DTW Detroit Michigan Airport is civilized at 9 a.m. on Christmas Eve day, December 24th, 2016. Terminal A is quiet. No one is freaking out or running to catch a flight. A lot of airport workers are moving about in clusters, chatting with each other about hospital visits and annoying bosses.
I have a four-hour layover, so I cruise the food choices and decide on Longhorns restaurant, not least because they are playing Motown hits on satellite radio. The Classic Breakfast is two eggs, biscuit, hash browns, bacon or sausage. I am seated at a table next to the enormous west-facing windows. Outside, the rising sun illuminates the space between A and B terminals as Delta jets taxi in and out like graceful solo skaters. Every few seconds a clean, crisp white jet leaps off the runway just beyond Terminal B into the cloudless morning sky, into the southerly wind. The jets escalate swiftly, just like all flying things.
Earlier, as I approached the down escalator to the tunnel between the terminals, I walked behind a tiny girl who was trailing her mother. On her back, she carried an overstuffed candy-colored backpack almost half her size. Her slightly older brother was several strides ahead of her, and ahead of them both, already on the way down the escalator, was their mother, a telescoping roller board suitcase handle in each hand, and another large backpack on her own back.
Escalators still alarm me, so I watched the little girl as I followed them. I remembered when I was this little girl’s age: the risk of falling (or worse!), the nervousness of my own parents, the panic of choosing that terrible second when you must step onto the moving stair, the visual disorientation — where do the stairs come from, where do they go? — the sound of the escalator’s rhythmic rumbling, clacking, and sometimes screeching. Terrifying.
At the top step, the tiny girl hesitated. I was right behind her. She stepped down, not holding onto the handrail, lost her balance, stooped, and began to cry quietly. Mom was unconcerned, or not showing it. “C’mon,” Mom chirped, “let’s go.”
I reached down and gently grasped the girl’s upper arm with my left hand, saying, “You’re OK.” She was crying but not too hopelessly, looking at her feet on the stairs that she straddled, half on, half off. We descended. A man on the parallel escalator was also descending. He reached over the divide, touching her shoulder with his big hand and said loudly, “You’re OK, you’re OK,” repeating it because the tiny girl was not convinced. Slowly she reached up with her left hand to grasp the handrail. “Good job,” I said. She continued to cry quietly.
“C’mon, we gotta go,” Mom sang, glancing over her shoulder, ready to step off at the bottom. The girl’s brother watched from a few stairs down between mother and sister, a bridge between them. At the bottom, he hopped off, turned to watch her. Adults nearby looked ready to intercede. But we knew the little girl had to learn the escalator rules, had to conquer her escalator fears. We all remembered.
The cloudless Detroit sky absorbs all birds leaping up and curving away, going everywhere. Diana Ross sings, Set me free, why dontcha, babe. Al Green sings, Let me know that love is really real.
© 2016 Patti Witten