This week, I was a bad blogger. 😦 But this was because of a last-minute business trip and a crazy week (I know – excuses, excuses). I often travel for business and I’ve found that sometimes, I have pretty good conversations with strangers that sit next to me on planes. So, I decided to catalogue one of them. Perhaps I’ll write more of them…though I must warn you, some of it has been fictionalized to protect the innocent and of course, to amuse me. So let’s just call this creatively fictionalized non-fiction. 😉
To Dallas I Go
I sit in the middle seat of a cramped back row on an airplane bound for Dallas. My body is sandwiched between a prim southern belle and a man who looks in desperate need of a shower.
He fidgets in his seat and my eyes spot the signs of a person that does not like to travel. What makes it so easy? Like senses like. I don’t like to travel, but by some great joke of the universe, I’ve landed a good job that requires me to travel. Unlike the man beside me, I’ve travelled enough to lose the fidgeting, though clearly not enough to land me glorious upgradable status. My boss is in the front of the plane right now and oh, how I dream of the day when my ass will grace a wide seat of first class. The promised land, where I can sip anything from a champagne flute and carelessly laugh as the unwashed masses (my seat-mate smells) of economy class wait for their beverage service. But, I digress.
The fidgeting beside me stops and a string of curses erupt from my seat-mate’s mustache framed mouth. I glance at him, just as he reaches to the ground beneath the seat in front of him.
“Damn drink,” he mutters. “Sorry ma’am.” As he reaches further to clean his spilled drink, he leans down and toward me, his head only inches from my lap. The book in my hands has no chance of being read now as several sly comments spin in my mind. I usually don’t try to make conversation with a man whose head is in my lap, but hey, rules are made to be broken.
“Do you need help?” I ask, not able to withhold the laugh that bubbles from my mouth. I can see the Southern belle from the corner of my eye as she shakes her head in disdain.
“No, I almost got it.” He pops up mere seconds later, face red and drink firmly in hand.
“Great,” I say and watch as he returns to fidgeting. “Are you nervous?”
“Yeah. I, uh, don’t like to fly much.”
“Not many people do.”
“Well, this is my third flight. Just coming back from overseas.”
I nod my head, “Is Dallas home for you?”
“Yep. Texas born and bred.”
I can’t suppress a grin. I’ve only heard that in cheesy movies and TV shows. “Well, you’re nearly there.” By then the flight crew has begun making their announcements.
I turn to my routine for takeoff. I close my eyes and breathe, feeling the rush of the plane’s wheels against the runway and the nose of the plan tipping up. I try to pinpoint the moment the rear wheels leave the ground and join the others in the air. The engine roars in my ear, I am after all in the status-lacking seats, and I try not to think of the phantom mechanical noises beneath my feet. I open my eyes when I feel the plane level off, just shortly before the ding that signals your ability to get up and use the bathroom.
Then, I pull out my book. To the people who don’t travel very often: this is the universal sign of “I don’t want to talk.” Please, don’t take this as a personal affront. It’s not you, I’m sure you’re lovely. It’s me – the book I’m reading may be very good, or I like to occupy my brain while not disturbing others, or I want some down time during my trip. It could be any or all of the above. I’m told by more seasoned business travelers that this is a truth universally acknowledged in first class. But, it’s a crapshoot in coach. My seat-mates have paperback novels, so for almost an hour I’m in the clear. Then the fidgeting begins again.
“What kind of book is that?” The unshaven man asks.
I turn the book around to glance at the cover. There’s just a little title on the cover, not two people on the brink of orgasm as most romance novels love to portray.
“Mystery novel.” Blatant lie, but to tell a strange man on a plane that you read smut is akin to poking a bear. A bear that you’re then stuck next to for what will feel like an eternity.
He nods his head. “Western,” he shows me the cover of his book – a sunset on landscape populated by cacti and hazy mountains in the distance.
