En route, SFO to PDX. Day 24 of My Month of Hundreds.

The weather was terrible driving to the airport from the coast this morning. Torrential rain kept up a steady beat on the roof and the water ran in rushing rivulets along the side of the road. Every so often Neysa would reach over to turn on the defroster, which helped a bit with the poor visibility. By the time we arrived and got out of the car my legs were knotted up with tension. It wasn’t too surprising that our flights were delayed, and the airport was a madhouse.  Louise and I said our goodbyes to Neysa, who was headed home to Denver.

Our flight was delayed for an hour, then two. People were lining the walkways and curled up in every corner, some with sleep masks over their eyes. Sandwich wrappers, newspaper and old coffee cups littered the floor. A palpable hum of discontent was in the air.

I took advantage of the free WiFi and read some of the comments on the blog and the Oregon Live website. Wow. I couldn’t have asked for a better partner in telling my story and was thrilled with the response to Nikole Hannah-Jones’ beautiful article. Thank you all for reading with such open hearts.

Coffee. I needed coffee. I also had a C-note in my pocket that needed to be set free. I had planned to give it away once we returned to Portland, but as it got later I changed my mind. There were so many disgruntled and frustrated people around; I would pick one and maybe make their day a little bit better.

There was an espresso stand a nice walk from our gate so I took off in that direction. I ordered a small vanilla latte and told the barista that I just wanted one pump of vanilla. He said the single pump would be on the house. This was thrilling but in the end it seemed like he charged me for it after all. I chuckled inside, thinking of all the times I have embarrassed my kids by arguing with a cashier over something just like this. They would have been proud; I didn’t say a word and I left a fat tip in the jar.

The coffee was really hot and I held it gingerly as I headed back to the gate where Louise was waiting. On the way, I passed one of those cell phone rapid charger machines. I’ve always wondered if those actually work or if they blow up your phone or what.

A burly guy in work clothes was just unplugging his phone from the machine. As he settled back into his seat, he was regarding his phone with a disgusted look on his face. I stepped over to him. “Do those things actually work?” I asked. “Not worth a damn!” he griped. “Look; I’ve got nuthin’!” He showed me the empty battery signal on his phone. “Damn it! Don’t waste your money!”

We both looked accusingly at the machine. He spotted, in tiny print, the 800 number for customer service. “I’m gonna call right now and kick some ass!” “Oh, look”, I pointed out. “It says here that the results will depend on your battery’s quality and capacity. You know they’re going to tell you that your battery quality is inferior.” There was something slightly lewd about the way this came out but he pretended not to notice (or maybe I imagined it). He snorted and said, “It sounds like you own this machine!”

I said, yeah, I own all of them and we both laughed. He had a rough openness that I found pretty irresistible. I started thinking about what it would be like to slip him the C-note.

We kept up an easy chatter and he said he was going to a Teamsters’ convention in Phoenix. He’s a welder for the railroad. “Ask me how long I’ve been doing that”, he said, with a twinkle in his eye. I walked right into it and asked “How long?” “All the livelong day! I love saying that!”

Then he asked me, “You know when you hear the clickety clack of the train?” “Yeah”, I said. “I love that sound.” “No! It’s not supposed to sound like that! I fix that!” He explained how a five degree temperature variation can cause a 3/8 inch something something and lead to a derailment. “Oh, you have a heavy load on your shoulders.” “Nah”, he admitted. “It’s really not as hard as it sounds.” I agreed that the same could be said about a lot of  jobs and told him I’m a physician.

Eventually I thanked him for his time and said I’d enjoyed talking with him. Then I told him about my project honoring my mom and he offered his condolences. He asked me lots and lots of questions and finally I just stuck the bill into his shirt pocket.

“You’re freaking me out! No way!” He offered to buy me a cup of coffee. I held up my coffee cup and said thanks anyway. Then he said, “I can’t take your money without even knowing your name.” We shook hands and introduced ourselves.

His name was Duane. He was an immensely curious and intelligent guy. I have no idea what he is going to do with the $100. It was almost beside the point today.

I’m home now and as I write this I can hear a train whistle in the distance. I’m too far away to tell if the tracks are going clickety clack, but not if Duane has anything to do with it.


Duane's low battery