A few months ago, I was flying back to San Diego, by myself, on a long flight. It was full, but I was assigned the window seat. In the middle seat I was seated next to an old man. I slyly studied him for a bit – I think because you normally just don’t see very old people using air travel very often, so naturally I was curious. He was dressed in a suit. I wondered if he had come from a special event and didn’t have time to change, or if he still held onto what he undoubtedly remembered as the golden age of air travel, where air travel was glamorous and taking a flight was an occasion to dress up for. How things have changed. I also noticed he had a plastic bag full of gear from The Master’s. This led me to wonder if he was a retired professional golf legend, but I didn’t recognize him. He was reading a book – Tim Tebow’s book, which I couldn’t help but read a bit over his shoulder.
Surprisingly (for me), we got to talking. He was 85. To think of all of the things he has seen. The elders of today have traveled through time, through the history and culture of America. If he was 85, that makes his birth year 1927. The person sitting next to me had been alive during the Great Depression. He was even alive during Prohibition, although he probably didn’t remember it. He was a veteran of WWII. Civil Rights and the tumultuous 60s. The age of technology and mass communications and globalization. He even had a cell phone, and dialed his wife just after landing and loudly exclaimed, “Hello! I’ve landed!”
“I have been away from my wife for 10 days, we have been married for 63 years, and I still miss her,” he told me. He proceeded to give me marriage advice upon learning that I was engaged. “Don’t ever tell each other to do anything – you can ask, but don’t tell.”
He said that he wasn’t from San Diego – he was from The South. He married his wife shortly after the war and moved her to his hometown. He said that as soon as they moved, she cried every single day. So, he moved with her back to her hometown of San Diego, bought an apartment complex with a loan of $40,000, and settled. He sold it decades later in 2004 – for $2 million. “Now I just play golf,” he told me. Oh, and he and his wife still live in the same apartment complex.
Maybe the next time I am on a flight, I will be the stranger in the middle seat who starts a conversation – you never know who you may meet.