Have you ever heard one of those stories about a guy that sits down on a crowded airplane next to a nun - or some other interesting person - and has a spiritually profound conversation? This is not one of those stories. This is a story about a guy that sits down on a crowded airplane next to a moderately attractive woman in her forties who offers to buy him a drink.
Here's what I mean.
Let me begin by saying that I abhor Southwest's seating policy. Unlike most airlines, they don't give you an assigned seat. Instead, you get a boarding number and they establish a first come, first seated system. This set up forces you to recall the days of riding the school bus as you slowly walk down the aisle, avoiding eye contact, scouting out the best seat. By the time I usually get on the plane, only the middle seats remain. This means that I have to squeeze my 6 foot frame in between two passengers that are spilling into my seat. No armrests. No view of the Grand Canyon. No sleeping. All elbows.
Naturally, I was expecting the same results when I found myself 98 people deep on the boarding list yesterday. The flight from Phoenix to Tulsa was full and seating was bound to be limited. I had my doubts as I walked down the jet bridge. I flung my backpack over my shoulder, tapped the side of the plane twice and ducked inside.
Yep. Crowded. Nearly full. I walked sideways down the middle of the plane, eyeing potential seats. Let's see... mother and baby? Nope. Guy with impressively weird mustache and Crocodile Dundee hat? Nope. Exit row? Of course not. That guy with his laptop open got it. He's probably been in here for 40 minutes already.
I reached the back half of the plane before I noticed it. A beacon of hope! Proof that this life has not lost all meaning! An aisle seat! I stopped, trying not to be too excited... maybe she's holding it for someone... there's no way a prime seat like this would be still available... I'll ask her... Oh, it's all mine? Wow. Thanks. Perfect.
I started to sit down when a boisterous voice directly behind my new seat companion spoke up.
"Don't hit on her. She's married!"
Usually I am pretty fast on my feet. Quick witted, they say. But this remark threw me. My mind went into a tailspin. Who was this guy? Did he know her? Was she married? Wait, stop thinking and say something.
"Uh..." I started, "I'm married too, but I will..."
And that's when he cut me off. I was going to say that I will try not to. That, I figured, was lighthearted enough but still communicated that I had no intentions of hitting on this woman. But he didn't let me finish! I was stuck with a joke that I did not plan.
"Ha! He said 'I will' - Ha. That's great!"
I'm not sure who he was talking to but he spoke loud enough that you could assume the answer was, THE entire plane. He loved my unintentional joke. I knew this because he was slapping the back of my seat, giving me an "atta-boy" through the padding. The woman next to me laughed and rolled her eyes.
Seeing that I had won the favor of both the lady next to me and my wingman by default, I sat down, slid my backpack under the seat in front of me, and did the only thing I could do at the moment. [exhale] I hit on the woman next to me.
"You come here often?" I asked her. You see, that is funny because it is normally something you say to a woman in a bar. You come here often? But we were in an airplane. And even if she flies a lot, I seriously doubt that she had been on that particular airplane before.
She laughed. The guy behind her erupted. We buckled our seat belts and started down the runway.
Awkward moment behind me, I pulled out my book and began reading. The lady continued a conversation with the older woman on the other side of her. The guy behind us continued to talk loudly. After a few minutes, he addressed me again. Just ignore him, I thought. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for a good time, but this was weird. Even by my standards.
I listened while trying to figure out exactly who he was and why he was so concerned with me hitting on the woman next to me. He hung over the seat and pestered her like a little brother on a road trip would his sister. He tapped her on top of her head. Shook her seat. He told me how expensive her taste was.
"Be careful with her... you'll go broke!"
As strange as the interaction was, it was obvious that she didn't seem to mind. So who was he? I worked through the list of potential suspects. I ruled out work associate. He's was too friendly with her. Maybe brother? Nope. Not that either. Finally I asked her.
"So, I'm assuming that you know these guys behind us." I said.
"Yes" she replied, "The older gentleman against the window is my father. The guy next to him, that's my husband."
She didn't seem annoyed with her spouse. Don't read that into her voice. But I did have to ask the one question you are wondering now.
"Why isn't he sitting with you?"
"Oh, he's just trying to score points with his father-in-law?"
"By trying to get a young stranger to hit on his daughter?"
If it couldn't get any weirder, it turned out that her mother was sitting at the end of our row too. The entire family was in on this weird conversation. I just happened to be caught in the middle. As it turned out, the family was traveling from California to Oklahoma, sort of like reading the Grapes of Wrath in reverse, for a wedding. Her friendly husband had never been to the midwest and his excitement was oozing out all over the place, revealing itself in awkward comments.
They were nice people and the conversation was entertaining to say the least. They asked what I did. Asked about my wife and my opinion on Oklahoma autumns.
"They really don't exist" I said, "One week it is 80 degrees and then it snows the next."
As the drink cart came by, the woman asked me if she could buy me a drink. This was an unexpected and bold proposition, considering the way we were introduced, but an honest one nevertheless.
I asked if she was sure. Told her it was unnecessary. But she insisted. Was she trying to seduce me? As far as I know, probably not... but I am a little rusty when it comes to those sorts of things. Plus, she is sitting next to her mom. This family was friendly but they weren't that friendly. Weighing the factors, I did the only thing I could do. [exhale] I said yes.