From a Sacramento dinner I looked at the rain as it beat a gentle rhythm upon the roof. The grey sky rolled left to right as dinners ushered dates under umbrellas. Pools of puddles widened as rainfall became heavier.
“Good evening,” said a voice awakening me from the moment. “My name is Michael and I will be your server tonight. May I start you off with a drink?”
“Ah,” I said recovering. “Just a Diet Coke, Please.”
With that Michael darted off on his rounds.
Throughout the meal, I heard Michael’s name whispered amongst the guests. Finally, I gathered some mental strength and queried the patrons in the table next to me.
“Oh,” one guest whispered. In a hushed tone, she leaned inward, “We are friends of one of Michael’s friends. By day, he is a TSA Agent. But he has to work nights during the shutdown to pay expenses. We understand he won’t take charity, so we’re going to leave him a hell of a tip. It’s our way of helping him.”
Their meals came. The table received the bill and headed out. Michael came to collect the check. He momentarily looked. He exhaled heavily, wiped a tear or two and returned the check-holder to his pocket.
My check-holder arrived twenty minutes later. The bill was $59.87. For a moment, I thought about client policy, only fifteen percent tip maximum. “Too bad I muttered,” as I wrote a $100.00 tip.
Friday saw an early wake-up call. Flight 323 was due to leave in a few hours. I arrived at Sacramento International well before departure. TSA interactions were cordial, but none reminded of Sheila from a few days earlier.
When boarding started, I met a stunning older blond woman. Approximately 6’1” or 6’2,” long blonde hair, a silver back pack, and towing a standard black roller carry-on. We engaged in conversation. Just as I, she was a consultant. And strangely, we had similar experiences, similar travels and similar travel horror stories.
Sadly, I never asked her name. I wish I did. Two strangers, hitting it off on a Southwest jet bridge, traveling to the same city, in the same career field, knowing one another, yet never not knowing one another.
In Casablanca, Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman said their last words to each other in a weird foggy glow on the taxiway. A Lockheed 12 aircraft looms behind them, promising adventure. This is a threshold of escape — a point of departure for the characters, an apt space of closure for the film. In real life, our films move forward, unending. And for once in the past nine years, I wish I had more time.
As I write this, I realize how much I miss her. Like many others, it makes you feel warm inside and you feel lucky to have met someone special that is missed in your life. However, I am jealous of the people she gets to meet. I wish I had another chance.
Life is about chances. Maybe it was chance that I met Michael. Maybe, chance had nothing to do with it. Maybe it was chance I met a wondrously beautiful and engaging woman on a Southwest jet bridge. Maybe ‘chance’ had little to do with it.
In a lot of cases, life is about opportunity. When I met Michael, I was drawn to his cause simply because others were so drawn to him. As for my chance traveler, we were drawn to each other for some reason. But I forfeited my chance when we parted.
I whispered a personal thought into the hotel’s bamboo plant, remembering the opening of “Red Corner.”
“When I was a child, I would come to this park and play. My grandmother told me why the bamboo is here. She said, “It is waiting for the wind to touch it. It is filled with emotions. Listen to the sound and you can feel them.””
In closing, I think of the woman I met and of the missed chance. We are somehow interconnected. Borrowing from the character Shen Yuelin (Red Corner):
“My Iife has changed. She opened me up and in some way, will forever be a part of my Iife. And hopefully, I will never be the same.”
Remember, leave nothing to chance.