Last weekend I took a trip to Idaho to visit a friend, and I had the good fortune of making a new one before I’d even boarded my plane in Oakland. It was an early flight, and I sat at the gate in between two empty chairs trying to stay awake when a big group of fly-lookin’ gentlemen strolled up. They were about to sit on either side of me so I offered to move over and give them at least two adjacent seats. I dropped my iPod and a member of the group reached down to grab it, saying “well thank you, pretty lady” as he took the chair next to mine. He then asked how I was doing, where I was going, and told me I was a “wonderful person” for paying a visit to a friend. Of course I liked him already.
I don’t always enjoy conversations with strangers in airports or on planes; needless to say, some of the people I meet are rather annoying. Nonetheless, I try to be polite and at least exchange niceties – and although I’m aware of the risk of cornering myself in an awkward (or worse, boring) conversation, I’m always willing to see if it might turn into a pleasant chat. The risk is worth the possible payoff that you might get lucky and meet someone interesting.
And last Friday morning, I struck gold. This fellow was pretty charismatic for a man in his sixties making an early connecting flight, but I suppose I should have guessed based on the big diamond rocks in his ears and black and yellow sunglasses that matched his outfit. He had it goin’ on. When he mentioned that he was also going to Boise to play a show before moving on to the next city, I asked him sweetly what kind of show. “Oh we’re playing the state fair out there,” he said, then paused for a second and turned to me, looked over the rim of his glasses and added, “We’re The Temptations.”
I reacted accordingly, and quickly realized I couldn’t let this conversation die. We talked for about 20 minutes until it was time to board the plane, covering the following topics: Idaho, Los Angeles (where he’s lived for over 30 years), the hot weather in Texas (where he was born), Detroit (including Motown and the riots), the Olympics, Michael Phelps, Shawn Johnson (whom he adores), travel in general, his favorite places to perform (Rio, London, Paris, Hawaii), Amsterdam, drugs, my tan, my job as a swim instructor and whether I wear a bikini while teaching, my biceps (which he felt), and what it takes to throw a good punch.
My favorite story was what he told me about his first time in Amsterdam. Their host greeted them when they arrived for a performance in the early ’70s, and took them to see a “movie.” He thought this was weird, and I guessed right that it was actually a live sex show. “Yep!” he said, “They were on stage makin’ love to one of our hits!”
Yes, this was a charismatic individual. I imagine it’s a prerequisite to be a part of the Temptations. About midway through our conversation, he started pointing out his fellow band members, one he called “Old Man River,” one he told me to watch out for, and he raised his voice to say “Hey guys, this is Shannon.” Of course I liked this too. Then my new friend turned to me, offered his hand like a gentleman, and said in a sweet, sonorous voice, “Otis Williams, nice to meet ya.” I could just barely see his eyes through his sunglasses, but they certainly had the wisdom, charm and sparkle of a man who’s been singing love and soul to the world for 47 years.
So, I offer this advice to myself and others: talk to strangers in airports, because one of them might just turn out to be a living legend singing a sweeter song than the birds in the trees.