Last week I travelled to Atlanta for a large technology conference; one I have attended 14 of the last 16 years.
My last time there was in 2011, before my two year hiatus from the working world.
During the short flight last Monday my mind drifted to past trips to this conference. From the early days, back in the late 90’s, when the event was held in Orlando, Florida to the more recent years when it moved to a variety of cities south of the Mason-Dixon line: San Diego, Dallas, New Orleans and at least 3-4 times that I can recall, Atlanta.
While some light turbulence gently rocked the plane, I took a stroll down memory lane, flipping through mental scrapbooks containing random images of friends, colleagues and customers. I replayed snippets of conversations, recalling exact circumstances surrounding each one: a memorable meal, a lively late-night party, a tense business discussion, a crippling hangover.
And then my mind landed on the one conference-related memory to end all conference-related memories. I thought I’d purged it from my consciousness.
I was flying to Atlanta on a Sunday night, mid-April 2010. The plane was a small commuter jet, long and narrow, with a 2X2 seating configuration. The flight was delayed several times due to crazy thunderstorms, but eventually took off around 10:00 pm.
I practiced a strict “do not engage” policy at the time, meaning I avoided all communication with those seated near me. I was in luck, the man in the window seat didn’t even try to make eye contact when I got up to let him into his spot. He promptly rested his head against the window and went to sleep. This was my kind of seat mate.
It was late, and I was tired, so I closed my eyes and tried to drift to sleep as well.
It wasn’t the crazy turbulence that woke me up, rather an unsettling feeling that I was being watched. I felt eyes on me.
My head was turned towards the aisle (because I wasn’t going to face into a stranger in the window seat), so when I cracked my eyes open I made immediate eye contact with the couple across the aisle. They were staring at me and smiling.
Or more precisely, they were staring at my cleavage and smiling. And whispering to each other.
Oh, that’s not creepy at all, is it?
I reached down, pulling the zipper on my Lululemon yoga jacket all the way to the top, until it was resting just below my chin. Cleavage no more.
Then I closed my eyes again, blocking out the disturbing image of Hillbilly Couple leering at my boobs and tried to convince myself it had all been a hallucination.
My eyes remained clamped down until the wheels hit the ground, we had taxied to the gate and the seatbelt sign turned off.
At that point I launched into action. I was out of my seat, backpack strapped on, and jostling for position to get the hell away from the perverts.
I was like a ninja, somehow managing to get at least three full rows between me and them.
I made my way to baggage claim, but there was some question as to whether our bags would be coming in on belt 7 or 8. I strategically placed myself in between the two belts, where I could keep an eye on both.
Less than 5 minutes had passed before Mr. & Mrs Creep-fest came over and stood right beside me. And so began the small talk.
I don’t do small talk in the best of circumstances. When it’s involving a pair of hillbillies who were mentally feasting on my boobs while I slept 24 inches away, it’s a definite no-go.
Each of their questions was met with a one word answer. Yes. No. No. Yes. No.
They were undeterred, and started asking more open-ended questions: Are you here on business or pleasure? [I almost gagged on the delivery of the word pleasure…]
Oh look! The bags are starting to come off carousel 8! I walked over. Wifey followed me.
Her: I think your bag will probably come off #7. You should go stand by my husband over there.
Me: Um, no, I think I’m okay here. It looks like this carousel is moving now.
Her: Oh I’ll bet that’s our bags over there. See! That’s his bowling ball bag right there. Your bag will be coming off that belt soon.
Me: Maybe you’re right […starting to move towards belt 7]
Her: You know what would be fun?
Her: You go over and tell my husband that his wife told him he should be a gentleman and pick up your bag for you.
Me: Oh, that’s very kind but I’m very self-sufficient. I travel all the time. I know how to take care of myself.
To which she responded…
Tonight, little lady, how ’bout you let us take care of you. We’ll take care of you real good.
I felt the bile coming up at the back of my throat, and wondered if throwing up all over her shoes would be a clear enough response to her offer.
But then divine intervention. The universe took pity on me.
My bag shot out of the mouth of carousel 7, immediately to my left. With super-human strength I lifted that overstuffed suitcase (branded with the bright orange “HEAVY” tag) with one hand.
Inside of 3 seconds I was beyond the sliding glass doors and at the taxi stand.
I don’t think I exhaled until the cab door was closed shut and we had pulled away from the terminal building.
My colleagues found this story highly amusing. Harmless fun, some said.
Uh, clearly you had to be there.
This couple lived 90 minutes outside of Atlanta. [What exists 90 minutes outside of Atlanta? Surely nothing resembling civilization.]
The wife hadn’t had a hair cut in…oh, ever.
The husband was a bowler (she kept advertising him as a big-time bowling champion, like this would be a big selling feature for me).
Apparently he was also a hunter. Which I translated as meaning they would have all manner of guns at home.
Let’s take a leap here and assume that I might be up for this type of party under the right circumstance. Nothing, and I mean nothing, being pitched to me that night constituted “the right circumstance”.
There is no way this particular scene would have ended well.
I envisioned myself gutted, entrails hanging out, with my head stuffed into their beer fridge.
Or in his bowling bag.
Just say no to threesomes with hillbillies from rural Georgia, friends.
…and keep moving!