The distance between Montreal and Philadelphia is 600 miles. Normally it takes an hour and a half to fly commercially from one of these two cities to the other.
Ah…but these are not normal times!
We were searching for convenient direct flights and found nothing available on the dates we needed to travel, so we did what many ‘savvy’ Montrealers do: we booked flights originating from Burlington International Airport in Vermont.
Our plan was simple – drive to Burlington (a two hour car ride) do a little shopping, have lunch and then hop on a plane in the early afternoon so as to arrive in Philadelphia for dinner.
We were at the airport on time only to be told two things: one, our flight was delayed because of weather and two, the flight was overbooked and American Airlines was looking for one volunteer who, in exchange for four hundred dollars and a free night’s stay at a hotel in Burlington, would give up his seat and fly the following day.
We sat down and watched. There were no takers. An hour went by and the offer was increased to six hundred dollars. “By the way,” said the announcer, “there will be another one hour delay. There are thunderstorms around the Philadelphia airport.”
The young female passenger sitting beside me, patently stressed – or at least so it seemed to me at the time – stood up and then did something that blew me away.
She opened her violin case, extracted her violin, tuned it and played Bach’s Sonata No. 3, then a piece by Eugène-Auguste Ysaÿe a Belgian violinist, composer and conductor, regarded as “The King of the Violin” and – finally – the entire violin music of Tchaykovski’s Violin Concerto.
When she finished she was rewarded with a standing ovation. By then American Airlines’ offer was up to seven hundred US dollars per volunteer and my companion had accepted their offer provided it was for two passengers – her and me.
We got to chatting when the violinist sat down beside me again and she told me that her name was Melody Sim, that she had started to play the violin when she was three, and that she was a student at Vanderbilt University: Class of 2022. What she was too modest to mention was that she had won the Grand Prize at the 2017 Ronald Sachs International Music Competition..
As for the rest of us, after yet another hour of waiting, we were herder on board, but – bummer – our seven hundred dollar offer had evaporated. Apparently, quite a number of passengers, fed up with spinning their wheels futilely at the airport, had left for greener fields.
Remember … when air travel was a matter of pulling up to the airport, parking your car a small distance from the departure entrance, at a nominal fee, strolling onto the concourse and into a chic, internationally-styled bar to have a couple of extremely dry martinis and a poo-poo platter, and then ambling over to the check in where you would be greeted by fawning staff only too happy to take your baggage and point your way to the “gate,” a modest affair where another charming staff member would simply check your ticket and passport and direct you to the jetway, or, more often, to the door leading out to the short, adrenaline-inducing walk to the airplane where you would climb the mobile stairs and be welcomed aboard by a ravishing cabin crew member with ice-blue eyes, spun-gold hair and legs that started in Oslo and ended up somewhere near the equator – or a six-foot, four inch, square-jawed viking, with flecks of gold in his green eyes and hands that looked like they had been crafted by Michelangelo… you would be led to your leather-upholstered chair with enough room between it and the neighbour in front of you to park the Titanic … you would be swathed in hot towels and plied relentlessly with cocktails, wine, champagne while the hors d’oeuvres kept coming … if you pulled out a cigarette they would light it for you and it was no bother to those around because; A) everyone smoked, and B) the silent ventilation system whisked away any offending odors in a nano-second … and you would be soothed with in-cabin music from the latest Broadway hits, performed “sans paroles” by Mantovani, and, after the most gentle of take-offs, you would be subjected to meals of a quality equal to your neighbourhood bistro, served on real dinnerware, with real, silver-plated or Danish designer, surgical quality, stainless steel cutlery that was so beautifully crafted that you wanted to take it home and, sensing this, Ingrid or Lars would surreptitiously, slip you a full set, wrapped tenderly in a linen serviette, with a wink and a nod … the bathrooms were roomy, always available and supplied with soap, lotions, cologne and shaving talc … the overhead bins were for last minute shopping bags, a sweater, a briefcase … the public announcements were few and far between, the in-flight movie was projected and inoffensive… your flying companions were all interesting and led beautiful lives in exotic locations … there was no air turbulence … and when you arrived, the cabin crew wept bitter tears of loss and regret, convinced that they would never see you again … à la prochaine, you would cry as you stepped fully refreshed and rejuvenated onto the tarmac in London, Paris, Berlin … when civil aviation was so civilized … and now, they cover their inefficiency by auctioning one’s precious time for $400 and a night in a Burlington “hotel.” Quelle chute!
The sweet vibrations
Of sonorous strings
To soothe our
Well, we were happy you didn’t leave for greener fields and made it to our celebration in Philly
She is a Wonderful player and wish her all the best in her wonderful career. Loved it.
Brother Jacob, Your eloquence does you credit, your imagination challenges the ordinary, and your words conjure up the ‘what was’. Unfortunately, we’re in the ‘now is now’! Robert
Robert, I have found this wonderful anecdote after searching for my former student, Melody Sim. Such a lovely story and completely unsurprising behavior from Melody. Thank you for sharing! She is a class act! I was her middle school science teacher. I will never forget the day she shared with the class that she wasn’t good at violin because she was asian–a charge she had apparently grown weary of–but rather because she loved it and spent hours and hours each day in dedicated practice. We all learned about the power of stereotypes that day. I am happy to hear she is still putting good out into the world. I hope to see her play again one day.