Friday, July 20, 2007


I love airports.

I especially love them now that I fly alone. I happen to find myself in the most ridiculous situations. My friend once told me that I have a "crazy magnet" on my head. It must be so! For everything in the world ends up entertaining me somehow. My life is one long stretch of scattered pieces of insanity. It is delightful and joyful and wonderful. And since it is my desire to entertain you, I bring you The Airport Saga.

I have lovely experiences on airplanes; one of the most pleasant was when I was seated next to a fellow who works for the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre. The whole trip I was wondering how I was going to start a conversation, and finally I thought, "To hell with subtlety" and simply told him outright, "I love the Chicago Shakespeare Theater! It's so cool that you work there!" This led to a very long and complicated conversation in which we discussed the plays I had seen there, the high school I attended, the reason he was flying to New York, the play they would be putting on and so and so forth. It was quite the fun flight.

But definitely the best experience I've had connected with planes:

I am a mess. I was supposed to leave at 2:40; the Super Shuttle unexpectedly arrived at 2:10. I was not done packing and frantically shoved various clothes into compartments (this after literally running from my last final to my dorm) then donning the rest. I am therefore dressed exceedingly strangely. I'm wearing black pants, a black shirt and a black-and-white skirt. Oh, and of course my combat boots (I love my combat boots.) My hair's uncombed and probably oily and greasy; I feel dead, and throwing my fur-lined Shabbos coat on (ignoring the insanely hot weather outside) I force myself to carry the dead weight that is my backpack and head for the super shuttle.

If I had met myself in the airport, I wouldn't have talked to me. I mean, I looked crazy. Who wears fur-lined coats in the middle of the spring? And who has such unkempt hair and such dark bags under her eyes and looks like one of the living dead? But we shall ignore all this.

I get to the airport, esconce myself in one of the chairs, take out a book and read. There's a math guy next to me, a guy wearing a yellow shirt; he's blonde and has a pencil stuck behind his ear. He's doing advanced calculus. I shudder and continue to read my book. After a while he moves to a different seat. Oh, I think, he is afraid to be associated with the crazy person. Feeling oddly resentful, I continue reading.

Our plane is delayed. After a while, blonde math guy comes up to me and asks whether it is our plane that is taking off. I say that I think it is ours. He goes over to talk to the lady in charge who informs us that it's not our plane. I am embarrassed but brazen it out. "Oh," I say sadly, "how deeply depressing." He laughs. We strike up a conversation. Huzzah! He's actually interesting! I receive disapproving looks from the Other Stern Girls. They note that I am talking to a Boy. He is also a Non-Jewish clearly Gentile Boy. In their opinion, this is problematic. I don't really care. I'm bored, he's interesting, and besides, I'll never see him again in my life.

We get into a very interesting discussion regarding our respective universities (he's going to grad school) and find out why we're each going to Chicago. I find out loads of information about him; his name, where he lives, his family, his background (he's from Switzerland! How cool?!) When we get into the Jewish component, he starts quoting books he's read in his history classes; they are quite diverse. We continue talking all the way until we actually board the plane, and then regretfully separate to take our respective seats. He asks me my name, and I tell him it's "Olivia ________." He tells me his name, but I forget it.

I am sitting next to a thirty-something year old woman. She pulls out her portable DVD player and sets out to enjoy the flight. This means she downs three? four? five? bottles of wine during the course of the flight. Each little bottle costs $5 each. I'm a little amazed. While she watches her movie, I read Legends of the Jews. Finally, it is clear that she is a little tipsy. She starts talking to me. She finds out that I'm interested in English. Then she tells me that it's important to "have fun" and not to completely dedicate your life to your studies. She gives herself as an example; she's a successful lawyer for a top company. She looks at Legends of the Jews and says, "I remember when we had to read books like that for college," assuming that it is a coursebook. I don't tell her I'm reading it for fun. I think she'd be deeply concerned.

She gives me her entire philosophy of life and explains her secret for making it through college, "Champagne Thursdays." I give a horrified smile. Yes, she continues very seriously, I should go out with my friends and party every Thursday night in order to de-stress. I wonder how to tactfully explain to her that this is not quite what I am like. I decide to keep silent. I listen to her as she continues to explain her views to me. They are all very interesting and all inconsistent with my own. I smile up at her and act like a good little child.

In the midst of this scenario, she suddenly informs me, "I know you think I'm crazy. I know you're thinking right now how pathetic I am, how f-d up, this thirty-five year old woman giving an eighteen-year old advice. But I'm telling you, I've seen things, I've experienced things. I am trying to help you, to let you benefit from my knowledge."

"No," I immediately lie. "No, it's fine; I don't think you're crazy." And I don't, not really. But I do find the entire situation highly amusing.

I hope that I can say goodbye to the guy I was talking to but when I look for him, he's gone. Ah well. I get off the flight and hunt down my luggage, then find my father, excitedly informing him of recent events, especially the new philosophy of life at my disposal. My father is amused.

