I saw her as she neared gate 32. Amongst all the harried flyers stressed about their delayed flight, she was different. Far from exasperation, her face carried a sense of peace, bemusement, and lightheartedness which I found refreshing. It didn’t hurt that she was cute.
Group after group boarded the plane. I was to sit near the front of the plane, so I was the last group to be called for boarding. My group finally called, I noticed she was just now getting on as well. I board, find my seat, and notice that she had been behind me all this time only to hear her say, “I believe I’m sitting next to you.”
Terrified, I remained quiet for nearly an hour. Even as I age my shyness remains, much the same way it exuded itself in my youth. There are essentially three socially-acceptable opportunities that one has a chance to engage someone on an airplane: takeoff, beverage distribution, and landing. Takeoff had come and gone, and we were nearing the end of snack time. Heart pounding in my chest, my mind raced to think of a stimulating, yet appropriate opening question.
“Are you stopping in Chicago, or going somewhere else?” I ask.
After a slight pause, surprised I have the ability of producing sound with my vocal cords she responds, “Just stopping in Chicago.”
“Oh, that’s nice,” I reply. “Do you live there?”
“No, just meeting some friends. I live in Boston and this is the furthest I’ve ever been in the Midwest.”
I saw my opportunity and took it. “Are you kidding me?” I ask incredulously.
From there we entered into a lively discussion about the Midwest, where she asked me what there was to do out here – the implications being obvious.
“Oh probably the same things you do out there. What do you do in Boston?” – “Oh sleep.” -- “Yep, you can definitely do that here. Although normally I line-dance whenever I’m not at the rodeo.”
She looks at me in disbelief, and the conversation takes off with all my southern charm and her New England civility. I realized there was a world of difference between her and me, and I also realized I had never talked to someone so seemingly similar but so very different from myself.
When I traveled to Japan I expected to be different. Even in Europe and Australia I had no expectations of having remarkable similarities between the locals and myself. But talking to her, someone who was fresh out of college and had a very professional job like my own, I expected to relate more. The differences quickly became visible as I realized I was more boisterous than her, while she was more well-mannered. She loved the city and the “pubs”; I liked the countryside and Gatorade. Both of us were highly educated and well-traveled, but I appeared to be someone who was posing as an intellectual and world-traveler. She, on the other hand, made it appear that it was as natural for her to fly to Europe as it was for me to drive to Texas.
The conversation ends and I return to my book, spending the remainder of the flight in silence after a rewarding half-hour conversation.
The plane eventually started its descent and I realized that there probably should be no landing talk. My bravado gone, I waited for the plane to land and turned to her and said “Have a good time in Chicago.”
“Have a nice weekend.”
I never caught her name.