42.5 million Americans Traveling Over Thanksgiving, and I’m Sitting Next to You
On my flight home yesterday, I sat next to a young boy who’d never flown before. “Little man,” I said and patted his arm. “There’s nothing to be afraid of. There’s a lot that could wrong–mechanical failures, geese, lightning, etc–but it probably won’t.” He looked at me as if to say, “I’m 18 years old, I’ve already been accepted early decision to U-Penn, and so I know my statistical chance of surviving this flight.” In fact, he did say that. No good deed or kind word goes unpunished, at least on US Air.
When I book airfare late–I’m not perfect, guys–and I’m stuck in the middle seat, it means I get two chances to make a new friend. If 11A doesn’t want to chat, then I cozy up to the marine in 11C who doesn’t know that I’ve already completed the crossword and that’s why I have all the answers.
A red-eye flight needn’t be dim or boring or even restful. It can be an opportunity for an impromptu sleepover party–where you giggle and snack all night and try not to let anyone know that you’ve peed in your sleeping bag.
We spend so much of our little lives in solitude, trying to avoid contact with others, dreading small interactions on the Subway, barely even bothering to acknowledge when we step on someone’s toes on our way out the closing doors.
But for those of us lucky enough to use our parents’ miles to book last minute economy class tickets on cross-country flights, we get a chance to mix with a pretty wide variety of weirdos. Once, I sat next to a man throwing up, and I never ate California Pizza Kitchen To Go again! Another time, a businessman fell asleep on my lap, and it gave me a renewed compassion for all those who Occupy Wall Street and work there.
To all my seat companions through the years and the holidays, I just want to say I’ve learned a lot from you all. I appreciate you, and your overstuffed carry-ons; how you try to fit bags into overhead compartments already at capacity; how you worry that you left your phone charger at security; your travel-size toothpaste and shampoo that leaks all over your clothes; your drool on my shoulder; the way your thigh gently touches mine in a way neither of us will acknowledge; the sounds you make you think I don’t hear; how you rub your eyes when the lights come on in the main cabin; who you call first when you land; how you stop in the bathroom before baggage claim to see the wreck of the human you became in five hours at 10,000 feet.
But I love you the most when I see the way you wrap your arms around the neck of a long-lost friend or lover or Step-Dad or the guy in the courtesy van driving you to the hotel. Because it is then that I see you for who you really are on the ground–a perfectly wonderful stranger.