The Zero Mile Post marked the meeting of two railway lines and possibly the beginning of the city of Atlanta. Zero Mile is a series of sometimes fictionalized and sometimes real stories based on life in Atlanta, Georgia.
By Nicki Salcedo, contributor
For years I boarded airplanes carrying a lion called “Avocado Avogadro Spartacus.” He was my comfort item. Between the ages of 17 and 27, I flew back and forth between Atlanta and San Francisco regularly. When I was at school, I longed for home. When I was home, I longed for my heart. I became a good flyer in those years. I wore college sweatshirts and used my good manners. I often had the row to myself and could stretch out to sleep the entire trip. Always the Red Eye.
That was a long time ago: when I landed in Atlanta, my dad was waiting for me at the gate. Even at five o’clock in the morning, he was bright and cheery. I’m a morning person, but not after a long flight. I was groggy because I had traveled through time. Three times zones. That was the magic of flight.
My dad carried my bags and smiled as he got on the train in the airport. He’d ride from concourse to concourse like a surfer. He would embarrass me in other ways, but not his joy. Traveling is a funny thing. If you do it right, you are glad to leave. And when it’s time to go home, you are glad to come back.
The year I turned 27, I started working at an airline. If you are from Atlanta you know it is Air Line, two words. I still had my lion, and he traveled with me. I had married my San Francisco heart. During our honeymoon years we had travel privileges. Our record was 25 trips in a single year. Often to California, but also overseas. We more than once went to the airport with no destination in mind other than away. We would hop on a plane and fly to destinations unknown even to us.
I know a few things about Air Lines.
I have been on the tarmac. I have been inside the luggage compartment of an airplane. The people we trust with our bags, we also have to trust with our dogs and our military coffins.
The people who help push back the plane stand outside in every kind of weather. Every day of the year. In Vegas, it can get to be 117 degrees. In Minnesota, it can get to be -17 degrees.
The person at the ticket counter may have come from the middle of nowhere, but a job with the Air Lines means they get to meet every kind of person in the world while they stand on their feet all day long. It isn’t Kansas anymore, but it could be Oz.
I’ve been known to make the flight attendants cry. I have that kind of face where people tell me their troubles in the grocery store aisles and at 10,000 feet. I give away a book I’ve finished reading or become flight friends with the passenger next to me.
I start my trips with honest-to-God prayers to God. I don’t pray for a safe flight. I’m not superstitious that way. I ask for mercy. I thank the pilot for getting us safely to the ground. Always.
I have slept on the floor in many airport cities. Detroit. Salt Lake City. Las Vegas. Sacramento. I’ve seen mechanical failures and weather delays. When this happens, I think about a flight that was so turbulent the overhead bins popped open mid-flight and bags began to fall out onto passengers. I was traveling from Atlanta to Boston. I felt certain I was going to die. More than one person on the plane began to cry. I had my lion with me. I was 25 years old. Flying is a gift of science and faith. I fly with humility. We laugh in the face of gravity, then complain when nature conspires to make us stay on the ground.
I was once delayed in Washington D.C. where we watched a lighting storm outside the wall of glass in the airport. The strikes were bright and loud and thousands of us were delayed. Not a single passenger complained. We thanked the gate agents.
When I get to the airport I don’t care whose wedding or funeral or what meeting or vacation. I don’t care if the security line is long or the security agent pats down my body. I dress impeccably when I fly. I treat it like church. The respect you give is the respect you get. Plus, I like first class upgrades.
As a kid, I was obsessed with the Donner Party. I walk into an airport with a great deal of gratitude. Not too long ago people had to walk across this country. It would take six months. I would have to pack enough food to live and camp for six months. I would have to try not to freeze to death or be killed or eaten by another person. I’m keeping it real. I think about cannibalism whenever I travel. It is strange and macabre, but it works for me. It keeps me grounded and grateful, even when I fly.
I haven’t thought of my lion Avocado Avogadro Spartacus in a long time. I gave him away to a kid who was crying on one of my flights years ago. I watched the mother trying her best to comfort the child, but flying is a scary thing. I traveled 100,000 miles last year by plane. Most I’ve ever traveled in a year. Flying scares me. They say those are the things worth doing. I appreciate the people doing all the jobs at my hometown Air Lines.
Especially that cute pilot at the end of the safety video.
Nicki Salcedo knows the loops and the backroads of Atlanta. She is a novelist, blogger and working mom. Zero Mile stories will appear on the Atlanta Loop on Wednesdays.