Two weeks back, my father and sister traveled to Maryland. My father just recently bought a franchise, and since my sister would be managing it, the company asked that they both be there. During the flight back, something happened which I feel is worth mentioning.
Before I start, I should explain: My father has owned businesses all his life. As such, he has over the years developed the proverbial “thick skin” which comes almost preternaturally to those who have been in the line of verbal and legal fire which owning a traditional business usually entails. He’s essentially immune to criticism, at least from strangers, no matter in what form it comes. In his own words, “If someone’s a dickhead to me, I’m just gonna be a bigger dickhead back.” He will, of course, say this with a smile. He also has a habit of thinking his thoughts out loud, for everyone’s enjoyment. Whether he does this for effect or whether it is a result of his many years fighting in the world of business, I cannot say.
To show you a bit of his nature, once my father wanted to buy some shirts from a Wal-mart. (I’ll say they were shirts, since I can’t recall what the items really were.) A big, standing sign said these shirts were on special, about a third of their normal price. My father capitalized on this and grabbed a relatively large number of them. When he went up to the cashier, she told him they were the regular price. He argued this, but she refused to change the price or even check, for that matter, insisting that the price on the computer was the right price. My father then, calmly, went back to the shirt section, grabbed the big, standing sign, returned to the cashier and placed it in front of her. He got his price, and was applauded by people behind him who saw what had happened, at least those who weren’t too annoyed at the time it took for these events to unfold.
My father and sister flew back from Maryland on a Southwest Airlines flight. If you’ve ever flown on Southwest, you know that they have what I like to call the herd seating system. That is, they divide passengers into four groups: Handicapped/Elderly, A, B, and C. When they call one of the groups, all persons in that group are driven into the plane like a herd of cows and grab seats on a first come/first serve basis. (Really, if you think about the name and where the airline started — the land of cows and cowboys — you see why this method of seating makes sense.) This way of seating works great if you’re on one of the first few to sit, not so great if you’re on one of the last.
Because of some complications with the airport, my father and sister were late in arriving at the terminal for their flight. Late enough, in fact, to earn a calling of their names over the intercom, followed by words “your flight is about to leave.”
When they finally boarded the plane they came to the stark realization that this flight was full. Very full, with the only open seats being middle seats, and no two adjacent seats free. My sister sat in a seat available in the front of the plane, which my father couldn’t due to the lack of legroom and a lifetime’s worth of knee problems. Another thing to keep in mind is that my father’s a big guy. Really big. At a height of five-foot, nine-inches and weighing in at around three hundred and fifty pounds, he’s in no way, shape, or form a lightweight. (To be fair, he’s been losing weight, so this is an improvement.)
Looking around, my father thought, “So, who’s going to be the lucky onnnnneee todaaaaayyyy…” Of course, he didn’t quite think it to himself so much as he announced it to the entire plane.
As he made his announcement, a wave of cringe washed over the crowd. People looked down, trying to make themselves bigger than they were, covering empty adjacent seats, and hoping, praying that the fat man now eying the empty seat beside them wouldn’t decide to sit there. My father, a man reminiscent of Modest Mussorgsky, walked slowly down the plane’s center isle, much in the way one would suspect Mussorgsky would have walked between when admiring his Pictures at an Exhibition: slowly, pensively, and with an eye for detail that betrayed not only years of experience, but also a somewhat mischievous nature.
He arrived at the last row of the plane, where a younger man in what seemed to be a very foul mood was sitting. “Looks like you’re it!” he told the man, with a smile. The man then uttered some profanity and made the staff well aware of his displeasure.
Eventually, the man was moved to another seat (why they couldn’t do this earlier, I don’t know). As he left, my father told him “Thank you!” Soon thereafter my sister joined him, with the rest of the flight proving mostly uneventful in either turbulence or my father’s sense of humor.