I had pre-booked my American Airlines seat for the aisle seat, row 17, seat D. When I arrived at it, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that I was seated next to an attractive woman in her thirties in middle seat E. She was reading a fashion magazine, and dressed in a funky blue and white striped cotton dress. I imagined her to be a model travelling to Nashville to star in a country music video.
“I should strike up a conversation with her,” I thought.
This was surely a bright spot in what was the worst scheduled flight of my life – leaving LAX at 11PM, a stopover in Nashville at 4AM, and arriving at LGA at 9AM. American AAdvantage Frequent Flier Program, what has become of you? Was this the only available flight that I can take on the most travelled route in your system, Los Angeles to New York? Did you give away too many free miles, and now, after years of excess, are you punishing your own customers?
I glanced over to see if the woman in seat E was wearing a ring. She was not.
The window seat to her left, seat F, was for now, empty. Across the center aisle, there were another three seats in the row. In window seat A was a young college male college student. In middle seat B, was his girlfriend. In aisle seat C, directly across from mine, sat a gentleman with a grey beard.
The center aisle was busy with boarding passengers. An older woman with dyed-red hair appeared from nowhere.
“Are you here alone?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said.
“My husband and I were split up into different rows,” she sputtered, pointing to the bearded gentleman across the center aisle. “There were no seats together,”
The bearded man smiled at me, shyly.
“I have an aisle seat a few rows backs,” continued the wife. “Would you mind if we switched so I can be closer to my husband? It’s another aisle seat. It shouldn’t make any difference to you.”
I glanced over at the beautiful woman to my left. She was reading some article in her fashion magazine about “Pleasing Your Man in Bed.” I did NOT want to move my seat. No, not at all.
The wife hovered over me and I started to cave.
“Let’s be honest,” I thought. “You’re never going to talk to this beautiful woman sitting next to you. What does it really matter where you sit?”
“Fine,” I told the wife. “I’ll switch with you.”
“Thank you so much! You’re so nice!” she said.
I grabbed my black Everlast carry-on bag from overhead, took one more quick glance at the beautiful woman, and retreated to the back of the plane, passing the restless, angry, bitter, sleepy coach travelers, all vainly struggling to shove their too-large carry-ons into the too-small overhead compartments.
It wasn’t until I reached my new seat that I understand my horrible, terrible mistake. I had just traded in my perfect aisle seat next to the hottest woman on the flight for an aisle seat in the back, one row in front of the bathroom. My seatmate was a sweaty, overweight man, barely able to contain his hefty body in his narrow seat.
“How ya doin’?” he asked in a Southern accent. His arm completely extended over the common arm rest and his elbow practically poked me in the ribs.
“I’m Bob!” he said.
Let me be perfectly clear. I don’t believe that larger-sized people should be penalized for their weight, or be forced to pay for two seats on an airplane. No, the villain is the airline industry. Airline seats are designed to fit twelve year old Japanese girls, forcing Americans to buy business class. I’m thin, and I can hardly fit comfortably in my coach seat. And God help me if the person in front of me slides his seat back. Flying coach today is reminiscent of how my poor European immigrant family came to this country by ship in 1917.
Bob was not only a big man. He was a garrulous Southerner, way too friendly for my East Coast self.
“You flying home?” he asked, eating some peanuts he had hidden in his pocket. Bob was about fifty, with thinning black hair and a tiny nose like a rabbit.
“Yeah,” I said, limiting myself to one syllable.
“Me too,” he said. “Just came to LA to attend my Grandma’s birthday party at the nursing home by my sister’s house in Reseda. Of course, my sister said it wasn’t necessary for me to come. But I told her, this is my beloved grandma too! I’m coming faster than a Navy private in a hooker’s hooch!”
I reached into my lime green khakis and took out my iPhone. I made believe that I was sending important messages back to my office. In truth, I was on Twitter, asking for advice on how to survive this flight.
I stood up to stretch, and looked over at my old God-given seat, the one that I had reserved weeks earlier, and was now occupied by the red-haired woman.
There was now a passenger in row 17, seat A, the window seat next to the beautiful woman with the fashion magazine. He was a strong-jawed man with a cowboy hat. He was confidently chatting it up with her. I could hear her laughing.
“I see you’re using one of those new phones,” said Bob, jolting me out of my thoughts. “You should save the battery until the flight.”
“I’ll be OK,” I said.
“Are you sure?” he replied. “I work as a trucker. So recently, I’m driving with my buddy, Duke, who is always playing these games on his phone. One day, he’s playing so much that his battery runs out. And it just happens that on that day, his wife calls him and can’t reach him, so she gets all freaked out, thinking the truck crashed and he got killed. So when we get back home, his wife is waiting for him, and whoa, did she kick his ass that night!”
“Uh, yeah, those mobile games are pretty popular,” I said, not knowing what else to say.
“You play these games on the phone?” he asked.
“Not really. I mostly read stuff on the phone.”
“Yeah. I like reading. You ever read “In Cold Blood?”
