I was in line at the Delta counter behind two white men of military bearing. They each had man sized hard cases with latches and locks, big enough for long barrel shotguns or automatic rifles. It was Mother’s Day in Texas, and I had missed my flight home to true blue LA. Delta had a flight out around noon and I was trying to find out if there were seats to be had for anything less than the cost of a Trumpian lie.
Five lines. Three agents. Worse still, the agents kept calling up those waiting in other lines. The world’s babble tangoed on the noisy air: Italian, Arabic, Tex Mex, Chinese. 20 minutes later, I sighed with exasperation, sure that whatever seats were left were gone at any price. The man in front of me confided:
“You’d think they would want to get the guns out of sight first….”
That won a chuckle from me.
Another long wait. The first guy with a gun case was finally summoned. The case was opened. A big rifle. The crowd was unimpressed. Much chatter among the uniforms, then a strategic huddle and another long wait. My neighbor laughed:
“That guy’s a pilot for them—Delta. What am I gonna have to do?”
The pilot signed a contracty looking document and was handed a red tag which he carefully placed inside the case before securing all the locks and an extra case-hardened steel padlock. The uniforms witnessed his every move until all those keys disappeared into the man’s carry on and he had stepped back from the gun case.
We were invisible again. A Chinese traveler from another line needed a translator. The man in front of me turned and made small talk:
“Where are you going?”
“To California,” more assertively, from inside my covid mask. A translator was found. The Italian family were called next.
“Where are you travelling with rifles?” I asked.
“Nevada. We got the contract on feral pigs outside Vegas,” he drawled.
“Yes,” I answered. “I read recently that they are becoming a problem in Southern California, too. Do you ever eat what you kill?
“Once. I brought a young pig home to cook for my sons. One, two years old—they only eat nuts and roots. The older ones eat dead things and stink. I had a bite. The meat was really sweet, but I am a vegetarian, almost a vegan, really.”
I had been visiting my sister in Austin for the first time since Covid began, since her husband had died, since my cancer fight. Alito’s draft opinion on Roe leaked that week. We hung on each other again, trying to ease our shared despair. Uvalde was yet to come.
I called her when I got home and told her about my travel travails, ending with the vegan pig hunter. She laughed and sung the Lyle Lovett line:
“Texas wants you anyway….”
Ellen Birrell is an artist and lemon farmer in Ventura County, CA. Her writings have appeared in X-TRA, Cabinet, Adelaide, Adelaide Literary Award Anthology 2018, Mac-ro-mic, Condiment, Material, and Parabol. Her 2019 essay “Gloves” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She is Faculty Emerita at California Institute of the Arts.