Friday, October 19, 2012
I was there last April for a conference.The hotel I stayed in had physical keys for their rooms, and the policy was that you were to drop the key with the front desk when leaving and pick it up again when you come back. Because of this, I spent a lot of time interacting with the girl at the front desk.She was fun and flirty, so I asked her out. As you’d expect, she shot me down. So I asked her out again the next day, this time in front of her boss. Shot down again. But then! I asked her out on the third day and she… shot me down again. I’m nothing if not persistent.
Later that night, I stopped by the hotel to drop some things off. Along with my key, the night porter handed me an envelope. It was a letter from the desk girl.
After I had left that morning, she changed her mind, but had no way to reach me. So she waited after her shift for me to come back. Finally, she had to give up or risk missing the final train home. “But maybe it’s better that we don’t see each other”, she says. “What if we have a drink and become lovers and then you have to leave?”
Who the hell writes that? Of course I wasn’t going to leave it at that.
We only had a week together, but I managed to cycle through just about every romantic comedy cliché I can think of. At one point I even chased after a moving train. Because she lived a few cities over and I was an expert on Amsterdam after being there for a few days, I got to show her around a little. At the very least, she got to see the city through my eyes.
The flight home was a challenge. I was incredibly conflicted about leaving, and the thought of sitting next to complete strangers for eight hours while the woman I’d just fallen in love with grew smaller in the distance behind me sent me into a panic attack. Just before takeoff, I ran off the plane.
And the flight attendants chased after me.
They were very kind. Very polite. They explained that while they couldn’t force me to stay on the plane, my leaving meant that my luggage would need to be removed, and that would take a while. Instead, they suggested that if I could just calm down, they would be happy to make me more comfortable.
I wasn’t having it. I explained that I was having a panic attack and I felt like I was being buried alive and I just needed to leave. I’d fly some other time. And by the way why are there five of you standing around me? Pick one person to talk to me. This isn’t helping.
They picked the captain.
Look, I did my best to smile and nod while he was offering up various ways in which they could make the flight easier for me. But after a moment or two of this, he smiled, politely, and told me to take a minute to think about it. He stepped away to chat with a flight attendant, but kept me in view.
The space helped, and I came to the realization that there was nothing I could really do. Would it really be any better to fly the next day? Could I affect some grand cosmic change that would solve my new geography problem? No, the best thing to do would be to just go home and start coming up with a plan.
“Okay,” I said. I’ll go.
I guess I should have been paying more attention to the things they were offering me to convince me to fly, because it turned out to be a pretty impressive list. They started by moving me to an isolated first-class seat with roughly eight feet of legroom. I was given access to unlimited drinks. And I was assigned a dedicated flight attendant who looked like Taylor Swift (ah, Dutch people). Not a bad setup at all.
About two hours or so into the flight, as I began to relax, the lead flight attendant came over to me. He was a tall older gentleman, looking very formal in his uniform, but his posture suggested he was a friend. He asked if I’d like to come talk with him. Sure. Why not?
In the galley, he sat me down and asked how I was doing. I said I was feeling a little better. We get to talking, and before long I was telling him all about this girl I’d just met and the crazy week I’d had. Then he told me his story.
Years ago, he’d been in Brazil on business and met a beautiful woman. They fell in love, but only had a few days together before he had to fly off. They promised they would stay in touch, he tells me, but this was before the Internet, and staying in touch was a much bigger effort.
“Well?! What happened?!”
He holds up his hand to show me a ring. “We’ve been married for twenty years.”
I’ll admit that he may have been making the whole thing up. But damned if that wasn’t exactly the lie I needed to hear.
Just then, the captain walks up to check on me. “How are you feeling?”
“Better. Much better. Everyone has been very kind to me.”
“Great! So, are you ready to come see the cockpit?”
I really should have been paying attention earlier.
“Of course.” Like it was no big deal.
“Okay, give me just a minute and I’ll phone back.”
After a minute, he did indeed phone back. The lead flight attendant smiled as he hung up, and then walked me through first class, a few layers of curtains, and finally to the door of the cockpit. He buzzed, then waved at a camera.
As I sat down, the captain turned around and said hello, and we started chatting. Like, no big deal. We’re just two guys having a conversation. In the cockpit. Of a Boeing 777. Whatevs.
The next two hours were a blur of great conversation, new friends, and amazingly great first-class food. And just before I had to go back to my seat for landing, I had to ask.
“Everyone has been so great. I held up an international flight because I was caught up in my own head. You would have been completely in the right to tell me to sit down and shut up. But you didn’t. Instead you took what would have otherwise been a pretty awful day for me and turned it into an incredible experience. Why?”
“We love our customers,” he says. “You looked like you were having a bad day and we thought we could make it better.”
Seriously, fly KLM.
I still had a short layover and a domestic flight back to Denver to think through everything that had just happened. When I finally walked into my own apartment back in Denver, the very first thing I did was sit down, pick up my guitar, and write this song. It’s not as big and loud as what I normally write, but it captured my mood. As hard as it is to walk away, sometimes you just have to power through and hope something better comes of it.