I was flying back from Nashville, Tennessee to Minneapolis. The plane had a stopover in St. Louis, Missouri but it was the same plane coming to Minneapolis so I did not have to disembark and board again. There I was sitting pretty in an aisle seat. The middle seat next to me was vacant. The plane was almost full.
Here comes a Caucasian male, mid-twenties. Sweating, looking distraught. His eyes switch quickly to the open seat and then to me, and first thing he says, “I’ll give you 20 bucks if you let me sit in your seat and you take the middle one“. Before I could respond, he adds “This is my first time flying, I’m so scared man“. He’s almost crying. I take pity on him and move into the middle seat and graciously decline the payment for this good deed. He is persistent. Takes out his wallet (which is laden with bill, denominations unknown), withdraws a note and tries to stuff it into my palm. Now I’m embarrassed, telling him that it’s fine, he doesn’t need to pay me. He plops down with a deep exhale.
There begins a very interesting 1 and half hours of my life.
Once he buckles in, and tightens the seat belt so far taut that it cuts into his belly, he starts talking to the person across the aisle, the person in front of him and to the person sitting in the window seat, next to me. Explains, repetitively, how this is his first time flying, how scared he is, how he has children waiting for him back home. When he has calmed down a bit, I try to strike up a conversation with him, hoping this would provide a distraction to his inner fear.
“Where are you from?”
“I’m from Oklahoma, man. I have my kids back there. And my girlfriend. Will I see them again?”
“I’m sure you will! Flying is one of the safest mode of transportation.” Gotta steer the conversation to neutral ground. “Were you on business in St. Louis?”
“Oh, yeah. I had to strike up a ‘deal’. A lot of money involved. Are we already flying?“. Understandably, as he wasn’t trying to be shy about how much money he had.
“Oh, good. I’m glad it went well. How long were you in St. Louis?”
“Just for a couple of hours, and I was in the airport for most of that time. Are we already flying?” Strange.
“Oh, ok. So what do you do?”
“I drive, man. Cadillac. All my life. My dad did that before me. I like driving. Cadillacs. I wish I could drive up to Minneapolis. Are we already flying?“. Stranger.
Not telling him aloud that flying is statistically safer than driving, I ask, “So what prompted you to fly this time around?”
“Five thousand dollars, man, five thousands dollars. My cousins will give me five thousand dollars when I reach Minneapolis. Are we already flying?“.
Ohkay, I’ve heard enough and not trying to prolong this conversation, I slowly extricate the book that I’ve been reading from the front flap and start reading. But he isn’t done yet.
“I’m Italian (born of Italian parents, I presumed, as he sounded quite American). I joined my dad into the family business. My mom is Irish. She lives in Rochester (around 2 hours drive south from Minneapolis). Thanks man for giving your seat to me. Let me give you a 20“. Tries to take out this wallet again. When I stop him, he shakes my hand profusely and says, “You’re a good man!“.
By this time the plane is ready for take-off. Once the plane begins to accelerate, he turns pale(r), grips his seat rests and looks straight on. Once the plane lifts off, he turns towards me and gives a sheepish grin. He now knows we are flying.
At cruising altitude, he struggles with his seat belt to get it off. The stewardess come to help him. As soon as he’s free, he jumps up and hugs the her! She’s surprised. She asks if wants anything to drink. “Rum and coke“. Then proceeds to ask all around him if he can buy them a drink. No takers.
Gets his drink. Seems to be calming down. He turns to me and says, conspiratorially, “I’m used to weed. Can’t have them on the plane, so I’ve been drinking.” Ah, explains – if you’re used to weed, deprived of it you’re bound to act strange. Alcohol to the rescue!
He has finished off his drink in 2 or 3 gulps. His tongue really lets loose now.
“Hey, you look like one of those guys.” My querying eyes begs him to define ‘those’. “You know, man …those guys who wants to bomb our planes“. To justify his theory he adds, “With your mustache and everything ….” By this time I’m laughing out loud. “I’m kidding man, you are the good guy“. Again offers to give me money, now a hundred buck and buy me a drink.
As if he realized he’s stepped out of his boundaries and to make peace, he adds after a few minute, “Do you do coke man? I’ve got plenty of coke …do you want some?” I’m still laughing about the previous comment. I shake my head. He shows me his Rolex, apparently thinking that he still needs to make up. He looks at my watch (a Titan – a gift from almost 5 years ago) and asks if I want to trade! Assures me that his watch is at least $300. No, thank you. Enough is enough, I decide. I put my book away, adjust my neck pillow, close my eyes, and fall asleep.
The jarring of the landing wake me up. The guy is sleeping. Let sleeping Italians lie, I pray silently. But the guy across the aisle, prods him awake. He’s paranoid. “Are we in Minneapolis?” he asks at least 4 different people around him. Satisfied he grabs my fist again, for the last round of shake.
We de-board and I put as much distance between him and me. Since I don’t have checked in baggage, I walk out of the airport with my carry-on. Mr. Cadillac-driving-coke-snorting-Rolex-wearing-Italian, (I can’t put my finger on it, but what does that remind me of?) bye and thanks for the hilarious time!