I never took flying lessons. Thirty-five years later, on that evening flight in bad weather, I re- encountered my old pals pitch, roll and yaw. In a practical, not theoretical, manner. Repeatedly. In an aircraft lacking a bar. Perfect.
Impending doom aside, it seemed like this trip had all the seminal indicators of being a less than satisfactory excursion. Away for most of two weeks, I was dearly missing my wife and seven year old son. I had been rain-wet during the flight boarding process in the podunk place from which I departed. The flight had been delayed due to bad weather. And then launched into it anyhow. The business traveler knows the signs. As I sat, damp, scared, too sober, pitchyawrolling in the dark sky, I felt about a hundred years old. And I entered an unusual place for me. The little room with the "I don't want to go out this way" sign on it.
We landed later. At full throttle, probably on one wheel. A real Red Baron job. But landed all the same. Too late to make dinner with a friend whose company would have balmed the jangled nerves. As I drove toward the hotel in the (still) pouring rain, I felt more lonely than I have felt in my entire life.
At least I had time for dinner at the Palm steakhouse. A chain, yes, but one of my favorites. And, in various locations, the site of many Epic occasions. I arrived a bit the worse for wear, a bit wrinkled, a bit damp still. I usually do not like dining in the bar portion of a restaurant, but the Palm has small booths in the bar and I took one rather than wait for a table. Besides, in the booth nobody could see how disheveled I looked. I stared into a very good martini and glumly pondered the day.
From the corner of my eye, I happened to notice an attractive young woman in the only other occupied booth. Not because she was pretty, but because her date was in a baby carrier. One of the sort that you can snap into a stroller or carry about with you. You just never see a baby in the bar of a great restaurant. I'm not sure that it is legal. Anyhow, I was too tired and blue to pay the issue much mind. Until she appeared at my elbow and said...
"You look like a fellow who needs to hold a baby."
She gave me a big, beach-tanned grin and held out the child who seemed similarly pleased at the notion.
I goggled. A vague reference from my wife about not letting anyone touch the baby floated through my increasingly fatigue and Stoli clouded mind. Along with glimmers from old episodes of "The World's Greatest Con Artists".
"Um, uh , well, I could have Hepatitis, or the flu, or......"
The same sparkling grin from both of them.
"Well, DO you have Hepatitis or the flu?"
Well, no. She pushed the baby into my arms. Despite my reservations, it was as if I had been plugged into some form of cosmic battery. I was instantly renewed. Reinvigorated. Re-inspired. Tactually transported to a time seven years earlier when my son, and my fatherhood, were new. I held the child for about five minutes as his mother and I chatted. It turned out she was in college, working at the Palm as a server. That five minutes was one of the most memorable times of my life.
Afterward, I would always ask for one of her tables. Over a couple of years, we would show off photos of our (ever larger) babies. Finally, she graduated college and moved away to start a promising career. I never saw her again.
A book I like a lot says that we should remember to be kind to strangers because by doing so we may unknowingly entertain angels. I think it works both ways. During some of the darkest, lonely nights, when the skies are tempest tossed, the clothes not water resistant, the family too far away, a couple of angels may just decide to put themselves right in the middle of your life and fix everything in an instant. I know. I met two of them.
Endorsement Note: The Palm did not pay me to write this or to mention their establishment. I wish they had.