Thanks to Sesame Street's Count Dracula, I likely knew how to count to ten way before kindergarten. Most likely higher than ten, even.
It’s really not that hard, especially with puppets and music and such.
I count to three at least three times a day, even in my thyroid-stress-induced brain fog. One cat. Two cats. Three cats. And those objects move and hide and hiss and scratch. Yet, I manage to keep track of how many I have and where they are.
I have three office friends. One is invisible. The second is a concrete goose. Number three is a cockatoo.
One. Two. Three.
Oh, and three jiggle dragons!
So, you’d think counting two inanimate objects would be even less daunting. No claws. No cloak of invisibility.
Over the last year, it has come to my attention that there are innumerable humans—fully formed adult humans—who cannot manage this. One. Two. It’s too difficult.
But, hey. Things happen. And if you need extra help beyond music and puppets, there are nursery rhymes (nursery being the key word here) about buckling shoes and shutting doors to help you through the arduous task of counting.
I watched this phenomenon play out while waiting at the gate in Dallas to board a flight to Cincinnati last April.
It happened again while we were sitting at the gate in Chicago waiting to board our flight to Vegas.
And given the number of times the gate agent goes through this speech—and the tone and style in which it is delivered each time—it happens every. single. flight.
I think I’d go insane at an even faster rate if I were a gate agent. Begging, pleading, and politely—or sternly— scolding people all day long to count to two.
It seems geographical location has nothing to do with this lack of ability (or general sense of entitlement, as the case may very well be). Though, I know Sesame Street and, for the younger adults out there, Blues Clues played across the nation. There’s really no excuse.
The boarding agent will declare: “You may carry two personal items on board the aircraft, so consolidate or check those extra items. Purses, backpacks, computer bags, fanny packs, a bag is a bag is a bag. So just two, folks. If you’re wondering if it counts as an item, if it has a handle, a strap, a graspy string, any protrusion to wrap your pretty little fingers around, it counts.”
Some agents try to have fun with it. Turn it into a constest. Which boarding class can get it right? None, apparently. A, B, or C. No matter what order folks line up to board, there’s someone in each group who. just. can’t. count. to. two.
Inevitably, someone or several someones, will fail this task, holding up boarding and takeoff—and therefore landing and deboarding.
In the case of my most recent flight, this task was made even more difficult by the child who approached the attendant claiming to have lost his parents (two parents, this kid could count) and an equally distraught gentleman who was next in line to board—but didn’t know where the plane was going.
Now, I must admit, if I had unlimited time and resources, standing in some random line to get on some random plane going Lord knows where might be fun. But most folks I know know where the plane at least needs to go before they get in line to get on board.
This man did not. Dementia? Jet lag? Gate confusion? I don’t know. But I do know this man’s wife (or travel partner or caretaker) was among the folks who couldn’t count to two, but since she was dealing with him, I gave her a pass. And thankfully, those two weren’t the missing guardian duo of the kid.
My favorite thing to watch? A certain passenger will believe with their whole being that they are the special case, immune from counting and restrictions of any sort, and that they can roll on their nearly full-sized case while lugging a backpack, fannypack, and ten bags from Neman Markus. And how dare the attendant suggest they check or consolidate any of it. That means they’ll have to visit baggage claim on the other side of their trip.
Oh, the horror!
I love watching these bag hoarders consolidate their belongings, only to be told that now that they’ve successfully counted to two, their bags will not fit under the seat in front of them nor in the overhead compartments because the bags are now too thick and must be checked.
Round and round we go.
While this happens, you can feel the pulse of those who are not numerically or spatially challenged quicken. The tension rises first in those who have connecting flights in the city we should be aiming for already. The angst spreads to those shuffling babies and toddlers from one hip to the other. Then among the rest of us who are simply weary of the travel and would like to get it going already. The last to feel it are those dear souls who only have a jacket and a book. No bags of any sort. Those are my kind of folks.
They have a plan that doesn’t involve math, but now we must wait to escape into the friendly skies because…
Mr. or Mrs. Precious must shuffle bags.
I see children looking at their pastel/primary-colored belongings and counting to two with their fingers, their little mouths moving. They’ll nod their heads in approval that they do, in fact, have two or fewer bags.
Grown adults? Not so much.
Because they’re special.
Sometimes these folks travel in herds. And they’ll hand off their bags to others in their posse so everyone has two. But this also causes confusion, as no one in their swollen group is boarding in the same order. How they’ll manage the head count when they finally land at their destination is beyond me.
Then we get on the plane, and the same folks who can’t count also can’t lift their obese bags into the overhead without the wheels and protruding handles hitting seated passengers in the heads.
Now we need medics to come stitch people up and Hazmat teams to mop up the blood.
And oh, for heaven’s sake, the plane needs to be de-iced.
And you know good and well that if folks can’t count to two calmly before boarding the plane, stow their bags, and pick a seat, there ain’t no way certain humans will survive oxygen masks falling from the ceiling or, heaven forbid, figure out how their life vests work without drowning everyone around them.
If you’re traveling, here’s my advice: A hoodie. A book or e-reader (I have a title or two that might work for your next travel adventure—Just ask Trudi the Office Goose over in Marketing).
And if you must carry stuff stuffed into other stuff, count.