A couple days later...
I see that someone new has asked me to be their friend on Facebook. Who is this? Who would this be?

I check it out and literally die laughing. It is my friend the Blonde Math Guy. He remembered my name. He remembered my impossibly long last name. And he decided to "friend" me.

Immensely flattering, that. Especially considering how completely nuts I must have seemed at the time. And the incredibly strange way I was dressed.

So I am friends with the Blonde Math Guy and we have many entertaining IM conversations. He's going to grad school at Columbia, so the betting is that I see him again. How excellent, no?

So folks. Next time you go to the airport, remember the possibilities.


Scraps said...

LOL! That is soooo entertaining! And here I thought I was the only one who would get into conversations with random strangers... :-P

Ezzie said...

There's a math guy next to me, a guy wearing a yellow shirt; he's blonde and has a pencil stuck behind his ear. He's doing advanced calculus. I shudder and continue to read my book.

I'm not sure if I should be insulted or agree. I think both. :)

He's actually a science geek and runner, though.

e-kvetcher said...

Forgive me if this is a ridiculous question, but it is asked from pure ignorance:

>They note that I am talking to a Boy.

Stern doesn't approve of young women talking to young men?

Chana said...


Life would be far less interesting if I didn't talk to strangers. I mean, what is life if you don't get to watch your horrified homeless person turn down your proferred cup of Starbucks hot chocolate, thinking that you've poisoned it? When in truth the only problem is that it's not kosher? And then you literally beg him to take the hot chocolate, and he won't, so you wander around trying to find homeless people? Oh, life is wonderful...


This is true. Go ahead and flaunt your superior knowledge. Flaunter! Chemistry, specifically.


No, no. Stern is all good with talking to boys. They even force the Honors students to "mingle" in order to encourage them to marry one another (I'm not even joking. Rabbi Kanarfogel said so and it was all very awkward. Other Honors folks, you can corroborate this in the comments later.) Just these particular Stern girls with whom I was traveling were not particularly pleased with me.

e-kvetcher said...

They even force the Honors students to "mingle" in order to encourage them to marry one another

To breed a race of UberJews with enlarged cerebral cortexes and extra-thick glasses?

Kidding, only kidding :)

Stop by my blog one of these days...

Chana said...

Ha, I had forgotten that I even have the Rabbi Kanarfogel quote:

"Thank you very much, Dr. Wachtell. I am unaccustomed to speaking to coed audiences, but actually not as unaccustomed as I was, as my Revel class is half and half at the moment- let me put in a plug; the last time I spoke to a coed audience of this type was during an event run in Belfur- it was entitled the “Home and Home” shiur series, where the faculty of Stern would give a lecture, then the faculty of YU, they would switch off and we would have Dougies afterward. That was the mingle plan then."

Yes, YU has "mingle plans."

Erachet said...

Have you ever heard the Jerry Seinfeld airports sketch? It's HILARIOUS.

haKiruv said...

You're well-read and you wear combat boots. I think you're Jewish paramilitary.

I saw a comment in Facebook from an Olivia in Chicago. I wonder if that was you.

Holy Hyrax said...

my airplane experiences suck. I hate planes. They are evil. When I was 19 a few years ago, I flew alone home from Israel. The plane started getting into bad turbulance. So couragous me clings on to the arm of the guy next to me. I didn't even know him but he laughed. He was a former paratrooper so that turbulance dident bother him.

Sarah Likes Green said...

that's great.

conversations with random strangers, at airports or other places, can often be very interesting, informative, entertaining and usually, at the very least, amusing!

This is how I know that Peter, the guy I sat next to all the way to LA, and his friend take an annual snowboarding trip, this time to Utah and Colorado but via Las Vegas for some gambling on the way. And we were all stuck in the customs line for over an hour so conversation with anyone was very welcome.

I guess you made an impression if the math guy remembered you!

Anonymous said...

I've always liked airports too (and railway stations), which is a bit odd for someone who hates crowds. I like the feeling of being in 'no man's land', and the fact that there are so many people going on journeys. There's a feeling of hope and expectation in the air. It's also fun to wonder where people are going and why, what stories they could tell.

I'd like to have conversations with strangers, but I'm too shy. Oh well, there's always the internet...

the only way i know said...

I'll kick up a conversation with a stranger at the drop of a hat or less! I find it fascinating and immensely enjoyable. It feels great to connect to all sorts, and people usually feel good when an interest is taken.
I've had conversations with a travelling musician while waiting for the subway train and with an 'ex-college-professor-einstein-
look-alike', in Starbucks, with cab-drivers, sales-people, wanderers... you name it!
Variety's the spice of life.

Anonymous said...

They even force the Honors students to "mingle" in order to encourage them to marry one another (I'm not even joking. Rabbi Kanarfogel said so and it was all very awkward. Other Honors folks, you can corroborate this in the comments later.)

Yes, R. Kanarfogel did say that but if you remember, it couldn't really work because there were 10 boys and what seemed like 100 girls.