News & Views » Cover Story

Weekend at Hartsfield

A half-naked man. Two honeymoons. A 48-hour journey to nowhere.



Page 2 of 7

Kimber tells of another joker she kept seeing in the terminal. Every day he'd cruise by with a different suitcase. "And clothes that did not fit him." She figures he was homeless, the baggage carousels his very own conveyor belt of new wardrobes.

A janitor named John pops in to catch the Braves score. It's 7-1, Nats. "You got to be kidding me," John says. He parks a wheeled garbage can and a broom cart by the entrance. He says he empties trash cans around the Atrium and security checkpoints.

"Found a claw hammer last night," he says. "I took it home. It still had the plastic on top, a brand-new hammer."

I scan the Atrium, its curves and accent lighting, its touches of upscale Vegas minus the slots, the marshmallow-white Sorrento on display showroom-style, the notion that the place is a jet-fume-infused Macy's.

Janitor John trudges toward security, into the late-hour dimness, garbage can in front, broom buggy in back, a tram of tidy, off to tuck the airport in.

But it isn't lights out by any stretch. Hartsfield is still humming on past 10 o'clock.

When you step off the arrival escalators, you have to turn left or right to get out. If you keep going straight, you walk into the restrooms. And I do, to find a half-naked man in blue underwear. He is changing clothes.

"Changing from one job to the next," he says, apparently not uncomfortable stripping down in front of strangers. He says he works evenings at a state prison, nights on bike patrol in the airport parking lots. "It's more courtesy than it is security," he says, shirtless, his pants splayed across the sink counter. "People don't always know which way to go."

Out in the lobby, the space reserved for those greeting travelers is clogged as they await late arrivals. Someone passing tells someone else, "I thought you'd never get here." One couple hoofs by arguing over where the car is. "We're parked over THERE."

I don't immediately notice the fighter pilot. I spot his friends. They are hiding around the corner with cameras. He knows they are there. The woman he is meeting does not. The pilot paces. Air Force Capt. Yuri Hines is nervous.

"He says he's not," his friend Andy Page says, "but he is."

Page and five others are pals of the young lady Hines can't wait to see. He and the woman, his girlfriend, whom he has dated for months after their friends introduced them via Skype, have a trans-Atlantic romance. She's in Oklahoma. He's stationed in England. She's Native American. Her name is Jade. Jade Prather. He's a University of Tennessee grad, a Southern boy, history major. Their buds are on hand to record the reunion. Because not only will Hines hand her a flower, he will also ask for her hand. Tucked in a zippered pocket at the bottom of his flight suit's right pant leg is a diamond engagement ring.

A female security officer picks up on the buzz at the escalator's peak. As she passes she mentions, ho-hum, how the proposal will be the second one today. "Happens all the time."

Hines doesn't hear it. His eyes are on the escalator. Jade is on her way. "We're all waiting with you," says a stranger, himself waiting for someone but not about to miss this. A pilot popping the question in, of all places, an airport? Too rich.

A woman standing there asks Hines what color Jade's hair is, "Blonde or brunette?"

"Black," he says. "She's Native American."

Hines is anxious. He calls her. She's been off her plane a while. "I'm looking for you," he says. "You're getting on a train now? OK. You didn't go the other way did you? As long as you're going toward baggage claim that's a good thing. OK, babe. Bye."

Hines tells a man beside him, another bystander hanging around for the fun, "I guess she was going the other way."

The man says, "It just adds to the story. She'll look back on it and say, 'All that time you were waiting.'"

A woman here to meet her two daughters from Georgetown University has already welcomed them home, but the three stick around. They want to watch.

Then she appears.

Hines sees her, his girl, her flowing dark hair. His wait is over.

"Hiiiiiiiiiii," she says.

Hines squeezes her.

"I'm sorry I was two hours late," she says.

They smooch.

"It's OK," Hines says, "you're here now."

He gives her the rose and drops to a knee. Onlookers oooooh. Hines whips out the ring. Jade Prather covers her eyes. Then, with her fingers, she tucks her hair behind her ears as Hines asks her to be his wife.

Comments (3)

Showing 1-3 of 3

Add a comment

Add a comment