“No, but I know what it is. I saw the movie.”
“Read the book.”
“I’ll check it out,” I said, hoping that this conversation was reaching the end.
I closed my eyes, and faked that I was asleep. The plane departed LAX. Bob really fell asleep, his head resting on my shoulder.
“Why am I such a sucker?” I asked myself as we flew over Nevada. “Why did I switch my perfectly good seat for this awful one? Sure, I was being nice. But “nice” is now the biggest insult in the word, according to some article I recently read, worse being called an asshole. At least an asshole “knows what he wants. Soon, the beautiful woman and the cowboy will be sneaking off back here, into the bathroom together, having mile high sex, and I’ll be hearing it all from my seat! And if I wasn’t such a fool, that could have been ME! Instead, I am stuck with… Bob.”
Bob woke up from his nap, drooling on my shirt. He saw that I was awake, and was in a talkative mood.
“Hey, where in Nashville do you live?”
“I live in New York. I’m just stopping over in Nashville.”
“Oh. New York. New York. If you can’t make it there, you can’t make it anywhere. Except it is a bad place to drive a truck.”
I closed my eyes and faked sleeping for a second time.
We landed in Nashville. The moment the light flashed green, I was up, the seatbelt flying open. I grabbed my black Everlast carry-on bag from the overhead compartment.
“See ya, “ I told Bob, and ran like hell, pushing aside old and pregnant women to exit first.
I had ninety minutes to kill in the Nashville airport, so I did a little exploring. It was a nice airport, making LGA look like a Greyhound terminal. It was clean, bright, and country music stars like Randy Travis greeted you on the loudspeaker, suggesting you visit the local tourist spots, like the zoo.
I thought about my experience with Bob on the plane, and how I frequently sabotage my own potential. I was about to attend a blogging conference in a few days. I promised myself not to make the same mistake that I just did on the plane when I attended this conference. I needed to focus on networking with the right people, those who can get me work, success, or advancement, the beautiful and talented artists and entrepreneurs of the world — not the Trucker Bobs of the world, those who offer me nothing but useless conversation, wasting my precious time. If the beautiful woman on the plane symbolized success and power, Trucker Bob represented despair.
There was an announcement on the speaker system, interrupting Shania Twain talking about Nashville’s famous music clubs. It was a voice from American Airlines.
“Would the passenger who just flew in from Los Angeles, flight 17, and who has the black Everlast carry-on bag, please come to Gate 2. You have the wrong bag.”
I looked down at my bag. This WAS my bag. Or at least I thought so, until I opened it. Inside, I found an assortment of XL tank-tops, dirty crew socks, a razor, and a copy of “In Cold Blood.”
When I arrived at Gate 2, I saw Bob standing with an American Airlines attendant. I handed him his bag.
“I’m so sorry,” I said, blushing, worried that Bob would think I stole his bag. “Who would guess that we would have identical carry-on bags?”
“No problem,” he laughed, smiling goofily. “Honest mistake.”
The attendant said my bag was already in the lost and found. I should wait there while she retrieved my bag. Bob remained behind, standing at my side.
“You don’t have to wait for me,” I told Bob.
“No problem,” he said. “I just want to make sure you get your bag, like I got mine.”
“Thank you,” I replied.
“It’s such a weird mistake,” I said, trying to be friendly.
“Yeah, like one of those Alfred Hitchcock films where there are switched suitcases, and one of them is from a spy.”
“Exactly!” I laughed, surprised that Bob knew that reference. “Do you like Hitchcock films?”
“Of course,” he said, and told me his favorites. “Rear Window. Strangers on a Train. Psycho.”
“Which is the movie with the mixed up suitcases?” I asked, not remembering.
“North by Northwest?” he asked.
“No, definitely not,” I said. “I’m not even sure it happened in a Hitchcock film. Maybe we are thinking of Charade, which wasn’t by Hitchcock.”
I glanced at the overhead clock to make sure I was doing OK with time. I still had 45 minutes.
“Hey, you want to grab a cup of coffee and apple fritter before you take off for New York?” asked Bob. “I know a good place in the terminal.”
Bob and I went to have a cup of coffee and apple fritter.
“Why’d you take such a bad flight to New York? Nashville at 4AM?” he asked, munching on his treat.
“Stupid American Airlines frequent flier program. This was the only flight I can get.”
He understood. It was the same reason he was taking the flight.
“I can’t believe how bad American Airlines has become,” said Bob. “They used to be the best!”
“The reason I still fly American is that my father would ONLY take American Airlines when he flew. He thought they were a class act.”
“We’re American Airlines…. Doing what we do best.”
We both sang the long-running commercial jingle from American Airlines. We laughed. We bonded by mocking American Airlines, and how far they’ve fallen, suggesting that their only hope was to be bought by some Chinese airline. We talked about our fathers. I learned that Bob was divorced in 2000. I promised him that I would read “In Cold Blood.” I showed him how to use Twitter.
It was the best forty-five minutes I’ve ever had in the Nashville airport.