This weekend I spoke at the annual conference of the Texas Business Women -- a true honour to speak at this organization, an almost-100-year-old association that has done so much for women and feminism in the state of Texas. I met some amazing women at the conference, people who welcomed me with open arms. I'm incredibly grateful to them for their generosity.
The conference was in Dallas, so I just took a quick commuter flight there and back on Saturday. I was on Southwest Airlines -- you know, the airline where there are no assigned seats. The airline boards in groups, and on my return flight I wasn't in the first group, which concerned me because I like to sit near the front of the plane. So when I boarded and noticed that there were two empty seats near the front, next to a man sitting in an aisle seat, I didn't hesitate.
"Do you mind if I sit in the window?" I asked.
"No, not at all," he smiled, getting up to let me in.
"I promise to only get up to go to the bathroom 7 or 8 times during the flight," I said as I made my way past him to the window.
"Okay, that's fine ... wait, it's an hour-long flight. Seven or eight times?!"
"Oh, you're joking."
He was in his mid- to late-50s, I would guess, grey-haired, unshaven, wearing khaki cargo shorts, loafers, and a well-worn baseball hat with the logo of some Texas barbecue joint on the front. As I got myself situated in my seat, he asked, "So is this how hot Texas gets?" He started fiddling with the air conditioning vents; the plane was incredibly warm.
"Oh honey, we're just getting started. Late July and August is when we really get cooking."
We began talking. The flight wasn't full, so we ended up having an empty seat between us. He told me that he was visiting family, first in Dallas, but was on his way to Los Angeles. He and his siblings were born and raised in Missouri, but he doesn't live there anymore.
"Where do you live?"
"Tel Aviv. Israel. But I'm not Jewish."
He had met his wife in Germany, he explained, and she is Israeli -- he moved to her homeland for love. We talked all about Israel -- what it's really like, the parts that the U.S. media gets wrong, his favourite places to visit in Europe and the Middle East. We talked about his teenage sons, his impressions of Texas, how he has changed since leaving the United States. I liked him -- this gregarious, unassuming guy from the Midwest. I realized that as we spoke, even though he was very open about himself, I was creating a backstory filling in the gaps that still existed. He's definitely educated, I thought. And he was in Germany... I began imagining what he did for a living: an accountant, maybe. Or some other sort of businessman. He traveled a lot, so maybe he worked for large company, like BMW -- but not a CEO or other C-level job; he was dressed too casually for that. No, this guy was sort of a mid-level professional. He shaved every day for work, which is why he was unshaven for the few days off he got to visit his family. Yup, I thought to myself, I'm right: he's just an average Joe, who happened to fall in love with a non-American, and so lives overseas.
Finally I couldn't take it anymore.
"So, can I ask what you do for a living?"
"Oh sure," he said. "I sing opera. I was actually on tour when I met my wife. I don't do it as often anymore, but yeah, I still perform occasionally."
That'll teach me to make assumptions.
(Also? I would truly loathe flying if it wasn't for the awesome people I get to meet along the way.)