Catalina - By Tom Brady

Now what? Pounding rain poured through our home’s gutters, and they hummed with rushing water. Rain soaked the ground and swirled around the street drain.  A downpour changed my plan to sit in the park and write.  Wife, kids, and the dog swarmed around the house, making it impossible to think. I needed quiet. A place to think was essential. I had to minimize the effort of slapping computer keys to make mental space for creative thought. 

The answer came while I petted Grace, my wagging, Chocolate Labrador confidant. I grabbed my laptop and said goodbye to the preoccupied family as I passed by them on the way out of the house. No one seemed to notice. I tossed the laptop on the passenger seat of my Electric Blue Elantra GT, N-line edition, and headed out. Reverse first, then six forward gears to snap through. The freeway was empty, and five exits later I barrelled around a cloverleaf ramp and was off.  

Being alone in a quiet place was my plan, and my destination did not disappoint. Paying for parking was my only gripe. Other than that, the airport was perfect. Comfortable seating abounded, as did electric outlets for my computer. A few coffee shops and delis were open, allowing me to relax in style. There were a handful of travellers, but they took off their shoes, dumped out their pockets, and headed through security to catch one of the few flights not cancelled because of the ongoing pandemic. Several people wandered through shops while waiting for arriving flights. I didn’t see anyone else who appeared to be there to get away from home. Or to write. I was a select group of one. 

I stared vacantly at giant travel posters as I mentally plunged into storyline and drained my first coffee. Next, I needed a bagel and more coffee, so continued the storyline quest while I walked. I choose the deli at the far end of the hall to retrieve my nutrition essentials and get a little head-clearing exercise.  

I arrived at the distant deli, and an attention-getting young woman with beautiful dark eyes and coal black, glossy hair meandering over her left shoulder helped me. Her name tag announced her as Catalina. We took our time with the transaction as there wasn’t another customer in sight. What a smile, and dimples! I knew she belonged at the heart of my story, whatever it might be. I also knew where I would go when my stomach growled for lunch. 

Back at my table, a writer’s suite, really, and a huge, well-appointed one at that, I stretched my arms and flexed my fingers. Motivated by coffee, a whole-grain bagel, and the beauty of my star character, I wrote. I wrote what came to mind, knowing the story blended with the words in a yet unrealized way. I banged keys and words appeared, then sentences, then themes and story. 

In my story, a jet left the gate for a two-hour flight. The plane had 23 passengers. As ground crew backed the plane out, flight control radioed the pilot and reported that the crew observed an abnormality in a landing gear, a wobble. The tractor stopped pushing, and air traffic control alerted a maintenance crew. 

The pilot, Captain Roberts, announced a delay for an inspection required by ground crew and promised updates. The crew arrived and began assessing. They required more test equipment, so Capt. Roberts announced this to his passengers. The equipment arrived and passengers peered through windows as workers scurried around the left-wing landing gear, pointing, discussing, gesturing with hands and shaking heads. An hour passed from when the plane first pushed back, and true to his word, Capt. Roberts kept the 23 confined people aware of the operation. Worn spacers on a small strut support bar created the wobble. The Embraer 190 regional jet, a proven aircraft, could not depart until maintenance personnel replaced them, a critical repair but not one significant enough to require a change of aircraft. 

Each of the 23 ticket holders onboard dealt with the news in their own way, but there was considerable seat squirming, sighing and checking of time. Cells phone sprung to life with flight crew blessing. Time passed with little activity outside the plane. Capt. Roberts was back on the intercom. 

“Ladies and gentlemen, the coronavirus has resulted in a cancellation of most flights and that means fewer maintenance staff on hand. The airline has called in a landing gear technician and he should be here in 35-40 minutes. Meanwhile, the flight crew will begin distributing snacks and drinks, and you are welcome to continue using your electronic devices. I’ll keep you updated as I learn more.” 

Eyes rolled in the heads of 23 people in scattered seats. The airline assigned seats so far apart that none of the 23 could turn to a seat row companion to grumble. Flight Attendants Shari and Linda loaded the food cart with coffee, tea, sodas, beer and snack packages of pretzels, peanuts and bite sized cheese crackers. At least the 23 had some control over their snack. 

The 23 did not feel satisfied by the meal, but did not blame Shari, Linda, Capt. Rogers or the ground crew. Some fumed quietly, some squirmed, and some accepted the situation with meditative breathing. 

Jennifer and Al, who staffed the gate, were aware of the delay. Jennifer left her post long enough to get coffee and talk with Catalina, whom she often saw. 

“We have a plane stuck on the tarmac,” said Jennifer. 

“Why, what happened?” 

“Landing gear problem, it’ll get fixed, but there’s no food on the short-hop flight. People are getting grumpy.” 

“I don’t blame them,” announced Catalina. 

Jennifer went back to work. Catalina wiped the counter and had an idea. She called Jennifer at her gate and ran it by her. Jennifer checked with her supervisors, then called Catalina and gave the idea a thumbs up. 

The enterprising Catalina called the cafe owner, explained the situation and spilled her idea through the phone in a well-shaped pool of words and concepts. The owner gave it a thumbs up too and asked to be kept advised. 

Catalina was working to support herself through graduate school in business, where she was earning a master’s degree in International Marketing for Sustainable Practices. Her proposed solution would address the hungry 23, the airline’s image problem, and the promotion of the cafe and herself. Or it would produce nothing more than lunch for passengers and flight crew. That would be enough for her. 

A selection of salads and sandwiches had been pre-made for the day and were in a cooler. She complemented this supply with newly made food until she had 30 mix-and-match lunches. Back at the Cafe office in an old yellow building that housed several small businesses, Eddy, the cafe owner, and Tesa Sue, his wife, were on the phone with the media, newspapers, radio, and TV. Catalina reported all of this to Jennifer, who reported it to her supervisors, who reported it to their supervisors and Capt. Rogers, who reported it to the on-board flight crew and the passengers. Twenty-five pairs of hands clapped, and 25 voices cheered, as Shari and Linda joined in with the 23. 

The press and airline execs showed up, then Jennifer rolled a spare airline food cart to Catalina who loaded it. A hydraulic lift raised Catalina, Jennifer and the cart to the plane. Jennifer watched with joy as Catalina, Shari, and Linda proceeded down the aisle passing out good cheer, food, and smiles. 

Catalina’s plan was a smashing success, and the press, hungry for upbeat news stories, flooded the market with it. The media swarmed all over Catalina. She and her dimples, dark eyes and meandering coal black hair made the national news. National and local companies and non-profits offered many jobs upon graduation. 

That was my story, but writing it was slower and harder than I expected. Isolation at the airport and the experience with Catalina made it possible. 

I called my wife. 

“Where are you?” she asked. 

“At the airport.” 

“What? Why are you at the airport? Is there anyone else there?” 

“No,” I replied. “I’m alone. Isolated. It’s Perfect. Well, actually… Catalina is here. She’s been great company. I’ll explain when I get home.” 

“Hmmm, yes, an explanation will be good,” she murmured. 

With a smile, I closed my laptop and packed up. I returned to the Elantra, punched it in first, and took off.

1 comment

  • Silver Gladstar
    Silver Gladstar ptld
    A fine story! I loved the story within a story. What fun! Thanks!

    A fine story! I loved the story within a story. What fun! Thanks!

Add comment