I had an early morning nonstop out of Raleigh Durham having had only a couple hours of sleep the night before. I thanked God once again for getting a random TSA PreCheck boarding pass. It was the end of the New Year’s weekend and even at 5 AM the terminal was already packed. Once I had glided through security, boarded, and nestled into my A6 window seat, I pulled down the window shade (though it was still a bit dark outside, I knew it would soon be bright and light), turned down the fan, fastened my seatbelt, rolled my winter jacket up into its hood to make a tidy pillow, wrapped my neck scarf over my head to shut out as much light as possible, propped my “pillow” between the wall and my sleepy head, closed my eyes, and prayed for a good 40 winks during the 4-plus hour flight to L.A. I would be heading straight from LAX to my office in Bakersfield, 115 miles north and a 2 hour drive. I needed all the shut eye I could muster!
Being thus engaged, I was nearly oblivious to the two individuals who took the center and aisle seats next to me. The first was Aisle Seat, an African American gentleman. I imagined he was in the music business.
My husband and I enjoy doing this sometimes when sitting at a restaurant, or any public place, spotting passersby for whatever reason, picking up on small details, and creating stories of their lives. Maybe it’s from watching all the Bourne movies far too many times.
So, as I peeked through the mesh of my scarf and eyed him for a moment, this is what I saw… someone in the music business, probably not a musician but maybe a recording engineer or something like that. Maybe flying back to work in L.A. after visiting family in NC, as I was. He didn’t look at me, but perhaps that’s because he had already noted the turbaned woman covered in a coat with a scarf draped over her face leaning her head against the window, and come to some conclusions of his own.
While I continued to doze off, Center Seat came. Thank God he wasn’t too wide or too long legged, so there would be no negotiation of legroom. New blue jeans. White guy, Vibed as younger than Mr. Aisle Seat. As he bent over to wrestle with his belongings, trying to get a small duffel under the seat, I noted his buzz cut. For some reason that made me think of Vanilla Ice. But I ruled out rap artist because, as he seemed to be taking a rather long time with his carryon items, it became apparent he was not an experienced traveler, and, of course, someone in the music business would have been on a plane lots of times. That’s as far as his story got, as my true goal was to nod off, which I must have done not too long after take off.
About an hour and a half later I was surprised to hear the Captain over the loudspeaker announcing we’d be landing at LAX in 23 minutes. 23 minutes!? Praise be! I instantly calculated I must have gotten at least 3 hours sleep, which is pretty awesome for someone who never gets much sleep on a plane. I perked up and opened the window next to me to let in some sunshine. Sure enough, there was Southern California below me, the vastness of L.A. stretching in all directions. Far to the left was what I assumed was Long Beach Harbor, no, probably San Pedro. Mr. Center Seat immediately leaned over to look out the window, “Wow! I’ve never seen California before!” he exclaimed with a not quite North Carolinian accent.
I pushed back against my seat so he could see better. “Really? Right over there is the Pacific Ocean!” I replied.
“The Pacific Ocean! That is cool. You know, as a matter of fact,” said Mr. Center Seat, “this is my first time ever leaving Virginia! I’ve lived there my whole life until now.” He peered out the window like a kid looking in the window of a candy store. Even his next remark, “Wow everything looks a lot browner than I thought it would,” did not diminish his enthusiasm.
I saw him in a different light, now that I was actually awake and we’d engaged in conversation for a moment or two. He reminded me of a little boy meeting Mickey Mouse at Disneyland. Innocent joy and wonderment. “What brings you out here?” I asked.
“I enlisted last month and I’m here to report for training,” he said with a grin. I congratulated him on his choice to serve and pointed out a few landmarks to him as we drew closer to landing. “That’s Catalina Island way out there, it’s about 26 miles across the sea. And there, that hill that’s closer in? That’s called the Palos Verdes peninsula.” I could see Torrance Beach all the way to Malaga Cove, where I used to hang out in the summer during my teen years. In a moment we were on the ground.
“I hope you have some free time before you have to report,” I said, “so you have a chance to enjoy the beach and see some of the sites.”
“Oh, no,” he said, “A couple of my buddies came yesterday and they did that. But the bus is picking me up right here!” His face literally glowed. All I saw was innocence. He vibed like a really good kid.
The story started forming as we pulled up to the gate… I’ll bet he played football in high school. No, no, more likely baseball. He seems too nice and rosy cheeked to be a brute out on the playing field. But, I could see him hitting a homer and running the bases with that same bright smile on his face.
Mr. Aisle Seat was already moving up the aisle, but Mr. Center Seat was once again wrangling with his duffel. He hadn’t said so, but I realized this was likely his first time on a plane.
Then he pulled my carryon down from the overhead for me and placed it on his now empty seat. As I began to get up, he stepped back and let me exit before him. I thanked him and wished him well. I truly meant it. “Thank you M’am!” he said.