“Cool,” my fingers reopen my book to the page is was reading, the juicy part is unfolding. The dangerously sexy hero hooks his finger under the chin of the innocent damsel and is bringing his lips to hers when –
“Why are you going to Dallas?” He asks.
“Business trip.” Just the words spring up anxiety about the day ahead.
“All by yourself?”
I explain to him that my boss is also aboard, but several rows up in first class.
“How old are you?”
Some women are offended by this question, but I’m not one of them. At least, not yet. I tell him my age and his face brightens, “I have two daughters about your age. I’ve got pictures in here somewhere.” He pulls out an older cellphone, “but I forget how this damn thing works.”
He hands it to me. I had a phone like this a little while ago and after a bit of memory jogging, I access his pictures.
“There they are,” he points to a picture of two young women smiling back at us. Their faces are pressed close together, as they tried to fit into the phone’s small viewfinder, Their smiles are deep and reach their matching brown eyes.
“They’re beautiful,” I smile and hand the phone back to him. He leans over me to show the Southern belle.
“Charming,” she says and bares a grin that consists of perfectly rounded teeth. “I just had a baby girl.”
Regardless of a fairly recent birthing experience, her stomach shows no bulge over the pink fitted shirt she wears. I eye my own pre-children muffin top, which has begun to sprout slightly over my dress pants.
Damn gluttonous body.
I lament for a minute before grabbing a little snack that I’ve stashed in my bag. Another drawback to business trips are the unreliable meals. During other trips, I’ve worked 14 hour days in remote hotel rooms in remote locations, without a rental car, and went to bed without dinner. As a result of these prior experiences, I am now part squirrel – constantly collecting snacks in case my workload deems me to be too busy to eat.
I pull a chocolate chip cookie out of my bag. The Southern belle looks away, but not before a gleam of ravenous hunger twinkles in her eye. The chocolate chips of the first bite melt on my tongue and my body sighs with happiness. Life is too short to forbid yourself treats, small muffin top or not.
“My husband wants to try for a boy,” she says as she leans over me to chat with the Texan. I decide that he looks like a Jake, with his scruff of a beard, mustache, and blue jeans. She looks like an Elizabeth, all pretty and put together.
“What do you think is harder to raise, boys or girls?” Elizabeth asks Jake.
There is a tentative pause, then Jake answers, “girls are much harder to raise.”
I barely suppress an eye roll. How many times have I heard that from other parents? The usual response when querying them as to why girls are more difficult to raise stems from sex. Countless mothers have leered at me, “with a son you only have to worry about one boy. But with a girl, you have to worry about all the boys.” Sigh. Bitches.
As a woman, I’m not going to pretend that sex isn’t a worry for parents of teenage girls. I’m also not going to deny a sense of relief after graduating college without an accident. Regardless of all this, I asked Jake why. Call me a glutton for punishment, or also chocolate chip cookies, since I shoved one in my mouth as Jake answered.
“Well,” he said, “girls are harder to raise right. I grew up with so many women that depended on their man. But when my wife and me had two little girls, I didn’t want them to have to depend on their husbands. This way they won’t get stuck with someone like me.” He let out a little snort of laughter and winked at me.
“So, I taught my girls how to fix things around the house, how to balance a checkbook and change a tire. I made them go to college to major in something useful.” His voice trailed off and smiled to himself. “They’re both nurses.”
My smile back to him is genuine. “Well, I think you raised them right.”
He laughed. “I usually don’t tell people this, but they even make more money than their husbands.”
This deepens my smile, “even better.”
Later, when we’ve landed and the line of people to disembark chokes the plane’s aisles, I turn to him to say goodbye. He grabs my hand in his and gives me a firm handshake. His hands are not like the soft, artisan hands of the men that occupy my office, they are wide and well calloused.
His crinkled blue eyes pull my gaze from his hands, as he meets me in an honest fatherly gaze. “Good luck on your business trip.”
“Thanks,” I smile when I remember the pride in his eyes as he talked about his girls, and I remind myself to call my parents when I get off the plane. “Welcome home.”