Yesterday afternoon, I ventured out of Santa Cruz and through the stifling heat of the Valley to pick my mother up from the airport. As I was waiting in the arrivals hall, surrounded by people of every race, age, and credo, it hit me: meeting someone at the airport is one of life’s universal Good Feelings. No matter how high the price of gas, all these people had come to the airport to greet their loved ones, whether they be returning home or visiting from far away.

Unlike the departures lounge, where you invariably see people crying and clinging to each other, the arrivals area is always filled with smiles and cries of joy. As I was waiting, I saw one young woman run past the ropeline, jumping up and down as she greeted her loved ones, who both hugged her and gave her identical pats on the cheek, as if to reacquaint themselves with the contours of her face. Another wealthy older couple was so overjoyed to see their friends emerge from the customs area that the man actually let out what could only be termed as a yodel, causing all heads to momentarily turn away from their close perusal of the oncoming faces.

The longer I stood there, and the more happy reunions that I witnessed, the more impatient I became for my own. I could feel the same thing happening all around me, people’s bodies straining towards the TV monitors, hoping for an early glimpse of their arrivees, searching through the crowd for that one precious face, the walk they know so well, the slight mannerisms they have forgotten over the course of a long separation.

Finally, I saw the object of my own search on the TV monitor, recognizing her purse and shirt even before her head came into the camera’s range. Knowing where the camera was, and knowing that I would be watching for her, she looked up and waved as she walked underneath it. I responded with a huge grin and an instinctual wave of my own, knowing full well how stupid I looked, waving at the screen. I didn’t care — she was here, less than twenty feet away!

I wound my way through the crowd pressed against the ropeline, straining to the top of my toes to see her the moment she emerged from the hallway. Emerge she did, and once more I battled my way through stands of waiting people and suitcases to greet her with a big hug, laughter, and excited chatter about the flight.

Just like everyone else in there, I was thrilled by the entire experience. Sure, with the price of gas these days, we probably could’ve arranged a shuttle for a similar price. But as MasterCard says — there are some moments that truly are priceless. And picking up a loved one at the airport is one of them.

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