On the plane, United, we fly to Chicago for the Columbus Day weekend. Beverage cart in hand, working alone, the mustached male flight attendant asks, “Drink?”
I reply, “sparkling water,” then as an afterthought, “in the can.” Noticing he had turned away, out of my peripheral vision, I wondered if he had heard me.
I repeat, “In the can, please.”
Slapping down the napkin, placing the can, an empty blue plastic cup and a crunchy Snack Mix alongside, “I heard you,” he said, in a chastising tone.
The water was cool, no need for ice.
A half hour later, the same attendant returned with his cart to collect trash. He pronounced, “We have a new recycling system, no messy bags.”
I watched as he tipped each empty blue plastic cup upside down, one on top of the other, pressing each in turn to assure a neat stack. If the cup held a paper napkin or the empty snack package, he made certain to separate the paper and place it in its proper well.
Marv, trying to help, leaned forward from his seat across the aisle to place his empty plastic sandwich container on the bin. Marv’s left arm still in the air, the cart lurched forward as the attendant grabbed the container. Exasperated, he instructed, “This belongs in recycling,” popping his find in a well.
For a brief moment, I worried about Marv’s arm, whether or not the cart had bumped him, but Marv was quick to pull back and avoid a mishap. Friendly skies? Not so much, where was the “Thank you, sir.”
Minutes before readying the cabin to prepare for the final descent, the attendant came by with two large plastic bags— one for paper, the other, for cans and plastic. Again, Marv failed to anticipate the wary eyed, precise soldier as he placed his cup into the closest bag. “We recycle,” the attendant chastised, code for wrong bag as he corrected the error. But then, a tiny smile appeared at the corners of his mouth. “Oh, that’s all right,” he chirped.
Turning to me, he picked up my can and cup, tightly stacked, paper separated, in wait at the edge of my tray. Then, with almost a full smile and for the first time, looking directly at me, he said, “We recycle, you know.”
“Yes,” I said, “Good job.”
“Every little bit helps, you know.”
“Yes, indeed,” I replied.
I’m grateful for United’s recycling program. In retrospect, the male attendant, obsessively careful, worked alone; he was on the clock, needing to serve drinks and manage the recycling protocol. I have my own dedicated bins— plastic bags, cardboard, paper, plastics and glass— tucked away in drawers, to be placed in a large green bin on the curb for pickup Tuesday mornings.
On the return flight, two women manned the cart. They worked cooperatively and efficiently. I was grateful for the ease of their smiles.