Most of the time when I travel I keep pretty quiet. I’m content to look out the window and get lost in my thoughts, music or a book. Occasionally when drunk I get chatty with cab drivers, but that’s about it. I rarely will initiate conversation with my airplace seatmates (“single serving friends”). Somehow in the four legs of travel I had today from Portland, Oregon to Norway, Michigan, I had interesting extended conversations with four very different people.
The cab driver from my house to the airport.
Recently he had a fare where he delivered groceries to a customer at home. Turned out that the customer was his ex-girlfriend from 35 years ago, who he hadn’t seen since. “She looks amazing, aged way better than I have,” he said. They met up a few days later and it went wonderfully. She’s divorced and lives alone with a dog, and he lives alone with his dog. Their next date is this upcoming weekend and they’ll be walking their dogs together. Despite the rain he feels very optimistic about it. I told him it was a meet-cute story from a movie and he considered it for a moment, grinned and said, “Yeah, I guess it kinda is, isn’t it?”
Also: he worked at Tower Records for years and years and was one of the original founders of Portland’s famous Music Millenium.
Guy to my left on my flight from Portland to Minneapolis.
He’s a Portland firefighter about 13 years older than I, married with a couple kids. Former Marine who’s been a firefighter for 22 years. Very friendly, initiated almost all the conversation topics but not to an annoying extent. We chatted about various things (mutual acquaintances, search and rescue, traveling in Europe, industry in the midwest, books we like) for a solid half of the 2 hour and 45 minute flight. He was traveling to Appleton, Wisconsin, where they apparently manufacture most of the nation’s fire trucks.
Early in the flight a stewardess came on the loudspeakers and asked if there was a doctor on board. When no doctor popped up, Mr. Firefighter went to the back of the plane, where a younger guy had passed out and had since recovered. Luckily it wasn’t an emergency and the guy seemed fine, but Mr. Firefighter got hero status with the stewardess for the rest of the flight.
Guy to my right on my flight from Minneapolis to Green Bay.
Once again someone who initiated lots of conversation. He’s a mid-40s-ish guy from the midwest, lives in Montana, and works for a global company that puts coatings on papers (like the wax-type coating on beer boxes to keep them water resistant) and makes tissue and toilet paper soft and/or absorbant. He manage the North and South America division, and last week was in Brazil. Was contemplating visiting a coworker in Paris over the weekend on his was to company HQ in Swizterland, followed by a trip to Finland. This is his regular schedule. Obviously there was no ring on his left hand.
When I said I had gone hang-gliding and white water rafting in the Alps in Switzerland, he knew immediately where I had been. Then he told a tale of a Swiss hotel that banned his company from holding their annual meetings there any longer. Apparently the last time involved the guy from China putting the dude from Korea in a stranglehold, the Argentinian pissing in a plant in the hotel’s lobby, and a Finn taking a camera into the sauna (who was subsequently fired).
This guy also had the remarkable ability to remember every bar and retaurant ever, it seemed. He knew the three worthwhile things to see in the small town where I’m staying, knew the dive bars to check out on the way there, knew a number of restaurants and bars in Portland, and had notable stories from each.
He said his vacation will be at home in Montana this December, during which his phone would be off for the entire month.
Guy driving me from Green Bay to Norway
This one I actually know, since he works for the company that prints our beer labels and who picks me up and works with me every time I come out here. We have 90 miles in the dark to get to BFE Michigan, and always have tales to share.
One of his more notable ones was about his grandma, who lives at an assisted living home and has ever-worsening Alzheimer’s. Over the years she established a tradition for calling family members on their birthday and playing “Happy Birthday” on one of her harmonicas. Apparently the G harmonica was the best for this. On the day he and some family were visiting her recently it was a faraway grandson’s birthday, so she asked for the family to get her G harmonica from her “bag of harmonicas” so she could call and play it for him. They couldn’t find it anywhere in her sparse, 1 bedroom apartment. After extended searching she reached in her shirt and found it in her bra. She had put it there that morning so it would be handy for that evening’s phone call. She also had a BB gun hidden in her underwear drawer, and gave it to her son claiming she “didn’t need it anymore.”
Moral of the story
Sometimes popping out of your personal reverie and talking to someone new is totally worth it.