I obey the rules. Like, always. I can’t help it: I’m from Seattle. We don’t jaywalk. We wait our turn. And if someone cuts in front of us in line? Well, you can be damn sure we will politely glare at their backs and pray that the universe will smite them for their transgressions.
When rules are broken, it makes me anxious. If restaurants have a crowd of people out front, and no discernible means of figuring out who got their first? I start to panic. I’m convinced that unless someone pulls out an numbered list with names (and party sizes) written on it, we’re going to be seconds away from pure anarchy. People will pull hair and choke one another as they fight to get to the buffet. Lobsters will be pulled out of the tank and eaten, live, or used as weapons. And absolutely no one will use their napkins.
That vision of reality petrifies me. Consequently, adherence to the rules is essential in my world.
This is not the case with other people in my life. Namely, my mother.
She is Italian, and despite having lived in the U.S. for three decades, and in Seattle for most of that time, she has yet to grasp the notion of queuing up. When there’s a line – anywhere – I have to literally hold the back of her shirt to keep her from cutting in front of half a dozen people. She marches blindly into traffic (again, I grab the back of her shirt) without looking left, nor right (and certainly not left-right-left). Her reasoning isn’t entirely off – if she wasn’t mowed down as a pedestrian in Rome, it seems unlikely that it will happen in downtown Seattle, where people start to slow down at street lights that have been green a little too long (and may very likely soon turn yellow, which would necessitate stopping altogether).
My mother’s tendency to constantly ignore the rules infuriates me. But in small doses, I’ll admit: it’s kind of fun. (Her law-breaking is akin to Will Ferrell’s comedic antics: a 3 or 4 minute sketch on SNL is brilliant, but a 2-hour feature film will have you pulling your hair out). Without realizing it, I seem to surround myself with people who are equally ambivalent to serving suggestions, posted hours of operation, and state and federal laws as my own mother. A good number of them also happen to be Italian.
Take my friend Michael (last name withheld, but it ends in a vowel), who, several years ago during the course of a work trip, managed to get us on a flight by methods that still confound and terrify me. Having decided that we literally could not spend another minute in Phoenix, Arizona if we could avoid it, we headed to the airport in hopes of getting an earlier flight. We arrived 40 minutes before the earlier flight was supposed to depart (and 3 hours before our actual scheduled flight). We politely asked the girl at the check-in counter to see if she get us on the plane that was about to leave, and she haughtily told us no. The system was already locked.
“Can we go to the gate and check in there?” Michael asked.
“You can try,” she said, “but you won’t get on.”
Michael grabbed my arm and broke off in a run. He was going to try.
He dragged me through security and to the gate. And then he proceeded to do something that, to this day, still confounds and amazes me.
He got us on the flight. He got us on a flight after the employee at the counter told us it was closed. He did it without yelling. He did it without being impolite. He did it without having an assigned seat or a boarding pass. Instead, he quietly explained our situation, and somehow, somehow, he did it.
Minutes before it was supposed to take off, we walked on the plane, escorted by an airline employee (as we didn’t have tickets) who planted us in the first two empty seats she saw. I sat, frozen, convinced someone would come and pull us off. But they didn’t. The door closed. We took off. We landed. To this day, United Airlines has no record of us returning to Seattle. They probably think we just stayed in Arizona, and made a happy life there together.
In the months and years after that event, I tried to figure out how we got on that flight home. The answer I came up with was the same one Michael gave me when I asked him how he did it:
“I have no idea.”
This isn’t the only case of rules being broken, of the impossible made real.
Because that sort of thing often happens in the company of my friend Lauren (last name withheld, but it, too, is Italian). Lauren who gets shit done. Lauren who doesn’t take, “No” for answer. Lauren who doesn’t even take, “No, that’s impossible by the laws of physics and the limitations of our astral plane” for an answer. Lauren, who was determined to get me into an event at a conference for which I was not registered. An event where security measures were about as strict as the TSA’s.
I was convinced we were going to get busted.
Or rather, that Lauren and a girl named Toa Freezen were going to get busted.
Yeah. That’s what my name tag said – it was a doctored and fake moniker that was cobbled together at a sushi bar after a little too much sake. I was utterly sure someone was going to ask me for ID that also carried Toa’s name on it. Or possibly they might ask Toa about herself.
Panicked, I tried to come up with Toa’s backstory. Did she hate modern jazz as much as I did? Did she, too, think that the age of cupcake boutiques would never end? I tried to cobble an identity together.
It was pointless, of course. After all my worrying, they let me in with barely a glance to Toa’s badge. I never even had the opportunity to share Toa’s hopes and dreams with anyone. Lauren never sweated things for a second.
“Of course they let you in,” she said, laughing at my near frantic state. “Come on, Toa.”
It’s funny, that for how crazy life with my rule ignoring mother was (note: playing Scrabble with her is a nightmare), I seem to have surrounded myself with people who are delightfully similar to her. They cause me to panic. They make me worry that I’m going to get lost/arrested/deported. And they force me to have experiences that I would have otherwise missed out on.
Thank god for them.
Because they’ve made my travels – and my life in general, a lot more exciting and memorable. That’s not to say I’m going to strap a bag of heroin to my chest any time soon. Hell, I’m probably not even going to jaywalk. But a little bit of innocent rule-breaking tossed into my journeys? The occasional photo taken, despite signs saying they’re prohibited? Outside food and drink smuggled into a movie theater once in a while? I’m okay with that.
Of course, I’ll probably freak out and panic the entire time, but I’ll be up for it.
And, I suspect, so will Toa.