The fat red-haired cop was talking to the attractive blond woman who was working at the Swissair information desk. He seemed oblivious to everything else going on in the terminal. I would have been too. She was smiling. And she was dazzling.
I was not happy for many reasons: the girl was speaking to the unkempt cop and not to me; the air conditioning in the International Arrivals Building at JFK was losing the battle to the hot July afternoon; I was worn out from my summer job as a limo driver.
I was working day and night, seven days a week, driving a late model station wagon back and forth between suburban Essex and Union counties in New Jersey to the area's three major airports: Newark, LaGuardia, and JFK. JFK was the worst because it attracted more passengers and more traffic, had the most delays, and was the farthest away. But my full time job at Temple University as an ESL instructor did not cover my expenses and although I didn't like spending most of the summer in a car, the job paid very well.
My shirt was stuck to my back and perspiration was running down my face. My flight was delayed--that is, the flight of the people I was picking up. Damn Lufthansa. Their flights never arrived on time. I remembered a conversation I had overheard between a Lufthansa representative and an irritated man waiting for the arrival of one of the airline's flights:
— Is Flight 400 from Frankfort delayed?
—No sir. Flight 400 is on time.
—Flight 400 was scheduled to arrived at 3:30 p.m.. It is now 4:30 p.m.. The flight has not arrived but you are telling me that the flight is on time?
—Yes sir. Flight 400 is on time.
—So Flight 400 from Frankfort, which was scheduled to arrive at 3:30 but which has not yet landed at 4:30, is on time?
Even after the plane landed, the passengers had to deplane, walk to the terminal, fetch their luggage, pass through customs, and then find me in the crowded terminal. Then I had to get the car from the garage, pay the parking fee, find my way to the arrivals level of the terminal, and hope the cops would let me gather up my passengers and their luggage before chasing me away. After all this, there was at least a two-hour drive to Livingston, NJ. I would not be home before midnight.
I looked again at the cop flirting with the Swissair girl. What a disgrace this guy was. His longish red hair was disheveled and obstreperous, he looked overweight and out of shape, and he was leaning on the counter. Didn't this guy have any pride? Why wasn't he patrolling the terminal? Why wasn't he paying attention to the activity around him?
The International Arrivals Building was packed. People from all over the world were emerging from customs, passing through the cordon, and were being greeted by euphoric relatives or friends who had been waiting for hours. All were chattering excitedly in Spanish, Italian, German, Amharic, Mandarin or Cantonese, Farsi, Arabic, Swahili, and a dozen other languages.
I decided to move to the second level where perhaps I could find someplace to sit down and read. Maybe the air conditioning was working better there. Upstairs, I could always stand by the huge windows overlooking the runways and watch the planes take off and land.
I moved toward the escalator and got on behind a large family of people from India or Pakistan--were they speaking Hindi or Urdu? They were attired in brightly colored gossamer. There were about a dozen of them, all smiling and talking excitedly: four or five children, about half a dozen adults, and two older people, perhaps the grandmother and grandfather.
Two thirds of the way up, the old man collapsed. Several people on the escalator gasped and cried out, but in the din of the airport, I doubted that anyone could hear them. I turned to shout for help but the word never got out of my mouth.
A bluish blur shot across the terminal to the escalator. Without knocking down or hurting anyone, the red-haired cop scaled the escalator in three gargantuan strides, scooped up the old man with one beefy arm, and carried him safely to the second floor. He was already on his walkie-talkie with EMS and giving them directions as he politely asked people to clear the area and lowered the man gently to the floor. Someone had found a towel and the cop put it under the head of the man as he carefully spread him out.
Close up, the cop looked a lot less overweight and a lot more like a linebacker or a full back. He moved like a halfback. He wasn't even sweating or breathing hard after running about 200 feet at full speed, flying up the escalator, and scooping up with one hand a person who was in danger of being mutilated or killed by an escalator.
Later, I returned to the first floor to check the arrivals board. I took a detour past the Swissair information desk. The cop was again chatting with the Swiss princess. She was smiling and her eyes were shining. She'd probably seen this guy display his skills before.
I shuffled over beside the cop.
—Is the old man OK?
—Yeah, he just fainted. The medics gave him some oxygen and a glass of water and he was fine. Probably the heat just got to him.
—Thanks. That's what I'm here for.
Then I walked to the board to see if my flight would ever arrive.