Thursday, November 8, 2012

Interesting people

One thing about traveling:  you meet some really interesting people.  Just from this last round of trips:

There was the young man who was tattooed all over in green fish scales.  His head was shaved and ever visible inch of skin was green and tattooed with tiny individual scales.  I didn't actually get to meet him (he was in first class) but I smiled at him and I would have given anything to hear his story.  It did occur to me to wonder whether it would have been rude to ask him if he had been my seatmate.  I mean, I know you should never comment on people's appearance, but you don't cover yourself in green fish scales if you're trying to stay obscure.  Thoughts?

Then there was the woman I chatted with while they fixed our plane at the gate in Houston.  She was very interested in  nutrition and she was a nurse and so I asked her what one thing a person should take on if they want to address their health.  She had some really interesting thoughts and she was so enthusiastic and knowledgeable that I was truly inspired.  She had me ready to make a couple of commitments that I had been pondering anyway . . . and then she kept talking.  She talked at length about how bad our Austin food (barbecue, tex-mex, etc.) is for us and then about not really caring much about the taste of food and then she got onto chemicals in our food and when I got out a piece of gum for landing, she chastised me for that.  By the time the plane landed, I was craving a cheeseburger infused with aspartame and a hormone-laden milkshake.  Immature, I know, but I wasn't feeling so inspired anymore.

My favorite conversation lately was with Israel, a young Hispanic man who doesn't fly often and vacillated between anxiety and wonder.  (He took lots of pictures out his window with his phone which I thought was really endearing.)   I think it helped his nervousness to talk (I get that) and so he told me about his parents sending him to Texas from Mexico alone when he was 14 so that he could go to high school.  He fended for himself, getting help from a church in McAllen.  The church provided spiritual support, friendship, adult supervision and food and money from time to time and he became a youth worker when he graduated.

He told me that, because he didn't have papers, he could only work on construction jobs and in restaurants but he worked hard, saved his money, and spent his spare time working with teenagers at his church where he met a beautiful girl who also worked with kids.  They fell in love (his face just glowed as he talked about her) and they got married.  Now they serve this church together and teach teenagers how to find their way in the world, to stay off drugs and stay away from gangs.  Israel told me he got a call that day from a young man who had grown up under his mentorship who needed advice about buying a car because he just sensed that the car salesman was lying to him because he was unsophisticated.  The salesman was lying and Israel walked the young man through the car purchase.

Israel's immigration status changed when he married and he used the money he had saved to buy a small Farmers insurance company.  He told me he had always wanted to be "a professional" and hoped to go to college now.  He and his wife have two beautiful baby girls and give all their free time to their church teenagers, so he doesn't know if that will happen or not.  I told him I thought he already was a professional, as a businessman, and that I thought he was living an amazing life.  He considered that and then nodded, quietly satisfied, and invited me to his church.

1 comment:

Emily said...

What a wonderful telling of three delightful stories!

From my own family's version of Modern Family, my dad was rapidly approaching the age of 70 when I was in my early teens, during the early 1970's. About once a month my dad and I could be found sitting on a bench inside the newly opened Almeda Mall, on the east side of Houston, waiting and watching as my mother shopped (I did not inherit the shopping gene)

I have a vivid memory of one bench-sitting experience when a beautiful young woman, probably in her early twenties, sat down on the bench's open space to my right. In today's language she might refer to herself as a person of color. In the early 1970's she was sporting the very stylish, very LARGE Afro hairstyle.

To my horror, my dad (sitting to my left) leaned forward, took a long look at her, and said "I've always wondered what hair like that could possibly feel like."

Two important facts were in place: I was a young teenager (meaning I was already embarassed by just about anything my parents did in public) and I was sitting BETWEEN my dad and the young woman (so I could not hide or run in the opposite direction without notice).

Oh how I wanted to crawl underneath the mall's bench! I wanted to gasp as teenagers can: "Daaaaaddddd!!!!" But I just sat and held perfectly still, looking straight forward--kind of like a bird caught out in the open with a hawk or other predator circling above. If I didn't move, maybe she wouldn't see me.

To my absolute surprise the young woman grinned a beautiful smile, leaned forward (right in front of my lap) and said with a proud and amused voice: "Go ahead and touch it, if you like." And so my dad reached out and patted the top and back of her hair, about 8 inches in front of my face. He made some comment that expressed his appreciation and admiration--and yes, that it felt soft and fluffy.

And then, to my continued amazement, my dad and the young woman continued in relaxed and joyful coversation. I'm guessing that it was his usual retired-teacher conversation that asked about her "schooling" and life interests. The fact of the matter is I have NO IDEA what they were chatting about because I sat in a state of silent shock (and, ok, embarassment).

My mother arrived with shopping bags in hand and I jumped off the bench to make my teenage angst-ridden escape. But I did get up the courage to give the beautiful young woman a last look. She was watching me and gave me a smile that expressed: You have a sweet ol' grandpa.

And so I realized: that is what my dad would have looked like to her--a kindly senior. So I'm not certain, but I'm guessing the young man with the green scaled tats would have really liked my dad--and the conversation my dad would definitely have initiated. :-)