Encouraging Airplane Creepiness

Airplanes are, by definition, strange places.  You’re placed in a metal tube, sitting cheek by jowl with a bunch of unknown people, and the only thing you’ve got in common with them is that, at that particular time on that particular day, you’re taking that flight to get from point A to point B.  Your fellow passengers, for the most part, are probably reasonably decent, up-standing, law-abiding folks, but you never know — they could cover the spectrum from kindly, doddering grandparents to budding serial killers.

delta-coke-napkins-915Most air travelers, me included, are just grateful when the flight ends without incident and they can get out and get on with their life without further ado.  And here’s how you know that that is the prevailing sentiment of virtually everyone — at the end of your next flight, watch how many people dawdle to continue their conversations with the person in the next seat over, and how many grab their carry-ons at the maximum possible speed and hightail it out of there.  You can also reflect upon how many deep friendships you’ve made with random people you’ve met on an airline flight.

So how in the world did Delta and Diet Coke think that it would be a good idea to distribute drink napkins with messages that encouraged passengers to try to connect with other passengers?  The napkins carried weird messages like “Be a little old school. Write down your number and give it to your plane crush. You never know…” and had places for passengers to write down their names and telephone numbers to give to their “plane crush.”  Another napkin’s message was:  “Because you’re on a plane full of interesting people and hey… you never know.”

Gee, what could go wrong with encouraging passengers to even think about another passenger as a “plane crush”?  And what could be creepier than getting a napkin with somebody’s name and phone number on it, knowing that, after the flight is ended and you’re deposited in a strange city, the total stranger who had it handed to you might want to interact and see if you’re interested in something more?  And, possibly, be upset if you aren’t and ready to stalk you to the end of your days?

After passengers commented on the obvious creepiness, Delta and Coke apologized and have withdrawn the napkins.  But it really makes you wonder:  what process is used in vetting airplane napkins, and who in the world was responsible for coming up with the napkin text and approving it?  Doesn’t Delta have any idea that 99.9% of its passengers don’t view airplane flights as a great opportunity for flirting?

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Presumed Names

On my walk to work in the morning, I regularly see the same older man walking in the opposite direction on the same stretch of sidewalk.  He’s jovial, wears glasses, has white hair and a white beard, and clearly likes Ohio State sports from his choice of jackets, scarfs, and hats.  We’ll wave, give each other a cheerful “good morning” greeting as Midwesterners often do, and occasionally say “Go Bucks!” as we pass by.

people-on-streetI haven’t introduced myself to this gentleman and have no idea of his real name, but I think of him as “Frank.”  To me, he just looks and acts like a Frank.  It’s an older name, and he’s an older guy.  When I’m walking and I see him approaching, I think “here comes Frank.”

It’s hard for me not to assign names to the people that I see regularly, whether it’s on the morning walk around Schiller Park, or the jaunt to work, or the evening stroll home.  Those people aren’t strangers, not really — they’re people I’ve seen multiple times in their same, specific setting, often enough that we recognize and acknowledge each other with a smile or small wave.  There’s Candace, the square-shouldered, inexhaustible jogger who circles the park at least twice first thing in the morning, and Tom and Dave, who are usually out walking their dog, and Terry, who runs full tilt with his obedient two border collies right at his heels.  And some other people get nicknames rather than real names — like Cell Boy, the skinny young guy who’s always sitting in the same chair by the front window of Snap Fitness, thumbing away on his smartphone, when I walk by.  Hey, I inevitably think, does Cell Boy ever actually work out, or does he just belong to a gym to have a place to check his messages?

I’m not exactly sure how I come up with the names — after I see the same person in the same setting often enough, a name usually pops into my head — but I’m fairly confident that I know why it happens.  Human beings have a well known tendency to organize experiences or perceptions into patterns, whether a pattern truly exists or not, and I think giving presumed names to people is part of that same impulse.  It makes me feel better to think of these people who play a tiny but repeating role in my daily life as people with actual names, and not just faceless intruders into my corner of the world.

The Guys At The Hotel Bar

As a normal rule of business travel, I don’t eat at the restaurant — if there is one — at the hotel where I’m spending the night.  I think it’s important to get out and at least see some of the surrounding area, and if I don’t get out I feel trapped and confined.

liquor-shop-in-keralaSometimes, though, when you’re in a remote area and the only nearby food option is a bad chain eatery, there really is no alternative, and the hotel restaurant is the only viable option.  So it was that last night I found myself eating in the hotel combination bar-restaurant and reading my book — or at least trying to, because there was a group of about a dozen guys at the bar area who were raising a huge ruckus, eating chicken wings and arguing very loudly about what kind of pick-up truck has the best towing capability.  (One guy actually said, with total, high-volume conviction:  “I’m a Ram Man until the day I die.”  Who knew people had that kind of a deeply personal connection to a consumer product?)

These guys weren’t complete jerks.  They didn’t get into a fight or harass the waitresses or start calling out people in the room.  But they were loud and thoughtless and annoying, and they obviously didn’t care that they were intruding upon the worlds of other hotel guests.  It’s one of the realities of life in the hotel zone:  it’s a transient existence, on the road in a faraway place that you’ll probably never visit again in the future, and the social mores that would otherwise tamp down your behavior if you were in your home territory aren’t present.

This is one of the reasons why I hate to eat at a hotel.  I’d rather not see my fellow guests up close and personal, truck-loving warts and all.  I’d rather operate under the illusion that my fellow hotel guests are all anonymous, well-mannered types.  When you get a good look at the complete strangers who might be staying in the room next door to yours, it can be unnerving.

A Sure Sign That People Shouldn’t Have Kids

I think most families know their children better than anyone else and honestly try to make thoughtful decisions about what is best for the kids.  Sometimes, though, the decision they reach is so off-kilter that you can only conclude that they really should never have had children in the first place.  This story from Missouri falls into that category.

