The plane from Brunswick, Georgia to Atlanta held about thirty people. My seatmate was the last passenger to board, huffing and puffing to our row. A big fellow, taking his seat and a good slice of mine. Imagine Bobby Knight in a baseball cap, hoodie and bad jeans, smelling not just a little campy. His briefcase was open with everything spilling out. He juggled two cell phones and muttered in a southern accent so complicated and drawn I recognized one word out of four. Hearing the word bullets I decided to focus.
As he restuffed his laptop and book and files and jacket and snacks he sighed, “Good Lord, thought I’d never make this flight. I been forever in that security line explaining that I didn’t bring no gun. I bought a new one on my last trip and left it at home but I forgot about the forty rounds of ammo in my briefcase. No big deal. Nothin’ they oughta be worried about or holding this line up for.”
His air conditioning vent didn’t work. He fussed with it a good while as he told about his job as a rep for the American division of a Japanese motor company. He goes to manufacturing plants to advise them how to increase efficiency in their energy consumption. “They don’t never believe me at first, that turning down the thermostats by three degrees in one factory will save sixty thousand dollars an hour. Sixty thousand an hour! And they’ll still raise the price of cars and blame in on their fuel costs!” He shook his head and sighed again, “Lord have mercy am I tired. I haven’t been off the clock in four and a half days,”
When our plane stalled on the tarmac I was thrilled to have longer to listen to him and he did not disappoint. He got home around ten the night before and met friends at a bar to celebrate his upcoming birthday. Two hours into the party he got an email from his boss that he has to be in Albuquerque the following afternoon. He celebrated until 4 am, gave the new gun to his friends and drove back to the airport.
He showed me pictures of himself at Bar 26, an Arizona cattle ranch once owned by John Wayne who bequeathed it to the Apache-Navajo Nations who now run it. “A few times a year the two nations go to war against each other over various matters, the casinos and stuff, which is bad because cain’t nobody can buy beer until the council meetings settle the war. Them Indians get tipsy and they’ll start a fight with a light post don’t you know.”
I promise I am not making this up.
Six months ago he found weed in his seventeen year old’s dresser drawer. Talking it over, his son explained that marijuana is a superior treatment for his ADD than traditional medication. “I told him, ‘yer too young and it’s illegal.’ So we struck ourselves a deal. If he could do as well on his schoolwork with weed as with them pills, I’d allow it. So three months went by and he was fine. Three more and if I ain’t sittin’ here, that boy is just doin’ beautifully. So I told him, ‘Well then son, I ain’t gonna condone it but I ain’t goin’ harass you about it neither. Just know this, don’t go eatin’ more athis than you can swaller. You get caught and it’s on yer record. No getting a job as a game warden,’ that’s his dream ya see, ‘cause they won’t be any state jobs for ya, ever.’ All ‘n all he seems to be doin’ pretty well.”
I folded my hands in grateful prayer for scoring him next to me.
The flight attendant came by and he asked for some tomata juice. As she went to fetch it he said, “I’ve brushed my teeth three times but can still smell the liquor? Mam, you mind if I ask? Can you smell it on me?” I hedged the truth slightly and say, “Hmmm, yeah it’s definitely there.” He said, “I’ll be meetin’ my boss in Atlanta. Now he’s a heavy drinker himself, but the fact is I’ve been up all night and I worry it might show on me a little more.” He drank the juice then dug something out of his pocket, a tobacco tin. Shifting his back to me he stuffed his lip full. He turned back, flakes falling everywhere but with his original problem solved.
Around this time he dropped his cell phone and it bounced under the seats behind us, occupied by two boys watching cartoons on an ipad. They chased down his phone and he thanked them, offering to buy them drinks at the Atlanta airport. I cheerfully noted that they are both pre-schoolers which reminded him of a family trip to Vegas in which his young nieces were accidently served non-virgin daiquiris. He agreed not to call in the law in exchange for an unlimited free bar tab the rest of their stay.
Noticing my book I learned he’s also a reader. His all time favorite is Moby Dick and keeps the unabridged version on his phone so he can read it anytime anywhere. “But mostly I read professional articles, tryin’ to keep up with the industry don’t ya know.”
The man on my next flight had a nice watch and good manners. We nodded but didn’t speak. I wished Johnny had been going to Indianapolis instead of Albuquerque but he won’t be in Indiana until February. One of his factories is in Lafayette. I wish the flight had been longer. I wish I could remember more that he said. He was as entertaining a person as I have ever met. Not a character in a Clyde Edgerton novel but a living, breathing, talking human being. A dad, a drinker and a reader of great literature. Being his next door neighbor is likely not as fun as being his seatmate on a 38 minute flight but I’m glad he was mine that one day. Not many folks share their hearts and minds so freely, so fearlessly, so simply themselves wherever they go.
It’s good to be home and welcome the winter. I pray you are keeping warm and well. ~peace & prayers, pastor annette