Some people are chatty on planes. I am not. I prefer no chatter because if the person is super nosey or a loud laugher, then you are stuck next to them for hours. Of course if spoken to, I speak back, but there's no doubt I lay down the hurdles.
A couple of weeks ago, I took a redeye from LAX to JFK and was one of the last to board. Walking towards my row- lucky number 22- I looked up and was struck by the bright blue eyes I'd be sitting next to.
Great, rule one of non-engagement has been broken: first comes eye contact, next comes conversation.
I immediately avoided face looks as I made way to the window seat.
As soon as my back hit, a subtle "hello" came from my left.
"Hi," I responded with a toothless smile. Hurdle down.
"Looks like we'll be spending the night together."
I immediately looked at him and laughed.
"Lucky you," I smiled.
He was a nice looking man (actually quite handsome), soft-spoken, dry-witted, and seemed slightly melancholy in tone. He mentioned twice that he's in L.A. for business once a month- something to do with Time Warner as a client. I explained that I was going out to the Vineyard for work and he asked most of the usual questions people ask when I tell them what I do for a living.
"I live in Danbury, it's much cheaper than Westchester."
Suburb guy, I thought. Must be married. Then why is he so chatty...
"I've been to Danbury- to that mall, the Williams-Sonoma. And isn't there a big womens' correctional facility out there? I used to go to school relatively close," which prompted him to ask about my background, where I grew up, etc.
We talked California vs. New York differences and I explained my desire to move back to New York City.
"I think you will," he said knowingly.
We were both exhausted but continued talking through the pauses.
"Are you married?" I asked.
"No." He responded quickly.
"A daughter 8 and a son 10."
"Are you a widower?"
He let out a loudish laugh.
"What?" I could tell by his reaction that he wasn't.
"Why would you ask that?" He didn't seem angry but I didn't want to inform him of his melancholy tone.
"Because when you meet a stranger and find out they're not married and ask if they're divorced, but the answer is that their spouse is deceased, then it's incredibly awkward and sad. But if you get out of the way that that's not the case- there were no tragic deaths involved- then it makes the whole divorce thing not as bad."
For the next few hours I huddled into my window corner, but I can never really fall asleep on planes. I allowed myself to turn my closed eyes and body close to his seat, something I only do when I sit next to family or friends. He seemed okay with it, like if my head were to fall onto his shoulder, he'd let it stay there.
I didn't sleep much and somewhere over Pennsylvania, other people's cracked windows let in the east coast sunlight. He was awake and watching a morning show. I could tell that he was waiting for me to rise but I kept my eyes shut until we landed. He handed me my camera case from the overhead and walked next to me to the gate where his colleague from the same flight was waiting for him.
"It was a pleasure meeting you," he said with a warm smile, walking towards his work person.
"Thanks for a great night together," I shouted with inappropriate insinuation and waved.
The colleague turned around to look at me. His eyes were not strikingly blue.
When I got to the house in Martha's Vineyard and told this story to my client, she asked why I didn't give him my number.
"He didn't ask. I think he was waiting for me to give more of a hint and I just didn't. But maybe I should have. I guess I'll just put this into that connection with a stranger catalogue." They don't happen often but when they do, you never forget them.
If you remove those hurdles, how quickly your life can change. Much like redeye sleep, when you're in and out of dreams and reality, you can choose where to wake up. We were at the airport, but right before that, when the flight attendants received final notice to prepare for landing, we were in his kitchen. I was looking into his bright blue eyes while slicing him a piece of breakfast quinoa.
"Quinoa in a skillet?" he'd question.
"See, divorce isn't so bad." I'd say.
Banana-Walnut Quinoa Breakfast Skillet
INGREDIENTS: (makes one 9” skillet)
- 3 tablespoons melted butter, divided
- 1 cup quinoa
- 1 ¾ cups water
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- pinch salt
- 2 medium bananas, preferably overripe
- 1/3 cup maple syrup
- 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup chopped walnuts
-Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease skillet (a 9 “sauté pan also works) with 1 tablespoon of melted butter
-Start by rinsing and quinoa and cooking with olive oil and pinch of salt over medium heat, about 10 minutes. When done, fluff with fork and let cool on side while preparing other ingredients.
For the wet ingredients:
-Using a blender, add the bananas, maple syrup, the remaining 2 tablespoons melted butter, vanilla extract and eggs and mix on low until just thoroughly combined. It’s okay if there’s some chunks from the bananas.
For the dry ingredients:
-Once quinoa is cool, mix in the baking soda, cinnamon, salt and walnuts.
-Completely mix all wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and scrape into the skillet. Smooth out evenly with a spatula and bake at 350 F 35-40 minutes, or until top is slightly golden.
-Cut into slices and serve warm with additional maple syrup and bananas.