HOW SOUTHWEST AIRLINES GOT ONE ANATOMICALLY CORRECT RED VELVET BULL, ONE SERVICE SHIH TZU, AND ONE BITTERSWEET PASSENGER ACROSS FOUR STATES. UNSCATHED.

The Hankie AwardWe get it, Southwest Airlines. You’re the best. You flaunt your heart-shaped pins…and your heart-shaped stir sticks…and your heart-shaped logo. You ply me with your bags of honey roasted peanuts and clever flight attendants who make launching a person 33,000 into the air seem totally normal. And also hilarious.

You know you’re good. Me telling you that is the equivalent of breaking into a “surprise” All The Single Ladies dance at a wedding reception. I’m not saying I’ve done that. But, you know, theoretically.

Still, I can’t help myself. Maybe it was the peanuts. Or the fact that you got me across four states on a packed 737 with one obnoxious, surprisingly fragile red velvet bull {who survived completely intact, I might add}.

Or maybe it’s your pilots. I think I speak for the rest of the world when I say there is nothing more we need these days than a happy pilot story. So when this – how do I describe him? – avionics angel came out of nowhere as I was waiting in the gate area for my next flight, got on the floor, and posed for a selfie with my Shih Tzu, Willoughby, it filled my heart with unparalleled glee. If I were filled with cotton batting, I would have literally burst at the seams.

Southwest Airlines Pilots

Captain Christopher Gawlik, we would fly with you on a non-direct flight from Dallas to Burbank/stopping in Albuquerque/stopping in Vegas any day. I hope you tell your mother how right she raised you. And your family how you completely restored one woman’s faith in humanity.

I didn’t think it was possible to feel more connected to or welcomed aboard an airline. Until I met this woman. One Carole Adams:

Southwest Airlines Flight Attendants

From the moment I stepped on the plane, I knew I would never meet another human being like this. Her voice was like buttah…and washed over me with the kind of warmth you’d get from towels just out of the dryer. She was like the Pied Piper. Without the flute or ominous intentions. I would have followed her anywhere.

I opened my mouth to tell her about the dog. I have an inner ear imbalance that sometimes flares up when I’m flying. Or sleeping or working out. Or laughing too hard. Or watching the last 20 minutes of a movie I paid $12 to see. PS…the manager would not allow my friend and I to come back and watch the last 20 minutes of said movie the following day. So I made him re-enact the ending.

But I digress. I started to tell her about Willoughby and how he’d alert {bark} if I needed help. I didn’t even get the words “inner ear” out before she proclaimed “Oh honey, you don’t have to explain to me. I have Meniere’s. I passed out at a furniture store in Dallas once and chipped my tooth. And they didn’t even give me a discount!”

Now, I am not the kind of person who usually laughs inappropriately when people bust it. Ok, I totally am. But only after I know the person is ok. And if you could have heard the way she described it, you would’ve laughed, too. The image I had in my head was not quite as entertaining as the Youtube video of the Epic Cake Lady. But to be able to laugh about it – and to know someone understood – that was priceless. And I was grateful. At least I’d never chipped a tooth.

As I watched Carole serve a plane packed to the gills over the next three hours, I wondered how she did it so graciously. How did God cram all that patience into one 5’2″ frame? Her ability to relate and respond to the passengers was fresh and spontaneous and witty. She had the presence of a woman 31 years on the job and the optimism of a woman just starting her career. She didn’t just tolerate us. She seemed to genuinely like us. And I don’t even like myself on a plane.

I always say – if you want to see who people really are, watch them in an airport. I could not imagine doing what she does everyday without roundhouse kicking someone in the face. And I asked her that. I didn’t actually say “How do you keep from roundhousing someone in the face?” I asked her what she did when she had “those kinds of passengers.” She told me about the man who insisted on keeping a briefcase under his legs before takeoff. After telling him a second time that it was required by FAA for him to stow his belongings and he refused, she asked him what he did for a living. He said “I’m a pastor,” as she stealthily moved the briefcase to an overhead compartment, while quipping “Let’s just pray about this.”

Another time, there was a particularly grumpy passenger on her flight. At one point, she grabbed him by the shoulders and said “Did I used to be married to you?!? You sound just like my ex-husband!” For the rest of the flight, whenever he walked by he said, “Hi, Honey!”

And there it was. The thing that made her so profound in her profession/mission. Her sense of humor. When I asked her about it, there was a sparkle in her eyes. She said “The key to having a sense of humor is that it has to be a joke between you and me.” “Me” being any passenger.

We live in a world of “trudgery.” We trudge through school. We trudge through work. We trudge through errands. We trudge through relationships. We trudge through life. We definitely trudge through airports. We walk around with the weight of the world on our shoulders. In a media environment all too ready to replace one shocking and horrifying image with another. Talk about baggage.

In a world so encumbered by heaviness, how miraculous it is to see such lightheartedness. Here’s a woman in her early 70’s {She told me not to tell her age just in case she wanted to “get married again someday.” But something tells me she’ll have suitors lining up at her door.} who has the air of a teenager in love. In love with life. She {excuse the pun} walks on air. It wasn’t the parting of the Red Sea. But if the Bible were being written today, the Miracle of the Unjaded Flight Attendant would be a thing. {In the book of Job.}

The Miracle of the Unjaded Flight Attendant

Other things you should know about Carole:

She wears bright red lipstick. And looks like she’s aging backwards.

Definitely a triple threat, she possesses the elusive three H’s: great Heart, great Humor, and great Hair.

She can’t pronounce imported beer names.

She was part of a Southwest employee movement to keep the heart-shaped stir stick. The next time you order a Baileys and cream on a flight, may it remind you of her.

She was a pioneer in the industry. Southwest Airlines hired her 31 years ago. AFTER she was 40. {I didn’t think I could love you more, Southwest.}

And she might be writing a book. Dating for Seniors {Or How to Find a Low Cost Caregiver}. Fingers crossed.

southwest-by-girlieerin-use-this-1

I don’t know how you’ve done it, Southwest. Managed to stay true to yourselves. A diamond in the rough in today’s corporate and economic culture. But I am so grateful for you. And yours.

PS…for those of you who know I am a professional organizer, the bull:

1. Has a specific purpose

2. Was NOT an impulse buy

and 3. For that one thing in, I took two three things out.

{ 2 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. Shawn
    1

    Nice read, RIP Chris Gawlik, you’re still bringing smiles even from Heaven.

  2. E.J. Jones
    2

    Shawn, I had no idea Chris Gawlik passed away. I only knew him a few minutes, but I’ll never forget him sitting on the floor in the middle of that terminal and scooping my Willoughby up. The love he had for animals, for his family {he spoke so sweetly about them}, for his passengers, and for life – I aspire to be as tender and touched by life as he obviously was. Thanks so much for letting me – and all who read this – know.

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