United Chicago to Providence 13 January 2010 6:50

It was a cold winter Chicago day and I was ready to go home. While I like the concept of one day meetings, they can be challenging. This had been organized on little notice and was important. The trip out on Tuesday had been uneventful. We started our meeting the next morning at 8 am Chicago time so that we could finish at 3 pm to take evening flights home. Everything was working exactly per plan. Meeting finished. Since I left downtown before rush hour, O’Hare was only a half hour away. Checked a bag to make security easier. (Wishful thinking).

The first obstacle to getting home was Security. The line looked comparatively short, but only one station was open. It is prudent to have two forms of government issued identification so I travel with my passport and my driver’s license. The line crawled ever so slowly. The mix of people was in fact interesting. One of the people in line must have been 7 foot tall. His girlfriend/wife might have been 5’4” While they were ‘interesting,’ people’s reaction was more enjoyable. Most wanted to really look, but had been told as kids, do not stare. So must were involved in the ‘subtle scan.’ Pretend to be looking at the larger view, while focusing on a specific subject. It is a skill set you develop as a parent. How do you think you get ‘eyes in the back of your head.” When I line I study the passports the passengers hold. You can tell where they are from by the color and the symbol on the front. Today, there were lots of German, Canadian, Polish and Chinese passport holders in line. What was more interesting is that Spanish was the most common language spoken in the security line, not English. It was intriguing.

When I finally got through the metal detector, the TSA padded me down as I was wearing a sweater, The first time it happened on a trip to Europe fifteen years ago, it was unnerving. Post 9 11… whatever you need to do, do!

This particular night we are taking one of the smaller commuter planes to Providence.
As a result we are leaving from gate F12. You go outside and up the planes stairway to get on board. This night the seat assignment is 9C. After settling in a young Latino couple came down the main aisle. She sits in 9B, He in 9D, next to me. We exchange pleasantries. “Would you like to switch seats so you can sit together?” “Not yet” I cannot help but smile.

Chris is a mechanic for United based at San Francisco International Airport. He lives in San Jose. He and his wife and ICU nurse had moved to the Bay Area from Orlando about a year earlier. “Not one of our best decisions/” His accent, or rather his vocabulary, was distracting. It was difficult to place. “As a mechanic, are we travelling on a good plane?” Yes he insisted, because the plane was new and had been assembled in Canada. (A clue?) Chris had been raised in Canada as his father had been in the US Army and had been station in Canada. As a result he had dual citizenship. His wife was a British citizen who was living in London. I must have misheard. They had moved to the Bay Area and she accepted a job in ICU at a local hospital. Within 6 months of arriving, both of them had their work hours reduced from 40 to 24…full time to part time. As a result, his wife took a leave of absence from the hospital and moved back to Great Britain, at least for a year. Chris could not obtain employment in London, so they had a commuter marriage, at least for the moment.

I asked if they had any children, not yet. He added that they were trying, with a big smile. But he also added their living arrangement made it difficult. Not surprising given the fact that his wife was exhausted and sleeping.

Chris talked with me about national health insurance, comparing the Canadian, British and American strengths and weaknesses. We talk about airplanes and the cost of airplane parts. “That light at the end of the wing, the green one, costs $6000 on this plane/” He was animated and talkative.

This entire conversation happened before we took off. It also preceded our seat change.The passenger in the window seat wanted to switch with Chris, so I retained my seat and Chris and anonymous switched. Anonymous sat down with a grunt and proceeded to cough and sniffles for the 2 hour flight. Maybe he was sick.

We landed on time and I was home. Chris was meeting his brother’s family in Providence. (His brother had just been laid off by GTECH, but was doing fine).

We smiled at each other as we left the baggage terminal. We enjoyed our conversation, but both of us knew we would never cross paths again.