My husband works second shift in a cargo office at our local airport. My 9-5 is just minutes down the road, and I occasionally visit him afterward for a dinner date.
What is airline cargo, you ask? Parts? Tools? Merchandise? Yes. Pets too? Most certainly. Many pure-bred puppies and kittens spend frustrated hours caged-up in his office, nicely complementing the stank of stale cigar already hanging in the air.
But you may not guess what the most common type of cargo is – the shipments that take up most of my husband’s time, and are so large that they must be driven in a cart from air craft to cargo office to customer vehicle.
Dead human bodies.
People are generally surprised by this, but it’s not really all that strange when you consider a few factors:
- The Grand Rapids Gerald R. Ford International Airport is one of the few in the region that can accept human remains as cargo.
- It’s totally possible to die on vacation.
- Sometimes people do not live in the state where they own a burial plot.
- This time of year, older people from Michigan (snow birds) are hanging out in Florida to avoid the cold. Snow birds often pass away in this retirement paradise, and make their return trip in the cargo bin.
Most of these bodies are probably not embalmed, and human remains shipped to the wrong airport are not something a ramp agent relishes in a less frigid season… But I digress.
So we have my husband, and we have several dead bodies in his care.
In turn, when I show up for a dinner date, there is most likely at least one HR waiting to be picked up or shipped out.
Now, I know how this sounds – youngish married couple eating dinner in dingy office next to a deceased snowbird, who is nicely laid out on a block of ice.
But it’s not like that. The bodies are in sealed bags inside sealed, wood-framed cardboard boxes, and they sit on a cart in a separate room. The closest I get to the individual inside is peering into the cart to read the name on the box. It’s possible that I used to wait on them at Russ’.
The point is that the most interesting part of the whole dead-body-cargo process is talking to the person that comes to pick it up. On a recent evening, that person was Lurch.
You remember Lurch – the gaunt, Frankenstein’s monsteresque butler from the Addams Family?
Just imagine it: A dark winter night in the middle of a quiet week, and we’re finishing dinner on the isolated outskirts of the airport campus. The most exciting thing happening is funny cat videos on YouTube.
Then suddenly, the door opens, and along with a gust of howling wind and a rush of light snow, slides in the tallest, thinnest, most corpse-like living man I’ve ever seen. His long body is hunched against the weather, and his expression is grim. Thin hair sweeps forward from his crown to his brow, enhancing his deeply-set and serious eyes. Totally Lurch. He’s wearing a respectable suit under a long black wool coat – the typical, and in this case literal, uniform of the undertaker. Classic.
You can imagine my delight. He was the second HR recipient we’d seen that evening, so I was in the zone – casual conversations with folks in the funeral industry is one of my favorite pastimes. And this character was going to make a good story. I honestly expected him to speak in grunts and low groans. But his appearance and demeanor were foreboding, not at all friendly, and I hesitated, remembering every sinister undertaker I’d ever seen in the movies.
Of course in reality, he was extremely friendly, and quick to animate his lined, gray face with a laugh. More than happy to share information regarding his job, he told us about learning his trade on the unclaimed bodies of homeless men, and giant morgues underneath bustling cities.: “Doesn’t matter how cold they kept it… that place stank!” By the time he left we were old pals.
And the whole time, I wished I had a camera, and some reason to take the guy’s picture. The whole situation was just too perfect.
That’s the story of how I met Lurch. I highly recommend him if you ever need a body moved.