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Doug Clark: Treating Christmas fliers to random acts of kindness

Cathy Parker, of Wichita, Kansas, gave me one of those raised-eyebrow looks.

You know, the kind you’d normally give to an intrusive panhandler, pushy politician or a sidewalk preacher who wants to save your soul.

I couldn’t blame her.

Say some goofy-looking stranger approached me near the airport baggage carousel and asked if he could tote my luggage. I’d probably start hollering for a TSA grope squad.

Fortunately, a bit of charming patter convinced Parker of my seasonal sincerity.

I gave it to her straight: I had come to the Spokane International Airport on Tuesday afternoon to commit random acts of Christmas kindness.

Parker smiled.

“All right,” she said, giving me a green light to help.

Terrific. The way I figured it, no human subgroup deserves an extra attaboy more than Pre-Christmas Fliers.

And Parker, I learned from John Henry, was deserving all by herself.

Henry was the first person I sidled up to in the baggage area.

“Help her,” he said, declining my offer and pointing to Parker, who was standing nearby.

Henry told me that after his 5 p.m. flight from Las Vegas touched down, he began to exit the plane unaware that his wallet had stayed behind and would soon be spending the holidays somewhere else.

Parker, however, spied it wedged in Henry’s seat and returned it to the man from Midland, Texas.

OK. So maybe this isn’t quite as miraculous as Rudolph’s nose. Still, losing your wallet would definitely put a crimp in Christmas.

While we waited for her suitcase, Parker told me she had come to spend a week in Spokane with her daughter, Lori, and her three young ones.

( Note to Mayor Condon: You really should consider making me Spokane’s official greeter. )

I’ll admit I had the wrong impression about our airport.

This is no Scroogelike outpost. Turns out, this travel hub west of town is awash in yuletide cheer.

The Christmas decorations are pleasing, tastefully arranged and displayed by the airport elves, aka maintenance workers, said Larry Krauter.

The airport’s CEO, Krauter took me on a tour of oversized lighted Christmas trees, large wreaths and miles of garlands that lined the main floor walls.

The skywalks are blazing with festive lights. Santa, he told me, rides an airplane parked on the moose that is part of the artsy rock sculptures at the airport entrance.

Even more impressive are several 17-foot Christmas trees that have been constructed solely out of red artificial poinsettias. The “poinsettia trees,” said Krauter, have become a popular draw for snapshots and family portraits.

Krauter brought the poinsettia idea with him when he landed the job here four years ago.

“Spokane is such a friendly place,” he said, adding that all the Christmas decor not only puts stressed-out travelers in a better mood, but is a wonderful “reflection of the community.”

He sold me. Everyone I bumped into – from visitors to patrolling police – was friendly and bright.

“We want to have that reputation,” said Krauter. “We want people to come back to their hometown airport and feel positive about Spokane.”

After Parker’s bag arrived, I carried it to the hatchback of her daughter’s waiting car.

Lori, too, gave me one of those looks, although she warmed up once she learned I was harmless.

Then I bid adieu to all and went searching for more victims, er, travelers.

Back at the carousel, I ran into Dave Wright, the former supervisor of Idaho’s Panhandle National Forest.

He had come to pick up visiting family members from San Diego: Christine and Darin and their children, Jenna, 8, and Jason, 11.

I’m pretty sure that this is the Wright family, which would make Darin the son. But in all the good deed baggage-handling hubbub, I somehow forgot to write down a last name.

Dave walked off to get his wheels while I posed for a photograph with Darin and the kids. Then I took some cellular photos of the entire family, whoever they are.

We went out into the cold after that and waited for Wright, who arrived after a few minutes.

“Merry Christmas!” I said to no one in particular as we all shook hands and said our goodbyes.

Just before getting behind the wheel, Wright smiled at me and waved.

“I don’t care who you are,” he yelled. “But keep the reindeer off my roof!”

My work here is done.

Doug Clark is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review. He can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or dougc@spokesman.com.