Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Chutzpah and cojones.

On my way home from the American College of Physicians Meeting. . . .

I was in this horrifically long line for the security checkpoint the other day at LAX. Despite me making it to the airport in fairly good time, it was not looking good. I chatted with a friendly Australian gent as we inched along the infinite queue at what was surely slower than a snail's pace. Being my normally conversant-with-strangers self, I obliged him when he gestured toward the line with the elbow of his folded arms and said:

"Pretty bad one, eh mate?"

I smiled wide, especially since he called me mate. (Although it made me secretly wish he'd preceded with G'day.) I shook my head and replied, "It ain't looking good for us, my friend."

He laughed and blew off an exaggerated sigh while plunging his tanned hands through salt and blonde-not-pepper curls.

Turns out that he had traveled all the way from the South Pacific and was passing through Los Angeles on his way to Sin City for a big gambling trip. "An all night, all day flight, mate!" he'd said.  I cracked a few jokes to him, mentioning that despite being from L.A. (which is driving distance from Vegas) and living in Atlanta (which has America's biggest airport), Vegas has just never been my thing. Partly because the lights give me a headache after while, but mostly because I am Virgo-cheap and unwilling to play more than fifty cents in the quarter slots.  "Hold up," I said, "You came all the way from down under to go to Las Vegas? Are you, like, a Poker pro or something?" He gave a hearty chuckle and simply shared that, unlike me, he (and most of the world) loves Las Vegas. And not in that Cirque du Soleil or Celine Dion kind of way, either. . . . but more in that kiss the dice, "baby need a new pair of shoes" kind of way. Nice.

So there we were. Chatting about all things random. Me. The Aussie. A couple heading to a cruise for their thirtieth wedding anniversary. Three young women from a Big Ten university track and field team. A lovely Latin family speaking melodic Spanish to each other and English to us while heading back to Atlanta after visiting family on the west coast. All of us. Eking along in this serpiginous line that seemed to have no end in sight. Yet. All in good spirits and in all-for-one-and-one-for-all solidarity as the real, true chances of missing our flights loomed like a heavy cloud.

"We could always meet up in the food court and gamble with our buddy here," I teased.

"Ay, I have a deck of cards, mate!"

We all laughed.  It was like one big, happy, late, stuck, multicultural family.  Despite how crummy it was to be in the airport at six-something in the morning, spirits were surprisingly high.  And like I said--It was all good.


A man and a woman come blasting up the pathway on the other side of the roped off area enclosing our line. Hustling all the way to the front panting while frantically rolling luggage behind them. They finally reach the security officers manning the check points that we'd been (slowly) approaching for the last hour plus.

Now check it. How 'bout these folks had the unmitigated gall to tell the officer lady that "Their flight is about to leave in fifteen minutes" and "there is no way they will make their flight if they have to wait in that line."

Wait, huh?

That security lady gave those folks one of the hairiest eyeballs ever given to another human being. She craned her neck down the line and then said, "So what do you suggest I do? Better yet, what do you suggest I do when these five hundred people jump over this podium and assault me for letting you ahead of them?"

The man uttered another ultra-entitled explanation with a huffy little clearing of his throat, "I don't think you understand, Miss. We are about to miss our flight. Do you hear me? Miss our flight."

The Security-Mama looked from side to side like, Wait, is he talking to me?  Then she said, "Um, sir. I cannot let you all ahead of these people. Period. I suggest you get to the end of the line because it's still growing." He parted his lips to say something else and she repeated herself, this time with her voice rising waaaaay over both his and our ambient chatter. "You need to get in line sir." He spun on his heel and marched off while muttering discernible expletives under his breath. His wife scurried behind him with a worried look on her face.

So guess what happened next?  How 'bout they got in line and commenced to ask person after person if they could go ahead of them. And the thing is. . . . you have to give them props for this approach. Because seriously? It was working for them. They were rolling up that line like gangbusters, ignoring the scoffs and eyerolls that people subjected them to before saying "Uggghhh. . .go ahead."

