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Bon Voyage

I’m settling in to my ever-cozy window seat (Alps view for me, please), with my book on my lap and computer on the middle seat, all ready to boot up and so some writing once we’d reached a comfortable cruising altitude.

Looks like I’m going to have company, as into the aisle come a pair of Gentlemen who read Arts & Leisure.

I slide the laptop under the seat in front of me and slip into His Dark Materials.

If there’s one thing I hate, it's people who sit next to you and loudly converse as if you’re not there. You know, the people on planes with cell phones who talk for the whole world to hear how important their next meeting is or that they can’t believe how expensive a bottle of water is from the hotel mini-bar.

You know what's worse? When the guys sitting next to you seem to be having an intelligent conversation but are conducting it in dulcet tones that are barely audible. The only thing more annoying than eavesdropping is having to lean in towards your neighbor to hear what he’s saying.

I avoided my usual M.O. of drowning out the chatter with the iPod, trying instead to figure out where my seatmates were from, where they were going, etc. They looked very American, but not in the overweight, pleated jeans and gym shoes from Wal-Mart way. I found them charming, and the more I listened, the more I could discern noticeable mid-American accents, but no other giveaways. In fairness, they were probably whispering, "don't worry, in a few minutes we can move to a row without a grown man reading kids' books."

Ever resourceful, I ended up finding an “in” to their conversation, making some travel-weary comment about Alitalia never taking off on time.

“So are you staying in London or heading back to the States?” I asked.

Only one night in London then back to America. They’d been on a cruise throughout the Mediteranean (Italy, Spain, France), and were ready to get home.

“Where in the States are you from?”


“What part?”


Ugh, why are people so vague? Probably because nobody ends up knowing where they’re talking about, and how would they know that I grew up in the O.C. So I drill on, “LA or Orange County?”

“Orange County. We live in Laguna Niguel.”

“Oh, that’s quite nice. I led a conference there a few years ago. I actually grew up in Orange County … a town called La Habra.”

My new buddy points to his partner and says, “Ron’s from La Habra.”

Really? We toss about school names (Olita Elementary, Rancho Cańada, Lowell High School). Yup, we both went there. I say I used to live right across the street from Rancho, and turns out he lived across from Olita).

I don’t recognize him at all, but ask when he graduated. 1980. Shut up. That’s when I would have graduated, but we moved back to Ohio in 1977.

He tells me his name and I apologize for bells not ringing. I tell him mine and he smiles, “I remember you.” Needless to say, I didn’t change seats, nor did I learn much about Lyra’s impending adventure to the cold far North.

Turns out we went to 3 schools together, probably had 5th grade together (Mrs. Pearson), and knew a bunch of the same people. Many of whom (“just about the whole class,” according to Ron) turned out to be either Good With Colours or flannel wearing, power tool toting lesbians. He mentioned one thick-ankled blonde girl, about whom I believe in 3rd grade I wrote “I Love Renee” on my desk (and never had we seen Miss Luigs so angry). She became a “big dyke prison guard.” Bless.

I came home from my impromptu Italian interlude and immediately pulled out dusty yearbooks, trying to place all the people whose names and faces have blurred over the past few decades. I’ll say one thing for us all -- there was some really hair back in the late 70s. Really, really, bad hair.