pink” and “barely nude” lipsticks (at $18.00 a tube) in a trash bin!

Finally through the security check point, I find my gate. Not wanting to move an inch, I wait for the ….Whaaaaaaat? The flight’s been delayed two hours! Whiiiiiz! (The sound of my phone accepting an email) Oh great, the airline just notified me by email of the two hour delay. (How I love technology!) So with a deep breath I relax, but quite honestly I was somehow strangely comforted by the delay. Smiling to myself, it occurs to me that some things never change!

After multiple announcements, some regarding standby, some safety and carry-on restrictions, the boarding begins. I pop into the line with my handbag and my one pull behind carry-on, once again feeling the excitement of heading out to New York City. The attendant takes my ticket, then stops and with a raised eyebrow indiscreetly eyes my pull behind. Without missing a beat, she smirks and tells me that my carry on is too big and that it will have to be checked. Before my brain computes what she just said, she snatches the bag and heaves it on top of the metal luggage template where… it didn’t fit! Again before I can even respond, she has it tagged and set it aside. My mind reels, my 22 x 14 measurement didn’t include the wheels!? Egads! So much for packing my one quart size baggie of less than 2 oz. liquids, I have to check my “carry-on” anyway. Resigned to never fly again, I step into the jet way, then thinking about the travel adventures I would miss; I resign myself and give way to change, inevitable change.

We approached the LaGuardia Airport from across the Upper Bay of the New York Harbor. Along the harbor, boats speckled the glistening water and then the most amazing site came into view as she stood tall and proud, welcoming everyone to “her” country; my country. My chest swelled with pride in anticipation of visiting New York again, knowing that whatever safeguards must be taken to keep “her” citizens safe, it’s definitely worth the effort! 

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