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Where Empathy Ends

Jacks Smack 04092023

Years ago — many as a matter of fact — I was invited to attend my college roommate’s second wedding. 

I was living in San Francisco at the time, and an extremely busy travel schedule with my corporate prison sentence (i.e., job) made getting to the nuptials a little tricky. But I was able to negotiate a long-enough layover in Fort Lauderdale on my way back from Frankfurt, Germany, to attend the wedding.

International Travel:

what could be more fun than spending hours cramped in a tiny seat with limited legroom, surrounded by crying babies and snoring strangers?”

It was early spring and still quite chilly in Europe, so I had my Chicago-bought long wool coat with me. At the check-in counter in Germany, the Lufthansa attendant suggested I check my coat rather than fly with it. Given I was headed to Florida, I surmised it was a safe bet, as I certainly would not need it upon arrival. I agreed and we proceeded to place my coat in an official airline-issued cardboard box. 

The flight back to the States was uneventful. Of course, it had the requisite number of inconveniences. I mean, what could be more fun than spending hours cramped in a tiny seat with limited legroom, surrounded by crying babies and snoring strangers? Yeah, I can see I stumped the panel. International flights are one of the few times I’m glad I’m short. 

Jet Lag Is Real:

Upon arriving at the Miami airport, I made my way to baggage claim. When I check a bag, it’s always a surprise to see it actually arrive after being separated from it for hours, so I only do so when I have no choice. Given the fact I had been in Europe for business and now was in South Florida for a wedding, my clothing requirements were varied enough that there was no way to rely solely on carry-on luggage, so this was one of those no-choice situations. 

As I made my bleary-eyed way to collect my bags, I felt like a walking zombie, stumbling through the airport like a toddler who just learned to walk. After a long, sleepless international flight, my eyes were heavy, my feet sore, and my brain barely functioning. Luckily, most airport processes are designed to keep even the dumbest and most inept safe and sound. Following the long line of other toddlers, I was able to make my way to the baggage retrieval carousel. Then I planted myself strategically at the front of the system and began to wait. 

The Joy Of Seeing One’s Luggage Arrive:

I was pretty sure I was hallucinating at this point – everything looked a little blurry and the airport announcements sounded like they were being made by a robot with a lisp”

A few minutes into the process, I spied my suitcase. Relieved to see it victoriously arrive, I exhaled knowing I was going to get to wear the hot new sexy dress I packed specifically to wow my friends from the past. As I reached out to grab my bag, I patted the side of the bag, as if to say, “Good job, old friend. Thanks.” Of course, then I remembered that it’s just a suitcase and not actually alive, but hey, it’s the little things that make life fun, right? And it was just the way I expressed my astonishment and gratitude for our reunion.

I then resumed my stance at the front of the conveyor belt to await the not-needed winter coat. And this was where things went haywire. As a matter of fact, I was pretty sure I was hallucinating at this point – everything looked a little blurry and the airport announcements sounded like they were being made by a robot with a lisp. 

Empathy Triggered:

It was like a slow-motion scene straight out of an action movie. I turned my head and there she was – a fellow traveler. The perpetrator — a German middle-aged, sturdily-set woman — was pacing around nervously. It didn’t take long for me to notice she wasn’t feeling well. Not only was she frantically walking, her face was ashen and she appeared to be sweating. For an instant, my heart went out to her. It’s just awful to not feel well, especially in these circumstances. I immediately felt empathy for her plight.

But, then it hit me. I saw her lock eyes on the cardboard box imminently appearing on the horizon of the baggage carrier belt. Like a hawk on its prey, I saw her zero in on my package. And before I could make it to my esteemed wool coat, I saw her hands slowly reaching towards the handle of the box.

Oh, the horror! I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It was like a scene straight out of a gross-out comedy movie. The spectacle unfolded in slow-motion. The German traveler’s face twisted in agony and her eyes bulged out of her head. And in an instant I knew what was about to happen next. It was surreal and terrifying all at the same time. And definitely an empathy killer. To my horror, I realized that the target of her vomit was none other than my beloved winter coat. 

As Empathy Was Killed:

“Without missing a beat, my empathy turned into anger.”

My heart sank as I watched in disbelief. The German traveler desperately ripped open the top of my package and immediately threw up. And if that wasn’t surreal enough, she then proceeded to close the box and return it to the long line of unviolated suitcases, car seats, and backpacks as they made their way around and around just waiting to be collected.

I stood still for a split-second, flabbergasted, wondering how on earth I was going to explain this to the baggage claim staff. I mean, sure, they’ve probably seen it all, but still… There are some things that no one should have to endure.

Without missing a beat, my empathy turned into anger. My instincts kicked in and I let out a blood-curdling scream that would have made any horror movie scream queen proud. The scofflaw recoiled in fear, and then proceeded to pick up her pace to escape. There was no way I was going to allow her to vomit and run. I waved my arms frantically, trying to get the gate agent’s attention. But no matter how hard I tried, he just kept ignoring me. 

Anger Replaced Empathy:

Finally, after I was incredibly loud, in his face, and downright rude, the gate agent scolded me and informed me that I would need to wait my turn.

Turn? Turn?

I frantically retorted, “ I can’t wait my turn. She’s getting away!” while adding many physical gestures to ensure the severity and urgency of the situation be registered. Needless to say, I got his (and everyone else’s) attention pretty quickly after that.

Despite my efforts, the malevolent puker did escape the scene of the crime that day. She literally walked away – briskly for sure. Luckily for me, Lufthansa is a straight-up airline and was gracious and willing to compensate me for my ruined article. And to their credit, they kept a straight face and calm demeanor as they led me away to deal with the vomit-y mess. And while I loved that heavy winter coat — the compensatory $500 in my wallet, while doing nothing for my empathy, at least eliminated my fury.

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