April 18, 2012: Confessions of a Frequent Flyer

An ordinary day for me these days includes airport security, consolidation of three bags to two, A-List boarding passes, and free drink coupons with complimentary peanuts.  Ding, ding, ding…you guessed it.  I spend a lot of time at the airport.  And I am proud to say that I have become a seasoned traveler.  George Clooney’s character in “Up in the Air” has nothing on me.  I know the tricks on how to whiz through TSA checks.  Knowing which security lines to avoid (kids and elderly…avoid at all cost...sorry) has been key to my systemic approach, as well as removing my shoes and computer in the perfect sequence to expedite my path out of the security area.  No doubt those following me through the bowels of TSA admire my efficiencies.
Today I drove to the airport at noon to catch a 1:15 flight to Denver.  By my rough estimation, I have flown this particular flight no less than 30 times over the course of the last two and a half years.  My bags and attire were a bit different than the norm today though.  This was a quick trip; less than 24 hours in fact.  My computer bag packed lightly sufficed my short-term needs.  No roller carry-on bag for me as I was flying in solely to join Garrett for his client’s wine tasting gala.  I am a firm believer that there is dress code for air flight.  My rule for this dress code does not include jeans or sweats <gasp>.  Although my typical flight attire is a casual dress; with a cocktail party greeting my arrival, I was dressed out of the norm today.  My attire of the day would not be deemed business casual, but instead cocktail casual.  A visual description would include a little snake print dress cut above the knees with sling back high heels and fun jewelry.  I would be lying if I didn’t say that I got a lot of funny looks.  I am sure a few people were curious on the story of the lady in the snake skin dress traveling with only a small bag.
And everyone does has a story.  Although I love to meet new people and hear their stories, this is not the case when I fly (clarification...physically fly).  Along with airport security, I have also perfected the art of “keeping to myself” while in flight and have an informal set of rules for this as well.  Being friendly, smiling, and making small talk anytime during the airport boarding experience is acceptable.  Talking the entire flight and making a new friend within earshot of my many fellow traveling comrades is unacceptable.  The time frame for this black out period basically coincides with use of electronic devices (10,000 feet).  Being seated early as an A-Lister, an extra necessary precaution is employed by my listening to music with ear buds and avoiding eye contact while the rest of the plane is boarding.  Eye contact is nothing short of begging someone to sit next to me with the expectation of an hour and a half “get to know” each other conversation.  This may sound cold, but #1) I am doing a favor for all of those sitting around me and #2) this girl needs a little down time too (and a PERFECT time to blog a bit :)).
I believe that my continued discipline to these flight friendly rules still allows me to engage in some interesting conversations pre-flight.  There is plenty of time to project a positive presence during the boarding and pre-boarding period which is many times longer than my actual flight.  Today was a perfect example of this logic.  After checking to be sure my plane had arrived on time, I gathered my bottled water and found a seat on the end of the wait area directly next to my boarding assignment, A-22.   Things are going well for me when this particular seat is open.  Next check was whether my plane had completed deboarding.  Nope.  That gave me ten minutes to fire up my lap top.  Last check...look around me and assess the other flight passengers.  It always seems like there is someone interesting in the crowd and today was no exception.
Across from me sat a couple I would have guessed to be in their early sixties.  The woman was very (VERY) thin.  She was dressed in a youthful manner; heavily jeweled and kept checking out my outfit with a hint of nervousness.   Next to her was a well dressed man in a suit and tie.  He too was a bit bejeweled in gold rings and a fancy watch.  As I sat and waited for our boarding call,  he spent the entire ten minutes talking about a deposition he gave in Omaha that day. In his heavy accent which was unfamiliar to me in origin but of obvious affluence, he described in detail how he drilled a defendant and then discussed strategy for his next deposition in Denver.  His woman friend (no wedding ring) checked me out from head to toe and I am quite sure I overheard her (yes, as he talked on his phone) pointing out my shoes.  I am going to go with her liking the unusual, but trendy pair of heels I was sporting.  When I made eye contact and smiled, she seemed nervous and looked away.  She did look familiar to me; a bit like a washed out movie star.  One that I would later say "of course" if someone else pointed out a 70's star resemblance.

