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Jerry on Flying

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Spending the night in an airport is known to be the first-world-problem of expats, Florida-driven retirees, and I suppose, the children of Florida-driven retirees like myself. So after a lengthy night of doing so in the fluorescent corner of a terminal gate, I again seemed to be the lucky person to be seated next to a chatterbox around 7:34 the following night.

The flight from Dallas to Moline wasn’t a truly lengthy one: only about two and a half hours on a small aircraft, with a single stewardess and two rows. It was more of a trope than something I’d see happen to me, so I surprised myself by not being the most receptive.

Immediately, the guy’s aura was apparent. He was old, kind-looking with alert blue eyes and gold glasses. He had the sincere, candid demeanor of someone not quite in tune with the world around him. He looked like a Jerry of sorts.

“I’ve got grandkids and you’ll probably hear about them before we land,” Jerry said. He dug through a bag for a flip phone, a sight so jolting it was nostalgic. The shaky video of two toddlers hugging each other was strangely charming.

I told him I was from Bettendorf. He dove into a long-winded tale of his adolescence where he wrestled at Assumption High around “oh, what… ’67? Those wrestlers and getting their ears all like cauliflowers. I really wasn’t very good. But one guy was, and he beat me.”  1967: So Jerry was around 65.

I found myself purposely falling sleep to avoid the then-torment of Jerry’s innocent chatter. I felt bad, but there was something about his nature—or mine—that I wasn’t up for at the time.

“But I’m over it,” Jerry immediately said when I awoke, half an hour later. “The wrestling match, I mean.”

When Jerry discovered I was studying journalism and cinema, he exclaimed, “There wasn’t even anything called a film critic then. There was this one 1978 SNL skit with John Belushi when cocaine and child porn were just all over, and he was going nuts—“ Jerry lavishly reenacted the scene, his arms trembling. “Then it turned out he was just eating a powdered doughnut!” he laughed.

I did not know who John Belushi was.

Jerry seemed to live in the past, in his high school memories where things were safe and sound and untouched. But even if he had to, Jerry didn’t seem to have a problem with recounting. It didn’t seem like a bad place to be.

I awoke again, with an hour and a half to go. Jerry had two new bags of pretzels on his tray table. “You know, politics are just crazy these days, with the election and all.” Jerry maybe would’ve been a Bernie bro, if that were of any relevance to him. “And it’s just ridiculous to me that felons can’t vote. It doesn’t make any sense.”

My inner self raised an eyebrow. But it was an interesting proposal: why aren’t felons weren’t able to vote in states, and what’s that have to do with any period of incarceration? Or Jerry’s options here? Most importantly, though: what did the guy do?

“Fiery rascal she is!” Jerry murmured aloud to nobody in particular. He was referring the stewardess, all-smiles with red hair. When she came by with beverages, Jerry smirked, “Shaken or stirred?”

Something about the effort into an hour-long idea of seeing and talking to people I knew I’d never see again was just profound. Maybe it was gimmicky, but it was still an enigma. Maybe Craigslist’s “missed connections” really wasn’t a lost cause.

Jerry offered me a stick of Juicy Fruit and I took it. I owed him that much, although it was stale. As we approached lower altitudes, Jerry looked past me out the window at the windmills, marveling at them as if he hadn’t seen one in years. After landing with 30 minutes too long of taxiing, Jerry noted, as if it were a passing afterthought—“Well, have a good one!”

I thought about sleeping in airports more often after that.