Everywhere I travel, tiny life. Single-serving sugar, single-serving cream, single pat of butter. The microwave Cordon Bleu hobby kit. Shampoo-conditioner combos, sample-packaged mouthwash, tiny bars of soap. The people I meet on each flight? They’re single-serving friends. - Fight Club
After a three day seratonin-draining rock fest in 106 degree heat, it helps to have a night in a hot tub, reeling it all in, feeling your muscles turn to putty and having a good laugh at what a strange and wonderful weekend it was. Of course, this helps, but then there comes the pangs of knowing it is your last night of vacation and you have to go back to reality the next day. And there are things you are ready to return to, things that you need and people you miss.
But you also know that going home means coming home to see what you left behind: laundry, cold air, stubbed toes and bills. And you also know the travel it takes, hours in the car, hugs goodbye, airport security, and the scourge of the overhead compartment.
It was this that almost pushed me to my breaking point. After hustling down the jetway and trying to force my duffel bag into any of the bins remotely close to my seat, I nearly decked a foreign gentlemen after he tried to push me away from moving his precious laptop bag. I managed to find a little bit of space in a bin a few aisles away and squished my bag in. Of course it didn’t fit, but only by an inch.
“Here,” I hear a voice say, “I’ll hold it and you close it.” The guy, older and smaller than me, had done this before. He saw my frustration and helped without even asking. It was comforting and helped me calm down, if only momentarily. I thanked him and made it to my seat by the window. He was seated next to me.
“Sorry about that,” I said, “It’s been a long day.” And it had been. We made idle talk for a few minutes, and he asked me about the movie that would be playing in flight. “Typical Tom Cruise faire,” I said, and plopped in my headphones to try to zone out.
A quarter or so into the movie, my single-serving friend made a comment about my wristband, and I told him about the Coachella festival. I recapped the weekend of half-naked white kids in the desert, all clamoring for a spot closer to Thom Yorke or Snoop Dog. He said it sounded fun, and asked me if there was anyone on mescaline. That it would have been his drug of choice. It seemed a bit assuming for him to say something about drugs right out of the blue, but it also informed the tone of our conversation.
He told me he was 60 and a fitness coach. He told me he had been in Costa Rica, visiting properties he had invested in, and he told me had been seeing his 30 year old girlfriend - one of four.
I asked him what his secret was and he told me it wasn’t a secret at all. He said it was about being special, about being unique to a culture. He told me the women in Costa Rica flocked to American men, no matter how fat or old or lame they were. To them, the Americans were special and interesting. He told me it was that feeling that made him keep running there.
The guy, whose name I still didn’t know, told me the story of how his marriage of 25 years had failed, how he had chased the notion of the American Dream. Go to school, join the military, get a job, meet a wife, have some kids, get a promotion, buy some property, live the dream, etc.
None of it made him too happy, though. I told him about my situation, how I was at a crossroads and wasn’t quite sure what to do with my life, where to go, or where I should start. I told him I was a writer, that I had some experience and I knew how to work hard. I told him I wore my heart on my sleeve, and that sometimes I let my temper get the best of me.
We shared stories of women and times we partied too hard, stories of being left in the dirt and when we dropped the ball on something important. Somewhere in all that, I realized that I was only getting started in my life. Here was a guy, a complete stranger twice my age, who had lived a very full and interesting life, full of ups and downs, and he had never stopped just appreciating life for everything it is, no matter how shitty it got.
Three and a half hours later, we landed in Chicago wiser and stoic. We wished each other luck, and acknowledged the conversation as being important to us both. We listened and learned from each other and knew it. I had the hope I will be as kind and enlightened as this guy when I get to be his age.
“I’m Jeremy,” I said, extending my my hand.
“I’m Rich,” he said, and I believed him.