Tuesday, June 05, 2007

The Fouth Seatmate

Okay, there are other vacation stories to tell…but this is the one on my mind for the moment. Those of you who’ve been following the bouncing ball will recall descriptions of seatmates one and two. Seatmate number three—well, he slept throughout the one-hour flight from New Orleans to Dallas, so I’m afraid he blew his stab at blog immortality.

But then there’s seatmate number four. The one from Dallas to Burbank.

As I made my way to row three, I noticed he was already there and seated. A chintzy-looking white hat with a feather in it sat like a badge of honor on his lap. I slid into my seat, deposited all the paraphernalia about me, and smiled hello. A little self-consciously, he smiled and said hello back.

I judged him to be mid-forties to fifty. Not bad-looking. Rather tan...sparkling blue eyes, and an easy smile. In short, he looked like you and me.

Then he took out his cell phone and dialed a number. “You’re not gonna BELIEVE it,” he said on a giggle. “I’m only three rows from the front! All I have to do is walk up the aisle, turn a corner to the left, and I’m off the plane!”

The exuberance was a clue.

“These people in first class are GENEROUS,” he said. “They already gave me a glass of water!”

A few minutes later, he repeated his location. Three rows to the front, a corner turn to the left, and he’d be off the plane. Like it was nothing short of a miracle.

After he clicked the cell phone shut, we began to chat. As it turned out, we had plenty of time, because suddenly a storm devoured the airport, shutting us down indefinitely. As the rain, wind, and lightning swirled around us, I learned that Steven’s original flight (from Houston to Dallas on the previous day) had gotten cancelled over and over. Finally, he’d been forced to call his cousin who’d retrieved him from the airport for one more night.

I guess, to make up for the inconvenience, American put him in First Class. On the third time he described how close he was to the front, I dared a glance around and caught a wink from the guy sitting behind Marty and Ann. It was nice to know people around me shared the glee I felt on Steven’s behalf.

So, I realized now, that Steven was…well…slow. Nice-looking, big heart, engaging…but, slow. The kind of person you wanna look out for.

The kinda person you wanna help have a good time.

Like I said, I listened to the stories…I made the appropriate sounds of encouragement and awe when he related the most insignificant observations you’ll ever hear about a trip to Texas. I scrutinized all of his photos (printed from the computer by his cousin who IS A GENIUS!!!) and asked follow-up questions. I took videos out the window, then showed him the playback on my camera, which thrilled him to no end. When Ann pointed out the lone piece of luggage, lying askew on the tarmac, all but forgotten by the baggage handlers in the pouring rain, Steven and I laughed about the poor sucker to whom it belonged.

Finally, the maelstrom outside cleared. We got ready for departure. Steven held onto his hat like it was the Hope Diamond. He must have checked five times to make sure he’d turned his cell phone off as instructed. Once we got airborne, he had to use the restroom. I left my seat so it wouldn’t be awkward for him to climb past me. When he returned, I did it again.

He couldn’t apologize enough for the inconvenience.

Next, the flight attendant took our orders for lunch. I think maybe he wasn’t sure what this was all about, so he followed my lead. When the meals were delivered, he got such a kick out of the salt and pepper.

He worried about not having made it back to work on the prescribed day. Maria, his “boss lady” had been very kind, he said, and told him not to worry. Inwardly, I conjured up a fantasy that this nice man probably worked for people who adored and appreciated him. I think—no, I KNOW--I was right about that.

As we got ready to land, Seven’s excitement level grew.

“Is someone picking you up at the airport?” I asked.

“My parents,” he said.

I wasn’t surprised.

But it touched my heart. I mean, his parents must be about the age of my OWN parents. How difficult it must be—at a time in their lives when they should be thinking about someone looking after THEM.

Minutes after landing, Marty, Ann, and I were standing at the luggage carousel, and I’d lost track of Steven. “Where is he?” I asked Ann. “I want to meet his parents.”

She located him in the throng of fellow travelers, and there was the elderly couple who’d come to pick up their son. I marched over and held out my hand. “I just wanted to say hello,” I said…"and to tell you what a wonderful son you have.”

They beamed.

* * *

I’m not a huge believer in God. But as I said to Ann later, I was so thankful that on a flight that sat for an hour in a pounding rainstorm…among passengers who sometimes feel a tad hoity-toity about First Class...I was so glad that He (whoever??) put me next to Steven.

And maybe that jackpot I won the night before had something to do with it. I mean, don’t get me wrong…I wouldn’t have behaved any differently, and I believe in the Golden Rule even without attached rewards and incentives. But still. Something to think about.

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