The airlines canceled dozens of flights that day due to Hurricane Irma. The tiny airport on St. Bart’s teemed with stranded travelers, their frustrations mounting as the day wore on. The odor of sweat and suntan oil pervaded the terminal.
Passengers for two departing flights packed the waiting area at Gate 11. The loudspeaker called people to board the flight to Miami. That plane had to depart before the plane to Dallas could reach the gate. I clutched my ticket to Dallas and slouched against a concrete post close to the ticket counter, observing the boarding process. The computers were down. Agents read the tickets manually, checking names off a passenger list in excruciating slowness.
A wiry, silver-haired woman marched up to the ticket counter. Her peasant dress and white sneakers seemed out of place on the Caribbean island.
“What’s my status young man? Am I on this flight or not?” The woman’s screechy voice sent chills up my spine like fingernails on a blackboard.
“What be your name, Granma?” The agent spoke with a pronounced Jamaican accent.
“Delores Dickenson. And I’m not your Granma.”
The agent flipped through his clipboard. “You be first on our standby list, Ms. Dickenson. Unfortunately the flight be full. It will take a cancellation to be freeing up a seat for you.”
The woman grabbed a pen from the countertop. She waved it like a music conductor’s baton. “It’s Mrs. Dickenson, young man, and that’s not good enough! I have to get back for my granddaughter’s wedding! You need to knock someone off this plane and get me a seat.”
The agent took a deep breath and mopped his forehead with a handkerchief. “The word be ‘bump,’ Madam, and I am not allowed to be bumpin’ off anyone. You must be patient and see what happens.”
I watched as the woman blew an exasperated breath and tromped off to her seat. She plopped down next to a florid man dressed in an ugly Hawaiian shirt, fluorescent yellow shorts, and pink flip flops. They began an animated conversation I couldn’t hear, while comparing each other’s travel papers and passing them back and forth.
The agent called the last boarding group. The ruddy-faced man with the loud clothes leisurely gathered his belongings, making no effort to merge with the throng funneling through the gate. He was the last in line to board.
The man handed the agent his ticket. The agent referred to the passenger list, and frowned.
“May I see your passport, please?”
The man grumbled something, but patted his pockets and produced the document.
The agent examined the passport, and looked back at the ticket. “I am sorry, sir, but this not be your ticket.”
“What? Of course it’s my ticket!”
“Be you Stephen E. Crampendorf?”
“No. Look at my passport. I’m Stephen F. Crampendorf.”
“Well, this ticket be for Stephen E. Crampendorf.”
“What are you talking about? Lemme see that.” The man snatched the ticket from the agent’s hand. “Here’s the problem. Look,” he said, shoving the paper in the agent’s face. “The ticket was made out to me, ‘Stephen F.,’ see the typing? There’s just this red mark here that makes the ‘F’ look like an ‘E.’” The man rubbed his pudgy finger over a spot on the paper.
“Please do not be doin’ that.” The agent yanked the ticket back. “That be an official alteration,” he said. “We make corrections on tickets in red ink.”
“Don’t be ridiculous! This—” He flicked his finger on the ticket, “—is the ticket you gave me this morning after you cancelled my original flight. The original ticket said ‘Stephen F’, and I’m Stephen F.” If there’s a mistake, it’s your mistake.”
“Do you have the original ticket?”
“No, I don’t. You took it from me when you issued the new ticket. What name is on the passenger list?”
“Stephen F. Crampendorf.”
“That’s me! Stephen F.”
“You still need a ticket.”
“I have a ticket!” he growled. He pointed at the paper in the agent’s hand. White blotches appeared in the man’s cheeks.
“I am sorry sir. There be nothing I can do. That be an officially altered ticket issued to Stephen E. Crampendorf.”
