Anyone who travels to Ballina regularly can’t help but look like they do. Mildly unkempt and a little weary about the eyes after a few nights in the big smoke, speaking in monosyllables, sunglasses on at all times, wearing a two hundred dollar shirt three days in a row and who shaves with a hotel razor and gets a good result.
A little faded.
We line up at the Jetstar check-in ropes, eyeing each other with disinterest, appraising the value of other travellers’ suitcases, reading their unreadable tattoos, until we’re gestured over by the check-in clerk.
A woman. Square-headed, short-haired, impassive, unsmiling. Waiting.
We amble over.
She has the patient demeanour and appearance of a policewoman doing a late shift, and this isn’t a check-in desk, this is a police station counter and we are the miscreants. She has misappropriated both time and space.
The cabin bag is .756 of a kg overweight.
A flash of amusement in her slitted eyes. ‘You’re overweight.’
‘You don’t say.’
‘Yes, I do,’
‘I meant how overweight am I?’
‘$50.00, pay over there,’ and she points to another desk far, far away.
The policewoman tags up the bag. It’s cabin baggage size – who waits for bags by the carousels these days – airports should be treated like brothels, wham bam thank you ma’am and it’s back into the taxi you asked to wait outside.
‘I’ll have to check your bag.’
‘But …… ‘
Too late, away it goes, bobbling away on a trundle mat and into the hands of unspeakable desperates who lurk in the basements. The woman looks up, hands us our boarding passes and waits, she wants us to go away and pay the penalty for packing a few meat pies when we should have eaten them.
The boarding passes show we have seats 18D and 18F – way down in the back of the plane and everyone gets off through the front door at Ballina. This woman is having a toxic working day and we are all here to share it.
‘You have a problem? Write a letter. Next.’
We shuffle off, diminished.
Mr. Stephen Whyte has the penalty desk, he’s a big man with a beard that wasn’t on his face when they took the picture of him that hangs around his neck. Mr. Whyte takes the boarding passes and the $50, then spends about five minutes wrestling with eleven con-joined computer programs that will allow him to process the fine and free up the boarding passes so we can get through the gate.
This is like prison, we are posting bail here and Ballina is the gate to freedom.
‘Look at this,’ he says, ‘you’re down the back with someone sitting next to you – I’ll move you up the front, there’s plenty of room on the flight.’
The policewoman again. Never mind that the aircraft is flying as light as a balloon the .756 of a kg is too heavy, and all those empty seats up the front? More room for the cabin crew to choose from during take-off and landing when they like to sit and chat.
This is Jetstar, and this is Jetstar’s day.
Monica was looking after us today, and slim young Alistair – he wondered why we laughed when he asked if we wanted some coffee.