Excitement was physically in the air on Valentine’s Day at the Jack Brooks Regional Airport in Beaumont/Port Arthur. Community leaders, elected officials and other folks who had worked long and hard to see that flights resumed at the local airport gathered for the big ribbon cutting and send off of the first Canadair CRJ-200 operated by American Airlines. The 50-passenger jet was due to taxi out to the runway at 10:20 a.m. amid much celebration and under a huge water arch provided by local fire departments. This inaugural flight was hailed as an important step in the continued development of Jefferson County and Southeast Texas. “Good job, everyone,” could be heard from many of the speakers as they took their turn behind the podium.
And once that ribbon was cut, orderly lines formed at the Transportation Security Administration checkpoints. Flashbulbs popped and sound bites were given by several key figures to waiting media.
For a few of the folks gathering for that first flight, more was in the air than just the excitement of being on the inaugural flight traveling from Beaumont to Dallas. A few trusted conspirators were in on what was to occur in flight and were having a difficult time keeping lips closed and smiles diverted. After all, it was Valentine’s Day and Cupid had been diligently at work for one young Orange County couple.
Joe Tant, financial manager for the Greater Port Arthur Chamber of Commerce, had come up with a delightful plan to surprise his girl, and in fact, planned to propose to her once the plane reached flying altitude and the pilot turned off the seat belt sign. Gail Shook, the owner of Airport Travel Agency, the plane’s pilot, the flight attendant, the county judge, the airport manager, this writer and a few other folks knew what was about to happen, and it seemed perfect for the occasion.
Tant had met Dabeyva Durant when both worked for Best Buy about three and a half years ago. “I really did not like him that much at first,” said Durant. “In fact, I thought he was kind of smart alec acting, but as time went on, I thought he became nicer.” Tant said that the large retail giant frowned upon employees dating each other, but he remembered Durant even after he left to seek other employment. “I just couldn’t get her off my mind,” said Tant. Durant admitted that shortly before he actually left, she began to think he was a lot nicer.
As fate would have it, Tant visited the store and then called Durant and asked her out on a date. The two hit it off and though Durant lived in Pasadana and Tant in Orange, they managed to date often and develop a relationship. Tant said he knew before long he was in love with the girl and wanted to make her his wife.
“I really wanted to do something different to propose,” said Tant. “This is a huge step in both our lives and I wanted us and our children and later, grandchildren, to remember it with great joy.” He talked with Shook, a friend from Chamber of Commerce functions, and worked out the beginning of the details. The travel agency provided the tickets for the happy occasion and Durant was told that she and Tant had been chosen to be among the passengers on the first flight out of Beaumont because of his work on getting flight service returned to Beaumont. “I thought that was a cool way to spend Valentine’s Day,” said Durant.
With the help of a few more friends, Tant pulled the surprise off with dignity and charm. Well, except for one little matter. He had the jewelry box containing the ring hidden in his jacket pocket. Both went through the TSA line one behind the other. The TSA agent patted the jacket pocket and discovered the box and started to say something when Tant began to gesture and mouth the words, “Surprise for her. Please don’t ruin it.” He had to take off his boots for the TSA inspection, and so he slipped the box into the toe of his boots hoping against hope that Durant had not noticed. She was chatting with other passengers and did not seem to pay attention as Tant awkwardly removed the box from his boot and slipped it back into his jacket pocket under the careful and watchful eye of the TSA employee.
Once the pilot turned off the seat belt sign and reached cruising altitude, Tant carefully removed the box once again, got down on one knee in the aisle, and asked Durant to become his wife. She was most surprised and speechless for a few seconds. “Oh, yes, oh, yes,” she smiled and said through her tears as he slipped the beautiful diamond on her finger. The flight attendant made an announcement and the entire group of passengers clapped and cheered. The couple arrived safely in Dallas, along with the other passengers, and spent the time they had between flights shopping in the various markets and eating a proposal lunch in the concourse.
The couple returned to the airport amidst good wishes and congratulations from all of their new friends. Tant said he has discovered one small problem. “When our children ask where I proposed, I really won’t have much of an answer. I don’t know where we were except somewhere in the skies between Beaumont and Dallas on an American Airlines flight with a lot of nice people.”
“We made history in several different ways today,” Tant said, laughing.