Chicago O’Hare to Lexington Kentucky

There is a real difference when travelling from airport hub cities to other hub cities versus traveling from non hub cities to non hub cities Airport consolidation and the challenged economy limit choices and increase costs. One of the Regional Vice Presidents from Kentucky asked me to speak to their meeting a year ago. The invitation was inviting as I had never been to Kentucky and my calendar had almost no commitments beyond the critical ones: my wedding anniversary, my wife’s birthday, the kids birthday, Easter, Christmas, the 4th of July. This was a one day event in horse country. Cool.

In order to limit the time the trip required, the travel schedule was to arrive after 9 pm on United from Chicago. The plane was what the industry calls a Commuter Jet. It is not surprising that the airline industry does not do what the car industry does, define the SIZE of the plane. This was not a sub compact, but it was definitely a compact. It is amazing how many people, with small luggage can get on the plane…The overhead bins bear striking resemblance to the glove compartment in my car.

I sit down in 5C…Hope that I have the row, if you would call two seats that are smaller than Fenway seats, a row. The last person gets one the plane, cell phone is his ear, and points at the seat next to me. He is loud. The flight attendant watches as my seat mate continues his conversation for EVERYONE to hear. The flight attendant approaches me and asks if I would like to move to the row behind the exit row as I would have the row to myself. Quickly, I move. My soon to be former seat mate continues a conversation and proceeds to move to my former seat before I am out of it…

Take my new seat, and just before the door to the airplane closes, a young man comes barreling down the aisle. He has a laptop, a beer, and a sense of great relief. “I was in the bar man, on the phone with a buddy…almost missed this connection.” He was one his way to visit his girlfriend in Lexington. As soon as he sits down and buckles up, the flight attendant comes buy, sees the beer, and says with a smile: “Is that what I think it is?” My new seat mate finishes the last gulp of bear and says” Not sure what you think it is, but it isn’t anymore. (You cannot bring open alcohol onto a plane because you would then not have to pay $6 for table wine).

We settle in. Mark is on this way to Lexington to visit his girlfriend of 2 and half years. The conversation is very light banter. Just fine with me today. He looks very athletic and says he plays baseball in a couple of leagues in Pittsburgh. Guess he is thirtyish. He mentions that he loved baseball his whole life. “Did you play in college?” He had received a baseball scholarship 12 years earlier, but was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. He talked about the diagnosis and how he had to replace his baseball scholarship with academic ones. He graduated with honor and has a great job with a transportation company. With a few leading questions, he spoke unusually openly. We talked about the disease, his expensive drug protocol, issues with twice a year colonoscopies, cancer within his family and more. When you face your own mortality before you are really an adult, it strips away pretense and privacy. Two of his comments were strikes of a tolling bell: “At 18, I was really depressed when I was first diagnosed, and wondered whether I should bother going on… I have answer that question.” and “ I know I am going to get cancer, just want to postpone it as long as possible.” Both comments were delivered without wrapping paper of emotion.

Eventually, we moved to talk about his upcoming weekend with his girlfriend in Lexington. They had met in Jacksonville, Florida, his home town. She was from Lexington. They were very serious…In fact serious enough that he would wear the powder blue sear sucker suit she had purchased for him with the pink striped shirt to the horse races over the weekend. “That better not get on facebook, or my baseball buddies will never let me forget it.”

While they were serious, he was working to learn to trust people again. He had been engaged to be married before. He thought it was perfect. They had even purchased a home together. His job required travel and it was hard on her. She would always ask if he was alone. A few years ago, she called him on her way home to tell him that she would be gone when he arrived. She had met someone else and was moving on. He talked about the betrayal and the hurt. “I knew something was wrong, just not what.”

He had no contact with her until her new boyfriend committed suicide and she wanted to reconnect. It was hard for him to say no, but it was necessary. Now he was with a woman with a loving family, with whom he hoped to create another loving family.
He will do well at it.

This was one of those conversations that you really enjoy. Here is someone who has faced serious life challenges, who does not just endure, but engages. As we landed and our paths diverged, we had created a connection: common travelers, for 1 hour on life’s pilgrimage.