Boom! Bam! Bam! Boom! These folks were making great time. It was crazy. Person after person. Stepping aside and letting Mr. and Mrs. Entitled ahead of them.  Bananas, I tell you. It felt kind of like a reverse of that show where everyone stands by passively as someone is getting mistreated. You know, the one where the train wreck continues until one person finally pipes up and gets that congratulatory interview from that ABC News dude. . .what's his name? Yeah! John Quinones. That dude.

Anyways. As foul as this man had acted to the Security-Mama and as much as they both had done to jack up our kumbaya vibe in the checkpoint line that morning. . . .they really didn't deserve to be let ahead.  I even heard the Mr. Entitled say that they were trying to make a connection for their vacation and didn't want to miss it as his wife moaned over and over again that she knew they should have left earlier like she said.  In other words, they just didn't want the hassle of missing a flight.

Hello? Is this thing on?

Okay, well. . .regardless of all that they continued to Bogart their way toward the front. And baby, they were making it happen. The Entitleds had made it through just over the half way mark of the line and were soon quickly approaching me, the Aussie gambler, the Big Ten hurdlers, the lovely Spanish-speaking family and the Re-honeymooners who were proudly standing at about the two-thirds point. By now, I could hear what they were saying to each person:

"Hi, excuse me, would you mind if we went ahead of you? We have a connection that this flight meets and if we don't get on this flight we will miss that connection. . . .Thanks."

I heard this two or three more times, followed by "Sigh! Go ahead" until finally they were like, literally, two or three people away from me.  It was becoming as repetitive as the "Can you hear me now? Good!" line from that Verizon guy and I began wondering what I would say when they reached me.  I leaned over and asked the Aussie-gambler what he thought. He laughed and said, "I don't know, mate, what do ya think?"  Just as I prepared to reply to my down under pal, a loud voice screeched the needle on the record:

"Oh HELLL no! You ain't getting in front of me. Hell no, do you hear me? Hell no." 

 I swing around and see this really put together thirty-something year old cocoa-complexioned woman staring forward and shaking her head. She tightly gripped an iPhone with one hand and held the strap of her designer purse with the other. No eye contact. No nothing.  Just solid in her resolve and in her hell no.

It was awesome. Like a crazy Seinfeld episode.  I loved every minute of it. The college track girls covered their mouths. The Aussie snickered out loud. The Entitleds tried to plead their case but she wasn't having it.

"Ma'am, we have a--"

"I HEARD what your situation is.  Everybody here got a situation. I got a flight I might miss, too. You ain't getting in front of me. HELLS no." 

The man was ever audacious and surprisingly wasn't intimidated by her direct block. He moved forward a bit more and said with his nasal-y voice, "Look, lady. You don't have to be rude about it. All of these other folks"-- he held his hand up toward the legions of milquetoasts he'd just trampled over-- "were kind enough to let us by! Like we said, we will miss our connection if we don't make this--"

"SO! SO DAMN WHAT!" This time she looked him dead in the eyes. "Did somebody DIE? Is somebody getting MARRIED in two hours? Are you about to miss a SEVEN DAY cruise?"

"No, but we--"

He tried to ease past her as he spoke and she put up a hand stopping him with her elbow.  "Man,  you better GO ON with that BULLSH%@!  You and your wife AIN'T getting in front of me. I mean that. I don't give a damn WHERE you got to go." She shook her head and curled her lips, but still kept up her elbow guard rail. "I have no idea WHY you think what YOU have to do and YOUR flight is so much more important than these other five trillion peoples' flights. Look, I can't speak for the rest of these folks but you got me MESSED UP for somebody else if you think you gettin' in front of me. HELL NO."

OMG! I looked around to see if John Quinones was about to jump out with his microphone to shake her hand and tell the rest of us that we suck.  The couple just stared at her incredulously.  Then, she turned and ice-grilled them saying with a pointed finger, "I can't believe how ENTITLED you all are. YOU should of got your ass up EARLY like EVERYBODY ELSE. You in a BAD WAY this time. Oh, and you BET' NOT step ahead of me, either. I mean it. I been here since six-in-the-damn-morning. And you AIN'T getting in front of me. HELL. NO."

