It was a very cold and stormy day to be traveling. The flight was delayed due to weather conditions, but the good news was that the flight would be only about a third full – which typically means one passenger per row. I was the 40th passenger to enter the plane with only about 20 more passengers to enter behind me. I strategically selected a window seat anticipating the turbulence. The window seat would allow my head to lean against the wall versus doing a bobble-head impersonation while sleeping.
The temperature of the plane was warm and delightful. As I nuzzled into my seat and closed my eyes, the sound of the rain hitting the plane was like a lullaby putting me to sleep. Just as I appeared to be in my most comfortable state, I was abruptly awakened by the jolting of my seat. The first impression was that something heavy must have fallen on the seat next to me, but as I quickly looked over I realized that an elderly gentleman was sitting in the seat next to me. The middle seat. There was no one sitting next to him in the aisle seat. There was no one sitting in the two rows in front of me or in the two rows behind me. The plan was two-thirds empty, but he decided to sit in the middle seat directly next to me.
Although completely confused, I thought that I would be cordial and introduce myself. I said; hello my name is David. He looked at me and replied “okay.” He then pulled out a newspaper and began reading it. After a few minutes, I casually mentioned that it was some storm and I asked if he was headed home. He looked at me with disgust and replied; I am reading the paper. He then slightly repositioned his body angling it in the other direction as he turned the page of the newspaper.
I surveyed the plane to see the reaction of the other passengers to the rudeness of this individual, but there were no other passengers within the hearing range of our seats. There was at minimum a 20-foot distance between us and the next closest passenger. A virtual library of seats was available between us and the other passengers. A plethora of peace where he could have selected a seat to read his paper in peace – but instead he decided to share an armrest with me.
Twenty minutes into the flight the turbulence began. By this time, I was partially asleep and falling deeper into sleep with the rocking and bouncing of the plane – like a baby in the cradle. However, I began to feel a pressure against my right shoulder. Being half asleep I spontaneously began leaning closer to the wall to provide the passenger sitting to my right more space. As the pressure continued, I remembered that the aisle seat next to my adjoining passenger was vacant (as was two-thirds of the plane) – so why was he leaning into me?
I opened my eyes and I set myself up. I then glance over to my awkwardly close companion and smiled. He frowned and looked back down at this paper. Although I attempted to remain awake, my exhaustion got the better of me. Within 15 minutes my head was back against the window and I was fast asleep. Apparently, the turbulence intensified – which would account for my dreams of riding a rollercoaster. I dreamt that my wife was squeezing my arm on the rollercoaster in fear. But, at one point the pressure of her squeezing my arm became abundantly real waking me up.
It was at that point I realized that the squeezing sensation was real. I once again opened my eyes and sat myself up. I slowly looked over to the elderly gentleman sitting next to me who appeared flush in the face. I asked him if he was okay to which he defensively responded; why wouldn’t I be. I said, no reason. I then mentioned that it was some storm, but he did not respond (but his foot was tapping the floor at record speed).
When the plane landed and as we were leaving the plane, I wished my awkwardly close companion well and told him to have a nice day. He simply responded; why wouldn’t I?
All I wanted was to quietly sleep on the plane – which I knew would be possible with so few passengers on the plane. The average air traveler desires a minimum one seat barrier between themselves and the next passenger. With the traveling population on this flight, I anticipated a two-row barrier but it was not to be. Instead, I was positioned awkwardly close to a bitter elderly gentleman who wanted nothing to do with me other than sit within close proximity.
The male ego is a funny thing. It prohibits a man from openly displaying his fears and insecurities. This elderly gentleman may have been cranky (and even arguably mean), but he was scared. He leaned into me for security when fearful. He held onto my arm when he believed the plane was dropping too quickly. He needed a sense of security but was too prideful to ask. He may not give the flight another thought once it ended, but I am glad that I could be there for that ornery old man to bring him a certain level of comfort during this period of fear. I wonder what his name was…
Husband, father, coffee connoisseur and lover of all things hockey. At 51 I sometimes wonder have I done enough. I have been married to my best friend for 30 years. She knows all my faults and loves me anyway, As a father of “almost always” perfect boys, I am always surprised at what life has to offer. It is messy, scary, thrilling, and always fun.