It is interesting to observe how man is a creature adapted to normal behavior and civil conduct only under very limited conditions.

If the temperature should vary slightly, or a schedule be changed, or food become inaccessible, or periods of rest interrupted, human conduct alters dramatically. The presence or absence of charity will quickly evidence itself under such strained circumstances.Of all the modern conditions that bring out the best and the worst in human nature - few can compare to a crowded airport in the midst of a heavy winter snowstorm.

In order to properly observe the high and the low of human instincts, it is best to wait several hours, that is, after most of the flights have been canceled, access from the terminal building is impossible by either plane or cab, the toilets have backed-up and the food services have exhausted their resources.

A friend of mine, Boyd Tangren, found himself at Stapleton Field outside Denver under these circumstances several years ago. It was the day after Christmas and no flights had landed or taken off for two days because of the storm.

"I decided I was stuck there for the holidays. I found myself a comfortable spot on the floor in the gate area and watched the human drama play itself out.

"The heat was not on. There was no food. People were sprawled everywhere. I began to watch with some curiosity a deteriorating situation between a man, his wife and their teenage daughter. It appeared they had been stuck at the airport since Christmas Eve.

"The wife was a tall woman with long hair. She wore enough gold to keep Sudan in wheat for a week, a full-length fur coat of the silver fox variety and black eel-skin designer cowboy boots.

"She was not pleased with the events of the last 48 hours. It was all quite beneath her. The husband, a quiet, reserved, bald man was the focal point of her loud outbursts. `How could you bring us here? We did not want to come, did we, Susan? But no, we had to come skiing for the holidays. You are going to hear about this for a long time. I have never been so humiliated in all of my life. Can't you do something? Get us out of here! I don't care what it costs! Do you hear me, I don't care!'

"The daughter's sympathies were clearly with the mother. She would chirp in small, meaningful, offensive remarks during those intervals the mother paused in order to think up more piercing insults.

"Finally the two of them stormed out of the gate area to find the ladies room.

"A few minutes later the airline's gate agent announced, `There are three seats available on a Delta flight to Chicago departing immediately from gate 11C. As I read your name, please step forward and obtain your boarding passes. Mr. Cohen, party of three.'

"Mr. Cohen turned out to be the abused gentleman who was personally responsible for the foul weather in the Denver area.

"He stepped forward and received the three boarding passes. A strange silence ensued in the gate area. Every eye was upon him. He looked at the passes and then at the crowd. He only paused a few seconds and then said, `I'll only be needing one of these.' He gave the gate agent the two other boarding passes, grabbed his bags and took off for gate 11C.

"I jumped to my feet and yelled, `Let's hear it for Mr. Cohen!' The crowd erupted in a wild outburst of cheers, clapping and whistling.

"Mr. Cohen looked back, smiled and gave us a `thumbs-up' - the universal sign of a successful splash-down."

-Jim Kimball is a Salt Lake City travel consultant.