Flying with Tennessee

Carol and I were heading home from a visit to relatives in California on a flight out of LAX.   As we settled into our seats, a man sat down next to me on what was to be a full flight.  He was a tad older than me and sported a definite southern accent.  He was headed to our intermediate point, Nashville.  (Details specific to him have been left out of this story to preserve his privacy.)

He was obviously alone, and we struck up a conversation … something with which I’m not always comfortable or likely to do normally on a crowded airline flight. 

Mr. Tennessee was on his way to family in Nashville, where he planned to make a new home after being forced – via eminent domain – to sell his house for a Southern California highway improvement.  He was quite happy with this situation as he felt he had received a very fair buyout.  He was a transplant who had settled in California out of the Vietnam-era military; and he was ready to use this life-changing opportunity to head back Home.

Tennessee told me at some point during our chat, he likes people and likes to talk until he runs out of interesting things to say.  He did not disappoint!

So Tennessee launched into an overview of places he had served in Vietnam and military units of which I could make little sense, let alone remember.  He spoke indirectly about some of the things he had seen there and of some of the things he did.  He also spoke of more peaceful experiences he had enjoyed while in-country and how he felt his service there had shaped his later life.  He expressed his admiration for those serving now, and spoke of how serving in the military has changed since he served as a volunteer in a draft-filled military. 

Needless to say, I was in full Listening Mode. 

Then as the conversation became more two-sided, we shared what our fathers did during World War II.  My dad serving in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands, then the Philippines preparing for the invasion of the Japanese home islands.  His dad getting destroyers shot out from beneath him in the Pacific.  Then Mr. Tennessee turned to what he did in his post-military work-a-day world.  How much he enjoyed his sideline craftsman’s hobby; how he looked forward to doing it more – as a man of retired leisure – in his still-to-be-determined Nashville locale; and how much he looked forward to his new life situation.

At one point during the 3 1/2 hours to Nashville, Carol leaned over and whispered, “Lucky you, you got the talker.”  But I was having perhaps the most enjoyable flight ever. (Let’s face it!  We’ve all looked around those departure gate waiting areas, picking out the people we don’t want to sit next to … especially not for a 4-hours flight!)  I was enjoying the passing of time with good, interesting conversation with someone whose life experience was very different from my own.

It’s puzzling to me the way certain normal, everyday interactions pique my interest more than other normal, everyday interactions.  Maybe I project something into them.  Maybe I focus on interactions that fit in some way my view of the world.  Maybe they just strike a chord in a place I value. 

In any case I was happy for him – a complete stranger – and for the comfort level he has found in his life.  He seemed to have “It” figured out for himself; and he was at a good place in his life.  He seemed genuinely satisfied with Life and happy for what the Future held.  And who wouldn’t want to live in that part of Tennessee?!?

4 thoughts on “Flying with Tennessee

  1. What……? I was checking to see if you only took from you seat buddy or if you gave of your animal cracker stash also.


  2. Not too long ago the State of Tennessee was one of the hot points for people to relocate to. Funny, I envisioned you sleeping during most of that flight. Interesting how the confined nature of airplanes changes our personal interactions. It does sound like Tennessee is at a good place in his life. I am glad you got to tell some Dad WW2 stories, I hope you told all the good ones.

    Many people share somewhat confidential things and random acts of kindness with others when they are one a plane, studies suggest it is because of the potential of danger while flying which causes unusual closeness with fellow passengers. Clearly Tennessee was doing so with you. My question is what did you share with Tennessee, could you have been vulnerable enough to have shared your animal cracker stash with him?


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