Wednesday, January 5, 2011

the air marshall

We meet very interesting people - on planes, by swimming pools, at the grocery store, on the street, at the gym. You name the place, there are interesting people there.
On one of our trips home from Honolulu, we changed planes in Dallas, TX. We fastened our seat belts in our bulkhead seats - window and middle - and the announcement "flight attendants, prepare for take off" was sounded and, a young, dishevelled looking young man came rushing onto the plane.
"Is this seat taken?" he asked me.
"No. There's no one sitting there. But you have a boarding pass with an assigned seat, don't you?"
He did not answer. Instead he said, "I have to sit here. I just have to sit here." And he sat down. Just in time. He had no sooner fastened his seat belt, than the plane started moving away from the gate.
My children accuse me of being everybody's mother. That's OK. I thought I ought to calm him, at least to the best of my ability.
"Why are you going to Philadelphia?" I asked. Thinking that, if I could distract him enough, he would catch his breath and we would have a quiet seat companion and a quiet flight.
"I'm not," he answered. "I'm going to Atlantic City."
"To gamble?"
"No, for training."
"To be a dealer?"
"I'm going to the FAA."
A light dawned. "Oh, are you an air marshall?"
"Are you armed?"
"Is that why you're squirming?"
"Yes. I usually carry my gun here," and he pointed to his side, "but I have to carry it in the small of my back when I'm flying. Do you want to see it?"
"No, thank you."
And then came the rest of the story. He was on drug patrol for a few years but since all the drug dealers knew him, he had to be transferred. He is fluent in Spanish and had Mexican ancestry.
"Are you any good?" we asked. "At shooting."
"Oh yes. I have to put two in the chest and one in the head in five seconds," he said.
We relaxed for the rest of the trip and wished him the best of luck.

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