Nasty in Nantucket
Far be it for me to be a champion of deference or timidity, but a scene I witnessed in the Nantucket airport this week caused me to consider, ahem, good manners. Let me begin with a disclaimer. I am hardly a model of punctilious manners. While I believe that I am generally courteous, I can jut out my elbows and push to the head of the line or subway platform with the best of them. But the drama that I watched unfold at ACK on the Monday after the Fourth of July weekend illustrated how out of hand assertiveness has gotten.
As I entered the waiting area for a boarding flight, the staccato screech of a woman in her late twenties put me on guard. She had for whatever reason just been told that she and her husband would not both be able to travel on the scheduled departing flight. For all I know she was a victim of her airline (she certainly thought that she was), but her conduct soon put me on the side of anybody but her. Though it wasn't physically apparent, she announced that she was pregnant and that she had to get back to the city for a medical exam. She declared to anyone within earshot that she wanted her husband to be with her and she asked for someone to give up his or her seat so they could travel together. Heads lowered and the other passengers sank deeper into their reading. Several craned their necks from a safe distance to see how this was going to play out. There seemed to be no medical emergency in evidence. The airline attendant hung his head but said there was nothing he could do; their flight was sold out. He said that he would try to put her husband onto a later flight. The woman started in again, her pitch ratcheted up even higher, haranguing the rest of us that it was shameful no one would give up their seat for her or her husband. And believe me, if there had been anyone in that lounge who for a moment might have considered surrendering his or her ticket to someone in distress at the expense of being late to their own home or office that morning, there was nobody by then. Her voice grew louder with her pronouncements that she couldn't believe this and she couldn't believe that. The rest of us couldn't believe what we were watching.
I thought if she didn't get hold of herself her head might pop off, like one of those rubber dolls you squeeze too tightly. I worried (truly) about her unborn baby. She carried on until she boarded, while her husband waited dejectedly at the ticket counter. The tension in the waiting area lifted immediately after she left and the remaining passengers starting talking about her. One man said he'd grown up on island and his parents were in the hospitality business. He declared that people behaved worse now than they used to. And, he added, it wasn't just cranky old biddies and a few imperious snobs. Another man said that he worked in the Midwest. "People don't behave like that out there," he said. I agreed. I live mostly in New Mexico these days and there are obnoxious people there like anywhere else, but the kind of bad, entitled behavior we had just witnessed doesn't go down very well out West. Several other women chimed in that no amount of hormones or stress excused behavior like what we had just witnessed. Ditto for heat, humidity and harriedness. I shuddered to think that I had joined a chorus of seemingly cranky older women, but really, it wasn't like that. Our negative response was considered! We tried to be fair. There had been other scenes at the airport that morning. Young people in their twenties and thirties, smartly dressed, seemed to be assuming the mantle that was once worn mostly by arrogant, tough-minded high profile businessmen.
Nantucket airport on a summer Monday morning when businessmen and women are heading back to work has always been a stressful scene. Twenty years ago I heard the story of a man who barked at the ticketing agent who had given him some unwelcome news about his flight ,"Do you know who I am?" She didn't miss a beat before she answered that she didn't but to her he was just another pretty face and he could get back to his place in line. I always admired her moxie.
Courteous behavior has fallen by the wayside, and a whole new crop of entitled princes and princesses think that by snarling and making a fuss they will get their way. How can they be so stupid?
My flight that morning was cancelled and there was a lot of scrambling and serious intoning by me and my fellow passengers to get off the ground to where we were headed. We weren't happy with how things played out. But we were all a little nicer to each other and the ticketing agent than we might have been otherwise. We'd been chastened by the morning spectacle. Bad behavior isn't pretty. Furthermore, it doesn't get you what you want.