I’m writing this week’s column seated squarely between a quiet lady who desperately wants to get some sleep and the window of a small airplane, which does not have economy seats ergonomically designed to rest any part of a person’s head.
With a notepad in hand, my intention was to write about one of the stories you’ll find on our front page about the ever-growing lack of privacy in our lives. Maybe I’ll save that for a later date, because as I walked into the airport earlier this week, something interesting struck me as I began observing the people crowded into Houston’s most crowded airport.
When I take multi-day trips, it seems smart to carry a little cash, and after I cleared security, I walked to the nearest ATM, which happened to be occupied by a man in a fluorescent yellow jacket. I assumed he spent most of his day standing on a runway with an orange stick in his hand, waving planes and luggage carts and fuel trucks to their destinations.
I’m not sure if this yellow-jacketed man had a funds problem or a card problem, but his face was distraught as he hunched over the automated cash dispenser. This lasted a few more minutes, with a few more buttons pressed. Finally, he looked over his shoulder, had a smile on his face, and walked away with a few bills in his hand.
Next I stopped for a quick breakfast and ended up seated next to a bald man, probably 67, who seemed to enjoy his sausage and egg biscuit as much as a ribeye aged for weeks. He wasn’t reading anything, wasn’t talking on his phone and didn’t appear to be waiting for anyone to join him. He just had his biscuit and the most pleasant face I saw that morning.
I arrived at my gate and our plane hadn’t yet arrived. A notification on my phone said it was coming from Hartford, Conn., and they were 11 minutes late landing. The plane did land, and the passengers began filing off, one by one, each indistinguishable because all people who de-board planes have the same looks on their faces. They walk with an air of importance because they’re going somewhere. And they are relieved because they safely descended from 30,000 feet in a metal container.
Then an older fellow, probably close to 80, waddled out of the gate, arms waving and anger on his face. His wife seemed timid through the ordeal, but pops was giving a good tongue lashing to the poor lady whose only job is to get one group of people off a plane and another group on it.
As he finished his animated mumbles at her, he and his meek wife darted straight to the LED board to search for their next flight. He, like everyone else on that plane, was important because he needed to be somewhere.
I stood in line waiting to board and a nice fellow, about my age, struck up a conversation about traveling for business. He wanted to know how many nights’ worth of clothes I had fit in my carry-on bag. Three. He had fit the same amount in his, including an extra golf outfit because he was playing with a customer the next day.
He told me what seemed like an oft-repeated story about United and its recent debacles. He lives in The Woodlands and plays soccer with a couple of pilots. They were embarrassed about the whole ordeal, and this fellow seemed proud to know it.
There was a man behind me who used the entire amount of oxygen allocated for this flight, suffocating his unsuspecting seatmate. He talked for 119 of the 123 minutes we spent in the air, proudly telling stories about how he travels from coast to coast flying vintage fighter planes in air shows.
Unprompted, he gave exhausting details about every element of the old plane’s engines. He explained each of the basic flight instruments.
“We don’t have computers on those things,” he said.
He talked about his mother, who lives in a suburb of Charlotte and how he likes flying shows on the East Coast because he gets to sleep on his mother’s couch and catch up with family.
Two guys sat in front of me and both read books – one some sort of spy novel, the other a biography. The man on the left wore a U.S. Army hat and fire-emblazoned suspenders. The man on the right, whose biography lured him to sleep, donned a NYPD hat that covered the side of his face from the sun.
You know what I didn’t see anywhere, in my entire day of travel? I didn’t notice any Republicans. Didn’t see any Democrats, either. I didn’t see anyone talking – even reading – about the FBI or the President or Congress or investigations. Didn’t hear a word about the Russians or impeachment or White House leaks.
I saw a guy who was worried he couldn’t get a few bucks from the ATM.
I saw a man who just seemed happy to be eating a biscuit.
I saw an older couple that just wanted to get somewhere, probably to visit their grandkids.
I talked to a guy who loved telling stories about his pilot neighbors.
I heard a guy who only cared about his love for vintage airplanes and visiting his mother.
I saw two guys proud of their country with their Army and NYPD hats.
Oh, and I saw a lady who just needed a little sleep.
If you turn on any source of information these days, whether it’s your favorite comedian or your best friend on social media, you can’t avoid the barrage of negativity sprouting from mass media.
But when that stuff isn’t shoved down our eyes and ears, as it isn’t on most airplanes, you get a better sense of what people really care about. Their money, food, friends and family. Maybe this disgust with our country and her leaders isn’t as important as the politicians and broadcasters want us to believe.
It was the best flight I’ve taken in years.