I had just finished a week-long trip and was on my way home; the first leg of my flight was Las Vegas to Seattle, and from there I had a connecting flight to Bellingham where I’d catch a shuttle to drive me to Vancouver. It’s a long trip but still cheaper than travelling directly from Vancouver to Vegas, so there you are.
As I was settling into my aisle seat, the passenger in the middle seat showed up and I got up to let him sit down. He obviously wasn’t pleased with having the middle seat as he asked me, and then the passenger in the window seat, if we’d be willing to switch places with him. Even with the offer of cash in hand, neither of us were interested in switching places so, with no further comment, Middle Passenger took his seat.
He was young – I’m terrible at guessing ages but I figured he was in his early to mid-twenties. He was dressed in t-shirt and shorts, with a hoodie that he removed before taking his seat. He fiddled with his phone for a bit, probably texting someone to let them know he made his flight.
After takeoff, he asked me if they served alcohol on the flight. I said they did and then, guessing that he wasn’t aware of how things now worked in the air, told him that they only accepted credit or debit cards for payment. My hunch was correct as he then asked if I would be willing to buy him a drink. I agreed, because he was a very polite young man and since he couldn’t buy drinks on his own, there was very little chance of his becoming drunk and disorderly in-flight.
When the attendant came by to take drink orders he requested a Cuervo and Coke and (without being asked) handed over his ID – a Washington State driver’s license which was different in that it was printed to be read vertically, rather than horizontally as other types of ID are printed. The attendant seemed a little puzzled and asked a few questions about the DL but as it showed he was of legal age, she gave him his drink. I ordered a rum and diet Coke and paid for both, and when he started to pull out money to pay me for the drink, something made me tell him to forget it, that the drink was on me.
I can’t tell you why I paid for his drink – He had enough cash on him to try to bribe his way into a “better” (for him) seat, and I wasn’t looking for good deeds to do…but something just told me that he could use a break.
He offered his hand while thanking me; I took it, we shook, and then after we’d mixed our drinks we toasted each other. He mentioned that he’d been in Vegas for a month to visit his uncle but was now returning home to Seattle, and this was only his second time on a plane. He wasn’t terrified nor terribly at ease, but he admitted that this second time wasn’t as nerve-wracking as the first. He then made a comment indicating that he was still smarting a little from having his ID questioned, so I told him how the Washington State driver’s licenses handled under-21 drivers when I was living there, decades ago – if you were under 21 when your license photo was taken they did it as a side profile; that way ID checkers would be able to tell right away if someone was definitely 21 or if they needed to look further at things – say, the ID holder turned 21 after the license photo was taken.
We discussed various sorts of ID; I showed him my NEXUS card with its incredibly bad photo taken with a webcam (I’m not joking), and he said his last piece of ID before the Washington DL was a Department of Corrections ID card.
As I’ve mentioned before I’m not great at guessing ages but considering we’d now established that he’s recently turned 21. Since, in my opinion, it’s very unlikely that he was a corrections officer at that young an age – well, you can figure it out where my mind went.
Didn’t bother me one damned bit.
We talked about a lot of things. He asked me how long I’d been married (since 1981) and asked me how I knew she was The One; I replied that to me it was a matter of seeing how the relationship progressed until everything just felt right. He asked me other questions such as were there things I’d done in my life that I regretted, and if I found it difficult to trust people. I told him that of course I’d done things in life that I’d regretted – I don’t think there’s anyone alive who hasn’t – but that you have to just learn from your mistakes and try not to make the same mistakes twice. As far as trusting people, I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt unless they’re obviously untrustworthy, and if someone breaks my trust I’m willing to give them another chance unless they show they’re completely irredeemable.
As you might imagine I was dying to hear his life story and try to understand what he’d done – or had had done to him – to make him ask these sorts of questions of a complete stranger…but if my assumption that he was recently released from some sort of correctional facility was correct then coming out and bugging him for details could be considered as hypocritical of me, since I’d been talking about trust and learning from mistakes and so on. If he wanted to unburden himself to me that was certainly his choice but to me, it was on a Need to Know basis, and I didn’t think I had the need to know.
Eventually the conversation petered out. We finished our drinks, I did a little work on my iPad while listening to some music, and he closed his eyes and slept a bit.
As we were landing he thanked me again for the drink and wished me good luck with the rest of my travel plans; since he had reached his destination I wished him good luck with his life and told him to “pay forward” the drink when he could. We shook hands again, I gathered my stuff and dashed off to make my connecting flight.
It’s very unlikely I’ll ever see David again, but whatever he does and wherever he goes, I hope he does well – and, if he does, I hope our conversation helped at least a little.
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