There was this one guy about to board the plane, he was all scruffy, in a torn flanel shirt and old cowboy boots. He smelled like diesel fuel, probably worked in some kind of machine shop, and was weathered beyond his years. I could tell that everyone from first class back was giving him “the look” – almost an audible whisper and people looking up from their magazines and SkyMall catalogs to see the sight.

I told Andy, “He might be the unabomber, so heads up.”

By chance the traffic jam up of people put him right next to my seat for a few moments on the plane. He was in the aisle, in that wierd your-butt-is-touching-my-shoulder-moment. No baggage, no carry-ons and clearly out of his element. I think I was getting diesel fuel on my new shirt. He held on to a boarding pass with a few handwritten notes on it.

On a whim I asked what he was up to – said that he looked like he had an interesting thing going on and how it was too bad we weren’t sitting together so I could hear his story.

His eyes immediately filled with tears.

He said, “They called me at work, I came straight from there and bought a ticket. My boy is coming home from Iraq and I want to be there when he lands. He’s been there two years.”


I told him how excited I was for him, and how proud we all were of his son. And thankful. And like that, he was gone, back to sit in a seat at the rear of the plane probably to sit in a shallow pool of diesel. No one else knows his story, no one else maybe even cares. I’m not sure why that exchange happened between us, but I’m looking at him with different eyes now for sure.

Man, I’m judgemental sometimes.