The plane is a perk that we can use. A real nice perk. It’s a private, corporate shuttle that any employee of Corning can utilize for personal travel, if there are available seats, along with the much more important folks who are traveling for “business”. Those types are always engineers, geeks, nerds or salesmen/women. In other words….NOT PRODUCTION….like me. I’m a “production” employee. I make the glass that they invent/sell/ manage/triage/discuss/inventory.
When I’m at work, I’m a mess within the first two hours. I handle huge pieces of molten hot glass and it feels like a sauna. I might have my hair spiked and sprayed, my nails painted and my make-up on when I badge in at seven o’clock, but by nine o’clock my hair is flat, my lipstick has disappeared, my nails are chipped and I’m sweaty, smudged and invisible. Invisible because no one really looks at me. In my ratty lab coat, nerdy safety glasses, and boring jeans and t-shirt, I’m just employee number 3361.
But, when we travel on the plane…. I love to dress up. In my high heel pumps, my pale grey slacks, my lycra stretchy white top and my “nautical” navy blazer, I feel confident and professional. I carry my laptop and my reading glasses in my perfectly manicured hands. I make sure my hair is peky and my make-up is flawless. It always amuses me that I get nods, hellos, and appreciative looks from the same jerks that pass by in the halls at work and don’t even glance at me.
She was plain, plump, pale, wore no makeup, and she had Teva sandals on her feet. Clutching her hand tightly was an urchin boy in a red and navy brimmed hat. The kind of hat old men wear when they go crabbing. And reptile skin cowboy boots. Tiny ones.
She sat behind me on the plane. Actually, I sat in front of her. I wanted to sit anywhere else, but when we boarded, the preppy engineers were all grouped together in a herd, in the front seats, leaving me no choice but to sit in front of her and her son.You see, I hate kids, generally. I hate to sit near them in public places. They scream. They demand. They are messy. They kick at your seat, and throw food at you. None of them have manners anymore. She had a little man, about five years old, I’d say, that I thought I really wanted to steer clear of. But she was quietly talking to him during the hour and a half flight and I couldn’t help but notice that he he seemed polite.
When the plane landed, and we stood up to disembark, I heard her say to him, “Stay right with me, Gabe. I don’t want to lose you!”
Quick tears sprung to my eyes and I swallowed a lump in my throat. Suddenly, I wanted to tell her about my friend, Sue. Sue, who had an only son named “Gabe”. One day, on his way to school, he was searching for something in his car and not watching the road. The truck in front of him came to a quick stop to make a turn and Gabe did not notice. Gabe’s car went underneath the truck and 19 year old Gabe, who had an easy smile, a talent playing guitar, and never met a stranger….was decapitated. Over a thousand distraught teenagers filled the pews at his funeral.
I think about Sue. Sue, who also works shift work with me at Corning. Sue, who was born two months before me in the same hospital. Sue, who went to school with me and lived in the same house I lived in after my family moved out of it. Sue, who has never missed a day of work, since her leave of absence after Gabe died. Sue, who has a butterfly tree that she puts up every Christmas, because as a young boy, Gabe made paper butterflies for her. Sue, who’s license plate says “GABE’S MOM”, even though it has been almost ten years. Sue, who would love to tell the plain woman to hold tightly to polite little Gabe in the cowboy boots. Sue, who would smile at her, as I am now doing, and say nothing.
And I wipe a tear as I walk off the plane, thinking that my dripping mascara has probably ruined my makeup. I might be masquerading as an “important” employee. But I’m just a production worker – Number 3361. And I’m filled with pride for who we are. We are tough because we must be. We make glass.