#1. Every Black Man in First Class was J.Cochran when I was 12
I hate missing flights,
I loathed the idea back when southwest handed out carbon copy style boarding passes with giant numbers and I despise the notion even more with the homeland security rape that exists today. So as my parents and I rushed to the airport to make a midday flight to Charles De Gaulle from SFO without the slightest forethought to midday San Francisco traffic on behalf of the parental units, I was irate-and also twelve.
Like the hodgepodge of scenes from "middle class family off to Europe" handbook and a Spike Lee joint, my family and I pushed and waded in the vast array of whimsical corners, temperaments and outcomes from within the nuclear base and aggressed by everyone else involved.
There were moments I had to hold back the laughter from the sheer parallels to the wheel of mom dad and the kid(s) films. Like when dad leaves something almost twice, after not finding something else for an over extended period of time-when all of the above are tickets and passports. The seconds that I wanted to murder both parents with my shock resistant discman (most likely spinning *Nsync's first album, or Dream) because I'm 12 and can't really do much but allow the reels of travel debauchery to pan out with the on-que obnoxious remarks.
Like the rise to a clamorous jazz solo, we get to the gate and become greeted with a smile. The cheerful airline associate is ready and willing to take whatever tornado just approached and turn it into a swift breeze of travel joy. I can't claim to recite the word-for-word transcript that ensued, but I have always been a creeper. From across the room or standing right beside you, my eyes are always watching. Not in the “I want to eat you" kind of way. I like to think of it as the foreboding optical billboard in The Great Gatsby. Somewhat also serving as an anthropological awareness to social interactions.
As the chipper white girl with pulled back brunette hair, clean shirt & cardigan and shark white teeth greeted my father with such joy and an odd desire to please in a way that made the normal appeasement of airline workers look mundane, I really noticed. She wouldn't make much eye contact but for seconds and smiled wide after after respectful response and constant clicking. The flight was boarded and under normal circumstances the gate would have been closed. As the last couple of couples and fellow clans made their way down the ramp they tried to side glace along at the latecomers who to their judgment would not get to enjoy the trades of the (pre 9-11) intercontinental treatments.
While my mother used that time to further fume and make sure I knew whose fault it was (clearly being put on the male species here) I could hear laughter from the the desk that I was just recently able to see over, due to the buds of pubescence beginning to surge. “Was this b*** flirting with my dad?” I thought to myself. Which only made my mother's eyes turn in the same direction and vocalize the same notion. We both made a closer step to the counter and in minutes the gate doors were opening back up, and my father was being handed three new tickets boarding passes, and that “I love you please like me” smile.
It was made clear that in our absence our original seats were already given to standby passengers and in some awesome spark of luck, we were given three new tickets all in a row. I'm sure my father made the most the situation and knowing what this would mean for the remainder of the day with his wife and child. I know he tried his best to make something happen out of nothing, as most black fathers have been born and bred to do.
The weird part to me was not that fact that they were reopening the gate to let us on, it was was how the airline associate handled the situation. I may not have been a masters student in sociology with a B.A in psych., but I knew that most conversations between customer service personnel and Black Men in high traffic spaces like an airport, usually were not filled with so much jovial inclinations and passive whim. A truth that I would later find painfully true as you added stamps to passport like Young H.O. That fact alone is disappointing on the basis that the positive outcome of black and white interaction was more surprising than the accepted negative responses to the two human groups in public spaces whose generalisation and discomfort was widely known and portrayed often.
I was still waiting for someone to stop and say, “ just kidding” or, “ wait…..”. No one broke character.“Right this way”, the Air France associate says, and I thought to myself, “ Da’ fu**”. Now, again I can't claim the verbatim of mental commentary, and i'm positive my vocabulary had not reached that level of ratchetivity, but whatever Pg-13 W.B Tuesday phrase I paused with was encased with the same fervor and curiosity.
I was expecting to catch the next flight out with a small fee, or at worst, come back tomorrow for the same resolve but when The flight attendants on board took the carry on luggage and smiled with joy while taking us to our seats one quiety spoke in that waxy tone they have and said, “Right this way Mr Cochran”, and I thought to myself, “ Da’ fu**!”. Now, again I can't claim the verbatim of mental commentary, and I'm positive my vocabulary had not reached that level of ratchetivity, but whatever Pg-13 W.B Tuesday phrase I paused with was encased in the same fervor and curiosity. We took around 7 steps from the front of the plane to our first class seats. It's one thing to get upgraded to first class when traveling to Paris with your parents, but the moment turns social studies when you believe my dad is the famed lawyer who got O.J off and be hella juiced about it Going from a moment of mistaken identity to enlisting the privileges that bloom from them.
I fully shat myself. Figuratively. My mother played it out like it was her world and they were all just pawns to their own ignorance. As she should have. My middle aged black father just took it with inner laughter and glee like George Jefferson being mistaken for Richard Pryor at Bergdorfs while trying to buy an anniversary present. Side bar: It was my parents anniversary trip, I just could not allow them to travel to Paris without me-By any means necessary.
The flight itself is magically forgettable because to my experience-we were not flying. We were on a restaurant and retreat like voyage that had the soundtrack of Britney Spears’ second album on repeat-not skipping. It felt like a wonderful chance of luck. The hand towels, the assorted appetizers of nuts and things, the lazy boy style chair that could rival any actual lazy boy. And the attention. Mostly the positive attention.
My knowledge on social interaction and the context to racial inequality based on person experience was not explosive enough at that age to have recognized the back door racial judgments that were taking place. Something that started I’m sure in the head of a twenty something who, to our benefit yes, made the profiling mistake that my father, who 6”1, Middle aged Black man with signature magnum P-I mustache had to of been Johnnie Cochran because this was a flight to paris and his ticket was first class. She was so sure of this that she made all other attendants fall in line with the suspension of ignorant disbelief. The initial attempts on my father’s behalf to correct the matter, were left unbothered and utterly ignored, mostly thought of as a ploy to fly with his family unnoticed by the gen pop on international flights. Every member of in-flight servitute around us continued the perfect game of telephone lead by wrongful identification with respect, grace and hella snacks.
The social deduction that took place did work in our favor, but it stemmed from the same uneducated and generalized claims that profit flight attendants checking actual first class ticket holders who are black because they do not favor a stereotypical first class passenger that is frequent or pushed to the norm.
I have since flown first class maybe once in my life, and the only thing I got mistaken for was insert-male model-here. And after 2012, when that title became true, it still didn't wash out the eyes stuck on my presence in seat 2C near the window. But that’s another story altogether.