Saturday, June 6, 2015

What is a stranger? - Post 1

May 24, 2015
Some people describe crazy atmospheres as a zoo; those people haven’t spent a whole lot of time on planes, nor in the Heathrow airport.
I’ve done a lot of traveling this semester, I’d like to think of myself as a pro at getting through security and fairly calm when flying gets hectic (which has a tendency to be often). My first flight on the 30+-hour trip to Johannesburg was scheduled to leave at 3:11pm. After extreme weather delays, cancellation of all of our surrounding flights, 60+ passengers all calling the American Airlines hotline at once, and me making friends with the majority of the remaining passengers on flight 1687 we finally set sail at 6pm. Talking on the phone has never been my strong suit. Not having the buffer of hand signals creates real communication barriers for me. On the other hand, face-to-face communication is something that I would say I’m pretty darn great at and through the mass confusion that was flight 1687, I met some amazing people.
The first was nameless, as most people on airplanes are, who was headed to the Indie 500. Him and his son were from Socorro and, as extreme car enthusiasts, had been waiting years for this opportunity. This was their second flight of the day. This was also their second cancelled/extremely delayed flight of the day. Although in a position that would make most people cringe, he was an extremely patient 70 year old man, who listened to me about my trip and my hopes for the future and left the airplane (while we were delayed) never to be seen again, parting with a smile and kind words.
The second neighbor I encountered was Billy. Our first encounter was after I has overstepped my seating and trying to counteract the uncomfortable traffic jam I had caused with laughs and jokes that weren’t funny. Billy was talking to a man from gangster Chicago who, I quote, said “If my mother was still alive she would make sure this pilot’s knees get really sore, after what we’ve been through”. Billy made a point to rile Mr. Chicago up. He made sure someone was to blame for the weather keeping us in Albuquerque. We ended up alone in our row for a while, unable to do anything but make small talk. Small talk ended up transforming into fish tales. Ranging from finding the heirs of the deceased and being on games shows, all the way to finding treasure in Santa Fe, Billy left me with some really wonderful pieces of advice (of which I wrote down in my Sudoku book). The first, don’t be afraid to be a lone wolf. You are the master of your own destiny; don’t let someone control it for you. Second, take every chance that presents itself to you and run at it with all of the energy you can muster (he focused mainly on making sure I go scuba diving and audition for a play, but those are slightly specific for this blog post). And third, something that resounded and placed a tidy bow on the rest of his advice, be kind, be perceptive, be energetic and do everything you can to the fullest. Arrive early, leave late and “remember, Indiana Jones didn’t have a partner, he had a whip. Your whip is your mind, so use it wisely”.
Third, and after a crazy set of flights and more sitting than I ever really like, I met Marta. After getting in a complicated partnership with the man behind us and trying to get her bags in the overhead compartment, she told me about her life in college as an international student from Slovakia. She told me about the differences between the US and her hometown, in socializing, she told me about tennis and her love for romantic movies. This lead us to talking about her boyfriend and while Billy harped on being a lone wolf and paving your own road in life, Marta cooed about love and the wonders of falling for someone without regard to distance or difficulty. I then swiftly fell asleep on her and didn’t wake up for the next 8 hours, so we didn’t get a lot of chit chat time, but we’re Facebook friends, so that’s something!
Overall, with its insanity, with the delays, the shock of how many people are crammed into Heathrow at all times, the amount a food and drinks cost in the airport, the amount of time spent on the phone trying to remedy weather delays, the awkward groans that passed my lips as I tried to communicate with the American Airlines woman on the phone, and the fact that by the beginning of tomorrow I will have been traveling for more than an entire day, people are amazing. We live in a world where people yearn community and outreach and if you just sit there for a second (or in my case a couple hours) you can learn the most amazing things from people and share in lives that are happy to have you in them.

Huge thanks to UNM and IBSG for beginning and facilitating this extraordinary journey, I can’t believe I haven’t even gotten to my final destination yet.

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