Trauma Llama – “Gimme That!” by Pattie Roberts

This week’s Trauma Llama tale is probably the most interesting story I’ve had the pleasure of featuring. It comes from Pattie Roberts, a freelance writer and research analyst. Follow her on Twitter (@hughsboo), or connect on LinkedIn. Her tale is a long one but it’s well worth the read!

Here is Pattie’s Trauma Llama tale:

I’m dating myself, but back in the late 1980s, when there was still a Pan Am and it was still operating a DC-to-NY shuttle, I found myself in a tan leather bulkhead window seat, with an empty seat between me and the expensively-dressed but still slimy looking businessman on the aisle.  “Fabulous,” I thought, “Extra space and The Suit won’t feel compelled to chat me up.”  I was cranky to begin with, and kind of dreading the meeting I had called with our ad agency in NY.  The campaign concepts they’d been showing us just weren’t cutting it and I was supposed to fix it.

As we approached lock-the-doors-and-buckle-up time, one more passenger was escorted onto the plane.  She had an intimidating dark-suited man with her, carrying her canvas tote and hovering like a dad over his daughter’s first date.  The well-dressed passenger, a 60-ish woman with a gentle, kind face and soft graying hair, chose the empty bulkhead middle seat right between me and The Suit.  “Fabulous,” I thought (a bit sarcastically this time), “No extra space but at least she’ll be stuck with The Suit.”  The dark-suited man settled her in, tucked her canvas tote bag into the overhead bin, and then left the plane.   “Must be nice to have a personal Sherpa,” I thought.

As we all strapped ourselves in and ignored the flight attendant’s safety briefing, I noticed a few things about my vaguely familiar-looking seatmate:  her navy blue pantsuit was silk twill (I can tell), her emerald and diamond tennis bracelet was real (I can tell), and it was missing one of the emeralds.  “Nice,” I thought “But you really need to check the settings on that bracelet.”  So far so good-Nana wouldn’t press conversation if I just stared out the window during the flight.

Now, you have to understand that I have a little claustrophobia.  Well, more than a little.  Ok, I am really uncomfortable in anything but an aisle seat on planes.  In fact, I will change my reservation if there are no assigned aisle seats available.  The problem was, the shuttle didn’t have assigned seats – boarding the shuttle was every girl for herself, and all the aisle seats were taken.  Being in a first-row bulkhead window seat was the best I could do, and I couldn’t wait for a later flight because, after all, I called the NY meeting.  So I was already doing a teeth-clenching, gut it out thing on what was supposed to be about an hour flight.

We started to taxi, then we stopped, then we started, then we stopped.  A few moments later, the pilot came on the intercom and said we were going to be delayed due to weather in NY.  “Fabulous,” I thought, wondering how I was going to clench my teeth any harder.  The delay stretched on – 20 minutes, 45 minutes, an hour… I decided I needed to call NY and reschedule the meeting.  Now this was in the late 1980s and, gasp, there were no cell phones.  Well, there were some, but they were upwards of $3,000, so I sure didn’t have one.  But there were phones built into the seat backs on a lot of planes, except I was at the bulkhead with no seats in front of me, so I turned around and asked the gentleman behind me to please hand me the phone in the back of my seat.  He passed it up, I swiped my Amex and made my exorbitantly expensive two minute call.  The Suit did the same.  Then I heard Nana say, to no one in particular, “Oh dear, I guess I should make a call too.”

This is where it all fell apart.  Nana fumbled a bit with her purse and then started looking around for the phone.  She didn’t seem to get that she’d have to turn around and ask for one.  I don’t know why her fidgeting was bothering me; it was probably just aggravating the teeny tiny trapped feeling that was starting to grow in my claustrophobic brain.  After a few moments I turned around and asked the gentleman behind me for the phone again.  “Here,” I said, handing it to her.  She thanked me, smiled,  and then stared at the phone for what seemed like an eternity (it was probably about a minute and a half).  “You have to swipe a credit card,” I said.  She gave me an “Oh” look and fumbled again in her purse, eventually coming up with a Visa.  Her swipes weren’t taking, and while she wasn’t getting frustrated at all, I was.  I said “Maybe it doesn’t take Visa”; she gave me another “Oh” look and dove into her purse.

After another eternity (read: another minute and a half) I said, through teeth clenched so hard I could have bitten through a concrete nail, “Here, just use my card, I know it works”.  “Oh no,” she said, “I have another one”, and she dove back in the purse.  I couldn’t take any more rummaging, so I said “gimme that” and grabbed her purse.  I came up with an Amex, swiped it, asked her for the number, dialed it, and gave her the phone.

I leaned back in my seat, trying to mentally shut down the “Let me off this plane!” screech that, so far, was only in my head, and I glanced down at the Amex I still held in my hand.  As Nana said “Hello, Courtney? Can you please call Lutece and tell them I won’t be in for lunch…yes, I’m stuck on the shuttle in Washington”, I read the name “Mrs. Robert F. Kennedy”, and I nearly fainted.  I looked at the gentle, kind face and finally recognized the widow of the first presidential candidate I had ever volunteered for.  Now I had a big round “Oh” look, only mine was more like “OhmygodwhathaveIdone?”.  She finished her call, smiled at me and thanked me graciously, and I handed her back her Amex.  When we finally got to La Guardia, she smiled that radiant smile, thanked me again, and wished me a good day.  So the moral of the story is: if you want to alleviate claustrophobia on a plane, just boss Ethel Kennedy around and rummage through her purse.  You’ll be so mortified you’ll forget to be nervous. 🙂


Wow! Ethel Kennedy! My cheeks are warm in sympathy simply reading the story. Thanks for sharing, Pattie!

Do you have a Trauma Llama story you’d like to share? Prod me on Twitter (@AnyaBreton) or e-mail me anya at 🙂

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