Sometimes the travel gods smile upon me, other times they smite me.
Yesterday, they were playing the prankster.
I was arrived at the Kansas City airport in time to stand by on an earlier flight to Chicago, where I was connecting to Beautiful KnoxVegas. With a gentle nudge from the travel gods, I made the flight and when I got to Chicago I started getting United Airlines e-mail updates on the flight I was supposed to be on. It was delayed. Again. And again. And again. Sadly for the poor people who didn’t get the earlier flight, the 4 p.m. KC to Chicago plane didn’t leave till 10:21 KC time, more than six hours late. I definitely would have missed my connection, and this surreal experience.
While I was milling about the concourse waiting for the Knoxville flight, I saw a lanky guy walking around looking a tad confused. I had him pegged for a Tennessee boy through and through, and on the way out to the plane I chuckled when he was amazed that we were walking across the tarmac to climb into the 50 seat Canadair Regional Jet.
“I’ve never been on one this small,” he said, clearly nervous.
I tried to be reassuring. “They’re good little jets,” I told him. “I fly them all the time.” But i was thinking: “I hope this 6-foot-6 beanpole isn’t sitting next to me …
He wasn’t. He was one row head of me, across the aisle. And I was in the 13th row, right next to the pisser. Several other large people lumbered aboard. The largest ended up sitting right in front of me. And then Muscle Man boarded … and sat down in the window seat right next to me. Shit.
Turns out Lanky Dude was really from the Bay Area and was making his first trip East of the Mississippi to visit his sister in Oak Ridge. He looked at Muscle Man and asked him if he played for the Chicago Bulls, despite the fact he was “only” about six foot tall. But the dude was cut. He laughed and said no. Rather than putting on my iPod to block out all human interaction, though, I kept the ear buds holstered. It was just a hunch.
We ended up having one of the most fun and entertaining hour-and-a-half flights I’ve been on. It started when the flight attendant looked at our two rows sympathetically, We were a refuge for the big, the fat, the muscular and the tall. All the biggest people on the plane were in our two rows at the back of the aircraft, which set off a round of jokes.
Lanky Dude was kind of dorky, but he was a good guy. The rest of us live in Tennessee, so we started giving him grief about what to expect. The moonshine. Catching catfish by hand. Neyland Stadium.
Muscle guy apparently played college ball for a small school in Mississippi, which mightily impressed Lanky Dude (and me, for that matter). We spent the entire flight cutting up and joking with the flight attendant. I even bought Muscle Guy a beer. The big guy in front of me talked about his world travels, including charity work he’d done in Haiti. He’s a native Knoxvillian, so he had plenty of inside info for Lanky Dude, including inside info on grits and sweet tea.
When we landed, Muscle Guy gave Lanky Dude his number and told him to call if he wanted to go out and catch some catfish by hand. We’d all bonded in that stupid little tin can. It was one of those sublime experiences that makes travel worthwhile.
As we came out of the concourse, Lanky Dude’s sister was there to greet him. I told him to have fun in Tennessee while he sauntered up to his sister like the Scarecrow dancing down the Yellow Brick Road. I hope he has fun on his Tennessee sojourn. The image of this talk, skinny white geek and the muscular African American dude wading in Watts Bar Lake stalking catfish won’t leave my mind …