“Would Passenger Hallinan please make herself known to the crew?”
I’d hear my name on the airplane’s PA system and immediately raise my hand while starting to gather my things. It would only be a few seconds before a flight attendant was at my side, informing me that they needed my seat.
Well aware of my questionable status as a passenger, I’d obediently nod and swiftly make my way to the front of the aircraft. Invariably, my skin was lased by confused stares as passengers wondered what I’d done to get ejected. Did she sneak aboard? Is she in trouble with the law? They could never know. For me it was always a bit of a walk of shame— but at the same time that was the price to pay for flying as a non-revenue customer. I didn’t quite exactly belong there.
My dad was an airline pilot for Northwest Airlines, and as such I took advantage of his employment by stuffing non-revenue “fill in the blank” tickets into a carry-on bag before flying ‘round the country on standby. It costed $10 to fly in coach, and $30 to fly in first class; to me this was the best deal in the world. Sure, you had to dress up a bit in order to get aboard, but it was a small sacrifice in the name of feeding my wanderlust habit at 18 years old.
The travel opportunity was certainly unparalleled, but I was never quite confident that I’d be on a flight until they closed the aircraft door and we pulled back from the gate. Exhale. Open up my book and relax. As my airline pilot godfather once described my status as an employee’s child, I was “below pond scum” in the seniority scheme of things. I should have been happy that I got aboard at all.
It is now twenty years later, and believe it or not I am still going through these mini-travel odysseys, thanks to my current status as a “Non-Dependent Child”. That feeling of not quite belonging—and then feeling a bit like you are getting away with something really good when they do allow you in—this sentiment now spans beyond air travel. The bulk of my life feels like I have gotten away with so much, and often I’m still double checking my surroundings to see if anyone is beckoning me to deplane.
Last Sunday I found myself standing with a glass of wine while gazing at 250 pieces of extraordinary art for preview of the 187th Annual Exhibition of the Royal Hibernian Society in Dublin. Varnishing Day is a special event, a sneak peak of some of the world’s best and brightest talent, and admission inside is limited to special invitation. Why the heck they let me in, I will never know.
Actually, I do kind of know. I got connected to the RHA through a friend who connected me with another friend, who subsequently introduced me to the type of creative souls that, between you and me, keep me resuscitated as I perform a less than artistic day job. To me, these folks are doing the most important work on the planet.
I could go on about how the President of the RHA—the man who has just completed the official portrait of Ireland’s president—was kind enough to put my friend and myself on his personal access list for Varnishing Day. I could talk about how we stopped by his house earlier in the day and shared a cup of coffee with another RHA luminary who is not only a photographer of humbling proportions, but is also a kind soul to boot. Somehow, we sat in the flat while another painter strolled around in pajamas and we discussed how later that night we were to see Waiting for Godot at The Abbey Theatre. I enthusiastically participated in a discussion about what how this rendition would be received.
Was this really my life?
The weekend wandering Dublin’s general human and art scene included more than just this— like enjoying a meal with one of my favorite artists, James Hanley, who regularly tangles his talent with a bit of cheek. How we all got caught in the driving rain and dove into a taxi in order to reach the Abbey Theatre not only on time, but in time to admire James’s triptych hanging in the main hall that commemorates the centenary of the theatre…you really couldn’t ask for much more.
But to continue on such a line of reportage would only make me the sort of asshole who really just needs a drink thrown at her. Shut up already. But the bottom line is that I always wonder how I got sewn into all of these interactions in the first place. I look at what I am doing in life— it’s something that seems so different, so almost modest—and I wonder how I get the time of day at all.
All told, though, it is truly fantastic, and I feel as though I can never articulate my appreciation. Appreciation for standby air travel, appreciation for the diverse and accomplished mix of folks that I know—and yes even appreciation for the talented people I know in my day job. I mean really, isn’t it about time again that the flight crew should be calling my name to prepare my seat for someone else?
I’ve got loads of cool friends scattered across the globe, and as such I treasure the opportunity to visit each of them. And maybe we are all like this to some extent. We are each connected with friends and family of extraordinary talent or accomplishment, and often we feel as though we are along for the ride. One day I will lose the perk of flying for very cheap on my father’s status as a retired pilot—and when that time comes I will be sad for more reasons than I can account for here. But the beauty of this life is the connections that we are able to make. And with new adventure or relationship that I form, I hope to continue on wondering just how I got into each event.