I looked around the airport for the rest of my group. I had walked away for one last restroom break before the three hour flight back to Nashville, and apparently had misplaced them. The the low ceilings and din of slot machines made for a familiar scene from the last few days. I finally found them standing in line and boarded the plane.
The trip itself had been fine. We learned a bit about all the wonderful services we could be using from Amazon, and perhaps found a few time-saving tricks. The last few weeks had been eventful between the workplace and now this city I so desperately wanted to escape.
As I entered the plane, I decided to take whatever seat was near the front. I had learned in the short time flying that each row back you move adds another two to three minutes to how long it takes you to get off the plane. I saw an elderly man in a Navy cap with two empty seats, and asked if I could grab the window. He folded his paper and shuffled into the aisle.
We were soon joined by another guy who took the middle seat. He was in a bit more of a talkative mood than I was, and struck up a conversation with the aisle seat tenant. The topic began about a football story in the paper. They talked a bit about the Dolphins case as we took off. My head was weary, so I leaned up against the window as they talked.
My neighbor there was a car salesman who had just returned from driving the new Chevy Camaro at a test track near Las Vegas. He was returning to North Carolina to be at work in the morning. The elderly man, on the other hand, was heading to Nashville to see his sick daughter. I learned he would turn 90 next year. He was also deaf in his right ear, so we would need to speak up if he needed to hear anything.
As the car salesman opened up his bag to pull out his iPad, the elderly gentleman's eyes lit up. Having seen them before, but rarely up close. "I retired in 1981 as vice president of an engineering firm, and all we had were slide rules!" he exclaimed. The salesman started up a basketball game, playing as the Miami Heat. The elderly man looked on, watching the game as if it were on television. "That Lebron James really changed things for the Heat." He lived in Florida for a number of years and said he enjoyed watching the Heat play. They talked quite a bit about football and basketball, him remarking that he had played football in high school for an undefeated team, but broke his leg three games into the season. The day after he got his cast off, Pearl Harbor was bombed. He would spend most of the war stationed in Italy. "In my day, you couldn't pass the ball forward and everyone tackled at the knees. They don't let you get away with that anymore -- I don't understand it." Both the salesman and I jokingly asked "Wait, isn't that how you broke your leg?!"
He was traveling with his "high school girlfriend." He told the somewhat amusing story that he had read in an alumni publication that she had died around the same time that his wife had died of lung cancer. To his surprise, some years later, he read a letter to the editor she had penned in protest of a housing community being renamed in Florida. He wrote to her to see if she was in fact one in the same. They exchanged letters.
He had dated her all through high school. But around the time the war started, she had begun dating the captain of a neighboring school's football team. They had lost touch after that. After reconnecting, she moved to California with him and they had lived together ever since. She too was advanced in age, but they decided not to marry. "You see, California is a community property state. If we were married and I died, she would get all of my retirement money. I have kids that aren't doing so well, so we just decided to live together instead."
The car salesman had switched over to another game, and again the elderly man was enamored. "That thing cost a few thousand dollars?" The salesman laughed, and said he had won this because his boss had bet him that he could not sell 20 cars by the end of a month. "I did that and then some, so this was waiting on my desk." The man was shocked to learn that the device was only a few hundred dollars, and even cheaper if you bought an earlier model. He got the attention of his girlfriend a few seats back to share the news.
The salesman was always smiling and talked with a laugh. A card game he had on his iPad had been customized to show the picture of his young child on the back of of the cards. He asked me about where I was heading and what had brought me to Las Vegas. It is probably the friendliest row I had ever had on an airplane.
The conversations lasted most of the three hours, and I was sort of grateful. The middle aged woman ahead of me fussed at the flight attendant on three separate occasions about the wireless internet not working all the time. At least the two men beside me held together what little faith I was holding in humanity. The man said he used to come to Las Vegas three time a year, not to gamble but just to vacation. I wish I had his same affection for the city.
The plane landed, and my seatmate continued on to North Carolina. The older gentleman grabbed his bag and his girlfriend walked ahead of him. As I stepped off the plane, I saw two matching wheelchairs waiting for them with airport staff at the ready. They talked on their phones to let their families know they had landed.
I met Samantha in front of the airport. Very happy to see her, and hoping I didn't have to go back to Las Vegas anytime soon.