Over my years of flying, I have gradually modified my methods of engagement when scrunched in a seat with other seat mates.
Used to be I looked forward to the experience of these brief encounters which generally involve perfect strangers. Sometimes the flight time zoomed by because of an instant chemistry with whoever happened to be sitting by my side.
Other times, I thought they would never end for a variety of reasons which can be left to the imagination.
These days, I tend to not engage in favor of mentally escaping through a book, sleeping or taking the relaxation time to simply ponder.
Like pretty much everyone in the universe who has ever flown, I do my very best to avoid middle seats, unless I'm sitting with family members (namely Bill) whose desire to look out the window seems too overpowering for me to spend any time quibbling.
Besides, because of my history of never meeting a bathroom I didn't like, I prefer the aisle seat so I don't have to crawl over anyone any time a bathroom seems more enchanting than ever.
On this trip, both coming and going, I ended up in four middle seats on four flights. Three of those involved sitting in between Mr. Window Man and whoever happened to plop down in my coveted aisle seat.
Seems as if punching the button for "check in" on Southwest, even at the exact second precisely 24 hours before one's flight, rarely guarantees prime seating.
That was especially true on our two flights from Phoenix yesterday, and specifically so on the Phoenix to Denver leg when we ended up in the B group. Before we had even made it half way down the aisle, someone announced that only middle seats were left, this is a full flight so find a seat.
With that guidance, I immediately picked my spot where a school-age young man sat by the window and a 40-something had the aisle. Mr. 40-Something did not appear too thrilled when I nicely asked if I could take my middle seat.
Within seconds, he began his 90-minute snooze, while my partner by the window, wearing earplugs played games on his i-phone.
"No way this kid is gonna want to talk to this old lady," I thought. "I'll be able to read my book." I purchased my book at Boise Airport Thursday and within one page knew it was gonna be a good read.
It's written by New York Times columnist Tim Egan, and it's called The Immortal Irishman. A pretty good reading choice for this St. Patrick's week, I'd say.
By yesterday, I had just had time to read the first ten pages, so the fact that one seatmate was playing games on a phone and the other was sleeping to avoid social contact, pretty much guaranteed me some good reading time. This time I even had the right glasses for reading rather small print.
My plans changed pretty quickly when a flight attendant came by and motioned to my young seat partner to put "his tray in the upright position."
With earphones on, he didn't hear her, so I tapped him and kindly told him he needed to take care of his tray.
Having engaged, I decided to ask him if he'd ever flown before.
"Once," he told me, later noting that he was about 6 at the time. Now, he's 12. Slowly but surely the conversation heightened, eventually turning into total engagement, which I had not expected.
To say I had a blast meeting Scott from Gilbert, Ariz., is truly an understatement. He's a seventh grader. He's a Boy Scout who went on a 10-mile hike the day before. He's a naturally talented artist AND he knows his state capitals and some wacky ways to pronounce them.
I know that because he asked me to start naming states. In between my naming states and his coming up with every single correct answer (give or take a pronunciation or two), he told me about his family and how he would be helping his aunt, uncle and cousins move during the week of Spring Break in Denver.
He even showed me artistic games on his i-phone, and he asked Siri a question or two about how fast a jet must be traveling before it takes off.
As we were flying over the Rockies, Scott even took my i-phone and snapped a photo for the lady in the middle who seldom gets to sit by the window.
And, he posed for me to take a shot of him, thumbs up, of course, as I told him about my daughter Annie's habits with photos.
At one point, when we were almost to Denver, I finally asked his name. Later, when it came to my name, I made him guess, telling him only that my initials were "ML."
Took him three guesses to arrive at Mary-then Maria-then Marianne. It took him a bit longer to figure out the four-letter highly desirable last name, but he did.
Scott even drew me a quick picture, complete with autograph.
Yesterday's middle slot in the grand and wonderful "squeeze-yourself in" fun of riding on a jet turned out to be one of the more memorable and pleasant experiences ever, middle seat or aisle.
The best part of the whole conversation came when we were talking about age, and when I said I was just about 70, Scott reacted in disbelief.
"You don't look that old," he said. "I thought more like 60."
Scott is a friend for life, and since my age is now only 60, he could be a friend for a long time.
Twas a quick flight where I forgot all about having to sit in the middle and in retrospect, was glad I did.
Next flight I was able to read to page 50 in my book while Bill sat by the window and a volleyball club coach from Rathdrum watched stuff on his i-pad.
Glad I met Scott and also glad to be home, even if it is raining.
Now, it's off to go check the YES box for the school levy.