Daaaayuum!  Dude. . .do you remember that time when Sophia snapped on Mister at the table in The Color Purple? Wait. Was it Mister or that man when she was at the store? Either way, the way she said "HELL. NO" sounded just like Oprah's Sophia, man.  It was like THAT.

A couple of people gave like mini-claps, but this lady was so serious that everyone was a little bit scared to say anything. I kind of wanted to reach back to give her a fist bump for having the cojones to say what everyone else wanted to.

After all of that, she looked down at her phone and industriously began scrolling through it. In other words,  that was the end of that.  Oh, and if you think those people got a single step in front of that woman, you'd better think again. Like she said: Hell to the No.


So today I'm reflecting on chutzpah and timing of chutzpah.  In a recent conversation with a few members of my medical student small group, we discussed the importance of picking your battles and deciding when and where to take a stand.  Now, maybe some of you might think that the woman who shut down Mr. and Mrs. Entitled should have just let it go. . . .but I have to admit that something about her. . .her chutzpah. . . was remarkable.

Working at a place like Grady oft times requires some well placed chutzpah. But whether you are a Grady doctor or not, just being grown demands that you occasionally man up--even if you're not a man. The hard part is deciding your personal limits.  Because sometimes, when you've reached yours, you just might have to hold up your hand, stand your ground and simply say, "hell no."

I have no idea if those folks made their flight. But I know one thing--next time I go to the airport, I'm getting there early.


Happy Wednesday.


  1. I am sending a mental fist-bump to that "hello no" lady.

    I will go out of my way to make those around me comfortable and happy, and I am very careful not to inconvenience people if I can help it. When I have an overloaded grocery cart I will look at the line behind me and if someone is standing with only a handful of items I will invite them to go ahead of me. If I see a mother with a child in line in a public restroom I will immediately ask them to go ahead of me. If I see someone who is having a tough day and is in an obvious rush I will give them my parking spot, a helping hand, what have you, etc., etc.

    However, there is a big difference between someone offering you their courtesy and you assuming that you are entitled to it and demanding it, like this couple did, especially in an airport where everyone is trying to get somewhere by definition. If they had started by asking the line first, I might have been more sympathetic, but first they tried to ignore the whole line and then when that didn't work they tried to work the line. I am glad they got stopped and I hope they learned something in the process.

  2. He he he! That was a good one :) Only in L.A.

  3. I like the chuztpah! We all need to just get there early (thanks to those *&!# terrorists)and do what we need to do to get where we are going. My motto..."Bring a good book!"

  4. I LOVE THIS! My god, you are a writer. I don't know if I would have let them bust in front of me in line either but I have a strong feeling that my husband would not have and I trust his judgment.
    This was just a great post.

  5. I just had the biggest laugh EVER! You are such a great writer and your story was as funny as "hell to the naw you ain't getting in front of me!" Priceless!

  6. I am laughing out loud. I love this post.

  7. Oh my goodness, the cheek of some people; seriously! Nothing makes me more mad - they should've just got up early and sucked it up like everybody else instead of being so rude, I know 6 year-olds who are far more polite and more respectful than that, for real. I would've clapped for that lady who stood her ground. :)

  8. Thank God that woman said something. I was getting all worked up -- you are such a great storyteller. If I wasn't so tired, I'd stay up all night and keep reading your archives!

  9. As you can tell from my previous post, your writing was so immediate and real that I got all worked up, as if I were someone standing in that line. If I were to be honest, I would confess to you, that I felt my heart rate quicken as I kept reading. That is a testament to your skill as a writer. You didn't just bring the story to me, you took me into the story.

  10. Great story, great writing! I am laughing just picturing that scene!


"Tell me something good. . . tell me that you like it, yeah." ~ Chaka Khan

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