Most of the time I don’t like talking to people on the plane. The last time I sat next to a chatty airplane passenger, I was on my way to Boston to start college. And while that person really wanted to offer advice on starting out in the world, I just wanted to be alone with my thoughts and fears.

Since then, I have learned to surround myself with various fortifications to prevent chatty in-flight neighbors (books, magazines, and the ever-important MP3 player with headphones), but today none of them worked.

The girl was one of the last to board the plane, and she sat in the middle seat, dashing my hopes for elbow room throughout the flight. But I kept to myself and she kept to herself (except for when she told the lady on the aisle about 2 minutes in the air that she really had to pee so she might have to leap over her when one of the lavatories opened).

Then the beverages came around. Southwest Airlines doesn’t serve food on its flights, so we got a snack pack and an orange juice, which I promptly spilled on myself before I managed 2 sips! This resulted in me having to call the flight attendant and mop up my tray, my lap, my iPhone…all the while, my neighbor helped by holding things and talking about how she was surprised it hadn’t been her who had spilled something, because she had been up for the last 36 hours.

I couldn’t resist asking, when given such a blatant invitation, “Why were you awake for so long?”

I didn’t have to open my paperback for the rest of the flight, she kept me so entertained.

Turns out she reconnected with an old flame, someone she had always thought of as a soulmate, and for whom she had been carrying a torch for lo these 8 long years (one-third of her life!). They spoke on the phone a few days ago where he revealed that he had been in love with her this whole time too.

No, she was not on her way to visit him, much to my disappointment. Instead, thus trip was to visit her grandfather, who planned to pass his knowledge of traditional Navajo jewelry-making to her. She had just graduated from the Moore College of Art & Design, and although she had just signed a year lease in her Philadelphia apartment, based on what she was telling me, she wouldn’t be staying in Philly for too long.

All in all, she was a sweet, open girl…very green, but talented with the pencil (she showed me some of her sketches, which were really lovely).

She has some aspirations to become a singer-songwriter, but she doesn’t know how to read music. She played some of her songs for me, and I suddenly realized exactly why one of my composer friends hates pop music…not because of its lyrical content, but because the musical make-up is simple and pedantic. This girl, of course, was just imitating what she was familiar with; so the songs were, like her, sweet and honest, but not really engaging or exciting. It seemed to me that she would be much better off concentrating on her visual art.

She asked me about myself, too…she was interested in what married life was like (probably dreaming of Mr. Eight-Year-Crush), and when I told her I was an opera singer, she wanted to know if I had any recordings of myself. I said yes, and played for her some snippets from my recital. She said my voice was “like one of those birds with shimmering plumage that you would love to touch but can never get close to.”

Of course I was flattered, but even more than that, I saw a girl who just wanted to absorb everything like a sponge, and it was nice to talk to someone like that on the first leg of my trip. When we landed in Houston, I gave her my card and told her to find me on Facebook.

The second leg of my trip, from Houston to Oakland, was fairly uneventful. I napped and tried not to spill anything else on myself. After all, I only packed one pair of pants for this journey!

Orange Juice and Aviation
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  • This is such a lovely posting, so refreshing and honest and you give such a great description of both your flight “companion” and yourself. Looking forward to reading about your California journey.