This is true account of an event that happened on a short flight years ago.
I was at the boarding gate, waiting for the airline employees to call out my name from the standby list. The time between each name took forever, similar to the tension-building used in those televised competitions. Nervous with anticipation, my mind shuffled through ideas on what next steps I would need to take should I not make the flight. Hotel? Different airline? Next flight? When was the next flight? Finally, after fourth name was called. It was mine.
The ticket agent checked me in, ushering me to the threshold of that long corridor that lead me to the airplane. The crew member at the door welcomed me and advised me to quickly take my seat. I stepped inside with all eyes on me. No one was behind me. I really was the last person on this flight.
In a somewhat quick pace, I made my way down the center aisle to find my row – it turned out to be the very last row – wtf. My seat was, of course, the middle seat between two men. The man on the aisle seat – a suspiciously looking guy with athletic build wearing indiscreet clothing including a navy sports jacket. If I didn’t know any better, I would peg him for an FBI agent or sky marshal. He unbuckled his seat belt, stood up, gave me a quick nod and slight smile, welcoming me into the row. The other man by the window was much older, and very thin, wearing a neatly pressed shirt and a bow tie. He greeted me as I struggled into my seat, not taking the time to remove my sports jacket. I jumped in, buckled up and gave a polite smile back.
The man on my left – the “sky marshal” – gave me a quick look and opened his book. I registered that he did not want to be bothered; which I was in complete agreement – I too, would rather not have to engage in full conversation in the already uncomfortably confined space. Typically, I put on my headphones, listen to music or some podcast, or for longer flights, fill the time watching the TV screen in front of me. So, yes, duly noted, spy man. The thin man with the bow tie on my right, still silent and patiently looking out the window.
The airplane taxied to the runway, ready for take-off. At this point the cabin air was still warm – and getting warmer. I couldn’t keep the sports jacket on. It had to go. With my best effort to slyly slide out of the jacket, I somehow trapped my arms half way out of the sleeves, unable to maneuver my way fully out. I had detained myself like a patient in a straitjacket.
“Need some help?” The elderly thin man in the bow tie kindly offered.
“Oh, yes. Please, thank you.” I embarrassingly replied while shifting to allow the man in the bow tie to pull the jacket off of me.
The man on my left, whom I was now facing gave us both a side-eye as I jostled my way out of my constraints. I gave him a polite short smile and shifted back to seating position. I thanked the old man and folded my jacket onto my lap, while the old man unfolded his newspaper. At this point, the airplane had finally taken-off.
I wanted to take out my headphones or my book for the flight, but with the jacket now on my lap, I couldn’t reach down for my bag. Being this was a short flight, there were no TV screens to keep me occupied either. I had to submit to sitting in my constricting middle seat and wait patiently until we reached our destination.
“Would you like a section?” The old man offered.
“Oh, that is very kind of you. Sure, whatever you’re not reading.”
“I’m done with this if you’d like it.” He handed me the front page.
“Oh, great. Thank you again.”
“Of course. Not a problem.”
As the old man continued to speak, something in his voice was very familiar, but I couldn’t quite place it. It was calm, soothing and had a slight drawl. Had I met this man before? I wasn’t quite sure. I needed to hear some more, so I pushed for a conversation.
“Are you from Boston?” I asked.
“No, I was visiting friends in Nantucket.”
Where do I know that voice from?
“Yes, we come here every year.”
I know I’ve heard this voice before. I turned to continue talking but he went back to reading his newspaper, and I didn’t want to be a nuisance. I remained silent and read about current events. The short flight continued in silence except for the moments the steward delivered drinks in which I handed the old man his ginger ale, and when the steward returned to collect the empties.
The FBI/spy guy unbuckled his belt and swung into the restroom behind us. Allowing me some elbow room, and space to reach for my book. Success.
The man returned, reached up overhead and shuffled for his bag. As he did so, a luggage tag flopped over the overhead door swinging in plain sight. It was gold with black Serif lettering. As I took a quick look, I cocked my head at the sight of the name on the luggage tag: Mr. Fred Rogers.
With a perplexed look, I turned to the old man in the bow tie on my right and said, “Excuse me, sir?”
“What is it that you do for a living?”
“I make television programs for young children.”
“It’s you?! It’s really you?” I was in complete awe. “You’re Mr. Rogers?”
“Oh my goodness, it is you?!” Exclaimed a woman from the row in front of us. She turned around with a big smile. “I heard your voice and I saw you, but I wasn’t absolutely sure until I just heard you say it.”
“Can you believe it?” I said to her. “We’re sitting next to THE Mr. Rogers! Wow!” We exchanged a smile as if we both won a prize together. Meanwhile, the silent FBI man on my left sat down and smiled like a schoolboy.
“Please excuse me for eaves dropping.” The woman said to Mr. Rogers.
“Oh, no. Not at all.” He replied.
“I can’t believe I was sitting here this whole time, and I had no idea it was you.” I said with excitement. “I mean, I used to watch you all the time. Everyone watched you. Wow!”
I introduced myself, offered my hand and the Mr. Rogers shook it.
“Wow! It’s really you. I must admit some of your puppets frightened me, but I loved that trolley.”
“Well, they weren’t meant to be frightening. But thank you.” He laughed.
The announcement was made that we were descending to our destination. The woman gleefully told Mr. Rogers how nice it was to meet him and sat back down in her seat. The rest of the passengers shifted in their spots eagerly preparing for deplaning.
“Mr. Rogers?” I said.
“Thank you for being you. For that show we all grew up with. And all of the things you taught us.”
“That is very kind of you.”
“Well, I mean it. You will forever be a part of my childhood. And I think a lot of people that grew up watching you would say the same.”
“That’s nice to hear.”
The plan landed and taxied to the gateway. The passengers all rose and stepped off the airplane. In the shuffle, I lost Mr. Rogers. When I stepped into the airport, I found Mr. Rogers meet up with a woman behind the desk. I turned to catch his attention.
When he finally looked up I said, “Goodbye Mr. Rogers. It was really nice to have sat next to you. And thank you for the newspaper.”
He smiled and replied, “You’re very welcome. And thank you.” ■
I am Lorenzo – author of THE LOVE FOOL. (Please read my book.)