I took my first big plane ride when I was about 10. The trip was pretty exciting. I went to see my 2 aunts who lived on the West Coast at the time. We spent the first part of the trip in Northern California and then drove to Southern California. On the way out, I met my first vegetarian. She was sitting next to me on the plane and had long, straight brown hair and wore nice silver jewelry. She told me her cat was also vegetarian, which both surprised and confused me.
My N. California aunt lived in a tiny house out in the woods, quilted, drove a pick up truck and was a volunteer EMS attendant. She had a giant sheep dog and some kind of woven wall hanging that she had made out of the hair collected in the dog’s hairbrush. My mother had allowed me to take the family camera with me, warning that I only had 24 photos to take during the trip, and that I needed to conserve them for the whole week. My N. California aunt, however, said snap away. Experiences only happen once, and you can always buy more film. In Southern California, I got my first glimpse of palm trees and freeways and personalized license plates. My S. California aunt drew out my horoscope for me, using the rainbow of Bic markers that she kept hooked in a row on the outside pocket of her big purse.
Since then I’ve spent a fair share of my waking and sleeping hours sitting on planes, traveling to new places and experiences.
The first few minutes of getting on the plane are always a gamble. There are any number of things you might be in for during that long haul. You might get 8 hours of uninterrupted thinking, sleeping, reading, music listening and film watching, or you might get a do-gooder, someone with bad breath, or an unruly child. There is always the dim hope that the person who ends up next to you might be interesting and attractive.
Once, on the way to Nigeria, I was sitting there in the middle row of seats, checking out the people streaming in on the right-hand side of the plane, deciding who I hoped would sit next to me. While I was distracting myself with that, a Nigerian guy slipped into the seat next to me from the left. He was decked out in a baseball hat, mini dreads and two fancy phones. And he was hot. He immediately started in, using his phone as a prop to strike up a conversation.
In a bizarre time capsule, we spent the plane ride talking, holding hands, drinking plane wine and watching movies together. I kept hoping my colleague, seated a few rows ahead of us, wouldn’t wake up from her Ambien and wine-induced slumber and notice. I wondered what the hell I was doing. The plane landed early morning and we exchanged numbers. He promised he’d call me later in the week. I said it would be difficult to see him as I’d be out of the city. We went to baggage claim and he hugged me goodbye, a bit intensely. My colleague gave me a strange look, raising her eyebrows. Argh.
He called me a couple times in Nigeria but I couldn’t really talk. Months later on Christmas Eve at an extended family gathering in the Midwest, with relatives I barely ever see, my phone rang and I let it go to voice mail. I checked it later, but didn’t call him back.
What happens on the plane stays on the plane.