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Conversation On An Airplane

The art of conversation, or at least practice, is as dead and gone as your grandmother’s DeSoto sedan.

This didn’t happen last week nor last decade but it makes no difference. We no longer sit and talk about wherever the conversation takes us; instead we watch what the television screen shows us.

I suppose it’s a big loss, but compared with some other things lost in recent times, Conversation would not appear among the ten most important.

This somewhat sad fact was apparent to me following a recent cross-country five-hour flight. I boarded a crowded San Diego-bound airplane in Charlotte, elbowed my way to Row 8, slung my leather carry-on box up among the others, and glanced down to find Seat D.

It was in the middle of a trio of chairs and I had to step awkwardly over a yellow Labrador dog while avoiding the knees of its owner. A few “oops” and an “excuse me” got me seated.

The Labrador was a seeing eye dog and my new neighbor was blind as you in a dark cave with a sleeping bag pulled over your head. I didn’t know just how impaired his eyesight was until he asked me, mid-flight, to help him find the restroom. It was more complicated than you’d think.

Of course I agreed to navigate to the bathroom 60 feet ahead, and proved it by stepping past him (name of Cody Kirchner by the way) and walking through filmy curtains into Business Class and boldly onward.

Then I discovered Cody hadn’t accompanied me; he was stranded 55 feet behind, pawing and flailing at confusing sheets of obstructive curtain, like stumbling through a big spider web in a dark room.

I retreated and apologized but for no need, he said, planting his right hand on my right shoulder as we strode smartly up the aisle. From there a stewardess held the lavatory door open but of course he couldn’t see it any better than he could see the curtains across the aisle. He groped. I took a forearm, nudged him through the door and left him alone to make sense of a tiny, unfamiliar room filled with odd buttons, locks, switches, handles and tissue dispensers.

Back in Row 8 we talked about our destinations and plans. He would deplane in San Diego, meet some teammates then go somewhere or other.

Teammates? I furrowed my brow quizzically, not that he noticed.

He explained. Cody is a member of the USA International Amateur Blind Soccer team and there were some upcoming west coast games.

The reader is invited to pause and read once again, perhaps aloud, the words “USA International Amateur Blind Soccer team.” Take your time.

Cody explained the soccer ball with rattles inside, protocols for approaching it while also avoiding onfield collisions, goalies with vision and a recent 1-0 victory against Canada. The best teams come from Brazil; the Americans are new to everything and have not yet hit their stride.

All this is a little beside the point when Cody talks about the first-in-a-lifetime thrill of running as fast as he can as far as he can for as long as he can, then collapsing on lush grass, smelling raw earth.

And the pride in pulling on a jersey that announces he represents USA on a world stage.

His dog, whose name I’ve regrettably forgotten, had laid his big blocky head on my shoes half an hour ago. It’s rare to the point of never that I’ve been so grieved to hear the pilot announce we were about to land.

He left the plane ahead of me and everyone else. When I last saw him he was standing still as a statue in the boarding area, big loyal dog seated beside him. “Need any help?” I asked. “Luggage carousel?”

Cody politely declined, saying his coach had been on the same plane and would soon take control. We said goodbye.

Everyone has a story and a life. Some guy, if you ask, is supposed to meet Jennifer Aniston for lunch, another guy had brain surgery last month and woke up speaking French. A woman’s grandma just won a Nobel prize, and her uncle was married to a WWII Navajo Code Talker.

Or we can lean back and watch onscreen flight entertainment choices.

Unsolicited review

We were looking for an experienced construction crew to do a modest but somewhat complicated project on our 120 year old house on the west side. Brian Bishop and ArcBishop Construction was (thankfully) recommended by friends.

Work quality was better than we’d anticipated, completed sooner than expected and all under budget. He did a variety of minor extra repairs without even mentioning them.

And Trophy the wife loved Brian’s dogs; she had them come over to play in the house while the work went on.

Five Stars, we say!

Another cool thing, says Tom Hine about striking up that airplane conversation: I told my wife that I was able to steal most of the guy’s pretzels off his tray table. The next morning TWK told her I was only kidding, and that it was really peanuts.

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