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THOMPSON: You never know who you'll meet on an airplane

October 07, 2019 - 12:00 PM

 


OPINION


All of us - even those normally clued-in with the world around us - can at times appear quite clueless. If it doesn’t happen often be thankful…but when it does…well, you simply have to laugh as you are “hoist with your own petard.”

One of the most memorable times for me was exactly 20 years ago…when airports were my second home. I was flying to and from exotic and not-so-exotic destinations almost every week. So, this day was just another flight…a not-so-exotic Delta flight from Tampa to Nashville for a board meeting.

A First-Class seat was usually an option as a Delta frequent flier…but I was tardy booking this flight and my choice was Economy…and what was left were my least favourite…middle seats. I remember thinking, at least the flight is less than two hours.

As I jostled down the aisle toward seat 27B…I daydreamed about how flying was once a fun thing…before being jarred back to reality by fellow travellers trying to stuff oversize carry-ons into overhead bins.

I nodded at the person already belted into the aisle seat on my row…a signal that, yes, the middle seat was, indeed, mine. I threw my suit coat and briefcase in the last remaining space in the overhead bin, and slid into my seat.

The guy on the aisle grunted as I squeezed past and from all appearances that would be the extent of his conversation. I remember thinking, note to self: don’t ever become a grumpy old fart.

I listened as the flight attendant explained how to buckle and unbuckle a seat belt. Anyone unfamiliar with the intricate workings of a seat belt really should be on the no-fly list. The attendant further explained…

“In the unlikely event of a water landing, a life vest is located under your seat. When instructed to do so, open the plastic pouch and remove the vest…slip it over your head. Pass the straps around your waist and adjust at the front. To inflate the vest, pull firmly on the red cord, only when leaving the aircraft. If you need to refill the vest, blow into the mouthpieces…”

I don’t know how many times over the years I have heard and seen flight attendant safety announcements and demonstrations…but occasionally I catch myself mouthing their words and pointing to exit rows.

With my perverse sense of humour, I always tried to imagine the futility of “landing” a jet on water…Capt. Sully hadn’t made his miracle landing on the Hudson River…so operating a life vest never seemed seemed like a real thing.

I knew without doubt the same travellers stuffing oversize carry-ons would be fitting themselves with life vests…and probably inflating them inside the cabin. The old joke, “put you head between your legs and kiss your ass goodbye” always flashes in my mind.

After taking off, I turned to my window seat mate and commented on the book he was about to start. I had read it…“Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.” Anyone who knows me knows that I am gregarious and usually engage people first.

“Good read, “ I said, “I think you’ll like it.” He said he wasn’t an avid reader, but his wife had suggested it. He put the book in his lap…and we began chatting. He asked if my trip to Nashville was business…and I said business and pleasure…and asked about his reason to visit Music City.

He said he lived there…calling it home for 15 years. He was about my age…maybe five years younger…longish hair…and soft-spoken. I usually ask someone’s name and offer mine early on in conversation, but neither he nor I formally introduced ourselves.

Still, we talked easily on a wide range of topics…from food and wine to travel. He admitted to travelling a good bit…playing music. He raised his eyebrows, and offered, “A lot of one-night stands…tough, but I love it.”

He asked what I did…and I told him I was a writer and a public relations and marketing consultant. He laughed, and said he had tried that when he was in his early 20s…writing “some bad ads” for his sister’s and brother-in-law’s small agency in Maine.

“Not my thing,” he said.

I countered with a smile, “Well, I play a pretty lousy guitar…so looks like we both chose well.”

We continued to talk during the flight. He asked me if I liked music…and I said I was a huge jazz and blues fan, but also liked 50s, 60s and 70s Rock, Big Bands and Classical music. He said he liked Rock and Country best. The time passed quickly as we discussed individual artists in various music genres…and we soon touched down in Nashville.

Waiting to de-plane, we shook hands and finally introduced ourselves…and I wished him luck on the road, and he hoped I would enjoy his town.

Later, after hailing a taxi, I started chatting with the driver, who wore a cowboy hat. He said he moved to Nashville five years ago…and was a song writer…but drove cabs to make ends meet.

“Yeah, I guess it’s a pretty tough business, “ I admitted. “I just flew from Tampa with a guy who does a couple hundred one-night stands a year playing guitar and singing.”

“Really,” he said, “Nashville is a pretty small big town…what was his name?”

I searched my memory…not recalling his first name, but finally coming up with his last name… Brooks.” The driver’s eyes shot to the rear view mirror…widened and he offered, “Kix…Kix Brooks”

“Yeah, that’s it,” I said…impressed that the cab driver actually knew the guy.

The cab driver, laughed, shook his head in disbelief…and when he stopped at a red light, he turned and proclaimed: “You didn’t know you were talking to Kix Brooks of Brooks and Dunn…the hottest duo in Country music. They’re f****** legends.”

I remember smiling somewhat sheepishly a couple minutes later as I exited the cab…the driver was still shaking his head as I walked away.

Somehow, I had made it all the way to 2000 without knowing anything about Brooks & Dunn.

Turns out these two have recorded 16 albums…most of them achieving Platinum status…and 50 singles…39 of which were Top Ten tunes…with 20 of them reaching Number One.

Brooks & Dunn won virtually every award that country performers can win…enumerable Grammys…and the Country Music Association “Vocal Duo of the Year” Award every year from 1992 to 2006…except 2000.

I found myself laughing at my cluelessness later that evening. William Shakespeare warned us…it’s easier than you might think to be “hoist with your own petard.”

— Don Thompson, an American awaiting Canadian citizenship, lives in Vernon and in Florida. In a career that spans more than 40 years, Don has been a working journalist, a speechwriter and the CEO of an advertising and public relations firm. A passionate and compassionate man, he loves the written word as much as fine dinners with great wines. His essays are a blend of news reporting and opinion.

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