As boarding began, I positioned myself in the front of the line enjoying the benefits of my Southwest A-List status.  As anyone who has flown Southwest knows, we board in numerical order starting with the A’s and ending with the C’s and I am a stickler for everyone staying in their designated order.  I use the excuse that the SW attendants have in the past mandated this orderly procession, but the reality is that I am a bit anal about it.  If I am A-22, by gosh, I am going to board between A-21 and A-23, no exceptions.  This is part of my innate wiring of not wanting to break rules.  So as I always do in the boarding process, I asked those around me their number as I nestled into my spot.  In this case the A-23 and A-24 passengers were the presumable attorney and his willowy girlfriend.  After confirming with them their numbers and my placement, I commented that the Southwest numbering system is an accountant’s dream.  This proclamation opened the door to an interesting conversation with these colorful strangers.  “An accountant!” the man exclaimed, “You must be enjoying some time off post yesterday’s tax day.”  A conversation ensued on how my 22 years in public accounting coupled with my specialty in healthcare was a reflection of my tax season of today being nowhere near the hours I put in during my early years.
He proceeded to tell me about a tax notice received on a $76,000 refund owed to him from the IRS and went on to describe the IRS’ mysterious explanation on the matter.  He didn’t even blink on the dollar amount; someone listening in would have thought he was referring to a lost $10 bill.  I went on to explain to him that much of the IRS’ explanations don’t make a ton of sense and calling them directly is often times a “crap shoot” depending on the agent who picks up the phone.  As we walked down the walkway leading to the plane he continued to talk to me while still being attentive to his girlfriend (at least I am assuming she was his girlfriend).  In his upper crust accent he said to her, “Come on, Maggie.  ...Why I have never referred to you as Maggie before.  I like it!  I think I am going to call you that from now on, Dear.”  A part of me had flashbacks of Thurston Howell III delicately talking to Lovey on Gilligan's Island.  And then without missing a beat he continued his conversation with me.  Attorney man (a.k.a. Thurston) went on to tell me how he lived in the tax free state of Nevada thus only having to deal with the IRS bastards on taxes.  Hmmm....Las Vegas attorney?  Now that makes sense.  Maybe Maggie was a prior show girl (or something like that).
“I have been audited 20 times out of the last 26 years.  Do you think that is odd?”
“Yes,” I responded, “that certainly isn't typical.”
“I knew it!  That’s what I think, but they say it’s random.  Bah!  I hate the IRS.  They haven’t made a change on a single audit in all of those years, so you would think they would leave me alone, wouldn’t you?" 
"Come on, Maggs,” he said as he led her down the narrow aisle.  I was then wondering what Maggie/Maggs real name was…Margaret?
“You would think,” I answered as we slowly made our way into the plane behind the A-1 through A-21 passengers plodding ahead of us.
Before moving back to join Maggs two seats behind me, the mysterious attorney leaned over and whispered as he looked me directly in the eye, “I know why they keep auditing me.  Do you want to know my theory?”
“What is it?” I answered leaning in even closer as though to be given a CIA secret code.
“It’s my divorces!  HA!  I know it.  My ex’s want more money out of me and think I am lying on my taxes.  They are the ones calling the IRS.  Damn them!”
At this point I am feeling a bit like like his colleague, strategizing as though preparing to grill the next defendant together.  “That makes sense,” I whisper back while confidently nodding my head as I played my part.  “A whistle blower will get their attention every time.  Guaranteed.”
“I knew it!” he grumbled as he took his seat and helped Maggs slip past him to the window.
Now Maggie wasn't looking nervous anymore and was instead smiling at me.  I was clearly accepted as one of them.  And although it was very tempting to join my new friends in the open seat next to them to share a cocktail and some great conversation; I instead opted to stick to my routine of ear buds and no eye contact.  And I can honetly say that I had no regrets as I listened to my music, enjoyed some down time, and blogged this story.  After arriving in Denver, I did run into Thurston and Maggs for the last time as we walked through the terminal to the train.  They both turned and gave me a cheery "hi-ho" wave and words of safe travels as they disappeared into the distance.  I smiled back at my new friends...yet another day in the life for me at the airport.


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