I know there's a lot of kvetching about airlines these days, but I recently made a round-trip flight from Tampa to Salt Lake City and found the experience 50 percent delightful — and that 50 percent delight was entirely because of the airline.
Indeed, the planes were clean, cool and prompt, the airline personnel courteous, helpful and knowledgeable. I had bought a sandwich of my own choice from one of the many nice restaurants along the concourse, so the in-flight meal suited my tastes to a tee. (I could have purchased fresh fruit or sandwiches on board but chose not to.) The in-flight movies were well-chosen, the earphones comfortable.
The 50 percent icky part of the flight was a quintet of passengers who were quite obviously recent graduates of an intense course in how to be obnoxious.
They were there in their full bloom obnoxiousness on the 4 hour, 24 minute flight to Salt Lake City and on the 4 hour, 27 minute flight back to Tampa.
Not to be paranoid or anything, but it all ties in together.
For ages, I have suspected that certain people have been hired by an unknown enemy to follow me to various theaters, grab the seat behind mine and unwrap cellophane-covered candies next to my ear, sneeze on the back of my neck during the gripping love scenes and, during live musicals, loudly sing along with the actors I've just paid $85 to hear.
One of these suspects sits in the booth behind me at restaurants and talks at top volume on his cell phone, then noisily and loosely blows his nose just as I tuck into my flan or creme brulee.
His female accomplice follows me to department stores and allows her young sons to lie on their backs in the dressing room next to mine and watch me tug in and out of various articles of clothing without me realizing it until I bend over to put on my shoes and see two sets of round, 4-year-old male eyes staring up at me in wonder.
And now the whole family is following me onto airplanes to sit two rows back, where the kids holler or squeal every 15 seconds as we wing our way across the purple mountain majesties and fruited plains of America the beautiful.
They place Uncle Doofus directly behind me, where he talks at 120 decibels (official pain level) in a nonstop stream of consciousness that would be the envy of writers James Joyce and William Faulkner. (You know who you are, passenger 14F on the Delta flight to Tampa last Sunday.)
But, wait — there's a happy ending
My paranoia got another nudge at the end of my journey as I waited for the SuperShuttle to come take me home.
A mature, imposing man in a black suit came into the waiting room and called my ride number — but there was no shuttle van in sight.
"It's in the garage," he said rather gruffly, as he grabbed my suitcase and wheeled it out the door.
I followed him to the elevators, then into the garage and finally to a solid black luxury auto with a black leather interior, which is not exactly shuttle bus style. Still, I'd shared limos with others before when all the vans were busy, so I climbed in for the ride.
My misgivings grew as we left the airport with me as the only passenger in that big ol' black sedan.
As we headed north, the driver said, "You're Barbara Fredricksen, aren't you?" Yeah. And … ?
"That's who I thought you were," he said, as I squirmed in the back seat. Could he be a member of the Loathsome Quintet, my relentless pursuers? Was he going to crinkle cellophane in my ears until my head exploded? Drag out some screaming kids? Blow his nose as I sneaked a bite from my leftover sandwich?
None of the above.
"I'm an actor with Stage West Community Playhouse," my driver said. Uh-oh. Had I given him a bad review? Was I still in peril?
"I'm George Friel," he said. "I was Chief in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. I was Barrymore in I Hate Hamlet.
Relief, sweet relief.
Of all the performances I've ever seen and all the reviews I've ever done, George Friel's were among the very best. He is such a fine actor that he becomes the character he's playing. That's why I didn't recognize him at the start. I'd never really seen George Friel; I'd seen Chief Bromden and John Barrymore and a host of other characters he's played.
I've described his performances as "mesmerizing" and "sublime," among other positive words.
Turns out that Friel was a theater major in college and loves the stage as much as I do, so we talked shop all the way home.
What a nice way to end a wonderful vacation.