Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Traveler Tales

I'm picking my friends up from the airport today. That used to be a big deal, and I used to pout like a child, but the last few years I've gotten to where I enjoy picking people up from the airport. They have stories to tell, whether they are returning from a trip or coming to visit me from out of town. It's been a while since my last adventure, so living vicariously through someone else is the next best thing.

My friends, Neil and Kathy, embarked on a transatlantic cruise in April, spent about three weeks in Scotland (where Neil grew up), flew into Manhattan for a few days, and are returning home to our little corner of Texas this afternoon. As their friend I hope they had a good time and everything went smoothly, but as a lover of stories I realize that the best told tales often involve some sort of conflict, or major inconvenience.

For instance: My first, and so far only trip to Europe took place in September of 1995. I was living in Nashville, TN at the time, and a guitar player I met got us a gig playing in Montreux, Switzerland for the entire month. I'd always wanted to go to Europe, and we sounded pretty good as a duo, so I had a lot to be excited about and grateful for. I didn't know him that well, but we shared a similar sense of humor and he seemed like a good guy.
A few days before we left for the trip he started acting like an ass. I put it down to pre-trip jitters. Maybe he didn't like to fly. The day we left his girlfriend dropped us off at the airport and we said our goodbyes. When the ticket agent said "Next!", the guitar slinger (that's how I'll refer to him) remained in line. I motioned to him to join me. "Hey, Guitar Slinger, come on, this way we can sit together." Guitar Slinger looked at me with disdain, and said "I don't want to sit with you." I chalked it up to nerves, and thought no more about it.We flew into Detroit, where we would take a connecting flight to Amsterdam, grab another connection to Geneva, and then be shuttled to Montreux by an employee of the casino.

On the flight to Detroit, Guitar Slinger was sitting next to the only empty seat on the plane. I'm a shade under 6'3", and at the time weighed in at around 190lbs, so I was pretty envious of Guitar Slinger. He was sitting about four rows ahead of me, and for the duration of the flight I watched as he stretched out luxuriously on his two adjoining seats as I was basically forced into an upright fetal position, wondering why bad things always happened to good people.When we got to Detroit I ducked into an airport bar to have a smoke and struck up a conversation with a pretty young woman on her way to Poland. She was going to spend a few months living with family members she'd not even met before. We wished each other a safe journey and I walked to the gate to board my connecting flight to Amsterdam.

When I got there I scanned the room for Guitar Slinger, but couldn't find him. They had not started boarding the plane yet, but it was imminent. Just then I saw the crowd part on one side of the room. Guitar Slinger, all 5'10" and 350 or so pounds of him, came hurtling towards me. He was soaked in sweat, his hair plastered to his round head, and a wild, panicked look in his eyes. "I left my ticket on the plane from Nashville! Tell the gate agent to hold the flight while I go back to look for it!" Yeah, they were gonna hold the flight, throw off their schedule, and inconvenience the 300 or so people on board for Guitar Slinger.

I told the gate agent what had happened. She informed me that he'd have to pay a $60 lost ticket fee (Hey kids! Way back in ninety-five $60 was about five tanks of gasoline!) and catch the next flight.

Good old Guitar Slinger! While stretching out in his spacious accommodations he'd inadvertently left the ticket under a magazine. The flight attendants on the Nashville plane wouldn't let him get back on to look, and told him that they had just readied the aircraft for the next flight, were about to board, and that he was basically shit out of luck. A beautiful woman that was flying stand-by got Guitar Slinger's seat, which on this particular flight happened to be right next to mine. The beautiful woman was on her way to Rome, and we had a wonderful time talking about life, travel, art, and music. We said goodbye in Amsterdam and wished each other well.

Tomorrow: Karma still isn't done smacking Guitar Slinger around....

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