Wednesday, June 23, 2010

What Heroes Wear (or, The Death of Cynicism)

His name is Joseph Woodruff and he spends his days wearing a navy vest, standing behind a ticket counter for Frontier Airlines in Kansas City International Airport.  And he is my hero.

I was trying to get back to Utah on Monday.  The plan: parents drop me off in Kansas City on their way home from Minnesota to Kansas; fly to Salt Lake City after a short layover in Denver; be home and taking a long hot shower by 9:00 that evening.  It was going to be a quick, hassle-free trip.  Also, braces are fun and Obama cuts taxes.

My flight to Denver had been delayed.  I was going to miss my connection to Salt Lake City.  I would have to spend the night either in Kansas City or Denver, and hope to reach Utah some time the next day.  Or I could fly standby with no guarantee of ever getting home.  Joseph informed me of these unpleasant facts in a sympathetic tone.  None of these options would get me back in time for work the next morning.  Besides, I was travel-weary and frustrated and homesick.

Joseph read my mind.  "You just want to get home.  I'll tell you what, we're going to beat the system and get you there."  He tapped away on his keyboard.  He scribbled notes.  He made phone calls.  He muttered and grunted and scratched his head.  For forty minutes.

Once he glanced up and said, "Don't give up hope.  I'm determined to be your hero."  Hero?  Previous experience (which I shall relate elsewhere) with air travel personnel had rendered me a cynic.  But when he casually propped up a foot after making this statement, it was a black cowboy boot that stuck out under his uniform slacks.  That changed everything.  Everyone knows that heroes wear cowboy boots.  Hope was revived.

He tapped some more at his computer.  The sound had a lulling effect.  By now I had been standing in one spot for almost an hour; I was tired and my legs were stiff.  I imagined myself swooning across the stainless steel luggage scale.  Joseph Woodruff would reach out his tanned, notably ringless hands and catch me.  He would fan my face with a ticket stub and say, "Forget your flight.  I'll drive you to Utah.  We'll take my white truck with the horse trailer.  A palomino for each of us.  I've always wanted to see the West.  We'll read Tennyson by moonlight, the sky a diamond-studded velvet canvas stretching over the rugged mountaintop where we lie—"

Reality check.  It was a perfectly plausible scenario until that last word.  No man who wears cowboy boots knows the correct usage of "lie" versus "lay."  (If you are the exception to this rule, and single, and at least moderately wealthy, please contact me immediately.)

No swoons or palominos or impeccable verb conjugation took place after all.  But something even better did: after an hour, I walked away with a ticket to get home to Utah yet that night, via another airline.

I don't know how he did it, but he beat the system.  He broke all the unwritten laws of airline "customer service": he truly served a customer with patience, determination, humor and humanity, at the cost of his own company's profit.  I am a cynic no longer.  Joseph Woodruff, you are my hero.  I kneel to kiss the pointy toes of your cowboy boots.

3 comments:

  1. Don't let that hero get away! :)
    ~Lauren

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  2. Quite an adventure! And now I'm waiting for Part II...

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  3. joe's my best friend from high school...lol :-D hes always been a sweetheart in nature...we'll always be tight like glue! im glad u were able to experience his customer service! :-)...and i DO know the diff. between lay and lie! lol

    -Tom

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