Before I actually worked there, I had this glamorous idea of what working at the airport might be like. I thought I’d get all these amazing travel discounts and I’d be able to move up and get promotions. I thought it would be exciting, seeing all these happy travellers come and go to and from incredible adventures. I thought a lot of things about working at the airport, and they were pretty much all wrong.
There were no great discounts unless you wanted to spend a weekend camping in Moose Jaw in February. Moving up in our department was one step and a fifty-cent raise. Excitement peaked at winning the forty-second consecutive game of crazy eights with a 67-year-old man from India named Darwish who had himself convinced he was some sort of guru. The actual work itself was just playing hide and seek with traveller’s vomit. There was no glamour in working at the airport, just a whole lot of sitting around and waiting for planes in the dead of night.
I learned fairly quickly that flight schedules are mere suggestions, and these suggestions are taken just about as well as you might imagine Ozzy Osbourne’d take your suggestion he sport a fuchsia, sequined romper to the next Billboard awards. Planes, it seemed, never arrived on time. That meant we were offered a lot of overtime, though. We’d come in for a four-hour shift, sit and play crazy eights for all four hours waiting for a late plane, and when it didn’t show, the bosses would be all bribey and beggy about you staying longer. They’d offer more pay; they’d offer hotel rooms at the airport; they’d offer to buy you whatever you’d call a meal consumed at 3:45am. I always jumped on the overtime, even if I’d already worked an overtime shift. I was living on my own and trying to complete an anthropology degree in Canada, which, broken down, means I was living under the poverty line. I’d stay at work as long as I could if I was getting paid, and that meant some shifts went on longer than what was legally acceptable. I didn’t care and my bosses didn’t seem to care, so we just went with it.
The longest shift I ended up working was well over thirty consecutive hours… after a day of classes. I began the shift with a close friend I’d made at work, Steve, another struggling student. As the overtime requests kept coming in, Steve and I kept taking them. It was a snowy day in January and everything was backed up and delayed, so the bosses became more and more desperate for people to stay. We’d toy with them a little until the bribes were on the table and we’d just keep taking shifts for more and more money.
Twelve hours passed and exhaustion began to set it. I was sat next to Steve in our crew bus outside of a gate, waiting for a WestJet flight to arrive. Outside our bus windows, little miniature plows were being driven in circles by the ramp team to clear the tarmac of any snow and for some reason, these itty bitty little plows were hilarious to us. Steve began humming circus music as I clutched my sides, trying not to slip off my seat from laughing so hard. We had tears in our eyes, and the rest of the crew just stared at us in what I could only describe as pure, unconstrained, horror. A horror which, of course, was also hilarious to Steve and me, and only made us laugh harder.
The laughing didn’t stop. As the shift went on, more ordinary things became hilarious to us. We were becoming more of a nuisance to the crew than we were any help. We’d be doubled over in the middle of the cabin aisle, unable to move we were laughing so hard. The tap, tap, tap of the disapproving flight attendant’s foot as she waited to get by us only fueled our hysterics more.
It was perhaps about the twenty-third consecutive hour of working that a flight attendant’s purse went missing. Now, I’d gotten up the previous day at 6 am, spent the day at school and then went to work around 5. It was now 4 pm the next day. I’d been awake for thirty-four consecutive hours. Everything was a goddamned riot to me. My brain was on autopilot. There was no thought processing going on. Somehow, I’d gotten stuck on amused mode and no other brain functions were available for use. When my boss came down from his big, fancy office way up in the top floors of the airport, and told us we had to stay in the lunchroom until we found the missing purse, I busted a gut so hard I fell off the bench, Steve right alongside me.
And that’s when it happened. That’s when my boss turned into Hulk Hogan. Right before my very eyes, he turned, in very slow motion, away from the rest of our coworkers, to face us on the bench that was behind him.
It’s important at this point to describe this man a little. He was a large man, not fat, but large like lumberjack large. He had a muscular build and long, thin blonde hair that was bone straight. He wore his matching blonde moustache in a goatee and waved his arms around like a maniac when he spoke. When he hired me, I watched him lick and grind his teeth while he spoke to me with vigour and spittle and excitement. I knew he had a coke problem before anyone told me, but everyone did eventually tell me. He was always loud, always booming down hallways and waving his arms frantically with his long blonde hair hanging on for dear life behind him as he pounded giant steps into the floor. Even when I was awake and chipper and well-slept, the man was the perfect goddamned storm.
“Did you say something? What’s so funny?” He began a stream of questions and raving this way, still holding his hand to his ear. He asked us if theft was funny, and we laughed harder. He asked us if we thought the flight attendant who lost her purse was funny and we howled.
Finally, he lifted both arms slowly at his sides and brought them back down together in front of him, you know, just like Hulk used to do, and we both began to hyperventilate.
“Fuck this shit!” Our boss roared so loud the walls were trembling. “You two! Go home!” He stomped out of the lunchroom, his blonde locks flowing behind him, and we watched, still hysterical, still unable to stop laughing until he was gone.
“Did you see that? Did you see what I saw?” Steve asked when we were finally able to form sentences.
“I think I did.” I tried to catch my breath.
“He turned into fucking Hulk Hogan!” That was all we needed to descend into hysterics again.
Our crew supervisor interrupted us this time, calling from behind his desk, “Courtney! Steve! In my office!”
We looked at each other, still laughing and slowly sauntered into his office.
“The Singapore Airlines turnaround is going to be two hours late. You guys wanna stay for some overtime?” He asked nonchalantly, totally ignoring the scene that had just played out.
We looked at each other, shrugged and said. “Yeah. Why not?”