June 25, 2009

Unaccompanied Minors

Since recently writing about film adaptations of children's books, I remembered another horrendous example that is worthy of sharing: Unaccompanied Minors. You may not even recall the 2006 film, which, despite being directed by Freaks and Geeks director Paul Feig, totally bombed at the box office. Even after watching only the trailer, it's no surprise why.

It's based on a lovely essay by Susan Burton, which I discovered thanks to NPR's This American Life. The basic premise of the story is that a 15 year old Burton and her younger sister are stranded in an airport, where they meet a slew of other unaccompanied minors (or UMs) in the same situation. Her story is particularly poignant in that it takes place the day after Christmas. All the other UMs, like Burton and her sister, had been traveling from one divorced parent's house to the other. They form a unique and sort of melancholy camaraderie. It's worthy of a read.

As a former UM myself, I'm particularly fond of Burton's essay (and similarly not fond of the idiotic film version). For a couple of years, my brother and I traveled back and forth between parents on a monthly basis. Once, because of a bomb scare at LAX, our plane had to land in the International section of the airport, rather than the familiar Southwest gate A8. I was about 13, Nat was about 9. I guess we assumed our dad would have been notified of the change in pick-up location, but after about an hour of waiting at baggage claim with no sign of him, I approached an employee. We waited with a couple of other UMs until another employee arrived and loaded us and our bags into a mini-van. He drove us to another waiting area-- on the tarmac! It was the best behind the scenes tour of an airport ever, we got to see the action up close as we swerved under plane wings and past luggage carts. I think he took an extra long route because all of us in the van were oohing and aahing so excitedly. We were dropped off at the Southwest employee break room, where another gaggle of UMs was already waiting. Everyone was sprawled on worn out couches and watching the news about the bomb scare, the Southwest employees laughing when they recognized familiar faces of their coworkers. As if the car ride hadn't been enough fun, next we were delivered a huge box of dinner. It was McDonalds. Free fries and cheeseburgers! What?!

About three hours into the whole ordeal, my dad finally showed up, looking totally panicked. It never occured to me to be worried, I knew that eventually someone would point my him in the right direction and he would find us, and we had actually been having a great time.

Is it too much to ask that a children's film capture a little of that sort of magic?


ML said...

I also heard that essay on This American Life, it was great!

Marina said...

yeah, i remember once they put me in the special unaccompanied minor room at LAX, but it was under construction so it was really hard for my dad to find, and it took him hours to find me. oh, the adventures of having divorced parents.