The Kindness of Strangers with Forks — and What You Should Never Ask a Flight Attendant

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I’ll get to the picture in a moment. I just finished my show in Oakland at the AHMA-NCH conference for property managers and support staff. Their work provides safe and affordable havens for families on the fringe. Who knew, but there’s an affordable housing shortage in the Bay Area — and these folks make life less scary and more possible for those families lucky enough to qualify. But the key word I think is "luck."

Incidentally, I'm writing this post on the plane on Sept. 13, and I was lucky enough to catch an early flight back. Very lucky. I finished up on time and realized I might be able to fly home early rather than the Best of the West Coast Food Courts tour I was booked on. And as luck would have it, it was tight but it happened!

Important side note: I can't and don't eat prior to presentations for fear of surprise fun sounds finding their way into the mike and my script.

But back to my flight. I'm ready to board but I'm midday famished, and ask the gate man for five minutes to forage around the little airport food hovels. He sighs but obliges, and now I'm a spinning cartoon. I’m a ferret hopped up on triple espresso twisting and jumping to and fro looking for the quickest and hardiest food options. Whoa, whoa, look there, “A Cobb salad in a box, grrrrrrrreat! I'll take two!” Now I’m skipping back to the plane high-fiving my gate agent. I’m feeling lucky — and then the unthinkable, I’m boarding a half-full Southwest flight and now I have an entire row to stretch out in and abuse. Three seats for Tim, yowsa!

Another half side note: If you fly Southwest, you’ll know that finding an entire row to relax in is zoo-panda-births rare.

My travel-happiness quotient is now an eleven out of ten. This is a too-good-to-be-Clue kind of feeling. Now in the air, I flop all three trays down because I could and now Cobb box one and two are about to become one with tum when — oh no, please, say it ain't so? No fork. Really, no fork?!!!! Ugh. I’m down. Way down.

Next side note: If you've ever had the fortune to dine with me, you know I'm a fearless and sometimes aggressive eater, but the thought of my hands scooping up salad bits — blue cheese sopped in ranch dressing — even gave a Viking like me pause.

"Excuse me, busy flight attendant, I need a fork." "Huh?"

Yep, you caught it. This here is the obvious mistake. It is, after all, only three days after Sept 11.

“Uh, I mean, you know — the tiny plastic one, not a real fork. How bout a spork?"

Her look was priceless. This is the same look you might get asking for a Swiss army knife to jack open a can of beans.

“No forks, or none that I know of ... ” and then the flight attendant calmly but with purpose heads up front to place me on the terror watch list.

My stomach growls and I stare down at my taunting tease of a salad. “Damn you, almost perfect trip, how could you fail me?!” And then, out of the corner of my eye, I see the item in the photo, wrapped in twine and rolled in its little burlap colored napkin. It's extended out to me as if straight from the Cracker Barrel fairy herself.

“Go ahead," says my fellow passenger, "I don’t need it.”

I was not only speechless I was choked up.

“Are you sure?” I asked. “Yep," she says, “it was in this silly gift bag. I don’t need it, so here.”

Now, she may have done this act of kindness thinking that if she gave this goofy fellow a wooden fork, perhaps her life would be spared. In truth I think it was far more the desperate Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant wild hungry eyes I was flashing, and she wanted to avoid the possible Cobb salad carnage she feared she might be incapable of completely turning away from. Think of the fork as the cloud in the werewolf movie, and now all had been saved — momentarily at least.

As my hunger starts to subside I’m feeling back on track with this flight and society — sometimes it’s the little things that make you feel that all is well with humanity. Soon politics will stabilize, global warming solved and Justin Bieber get back to being just a good kid with some catchy tunes. Who knows why someone is moved to offer up their wooden fork from a gift bag to a stranger in need? But I thanked her from the bottom of my salad box, both of them. Burp, excuse me. I thanked her for keeping my inner barbarian at bay and she may have even felt a little over-appreciated, but please take another look at this fork and I think you’ll see that my gushing was warranted. Also take note that she’s not in the picture; she politely declined saying she’d let the fork tell the story. I think she was right. I do hope anyone who made it to the near end of this piece will share a random gift with a stranger today or tomorrow or the next. Fork it forward, let’s say.

OK, my plane just landed and I’m feeling lucky and grateful: grateful for friends, family, a nice home and my new wooden fork. I’m also grateful to have only a carry-on so as to avoid baggage claim and an awkward revisit. I’d hate her to think I was some kind of selfie stalker, but yeah, I think I freaked her out. Who tears up over a fork anyway? I guess I do. Feel lucky and grateful and fork it forward, friends.

HumorKathryn Lake