On Meeting Marcus Allen in KC

MCI or KCI — the cross roads of the US.

Have you ever been to Kansas City? If so, I might ask, which one. There is one in Kansas & one in Missouri. The airport however is in Missouri.

The airport code is MCI or Mid-Continent International Airport. It is in the middle of the continent. It is all that you would imagine when you think of life in the mid-west. People are very genuine and friendly, there is a sense of closeness and family in the community. There is a sense of work ethic and stability. Some might use the term ‘salt of the earth’.

Theres’ a lot of wide open space. A lot of farming and agriculture. People talk about bringing in the crops and farming subsidies and topics like that. Nothing similar to what I grew up around in the South.

I moved to Kansas City, Mo in 1983. I was offered a promotion and transfer with Eastern Air Lines. I had spent 7 years with EAL in an inside sales role in Charlotte. I was ready to get out into the field and work at an airport.

I started at the bottom of the ‘ladder’. I was the guy you came to see when your bags were lost, something was stolen or broken. It was not the best place to start but I was in the field and I had hopes of advancing to work at the ticket counter or at the gate.

I worked the 3p to 11p shift in lost baggage. EAL had flight 222 that originated in Miami around 5p, it flew non-stop to St Louis and then terminated in MCI with an arrival around 1030p. It was never on time. Never, in the entire 5 years that I was based at MCI was it on time.

EAL had many flights that originated in Miami, Florida and went to Puerto Rico, The Virgin Islands, Aruba and Jamaica among many others. They all landed in Miami about the same time and connected with flights going North.

Invariably, there would be someone storming into the lost luggage office coming off flight 222. No one that entered that office was ever smiling. There was a gentleman that came in the office one night with a cardboard box, dripping wet and soaked with beer. No just any beer but Amstel beer he had purchased on the Dutch Island of Saint Martin.

He was angry that EAL had ruined his vacation by allowing his glass beer bottles to be broken. He was not a pleasant man. It was clear to me that he had consumed copious amounts of alcohol from the time he left the islands. When he discovered his broken beer bottles it was like setting a match to a fuse of dynamite. When we came face to face he exploded.

I never missed working in lost luggage when I advanced to working at the ticket counter and the gate. I was replaced by a Contractor. For some reason EAL had difficulty keeping someone in that role for an extended period of time. The day I left was like being released from prison.

In my new work world, people were smiling, they were enthusiastic and they were happy. I embraced it. My schedule changed to a 630a start and I was off at 230p. I suddenly had a life and was able to do normal things.

I had about 3 weeks of training as a Gate agent. It was a team environment of 2 to 3 individuals who were responsible for boarding a flight. It wasn’t long until I was the individual that made the gate announcements. I assisted with checking individuals in on the computer system and assigned seats. If we had an oversold flight, I made the announcement to solicit volunteers to give up their seat and take a later flight in exchange for a free trip or an upgrade to First Class.

I liked it, I became more experienced and more comfortable in the new role. I especially liked the early morning shift start. We had a flight that left for Los Angeles about 11am. As I recall it was a Sunday morning flight and it was a busy flight but on Sundays, not so much.

On this particular Sunday, I entered the gate area about 30 minutes before flight departure. We had several preliminary computer tasks that were required prior to flight departure. We ran several reports that required reporting information to catering, weights and balances and logistics.

Part of this report required running a count of passengers in first class as well as coach. More often than not, the First Class cabin was not booked full. That is, most individuals had not paid the full First Class airfare. More often than not, of the six First Class seats, less than 50% were booked and paid for in advance.

While at the ticket counter, I ran the name list on this Sunday morning, there was only one name, It was Marcus Allen. I knew that name. Even a casual NFL football fan would recognize jersey number 32 belonging to the black and silver of the Los Angeles Raiders. With all my data run complete and reports logged, I made my way to gate number 10.

As entered the gate, I saw a lone gentleman sitting in a single seat facing the gate so I could only see his back. As I made my way to the gate, I glanced to my left to see the silhouette of a man I had seen wearing the uniform of a USC running back and the black and silver of the Raiders.

It was Marcus Allen. I entered the main desk area and turned on the computer. I made sure the signs were correct reflecting the flight number and destination. Part of our training as a gate agent included public relations and protocol. We understood that we didn’t ask for autographs, we didn’t ask for photos and we didn’t bring attention to known celebrities of any walk of life.

We were to remain discreet and professional at all times. As I was going about my process, I noticed the gentleman rise from his seat and approach the desk. I looked up and he was smiling. If you had ever seen Marcus you knew he had a distincitve smile, it was broad and large and his face lit up. I had seem it dozens of times over the years on television.

He said hello and handed my his ticket. He said, he was checking in but didn’t have a seat assignment. I asked if he had a preference, he said ‘ front row on the aisle. I made the assignement as 1B. I handed him the boarding card and he thanked me and asked about his Frequent Flier account. I confirmed his acccount was up to date and the current fligght would be credited. He had a few more questions about the program and using miles for flights and I was happy to explain it in detail. He responded by saying ‘thank you’ and made a comment that my response was a lot more detial than he had ever receeid in the past.

He went on to say, that was the exact reason he had arrived so early was to get his questions answered and he was very thankful. I explained that I had worked in reservations for nearly severn years and as a result I was a lot more familiar with the program than the average gate agent.

It was a memorable exchange. I wanted to tell him that my brother Jamie was a life long Raider fan. That I had admired his play as a USC running back and his deserved award as a Heisman Trophy award winner from 1981. I wanted to express my disbelief at how Jim Plunkett was not in the NFL Hall of Fame. t wanted to say congratulations on winning the 1984 Super Bowl and what was it like to play with Bo Jackson and for Al Davis.

I recall it was in the winter, he was wearing a full length hearing bone tweed winter coat. He was tall, slim and muscular. His hands were a mangled mess. Not a single straight finger on either hand. They were all scarred. There were scars on top of scars and on the ring finger of his right hand was his massive gold super bowl ring circled with diamonds.

He was a humble man and a nice man. As I called the row numbers collecting tickets and boarding the flight, he advanced, flashed that million dollar smile and said ‘thank you Jon’.

It made my day and it was one that I wont soon forget.

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