The florid man got louder. “No it’s not! See here,” he said, whipping out his wallet. “Here’s my Texas driver’s license—Stephen F.” The man placed the plastic card on the agent’s podium with a loud snap. “Texas has one of the biggest governments in the world. You could fit fifty of your puny islands inside our state. Do you think they’d make a mistake? No! And here—my TSA trusted traveler card—Stephen F!” He slapped the second card down. “TSA is the U.S. Government, the richest country in the free world. Do you think they’d make a mistake? No! And here,” he said, as he pulled out another card. “Here’s my Florida concealed carry permit.” Snap. “Would Florida make a mistake with something like that? No!”
“Sir, that not be the issue, it—”
“And my passport—issued by the State Department. They don’t make mistakes!”
“Look at my face.” He struck a pose, displaying his teeth in a wide grin. “Look at the ID photos. Look at the photo in my passport. Is it me or isn’t it me?”
“Sir, that not what we be talkin’ about.”
“How many people do you think are here named Stephen Crampendorf?” He turned an shouted at the crowd. “Is there anyone here named Crampendorf?”
I looked at the crowd. No one answered. No one cared.
He turned back to the agent. “See?”
The man’s voice raised an octave in pitch and ten decibels in volume. “What is wrong with you people? Here!” He pulled a fistful of cards from his wallet. “Visa! Mastercard! American Express!” Snap. Snap. Snap. “Here’s my Medicare card! My Blue Cross Blue Shield card! AARP! Triple A!” More snapping. “And, last but not least—” He raised the final card overhead so all could see. “My Nacogdoches County library card!” He snapped the card down alongside the others with a triumphant flourish.
The ticket agent wearily rubbed the back of his neck and looked at the ID cards, shaking his head. Suddenly he picked one up.
“Mr. Crampendorf. Why you be havin’ a concealed carry permit from Florida if you be living in Texas?”
“What the hell are you talking about? What has that got to do with anything?”
“We must verify the authenticity of all IDs. Can you explain why you have an ID from Florida?”
“I live in Texas, but I own property in Florida. And I have a gun. For a gun I need a permit. The permits from Florida are cheaper and last longer—”
“You have a gun?”
“Yes. Of course I have a gun. Everyone in Texas has a gun.”
Things happened rapidly as soon as Mr. Crampendorf said, “I have a gun.”
Another agent farther down the counter picked up a phone, while casting surreptitious looks at the vociferous Mr. Crampendorf. Anyone within earshot edged away. The passengers in the first two rows of chairs magically melted into the surrounding crowd. Several people ducked behind the furniture. Dark figures began filtering into the waiting area. Figures in uniform. Figures with automatic weapons. I crouched behind my pillar.
Mr. Crampendorf, meanwhile, continued yelling, his arms flailing in emphasis. “Of all the stupid things I’ve ever heard of! I’ve been here for hours! And now you’re telling me I can’t board my plane because of one little red mark on my ticket? And make no mistake! That’s my ticket! I want to see a supervisor! I demand—”
The black-clad gendarmes descended upon him like flies on dead meat, knocking him over and pinning him to the floor. They frisked him, bound his wrists with zip ties, and dragged him away. His sunburned face turned purple. He never stopped yelling.
“You people are crazy! I just want my ticket! Do you know who I am? I’m an American citizen! I’m a veteran! I’m a Shriner, for Christ sake! I know people! Call the U.S. Embassy! You won’t hear the end of this…”
His cries faded away as they hauled him off by his arms, leaving a trail of flip-flops in his wake. The waiting area slowly came back to life.
The agent stacked Mr. Crampendorf’s ID cards in a neat pile. He checked his clipboard, punched the phone, and made an announcement. “Would Delores Dickenson please come to the counter?”
The wiry, silver-haired woman strutted up to the podium.
“Mrs. Dickenson, we have had a—cancellation, and there be room for you on the flight to Miami,” he said. “You be in seat 17B. Please proceed to the gate.”
“Why thank you, young man. Oh—and I believe this is yours.” She handed him something. “I borrowed it earlier.”
The agent accepted the item and waved her on through.
He stared at the red pen and smiled.
Note: A version of this story won 1st Place in the Granbury Writers’ Bloc monthly contest in September 2018.