Today, while allowing my silly right knee to rest, I’ve decided to write on my blog again. The subject today is about traveling. Flying the friendly skies, next to a stranger.
As a travel writer, I have journeyed to many exciting, beautiful destinations within the Southern and Southeast region with a stranger sitting next to me. Once, I sat next to a flight assistant traveling to a close friend’s wedding. We discussed our lives, sharing information from our professions. She inquired as to what destinations I would recommend for a girlfriend’s getaway vacation.
“Gosh, there are so many,” I said. “Gatlinburg, Tennessee has so many great cabins where girlfriends can play together. The cabins are amazing, filled with so many luxuries we are accustomed to in our lives. Another location is Rosemary Beach, Florida.”
She interrupted me, grabbing her handbag to get a pen and paper.
Jotting notes quickly, I mentioned additional destinations. Memphis, Tennessee, not just Elvis or Graceland country. Hot Springs, Arkansas. Beaumont, and Port Arthur, Texas. Daytona Beach. Of course, Charleston, South Carolina, but since I live there, I don’t consider it a destination, but I do write about Charleston a lot. Myrtle Beach, SC is another fun destination with much to do. My mind rushed with ideas and she continued writing, excited that I was sharing so much. Sitting next to her, our trip was nice. I do believe this young, vibrant and beautiful woman was one of the most pleasant people I’ve sat next to while flying.
On one occasion, flying to a destination I will keep to myself, a rather large, older gentleman sat next to me. At first, I thought he was a gentleman. Later, I decided, he did not even comprehend the definition of a gentleman. Removing his jacket, he placed it by his knees. He was such a large man that a lap did not exist! My nose sniffed a disgusting aroma. Body odor. I turned my head away. Squashing his large body into the aisle seat, he nodded hello, struggled to buckle his seat belt, sucking and pushing deep into his belly, and when he accomplished that ordeal, he chose to get comfy. A little too comfy. His right shoulder pushed me — almost into the window!
Moments later, his head rested on my shoulder. I tapped him. He ignored me. I moved my shoulder, hoping his head would fall to the other side. It did not. He moved closer.
“Please,” I said. “Do you mind?”
He ignored me. I was thankful our flight time was a short distance. I continued to push him away, but his body insisted on getting closer. I stretched my head to see if any seats were vacant. They were not. Our plane was one of those puddle jumper types, so moving to another seat was not an option. The flight attendant walked by. She stopped when she noticed I was hovering by the window.
“You shouldn’t sit so close to the window,” she said.
“What choice do I have?” I asked, nodding my head in his direction.
She struggled to awaken him, but he ignored her. She motioned, ‘I’m sorry,’ and I nodded, while my mind ticked the minutes of this flight away.
Undoubtedly, that flight was one of the worst flights of my life. After that ordeal, I was hesitant to acknowledge those who sat next to me. If they spoke first, I nodded, and if they wanted to chat, I opened a book.
Last year, I sat next to a College of Charleston student. He was young, blonde, tall, handsome and friendly, wearing jeans and a College of Charleston T-shirt. When he sat down, he introduced himself as Richard, telling me he was a college student and this was his first flight. He was headed to San Diego. My destination — Hawaii. Our flight together ended at Dallas. During our time together, never did we stop talking. I truly hated to see our flight end. He would graduate this year. His major was Political Science. My mind drifted for a minute, picturing him running for office in the future — taking a step forward to lead our nation into changes that are so needed. He mentioned that he was gay and wanted to help educate the public about gay leadership and how narrow-minded some people can be about someone ‘coming out.’
I shared a story with him about a friend I had in high school. Charles and I dated for about six months. He bought a beautiful Camaro convertible and together, we rode along the back roads of Georgia, talking about future dreams and adventures we wanted to share. We were young. Free. Innocent. The future was ours! On one Saturday night, dreams ended for Charles, when he drove his car into a tree. He was killed instantly. At the funeral, his ‘partner’ — commonly referred to as ‘his Uncle Don’ revealed that Charles was ‘dealing with demons inside his head. He had a secret that he never wanted to share. Charles was gay, and that is why he drove his car into a tree. He did not want to ‘come out of the closet and admit he was gay.’ Uncle Don choked up a bit while speaking about Charles. “We were partners,” he said. “Charles was afraid no one would understand.”
I was sixteen at the time. Young. Innocent. Not able to understand, but my eyes opened wide after the funeral. I missed Charles so much. He was a great friend. Funny. Trusting. Kind. One of my best friends. His death was such a tragedy, but during those years, gay freedom was unacceptable, at least, in the Deep South. I made a vow to myself that I would never ridicule the gay community, and I would embrace them with my respect and love. The loss of Charles left me with a new respect for what it is like to be gay. Some of my dearest friends have been gay and I love them as a close member of my family.
When our flight landed, I tapped Richard on the shoulder. “Be proud of yourself, and what and who you are…Never be afraid to make change. America needs you! Think of Charles and the tragedy of his loss, and teach America about how wonderful the gay community is…Be proud. I slipped him my business card and hugged him.
He smiled. “You remind me of my mom. At first, she was hesitant to accept that I’m gay, but now, she accepts me and loves me.”
“And she should. You have the future in your hands. Make the most of it for America.”
I’ve thought about Richard and Charles a lot since that day. Remembering Charles and how reserved he could be at times. During my high school days, the gay community was a hushed, ‘closet’ community. People were afraid to admit what was inside their hearts. Now, America is changing. I cannot help being curious as to what Charles might have accomplished if he had lived. And I cannot help but think about his future. Such a loss. Such a tragedy.
After meeting Richard on a jet, headed to Dallas, I am hopeful that my next flight I will be blessed to sit next to someone who is so excited about his future, and I pray that I never sit next to another ‘gentleman’ again! His coziness was a bit too close for me, and I did not appreciate him sleeping and snoring on my shoulder. Let’s don’t even discuss his ‘body odor!’
Some things are just left better unsaid, but I hope I never sit next to another ‘stranger’ again!
May your journeys and flights be enjoyable. As for myself, my ‘adventures’ always give me something to write about. The ‘pros’ and the ‘cons,’ and I do get to meet some ‘interesting’ characters, along with some amazing people, such as Richard!