For those non-Utahnians waiting at Gate 12, the name Brigham Young likely meant little, but for those that were from the area, or were members of the Mormon Church, the name evoked genuine interest. The Young’s were local royalty, the first family of Utah and one of the last great dynasties in America. Travelers that were rushing to get out of the airport, or to another gate, who overheard the announcement slowed down or stopped altogether to see if they might catch a glimpse of this local celebrity. What was Brigham Young doing flying commercial? Would it be the charismatic, wealthy father, or his spoiled and reportedly drug-addicted son? Time slowed and the area became quiet as the airport paused and waited for one of them to answer the gate agent’s summons.
The United Airlines gate agent who had made the announcement was too busy to be aware of the drama she had created. She had recently transferred to Salt Lake City from Chicago and had no idea who Brigham Young was. She stared ahead at her computer screen, processing the flight’s standby list while trying to ignore the customer waiting to be recognized in the poorly defined line. Eventually, the traveler’s patience was rewarded. The agent, without looking up, asked the portly, almost senior-citizen, “Are you Brigham Young?”
“Me? Heaven’s no!” the man chuckled nervously, as did several others who were standing in line behind him. Encouraged by the positive attention, he stepped up to the podium and continued. “I wish! I wouldn’t be flying coach if I was!” and shot the agent a conspiratorial wink.
The agent, unsure of what to make of the wink, cautiously asked, “How may I help you?”
The man moved closer to the agent, trying not to be overheard, and whispered, “I was just wondering how handicapped you had to be to get one of them wheelchairs?”
“Are you having trouble? I can have somebody bring you a chair.”
“No. It’s not for me. It’s for my wife.” The man tipped his head in the direction of an obese woman sitting in a nearby chair designated for the disabled. “She fell and sprained her ankle, and we’ll need extra time boarding the airplane.”
“Those traveling with infants or those needing a little more time to get seated will be allowed to board first.” She was skeptical of the couple’s need, but in this new era of comfort animals and uber-sensitivity she had forced herself to become ambivalent to the inane requests of the people she served.
“Are you alright ma’am?” she asked, addressing the man’s wife slowly and loudly as if speaking to a dim-witted child. “Did you hurt your ankle?” The fat woman smiled, blushed, and waved her fat hand in front of her face suggesting that they shouldn’t bother. “I hope this man didn’t do this to you? Did he?” The agent stared at the husband accusingly and put her hands on her hips.
“Look. Never mind. I was just asking,” said the man. It wasn’t the way he envisioned the conversation going, and he was mortified. “Please don’t make a fuss. We can make it on the plane without the chair.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. This poor woman needs a wheelchair, and maybe some protection.” The man’s white pasty skin turned beet red, and he now wanted nothing more than to crawl away unnoticed. The agent pulled the microphone back to her mouth, “Can I get two wheelchair assists to Gate 12 for a mister and missus…what was your name, sir?”
“Look, it’s OK. Really! There’s been a misunderstanding. She doesn’t have a broken foot. It’s only a sprain, and she’s the one that wanted the chair, not me. Please. Just forget I asked.”
“So you don’t want the chairs?”
“No ma’am,” he said, slinking away.
“Cancel the wheelchair assist at Gate 12. Will Brigham Young please approach the Gate 12 ticketing podium? Brigham Young, please come up to the Gate 12 ticketing podium,” the agent repeated.