"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Profiles on an Airplane

I schlep my carry-ons down the aisle, looking ahead for my seat.  Twenty-two F, beyond the wing, my left, window.  I am sick of dragging these bags around, but that’s what happens when one’s luggage expands exponentially with the length of the trip.

It’s Thanksgiving Day.  This is the fourth of five flights in a row that began the previous morning in the southern-most city in South America and will end in Anchorage, Alaska.  I think I’m coming down with a cold.  My nose is running, I’m sneezing, and my throat is scratchy.

I see my seat.  There’s a passenger in the middle seat, a young man.  He lifts his head and I see he’s an Arab.  This should be interesting.  I tune in to my inner reactions and think about how isolated from international exposure I am in the small town where I live.

He jumps up immediately when I pause by the row.  “Sorry,” I say as I put one bag in the overhead storage and stumble into my seat.  There’s no other word for it; the structure of airline seats don’t allow for a standing human.

“No problem,” he responds.  We both settle in.

Now what?  Do I watch his demeanor? 

He has a smart phone in his hand.  His thumb flicks through pages.  I am aware that cell phones are used as detonators.  He makes a call, speaking a foreign language.  I understand not a word, but note the lack of inflection in his speech.

His thumb flicks again.  He listens to a news story in English.  I hear enough words to know it’s about the Israelis and Palestinians shooting at each other.  I have been without any U.S. news for two weeks.

What do I do if he displays nervousness?  Make an excuse about the restroom and tell a cabin attendant? 

He promptly goes to sleep.  So do I, my eyes too scratchy to read.   

Three hours later, we approach Sea-Tac from the south, go into a steep right turn and head for the tiny football field I noticed when we flew over it.  Suddenly I see the Space Needle below me.  “OH!” I blurt and grab my camera.  I replay the picture.  Its late afternoon, just right to show the lighting on Seattle’s icon.

My seat mates look at me.  I hold out the camera.  “Wow,” says the Arab man.  “That’s great!” says a young woman beside him, who I learn is from New Zealand.

We land, taxi, and wait. 

We chat.  I tell them where I’ve been and that I’m on the way home.  The Kiwi girl is on her way to visit a friend in Seattle, someone she was seeing in New Zealand.  “Will you be with family tonight?”  I ask the Arab.

“No, with friends,” he says.  “My family is in Dubai.”

The young lady asks him a question about the newscast he’d listened to and he responds, but I can’t hear the answer.

I start fussing with my carry-on and neck pillow.  In Los Angeles, the starting point of this leg, I’d finally figured out how to carry that wretched pillow without dropping it on every airport terminal floor.  This carry-on is like saddle bags for a suitcase.  It separates to drape over the suitcase handle, or zips and snaps together like a satchel to carry by hand separately.

Now the pillow won’t fit between the two halves.  “Help her with that,” prompts the Kiwi.  The young man tries to stuff the neck pillow below the two strap handles and snap the flap that fastens them together.  We push and pull together, laughing.  The three of us are committed to solving this problem.

“Ah, wait,” I say, and then lower the zipper a couple inches.  Presto!  The flap snaps and traps the neck pillow.  It will not commune with the floor in the Sea-Tac terminal.

I look up.  The young Arab man is looking at me with brown eyes full of laughter and kindness, and I am struck by his beautiful countenance.

“I heard you talking about the Israeli/Hamas thing,” I say.  “Has something happened?” 

“Cease fire,” he says.  The moment hangs in the air.  Or is it my over-active imagination?

We stand, struggle into the aisle, and deplane to go our separate ways.


  1. You anticipated that it would be interesting to sit beside an Arab. It sounds like you weren't disappointed, in fact, your interaction was much more than interesting. To me it could be labeled as pleasantly pleasant.

    The closing word, ceasefire, was frosting on the cake. You departed with a layer of hope on your shoulders.

  2. P.S. I can't wait to hear what goodies are stashed in your luggage. Lastly, I hope you're feeling more rested and aren't suffering from the cold you felt was coming on.

  3. Shaddy, that's for your comments on this piece. I have the cold from hell and wasn't sure it made any sense. Glad to find out you understood it. Lots to organize re the Antarctic Journals anf sleeping 12 to 18 hours under the influence of NyQuil doesn't help.

  4. Criminy.... "thanks for your comments."

  5. Good to have you back up and running .. we were getting just a tad concerned about your recovery time .. much joy .. cap and patti in Dallas Forth Worth Texas ..