At least the lady from Group 5 didn’t hijack the plane.
It was late. And everyone was tired and grumpy.
The only chore in front of us was getting home, but it looked like an enormous task.
We were in San Francisco again thanks to the California Newspaper Publishers Association. Thanks to a variety of contacts, I’ve helped judge the CNPA’s Better Newspaper Contest something like eight times. Or maybe 12. Or maybe more. I lost count a long time ago.
In exchange for about 17 to 20 hours of serious work, the CNPA picks up the tab for a flight from the Midwest to California, covers the hotel bill, and provides a small honorarium that amounts to a little more than the cost of a round-trip taxi ride from the city to the airport.
It’s a fair exchange. I get to read lots of good journalism and pick up new ideas, and after an eyeball-reddening day of judging I get to have dinner in San Francisco. Then I get to do the same thing again for another day and maybe half a day after that.
Along the way, I have the opportunity to rub elbows with the other judges, folks from places like Seattle or Connecticut or Minnesota or Tennessee or Texas.
Most years, I’ve made the trek alone. But this month, I invited my wife along. After all, if someone else is paying for the hotel room and my airfare, it only makes sense to make the most of it.
And we did.
Connie was able to enjoy a couple of days in the city — touring museums, getting together with our nephew and his wife, strolling the streets of Chinatown, and shopping — while I read stack after stack of the best newspapers California has to offer.
We had one big dinner with all of the judges and their spouses, with CNPA picking up the tab. And we had a delightful dinner with my childhood friend Vickie Renbarger — Portland High School Class of ’66 — on Monday night.
Because the judging wrapped up Monday, we also were able to visit Muir Woods and walk in the presence of the ancient sequoias on Tuesday afternoon.
But then came the flight home.
Apparently too eager to get back to work, I’d scheduled us on the redeye — one of those brutal overnight flights from west to east that departs late at night and arrives too early the next morning.
That’s when we ran into the lady from Group 5.
These days, airline flights board in different groups. The aim is to increase efficiency, but I still haven’t figured out the system yet.
Window seat passengers apparently go in before those on the aisle, but that’s about all I’ve figured out.
Still, it’s a system. And if we’re going to trust these folks to take us up into the sky in what is essentially a flying house, we ought to be able to trust them to handle the seating arrangements.
At least, that’s what I thought.
The lady from Group 5 didn’t share that opinion.
We were in Group 4, toward the back of the line.
She was at the front of Group 5.
And after Group 3 had boarded, she stepped forward boldly to present her boarding pass.
The guy behind the counter balked.
You’ll have to wait, he told her. It’s not your turn.
He asked her to step aside. And she did. Barely.
As those of us in Group 4 moved past her, she crowded the space and glared at the poor, hapless, well-meaning airline employee who was simply trying to do his job.
If eyes could kill, that glare would have killed. I have never witnessed such enormous animosity marshaled for such a trivial dispute.
In the end, she got on the plane. And, in the end, the plane arrived at exactly the same time for her as it did for everyone else.
Did she later feel embarrassed by her over-reaction? I hope so, but I doubt it.
Just the same, she found some way to channel her anger. At least she didn’t hijack the plane.