Terrorist, tourist or terrified tourist?

Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 4, 2001

Features Editor

If the Good Lord had intended for me to fly, he would have given me wings.

I came to that realization when I was a tiny tot lying flat of my face in the chicken yard with a rooster pecking at my heels.

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I got up, wiped my bloody nose with the Palmer House towel I had pinned around my neck and walked home very thankful I had decided to fly like Superman off the chicken coop instead of high out of the hay loft.

I also realized that if a terry cloth cape couldn’t catch enough air to float me to earth, then, I wasn’t about to take my chances in 20 tons of heavy metal.

I put aside my fears to fly across the Rocky Mountains on the first airplane that ever flew over the Frontier. I’m sure Billy Haley was a passenger on the flight and that’s where he got the inspiration for his hit song, "Shake, Rattle and Roll."

That’s when I made the proverbial promise, "Lord, if you’ll just let me get my feet on the ground …"

From that day forward, I vowed I wouldn’t ride on anything I couldn’t get out and change the tires on – unless I had a young’un waiting at the other end.

I held true to that except for a trip to Central America, but my seat companions were the Methodist preacher’s wife and a bottle of tomato wine.

So, last week, when I was commissioned to board a plane to go get my daughter "on the other end" someone suggested I get a few nips before I lifted off.

No sir! I was not about to stagger up the the Pearly Gates and be three sheets in the wind when I met St. Peter. Not me.

I would just be vigilant in other ways. Flying out of Birmingham had to be safer than flying out of Atlanta.

Even a terrorist would be leery of coming to a place where folks ride around in pickup trucks, with shotguns and hound dogs, and spit tobacco juice out the window.

I wanted to carry some kind of personal weapon – just in case, so I took a 79 cent Bic pen. That was a close to a switchblade as I could hope to smuggle aboard.

I checked out every single person in the concourse who would be on the plane with me. I spied one mane that looked like he might be up to no good.

He was wearing a black beret, a vest, tight black pants and boots. He was either a terrorist or in the French Foreign Legion. I would keep an eye on him.

The flight attendant handed out packets of "Fast Food." I was starving so I dug in. Imitation cheese, hard-as-nails cracker sticks, a pickled sausage and a strawberry newton.

I couldn’t help but notice the man seated next to me had not touched his.

I started to eat. He didn’t. I got worried. Nobody wants airline "Fast Food" as their last food. Did he know something? Was he up to something?

"M’mmmm, m’mm!" I said. he didn’t even look my way.

"M’mmmm, m’mm, m’m!"

Still he stared straight ahead.

The next time I "m’mmm, m’m-ed" I crunched down hard and loud on a cracker stick.


"Would you like my meat stick? I asked.

He shook his head. I flipped my Bic."

Just before I stabbed him in the Adams apple, he nodded off to sleep.

But, before I could relax, the French guy got up and started down the aisle.

I pulled my Bic and turned and watched him go flying into the potty. And out again.

The little Frenchman was like a Jack-in-the-box. He popped in and out of the bathroom so many times I wanted to lean up and whisper to him about the security of Depends.That little fellow was scared to death.

But, there was another suspicious man aboard. Every time I looked back at the bathroom to see who was coming and who was going, This old beady-eyed man with a scraggly gray beard was staring right at me.

I got nervous.

I’d look back at him and he’d look up at me.

"I’m going to Salt Lake City," I finally heard him say.

Of course! He was a Mormon. He probably needed another grandmother for his 56 grandchildren.

Southern women – old Southern women – are rather domesticated and have soft laps, just made for little children. Could I be good pickin’s for this old geezer?

"Flight attendant. Tea, please."

I held up the can of Tetley tea so he could see I was a woman with vices. I’d let him down gently.

And, the plane soon set me down, not so gently, but down.

Maybe Jimi Hendrix needed to be excused while he kissed the sky, but I felt no need to apologize while I kissed the ground.

This time I asked the Good Lord, "Please, from now on, don’t let my young’uns get on the other end."


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