Jun 23 | TRAVEL BEYOND

A Case for Airplane Convos

I started to suspect I was an introvert when I began to notice how little patience I had for idle chatter, small talk if you will. In some instances it’s “polite,” I know, but I’m pretty sure it was an extrovert who made that rule.

I’m also a freelancer. I keep odd hours and usually opt to make the most out of a couple of hours in the air by getting ahead of work before I land. You never know what’s going to happen when you hit the ground in Latin America (the place I go most often).

It’s because of these two parts of my identity that I quickly make moves to shut down any potential conversations as soon as I’m on the plane. I stay busy on my phone until I sit down. Once I’m in my seat, it’s straight for the earbuds and music. I simply have no desire to chit chat with a stranger about where we’re from, where we’re flying to, and why. Some people live for that stuff while I find it dull and tiresome. Perhaps part of that is being a woman, too. The female gender tends to make me feel a little less than free to say exactly what’s on my mind.

Anyway, I digress. The point is that I don’t like chatting on airplanes, but twice recently I got trapped in conversation.

The first was a flight to California during which I was sandwiched between two elderly women who both turned out to be grandmothers. One was American, one was Indian. Missing the social cues that younger people more flawlessly interpret (headphones = do not disturb), they alternated tapping my arm and beginning to chat with me. Eventually I just gave up and went along with it.

One noted that she and her husband had been married for almost 60 years. 60 years! When I asked her what their secret was she passed the question onto her husband across the aisle who said “hold hands and take walks together.” He stared lovingly into the eyes of his partner of years so numerous, begetting a connection that most millennials, myself included, don’t know as we couple up later and later.

‘Something to hope for,’ I thought.

The grandmother to my right had worked in education for years, as had her husband who now had a position in California. She  noticed my Ganesha ring and explained to that it was better to wear it to face me so he can see me every day. “Believe in him and he’ll take care of you,” she repeated to me. Her presence that was striking. Something about her seemed spritely, before her time. She had an air of acceptance that, I imagine, can only come with the passage of time and a life well lived.

‘Something to hope for,’ I thought.

The second entrapment was, oddly enough, a separate flight back from California. I was situated, again, between two older people, this time men. Before I could get my music going, they started cracking jokes, poking fun at one another through me (a light shove on the arm before saying, “He snores, watch out!”). The jokes finally gave way to a broad story of their lives.

Both of them have wives that they couldn’t love more, especially the gentleman to my left. For the last hour of the flight, he regaled me with how he came to meet his wife—a lengthy story involving Christmas presents (or a lack thereof) and a surprise showering of gifts, an Airforce placement and a near-death experience, and a brave woman not afraid to say what she thinks. He ended by telling me that he still practices, dozens of years later, for hours whenever he gets the chance, new love songs to sing to his wife. Eventually he couldn’t hold tears back, when, as we were landing, he closed the story by saying, “She saved my life.”

Eventually the conversation turned to me, asking if I had a boyfriend. When I told them I had just broken up with someone a few weeks earlier, they dove in with advice: “You don’t have to look for it. He is out there and he will find you, just live your life. You’re going to have what we have. I just know it. You will, you will,” said the one on my right. Two voices of reason in a sea of right swipes.

‘Something to hope for,’ I thought.

Now when I fly I just sit there patiently in my seat, open to the next story that will give me something to hope for.


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