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Weekend at Hartsfield

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

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They are, however, wisps of women who look born to navigate the aisles of aircraft cabins. Just with less fanfare than, say, a gymnastics team. They don't so much as waltz to their gate.

A worker at the restaurant One Flew South, a woman, sees them go by and says, "They alllll look the same. They all be having the little bows on and all be looking the same. Same waist and all."

I follow them to their gate. I'm hoping to ask a couple of them a question or two, see if they'll gather for a group snapshot. A man is with them. He looks to be an assistant of some kind. I ask him. He goes over and several of them give me that universal flight-attendant glare, as if I'd just airmailed a commuter fart from coach to first class.

It is early afternoon. Rain still. Out the windows with no way to step into it, the wet weather becomes something of a museum piece. Something to look at, not touch.

Back on Concourse A, I'm at my sleeping spot watching the Falcons and Saints. Departure delays mount. A couple of Delta flight attendants sitting near me are waiting for their puddle-jump to Birmingham. They're out of Detroit. I tell them about my weekend, about my Korean Air run-in.

"Aren't they beautiful," one of the Delta women says. "It's a really prestigious job over there. I had a friend who went through the training. They had, like, a month of facial-grooming courses as far as what moisturizers, what makeup they used, their hair. They're trained a whole lot different than we are. But it shows. They pick beautiful girls and they train them to look beautiful."

A bit later, I chat with a trio of Cleveland-based male flight attendants. They, too, are delayed. I ask which airline's attendants are the biggest divas? "You mean the bitchiest?" one says, but he doesn't answer.

I ask him how Hartsfield rates. He adores the food courts, hates the layout. "It's the most stressful of all the hubs," he says. "To me, it's like being at the mall two days before Christmas."

At a BlackBerry store across the hall, a saleswoman says the airport scene is a little like a state-fair midway. She once saw an enraged man flip his lid, bolting back and forth down the concourse. She was working one day when an old lady died in a nearby women's room.

"I don't use that stall anymore — creepy," she says. "Her brother was outside waiting for her and she never came out."

My waiting is about to end.

Just after 7 p.m., I take the train to baggage claim, ride the mine-shaft-chute of an escalator up to the arrival lobby and escape the travel terrarium.

I walk straight into the waiting arms of a love story of Olympic proportions. He's from Atlanta, she's from Barcelona.

His family, the Neelys, is there to welcome her to the states. They are clutching a paper banner with "Atlanta Loves Carmen!!" painted on it.

Sunny Neely has just flown home with his new wife. They married in Spain in April. An immigration snafu has kept her from getting to the U.S. He's been living here, visiting her nine or 10 times in Europe. Finally, her visa has come through.

"There they are!" someone hollers as Sunny and Carmen top the escalator. Sunny's dad slips a gold medal his son received for running a marathon around her neck. "The most patient woman in Spain," Carmen's father-in-law says. "This is a great ending."

Sunny tells me that Carmen couldn't get her visa "because her name is similar to another Carmen Gonzalez who has a criminal record."

Sunny had flown to Spain to get her Friday night. His plane left about the same time I'd arrived.

Now their American honeymoon was under way.

Before we go our separate ways and make for Atlanta's front doors, Carmen sighs.

I've been in an airport 48 hours. Her life's been on hold half a year.

"I have," she says, "been waiting too much."

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