Several years ago I received a call from my corporate office late one Friday evening. Needless to say, late night calls from corporate are never a good sign. I was informed that I would be flying to Toledo Sunday afternoon. This was a mixed blessing. It was the second week of December and we have not even begun our holiday shopping. It is not the fact that my wife and I are procrastinators but more that we both equally despise the shopping experience. My business travel would result in the primary shopping responsibility falling upon my wife’s shoulders – a selfish blessing.
However, the blessing could not outweigh the painful purpose of the trip. The harsh reality of the corporate environment is there are times in which structural changes must occur prior to the end of the fiscal year. Thus, I and several of my counterparts were being dispatched approximately two weeks prior to Christmas to close branch locations and lay off employees. The thought of the pain and fear that I was about to bring to several families was all consuming.
I did not sleep Friday or Saturday night in preparation for my trip. Although my wife expressed her displeasure of inheriting the sole responsibility of bringing holiday cheer to friend and family through acquiring the perfect gift, she also felt compassion and sadness for my situation. I arrived at the airport Sunday afternoon to realize there were eight total Vice Presidents flying out. We flew together to Chicago before catching connecting flights to our designated destination. My connecting flight was that of a small twin prop plane which sat approximately 19 people.
Shortly after arriving at the hotel, there was a conference call to discuss the events of the following morning. The plan was that all eight VPs would enter the offices at the exact same time – thus, eliminating a fearful ripple effect going throughout the company. It was a good plan on paper. Unfortunately, the title of VP does not automatically imply that all individuals have the common sense to adjust their watches to the appropriate time zone. Two of the VPs advanced their watches an extra hour. Although this resulted in the plan not being executed as designed, it did mean that when I arrived the staff not only was expecting me but for the most part had already experienced the natural emotional rollercoaster resulting from the knowledge of their displacement. My role at that point was to secure the office and provide some emotional support.
Tuesday morning’s return flight could not come soon enough. Between the anxiety and anticipation of the office visit and the emotional drain of meeting with each employee, I had not slept in four days. I was cold and exhausted when I boarded the little twin prop plane. As they were de-icing the plane for the second time, a rather large gentleman entered the plane and ultimately sat next to me. The exhaustion overcame me and I fell asleep before the plane left the ground.
Have you ever been in such a deep sleep that gravity appears to have extra force on your bottom lip and the only thing that actually awakens you is the realization that you are drooling? Have you ever been in such a deep sleep that the weight of your eyelids is so great that although you are unable to open your eyes you can hear everything around you? This, unfortunately, was one of those moments.
Although there was a lot of turbulence on this flight, it could not wake me from this long overdue sleep. The only thing that ultimately would wake me was the moisture felt on my left cheek as a result of the aforementioned drooling? Unfortunately, the incredible exhaustion initially prevented my ability to open my eyes but I could hear. As I began to shift my body weight slightly, I could hear several different voices whispering “he’s waking up.”
Shortly thereafter I was finally able to muster enough energy to open my eyes and realize not only was I snuggled up next to the rather large man sitting next to me, but I had my right leg turned over and was in a full spooning position. To add insult to injury, the drooling was a reality. With my left cheek nuzzled into his right should, my right arm wrapped around his chest, and yes my right leg comfortably resting on his knee, I slowly looked up to him. He smiled and said, hello my name is Carl.
I pulled myself away and attempted to wipe off his shirt as many of the passengers began laughing. As I apologized, he graciously said that he thought I really needed the rest. Humiliated, the flight could not end quickly enough for me. Unfortunately, there was still an hour remaining. Carl from Chicago was an engineer, married for 22 years and has three children. He even gave me his contact information for the next time I was in Chicago. He was a good man.
Often when traveling on business, I would rarely speak with other passengers. I would keep to myself, do work, read a book, or simply would not want to engage. However, when I was at my most vulnerable a very large kind man did not care how he looked but was willing to give a fellow man a shoulder to lean on. Since that day I was graced by Carl, now every time I sit down on a plane I turn to the person sitting next to me and say “hello my name is David and I’m a snuggler.”
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.