I noticed him at the Gate 3A at Burbank Airport where I was somewhat anxiously waiting to board Southwest Airlines flight 207 to Denver with a brief (and unadvertised) stop in Las Vegas before continuing on. He was tall, taller than me, and I’m tall. He had the body of Michael Phelps, only topped with a matinee-idol face and Robert Redford-like hair, from back when Redford’s hair needed its own tax ID number. Despite arriving at the gate rather late, he seemed unfazed by the general confusion and anxiety that seemed to have turned everyone else subjected to Southwest Airline’s Byzantine boarding system into nervous hens. My first reaction, purely out of inchoate envy (did I mention he was younger, too, but not young enough to dismiss) was to, well, not like him.
Seriously, it was just a moment and I soon forgot about it as I boarded and took my seat on the aisle. The plane’s crew announced that the flight would be full, so we shouldn’t try to deter anybody from taking the seat next to us by strategically placing belongings in it. It’s fun to gauge how these scenarios will play out when you’re on a plane –- such a laboratory for studying human behavior.
Before long, a quite attractive black woman managing two kids, a boy barely out of toddler-hood and the other a near-infant girl, took the two empty seats next to an Asian man in the window seat in the row in front of me. After politely allowing the woman and her kids to find seats in his row, he fled to the window seat in my row. Soon after, blonde Adonis boarded, still seemingly as nonplussed as he was in the gate area. He came to the row in front of me, and without any trace of trepidation, asked the woman if the aisle seat in her row was taken. She said it wasn’t. There were other seats available, but this dude –- and if anyone deserves the moniker, it’s him -– chose to sit next to the black woman and her two kids.
Now, I know what you’re thinking, what’s the big fucking deal, right? Man, sits next to woman and her kids on a packed flight. But . . . it was hard not to look at this as some small sociological case study, however cooked up by the fact that I was headed to the Dem Convention where the first black American was about to be nominated for president. It also didn’t help/hurt that the guy now sitting in my row had fled the scene.
I wondered how many people, when confronted with this scenario — particularly how many white folks (or blacks if the scenario were reversed) — would have seen the seat next to this woman and her two young children as a seat of last resort? But this guy didn’t give it a second thought, really.
The flight took off smoothly and I didn’t pay the story in front of me too much more attention. Oh, wait, I did follow the guy to the bathroom once to see if he actually was taller than me (he was). Okay, I did have to pee, too. But beyond that, I’d look up every now and then to see the man and the woman in front of me engaged in animated conversation. I was glad they were getting along and that nothing uncomfortable was happening. It doesn’t take a great leap to imagine a less tolerant scene unfolding in which some other dude gets overly annoyed at the fussy and sometimes loud kids, throws looks or body language, and generally takes full advantage of the opportunity to be a prick.
But not this guy, damn him, he was fully enjoying his row mates and I was beginning to feel defeated by the general awesomeness of the dude. I went back to reading the Sunday LA Times, which is now smaller than the Saturday one used to be. I finished reading a pretty bad column in which the usually sharp Steve Lopez urged people to hitchhike, or something like that, and looked up again.
That’s when I noticed that the dude was not only fully assimilated to his row mates, but that the little boy was now in his arms, asleep, with his head on the dude’s shoulder. Then, of all things, the mother got up and went to the bathroom, leaving dude in full charge of the brood. It was like they were a family already. And it was completely unselfconscious and wholly integrated. I don’t mean racially integrated, dummies, but I mean soulfully integrated… like human beings should look out for each other integrated.
I know what you’re thinking. Jeez, white boy got some moves. After all, I did mention Mom’s was hot, right? But, really, it wasn’t like that. I could tell, as he helped her get her bags together and proceed off the plane, that there were no moves being made. It was just folks being decent. And, shit, I was done. Dude had me beat, completely won over. He made me smile.
I could easily be accused of looking at things threw Obama-tinted glasses, but I couldn’t help but think that what happened in the row in front of me was one of those amazing moments when you see the present moving into, and helping create, the future.