What Kind of Traveler Am I?

In biz class you have one seat mate, and since I often travel alone, that person is usually a stranger. On the bigger, fancier planes — like United’s Polaris service, the ones that fly overseas — each seat is sort of sequestered, so a traveler has his or her own little space. But on domestic routes, you typically get a seat mate.

I like to think I’m polite when I fly — saying hello to my seat mate and exchanging pleasantries about how the day is going is within my range — but I’m not chatty. A four or five or six hour trip is, for me, a chance to read my Kindle, or watch a movie with earphones on, or close my eyes and doze. I go into full-on introvert mode.

On the Minneapolis to Seattle flight, my seat mate was talkative — or tried to be. She asked for a Bloody Mary and got not only the mixed drink, but another small bottle of vodka and a glass of tomato juice, in case she wanted a refill. She did, and joked out loud about being tipsy upon arrival. I smiled but didn’t engage. Our meal came. Since the flight was just a little over three hours, I put on my earphones and started the movie. I think she was disappointed.

Before getting on the plane I took the opportunity to get my leather shoes polished, and that conversation actually was engaging. The guy had been doing airport traveler shoes for 40 years. His daughter was just graduating with a Master’s degree, and he didn’t think she’d ever have to bend over people’s feet the way he did to make a living. He wasn’t bitter or demeaning of his line of work — he just seemed glad his daughter didn’t have to do it. And he had a granddaughter graduating from high school. He did a great job, and I gave him a big tip. Jerry used to keep a shoeshine kit with a well-worn rag for applying polish, which I kept for about ten years and then got rid of because I didn’t think I’d buy that kind of leather shoes again. I recognize a well-seasoned polish rag from Jerry’s kit, and that’s what started our conversation.


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