guess what? asked Sarah. Im being sent to the South Pole in November. I
have to go for three weeks to check out a rescue station and write a report! She
How... interesting, I lied. You sound like youre taking it quite well.
Itll be terrible, she said cheerfully. I cant remember if its going to
be light 24 hours a day, or dark 24 hours a day. I dont even own a parka.
Sounds great, I said. Then I remembered. Oh, Sarah, you dont still have
that airport theory, do you?
Of course, she said. How many times do I have to tell you? Its the
greatest place to meet people. Last time I went to Chicago, I met this guy in
the lounge in St. Louis. Then, when I was waiting for my mom to pick me up, I
started talking to this other guy outside of baggage claim. He was with his
girlfriend, but they were both witty. We ended up having dinner that night and
I tell you, they were a hoot.
Dont you think its a little strange how you, um, collect people at
airports and on planes?
I dont know what it is. I just seem to attract the funniest, most
interesting people when Im in transit. Remember the guy I met at the SFO
You mean the guy who thought you were a hooker?
No, that was at La Guardia.
I cant say that I do.
Come on. The one who worked for the newspaper. He was writing an article on
airport bars. He thought Personalities sounded like a good bar to start with
And he ended up giving Harriet some freelance work.
I listened for a while as Sarah continued to give me details of her upcoming
trip one of the highlights was that shed have to change planes twice.
Ive always held on to the old-fashioned theory that the only way to meet
people either date-worthy or platonic is through your circle of friends.
Maybe its just my suspicious nature, but I just cant imagine striking up a
conversation with someone in an airport lounge, particularly one called
Personalities. It goes back to a few snobbish assumptions. One is, what kind
of person hangs out in a bar and talks to people? (Well, Sarah, for one.) Two,
of course, is the safety factor: is this a nice person, or is he Ted Bundy?
Three concerns the fact that I dont have enough time for the friends that I
have already, so why would I want more? Four is ... well, it just seems hokey.
My friend Matt has met two women on planes that hes dated, and still another
acquaintance of mine actually met and married the man who sat next to her on a
flight to Paris. My mother is another story, being one of those people who
gets asked directions, fashion advice, weather predictions and preferences on
laundry detergent every time she so much as steps outside her house. Ive seen
her disembark from a plane with a fistful of business cards that have been
thrust upon her over the course of a two-hour flight.
Being in a plane is, for me, an event a little bit sacred it seems
personal, like the so-called quality time when youre in the bathroom. You
dont stand and talk to strangers through a bathroom stall door, so why
encroach on their time in a plane? I am one of those who goes armed with
headphones, novels, bills to pay, letters to write, columns to consider. I
have been known to actually get up and change seats, quite openly, if my
neighbor is particularly loquacious. When I told Sarah this, she just shook
her head. Youre missing out. Im telling you.
Still, I made a resolution this year to be more open-minded, so on a recent
plane trip to New York, I sat down, organized all my newspapers and books and
bottled water in the seat pocket in front of me, and eagerly looked around.
The bespectacled young guy sitting by himself on the other side of the aisle
was reading what looked like an arty little hardcover novel. Hmmm. If I just
craned my neck to one side I could barely make out the authors picture. Okay,
if its a classic, Ill talk to him... if its post-modern, its a toss-up ...
and if its Roth, Mailer, Miller or Burroughs, forget it.
He coughed and shifted the book. The spine winked at me. The Bridges of
Madison County, by Robert James Waller.
Wheres that Walkman?