It involves a fairly common parenting issue:  the innocent child who needs to understand that he must be wary of strangers.  How do you teach that lesson in a way that sticks?  Have a serious talk where you explain the dangers and make the child promise not to go with strangers?  Show the child a missing kid on a milk carton and talk about kidnapping?  Watch a movie like Pinocchio that shows the potential consequences and thus powerfully reinforces the lesson that children cannot safely trust strangers?  Go to a presentation by a real police officer who explains to kids in the audience that they need to be on guard on the public streets?

Nah!  The Missouri family decided the best way to educate a trusting little boy was to stage his actual kidnapping.  According to news reports, his aunt enlisted a co-worker who lured the child into a car, threatened him with a gun, covered his head with a jacket, bound his hands and feet, told him he would never see his family again, and took him to a basement where the aunt took off the boy’s pants and told him he could be sold into “sex slavery.”  The poor kid’s mother and grandmother also were charged in the incident.

It’s hard to believe that any one person would think that was an appropriate course, much less a group of them — but these folks felt they did nothing wrong.  I hate to see families broken up, but this little boy clearly would be better off in a different living arrangement.  God knows how these jokers would have taught him about the birds and the bees.

The B And B Experience

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Kish and I are staying at a very nice bed and breakfast here in Jacksonville. It’s a bright, cheerful place — the sun-splashed solarium where we’ve had breakfast, by itself, makes you happy to greet the new day — that is run by a friendly couple and is very conveniently located near Richard’s apartment.

We’re normally hotel people (and the older and grander the hotel, the better), but it’s nice to mix in the B and B experience every once in a while. The people who run B and Bs typically are eager to please, and when you have a hostess or host who’s a good cook — which is the case here in Jacksonville, with fresh-baked breads, hot egg dishes, and fresh fruit every morning, along with good, hot coffee — it’s icing on the cake.

One other aspect of the B and B experience is worth keeping in mind: You might be seated at breakfast with other guests. If you’re a grump in the morning, that might be a downside, but it’s something we find kind of refreshing. It’s a chance to haul out those often-rusty social conversation skills, make pleasant small talk, and learn something interesting about people who hail from another neck of the woods. Unless you’re somebody who regularly goes to dinner parties with people you don’t know, how often do you have an opportunity to exercise your chit-chat capabilities? And having a nice meal with complete strangers makes the world seem like a friendlier place.

Only The Lonely Old Guys

Yesterday UJ and I decided — unwisely, it turned out — to go to a sports bar to watch the Browns.  The place was crowded with hopeful fans, so we had to share a long table with a couple.  As the game started, an old guy asked if he could sit at the table, too.

We said sure . . . and then I was surprised to see that, rather than sitting in an open chair farther down, the guy sat right at UJ’s elbow.  During the game he kept chattering away and interrupting, clearly hoping to engage us in conversation.  At first it was weird and annoying, but eventually it got to be so absurd it was funny.  As the Browns’ horror show mounted, it became one source of humor in another otherwise grim Browns debacle.

It reminded me of an experience Kish and I had on a trip.  When we passed through a common room in a hotel, an older man was sitting there with a few bottles of wine and invited us to come back for a “wine tasting.”  Kish felt sorry for him and said we should join him, so later we did.  The guy turned out to be a colossal know-it-all who chattered away non-stop, overriding the comments of others and one-upping every observations and anecdote.  No matter the topic, he knew more about it than you did.  Name a place, even a remote spot in a foreign land, and he had had an extraordinary experience there.  It was an amazing performance — so extraordinary that when Kish and I finally escaped the onslaught, we also got a few laughs out of it.

Although they produced a few chuckles, the incidents with the Wine Guy and the Random Browns Fan were kind of sad, too.  I can see going to a bar to watch a game on satellite dish that’s not on regular TV; I’ve done it before.  But I’ve never tried to intrude on the conversations of others, and I’ve certainly never bought a few bottles of wine in hopes of enticing random people to sit and listen to my boring tales.  (That’s what a blog is for!)

There must be a lot of lonely old guys out there, searching for positive human contact.

Presumed Familiarity, Feigned Interest

One other point about the wedding we attended on Friday:  weddings are an interesting opportunity to observe basic human social interactions.

Consider wedding reception tables, for example.  If you’re a member of the family you might be seated with other family members, or if you’re an old college chum you might be noshing with dormitory buddies.  If you’re just a random friend, however, you’re likely to be assigned to a table where most of the seats are filled by complete strangers.  That’s what we got on Friday.

It’s interesting how quickly you reach conclusions about people under those circumstances.  The woman seated to my right — whom I’d never met before — swept in, introduced herself as an old friend of the family, and then promptly launched into a long, inane story about her son, whom none of us knew, and his living arrangements in New York City which included some kind of terrible bathroom.  The story was apparently pointless, aside from the fact that it gave this woman something to talk about.  After five minutes or so, when she paused for a breath and then started to move into a story about her son’s roommate from Texas — an unknown person even farther removed from our realities — someone stepped in to end the woman’s tedious monopolization of conversation at the table.

As the interminable apartment bathroom story was underway, the other people at the table feigned polite interest in the meandering tale but exchanged some meaningful glances.  I’d guess that most of us immediately concluded that the woman was hopelessly self-absorbed and unwilling to engage in the normal social niceties — which require that you at least ask strangers some questions about their lives before you bore the pants off of them with a tale as long as Beowulf.

After that gruesome introduction, I shifted my attention to the left and tried to avoid any head turns to the right, lest the woman pull out her cell phone and begin to inflict a show of photos of her family, friends, and pets and tedious anecdotes about the latest family vacation.