“I was drunk and stole a case of beer from the liquor store. Then three cops came. I got one of them in a headlock. Then they tased me three times,” the gentleman seated next to me said.
Thus began my return trip to Philadelphia from Fayetteville.
I worry a lot when I travel. Did I forget something? Will I make my connecting flight? Is the dog going to have any wild parties while I’m out? Etc. While I don’t enjoy the surprises that always come up when I’m on the road, I’ve sure met some thought-provoking people. Last Friday, during my return trip from a week long training session in Siloam Springs, Arkansas, I met the most…well, I guess interesting would be the best word.
I boarded the plane and took my seat on the aisle next to a young man. From his boyish facial features and shaggy hair, I estimated his age somewhere around twenty-four. He looked like Keith Moon only with dark rimmed glasses. He reminded me even more of the late Who drummer with the first thing he said to me.
“Do they serve alcohol on this plane?” His voice sounded like Robert Mitchum’s in the movie Cape Fear.
“They do,” I replied. “But they charge you for the drinks.”
“Aw, man. I need a drink. I’m leaving Arkansas to get away from some trouble I ran into. I got out of jail because I’m crazy.”
Did I mention this was the first time I ever met this guy?
“No, you don’t have anything to worry about,” he reassured me. “I’m not dangerously crazy.”
Suddenly, I needed a drink.
As he proceeded to relate the details of his run-in with Arkansas law enforcement, my mind drifted back to his “crazy” statement. While trying to wrap my mind around why he would think large quantities of alcohol would be good treatment for a chemical imbalance of the brain, a young man seated behind us joined in the conversation.
“I hear when they tase you, you shit your pants.”
My interlocutor turned around, “Oh, yeah. I did.”
All of a sudden, my alcohol related mishaps didn’t seem as embarrassing to me.
He faced me and fidgeted. “Man, when are we going to get going?”
“I’m sure we’ll be taking off soon,” I assured him.
I introduced myself and he told me his name. For the sake of this piece, I’ll refer to the young man as “Mitch”. We talked about catching connecting flights and our final destinations. In order not to concern any Chambers of Commerce or Departments of Tourism, I won’t disclose Mitch’s.
After exchanging these pleasantries, I opened a book and tried to read. To my relief the plane taxied towards the runway.
“Aw, man. It’s about time.”
My fingers clenched the book as the crew delivered the safety instructions. For the first time while on a plane, I worried about my well-being. The cabin lights dimmed.
“Here we go!” Even with the seatbelt around his lap, Mitch bounced up and down.
The plane came to a stop. The captain then announced: “Our departure has been delayed for another eighteen minutes according to air traffic control. Here are your tax dollars at work, folks. Just sit tight. In thirteen minutes we’ll be heading out to the runway.”
“Aw, man.” Mitch’s lugubrious lament filled my ears.
Sweat escaped from my pores. Was it because this postponement only gave me fifteen minutes to catch my connecting flight in Charlotte? Or was it because I worried how Mitch would handle this? I don’t think the later caused my anxiety. After all, this would defer the time until he’d have access to alcohol. He did say it took three cops and three tases, right?
The plane finally became airborne. Once the pilot turned off the “fasten your seatbelt” sign, Mitch asked me to move so he could use the rest room. He even apologized for inconveniencing me. I thought that a nice gesture, but an unnecessary one. With him away from his seat, I hoped the drink cart would pass by before he returned.
I had no such luck.
Mitch quickly got back. Once again, he said he was sorry for my having to move. The minor disruption didn’t trouble me a bit. A far more menacing matter loomed: the drink cart ominously approached.
I took a deep breath as it parked next to my seat.
“Would you like something to drink?” The flight attendant’s words entered my ears like daggers. My pulse accelerated.
“I’ll have a soda.” Mitch replied.
What? Did I hear that right? Did he order a soft drink?
The sound of a loud “click” confirmed. Mitch got a soda.
As I prepared for the dash to my connecting flight, I wished him the best of luck with his legal troubles.
“Oh, it’ll be fine. I just need to pay a few things off and I’ll be good.”
Mitch’s financial problems would explain why he didn’t purchase an alcoholic beverage. Let’s face it: for the money they charge to drink on an airplane, it would be cheaper to purchase a liquor store.
I did make it to my connecting flight. In fact, I had enough time to get something to drink. Due to my dehydration from sweating so much, I got a bottled water. After looking at what they charged me for it, I could’ve made a down payment on that liquor store. At any rate, it shows that there’s no point in worrying about things. In retrospect, I don’t think Mitch such a frightening guy. He was a good person who made some bad choices and then chose to keep making them.