I am not a chatty traveler. From the moment I set foot in an airport to the moment I emerge on the other side of my trip, I’m in a fugue of mild discontent, a trance in which I half-consciously execute the rote routines of air travel without really paying attention to my surroundings. On any given flight, I’m 15 percent in the moment and 85 percent engaged in a lucid daydream about surfcasting with my best friend, Tom Brady. I always request an aisle seat just so I won’t have to endure the encounter where you ask a stranger if you can go to the bathroom. What if they say no? I can’t allow a sweatpants-wearer to have that kind of power over me.
And yet, I travel so much that odds dictate that I’m going to meet a few extroverts who won’t take a monosyllabic grunt for an answer. I encountered one such lady at O’Hare a couple months back.
Here’s what I know about her: She was an older woman, an investment banker, on her way to Shreveport via Dallas. After this trip she’d take a vacation with her family, using some of her 1.2 million frequent flyer miles to go to Belize. It looked like she might miss her connection because of the delay, but it was hard to tell because her FlightAware app was all jacked up. She could always rent a car and drive. She’d done it before.
Here’s what she knew about me: I’m a good listener and willing to watch a stranger’s luggage. Well, not really, but she didn’t leave me much choice. She just stood up and announced, “I’m getting a sandwich. Could you watch my stuff, young man?” I was about to say that this is exactly what you’re never supposed to do, but she was already gone. Was this some kind of TSA sting operation? I mean, who calls their phone “jacked up” and in the next breath addresses a 37-year-old as “young man”? It’s possible that she was an undercover agent and this was some kind of Martin Lawrence Big Momma situation. I still don’t know.
On another trip, I ended up talking to a British guy. His name was easy to remember, because it was Guy. (It’s pretty handy when your actual name is a mnemonic device.) Guy was an auctioneer. He informed me that British auctioneers speak slowly. “It helps if people can understand what you’re saying, doesn’t it?” Guy said, slowly.
Well, what’s the fun in that? In America, our auctioneers say, “Hey bidda bidda Buddha Buddha whogonnabuyit buyit buyit youstupididiot SOLD! To the man with the bolo tie!” Live auctions in America are based on confusion, panic and subterfuge, and mostly involve farm animals. Otherwise, people use eBay. Guy was amazed that I’m such an expert on auctions.
Occasionally (by which I mean once a decade) someone will recognize me in an airport. That happened a few weeks ago with a really nice guy named Curtis. Once Curtis introduced himself, I felt immense pressure to live up to whatever he was expecting, to wipe the resting bitch face off my mug and hold court, regale the man with feisty yarns.
Should I buy him a coffee? Offer to carry his bag? Give him a kidney? I wanted Curtis to go home and tell his friends, “I met Ezra Dyer, and he could not have been nicer. Funnier than Louis C.K., more gracious than Pope Francis, and he watched my luggage even though you’re not supposed to do that. Highlight of my year, if not my life.”
That’s not what Curtis said. I just hope he didn’t think I was a dick. He probably wasn’t aware of this, but I have a carefully choreographed preflight routine that I abandoned because I didn’t want to be all Mr. Important Who Goes to the Airport Bathroom Five Minutes Before Boarding in Hopes of Avoiding the John on the Plane During the Flight. [See: “non-aisle seats, problems thereof.”] We were chatting, so I didn’t want to suddenly say, “OK, dude, good talk! I gotta go drain the iguana.” Which is how I typically excuse myself.
The conversation ended awkwardly anyway, because I’d managed to snag an upgrade and Curtis was in coach. So when they called for first class to board, I looked at my ticket with a note of surprise, as if to say “What? There must be some mistake. I am a man of the people! How can I converse with my new friend if I’m eating warm cashews while he’s relegated to a nightmarish dystopia of Knee Defenders and tray-table boogers?”
I bid Curtis farewell and headed down the ramp to get going on those cashews. I didn’t feel bad for him, though. I am honest with myself when it comes to my attitude and deportment on airplanes. And not sitting next to me is the best upgrade of all.