Strangers on a Plane.

After spending about four days losing my Chicago virginity, I walked onto the plane transporting my friend and I back to the land of brown grass and the land of the flat — Texas. For the most part, Texas is like dried french fries; tasteless, unnecessarily long, and filled with fat. It’s the food bag handed to you that either is guaranteed to compliment your taste buds, or leave you high and dry. It’s the moment you realize that all the time spent sitting in line could have spent preparing something healthy.

Yet, despite acting like a country of its own, Texas is nearly so large you sometimes have to remember a lot have never stepped foot in Texas. Even now, if I meet someone who tells me they have never been to Texas, I have to take a step back mentally and go, “Woah. Are you serious? How can you not go to Texas?” I mean, I get why you wouldn’t visit Wyoming, or Idaho, or even Vermont, but Texas? How?

Getting on planes to and from Texas is always a reminder of that. You hear the chitter charter of various people excited (and nervous), to finally get to the land of infinite space. I’m happy for them. I’m happy that they find joy and excitement in something others wouldn’t. I find it perplexing, too, that so many complete strangers can all be on the same airplane, with so many different personality types, ways of thinking, personal beliefs and so on and so forth, and be heading to the same city.

Boarding time is really the only true glance you get at realizing how vast the public can be, whether it be with that glare given to you by simply accidentally rubbing shoulders, or sitting by someone so nervous they never look away from their screen(s). Sitting in large crowds can be highly uncomfortable (trust me, I know!), and judging someone off how they are in front of others isn’t necessarily fair. But it’s in the background where a sparkle in the mud brightens the rest of the trip.

I had the window seat, my friend had the middle, and a stranger picked up the aisle seat closer to departure time. Probably in his late-40’s, he sported a bald head, sunglasses and a goatee. From the beginning, he looked very nervous to be on the plane, and I initially told myself, “Who actually likes to sit next to people who look like teenagers?” Soft-spoken, he asked us if the wifi on the plane was free, and my friend ended up directing him to the (free!) live television Southwest offered on our flight. He thanked us, and went on his way.

The flight was pretty unmemorable for the majority of it, until we were twenty minutes from landing. The stranger sitting next to my friend looked at us and half-heartedly said with excitement, “Only twenty minutes away!” I was really surprised for some reason that the flight took less time (blame it on my boring ways to kill time), and from there, we both started talking to him despite most the cabin being quiet as a mouse.

He had been to Dallas once before, as a kid, and hardly remembered any of it. He wanted to know good places to eat at. He also wondered if we could the Maverick’s stadium from where we were at the time, and I asked him if he was a fan of theirs.

“No,” he said with a bittersweet smile, “Just wanted to know.” I told him, too, if he’s in Arlington, there’s hardly a chance he could miss the Cowboys stadium. But I mean, like, that’s a fact. It’s gargantuan.

He told us he retired early in Detroit after being laid off due to a plant shutting down. He has kids, both fairly young, and wanted R show us pictures of them but his phone had already died. I felt like opening up my laptop to let him charge it, but unfortunately, we were going to have to get off the plane soon. And for some reason, I still feel bad I didn’t do that.

But despite all of that, and despite all of thank you’s for helping him with phone issues, all of the sadness, nervousness and uneasiness suddenly made sense.

His dad had just passed away, and managed to find a free flight due to the emergency. Immediately, I felt very sad for him. Death manages to be the universal form of unifying everyone, in an absolutely unfortunate manner. Young and old, death turns life on its heels, and though there’s nothing you can do to reverse it, he sadness of seeing people go through their own process of acceptance is sometimes unbearable to watch.

I said, “I’m really sorry.” only a few times, but inside, I probably said, “Holy shit I feel so bad for this guy.” about twenty times. The look on his face the entire flight was of uneasiness and despair. He rubbed his head in stress multiple times, took loud, deep breaths and just looked like he never wanted to land.

Who would?

We talked about his life some, we talked about his dad some, and we talked about how shitty some people can be. But you know what? People are just overall dumb. Every single person to ever exist has done countless idiotic things, and yet, that’s oddly sort of intriguing. Different upbringings, different cities, different cultures, but the something regretful will still happen. As long as recognize and move past it, you’ll come out a better person. I told him a much more simple version of that, and he nodded in agreement.

Shortly before landing, he introduced himself as Eric, and packed his stuff ready to walk into this state full of unknowns. Again, he said thank you a few times, and though I doubt I looked it, it felt sort of weird for the conversation to end right there. Both my friend and I still feel very touched about what Eric talked to us about. Wherever he’s headed while in Texas, I genuinely wish the best for him, because times like these are near impossible to handle without an unfair amount of emotions pouring in.

As everyone poured into the terminal to claim their baggage, we both kept an eye on Eric as he walked unsurely around the food court. Maybe it was because we knew his reasoning here, or maybe it was his posture, but the confusion was apparent and extroverted. I said to my friend, “I feel so bad for that guy.” as we both watch him walk on from a distance

Eventually, I lost track of where he went. I was limping and paying attention to how awful my kneecap has hurt for close to two full days now, but just like that — Eric was gone. While you pass by hundreds to thousands a day, there are just some who stick out in the best way possible. And for tonight, Eric was that person.

Neither me nor my friend will probably ever run into him again, but Eric, welcome to Texas. I hope you end up finding the best burger joint in DFW, with the best fries in the area, and leave back to your family with a renewed sense of perspective.

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