The Memoirist
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The Memoirist

The Old Man at the Airport

And a curious case of offering prayers to the porcelain goddess

Photo by Suganth on Unsplash

Interactions at the airport are minimal, and more often than not, forgettable.

Unless they are accompanied by someone, travelers prefer to keep it to themselves. I am no different.

That being said, I have experiences when a chance meeting with a stranger has led to a casual conversation, eventually ending in either future contact of some sort or a weird coincidence, or both.

This is the story of one such unusual encounter.

When office folks book flights for you, planning is the last thing they have on their mind. The brief given to them always alludes to saving a few dollars more any which way. It is the employee who has to suffer because of their poor planning.

So I suffered for the umpteenth time, on this occasion stranded at the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), with hours to go before I could board the connecting flight to Florida. It was not that the flight was delayed. It was just that the schedule wasn’t properly planned.

As I waited, contemplating what to do and how to kill time, I was approached by a visibly older man. He was a Canadian national, about 65 years in age. His flight to Vancouver had got delayed considerably.

He seemed a gentleman, a very friendly one at that. It did not take us long to get talking. The main agenda was, of course, to kill time. So we decide to head to Santa Monica. It is a great place to spend a few hours.

We perched ourselves on the comfortable seats of a spacious restaurant, and chatted on different topics even as multiple rounds of food and drinks were served.

The conversation began with his recent trip. He was returning from a vacation in Mexico. It’s a country I was yet to visit. As such, I was eager to know about his experiences and his suggestions for me, if any.

He told me he had been to Mexico on quite a few occasions, and had explored the country in great detail. He admitted that he didn’t exactly like the hustle and bustle of Mexico City and it was the urge to explore the country beyond the capital that made him fly back each time.

I could sense his excitement as he narrated about the times he had spent in Mexico, and he could anticipate the questions going on in my mind. This perhaps explains him mentioning Guadalajara and Merida as his favorite cities in the country even before I could ask.

Having said that, he was quick to add he loved the sea and as such ventured to the Mexican coast every time he returned to the country. He didn’t have any particular favorite when it came to the coastal regions, though. His advice for me was to head to the coast whenever I planned a trip to Mexico.

Acapulco, Cancun, Los Cabos and Tampico were some of the coastal towns he had been to and had a good time. To be honest, he also mentioned the names of a few more resort towns, places I had never heard of before. No points for guessing. I couldn’t remember these names afterwards.

He was amused to know I had traversed five continents, and humble enough to admit that despite being a regular traveler, he had never ventured beyond North America.

In fact, besides travelling around his native Canada, he had been to only two other countries in his entire lifetime — Mexico and the United States, albeit on multiple occasions. No wonder he was curious to know about others. My country count back then was 30.

Like him, I also love the beach and the coast. I told him about how I had once made my way straight to Bondi Beach after work, without realizing I was still in my business formals. The colleagues who accompanied me on that trip to this day do not miss the chance to make me feel embarrassed.

I also narrated to him about my first experiences with water sport in Nusa Dua, Bali, how the initial hesitation had turned into eventual excitement.

While I immensely enjoyed his personal experiences, he found my travel stories a lot more diverse and exciting.

Besides the love for the coast, there was another thing we found we had in common. It was the desire to try out new cuisine. I mentioned Mediterranean and South Asian as my personal favorites, while his was anything but surprising.

The manner in which he described the various stuff he had tried during his exploration of Mexico was enough to make me excited about it. I would proceed to try out Mexican cuisine for the first time soon after.

While we were discussing cuisine, I could not help but remember my encounter with this humble man from South India. He was almost of the same age as this Canadian, and also someone I had met during my travels, in fact, on a flight. It was a matter of minutes I had started narrating this anecdote to my new friend.

The man from India happened to be a vegetarian, and the flight we were in had no vegetarian option. The alternative options that were provided to him were anything but palatable. Worse still, he was travelling abroad for the first time.

All of this had made me sympathetic towards him. After we had landed in Singapore and got out of the airport, I offered to drop him at an Indian restaurant. The gratitude he had expressed thereafter was straight from the heart, and I could feel it. It is something I have never forgotten, even though I never met him again.

Having listened to my ‘Indian anecdote’ with keen interest, my Canadian friend was ready to narrate his own Indian story. He told me his wife happened to be an Indian, from the northern state of Punjab.

Despite being married to an Indian woman, he had never even attempted to visit the country. However, he said there were so many people from Punjab in Canada that it felt like a mini version of India.

He further proceeded to tell me that he had attended many elaborate Indian weddings, and that he found Indians to be friendly, even though a bit too loud for his liking. I could not help but agree with his assessment.

It was turning out to be an interesting conversation in every which way. So much so that we didn’t realize that considerable time had passed since we got into the restaurant. He looked at his watch. We made the payments, exchanged pleasantries, and he headed to the airport.

I made my way to the beach. There was still some time before I could think of boarding the flight. So I went to Santa Monica Pier and subsequently looked at the Pacific Ocean in front of me. I was basically doing nothing, yet it was about enjoying the basic pleasures of life.

Even as evening fell, and I started walking back from the beach, a coat of fog engulfed the place that had the sun shining on it not long back. I boarded a cab and made my way back to the airport. The check-in was smooth. I had dinner at a restaurant on the premises, roamed around for some time before finally boarding the flight at the first call. I reached Tampa a little over five hours later.

A couple of days later, I received a mail from the old man I had met at LAX airport. In the very first line, he had joked that while I was enjoying the sunshine in Florida; he had come back home to the rain in Vancouver, rain that hadn’t subsided since his arrival.

The mail subsequently disclosed something that made me both sympathetic and empathetic.

The Canadian gentleman had written that it was a three and half hour flight from Los Angeles to Vancouver, and a couple of hours after takeoff, he got very sick.

For the remainder of the duration, he had to visit the washroom on multiple occasions. He had diarrhea and vomiting, and he suspected it was a case of food poisoning, courtesy of the restaurant where we had dinner that evening. The poor old fella continued being sick for the next few days.

I was palpably sorry to hear about his health, and wished him well. At the same time, I couldn’t help but laugh at my plight during the flight. It was a curious case of twin tummy troubles. In the space of a few hours, two complete strangers, who connected for a brief while, had been forced to pay obeisance to the porcelain goddess on multiple occasions at that.

There is one cardinal rule while traveling, and that is to avoid eating at the airport. Despite being a frequent flyer, I have time and again disregarded this rule, and given in to the demands of the stomach. On this occasion, I had followed up consuming a lot of junk in that restaurant in Santa Monica with treating myself to the ‘delicious food’ at the airport. Get the drift.

Besides, my journey was a couple of hours longer. I was forced to go to the washroom thrice during that journey. Not to forget my plight ensured I was devoid of taking any rest whatsoever.

Fatigue was the most concerning factor even as I arrived in Florida early in the morning. Fortunately for me, my ordeal ended in the flight itself. Once in Tampa, I was able to get back to business as usual mode without any further tummy trouble.

Years have passed and I have never again got into an inflight situation where repeated forays to the washroom is the only form of relief. That is also precisely why I have never been able to forget this chance encounter with that old man at the airport, one that had left our fates intertwined.



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Vickey Maverick

Vickey Maverick


‘Ditch the Niche.’ This is a humble effort at providing short insights as also detailed narratives on an array of topics to those readers who like some variety