Until recently, it had been about a decade since I flew Southwest. I believe it was the carrier that ferried a 9 of my family and friends to a weekend of debauchery for my Vegas bachelor party that had more than a few passing similarities to the flick where they accidentally kill the hooker in Vegas, but was not nearly as cool and fun as the bachelor party depicted in “The Hang Over”.
So when I entered the terminal to fly Southwest from Chicago to LA a couple of weeks ago, I was a little lost. “What’s this shit about “unassigned” seating?” I asked my traveling companion. We had to board according to letters, just like you do with most airlines when they let you on in groups, but there was an additional wrinkle that threw my low-ish IQ into a tailspin (no plane pun intended): We had to line up according to a number on our ticket next to these big posts. Needless to say, I was one of the last to board, and when I got on the plane, I stared down the aisle at a sea of…middle seats.
I’m not shitting you: Not one middle seat was taken on the entire plane.
I scanned the craft warily and bid my fellow traveler adieu and walked deliberately, looking people over and wondering how badly this 4 hour and 55 minute flight was going to suck whilest sandwiched in between two strangers.
Finally, about 5 rows from the back, I saw my mark: a lovely young Asian woman who was fastidiously reading in the window seat. The aisle seat was occupied by a rather big-boned Caucasian man…but my eyes were smitten with the 20-something young woman. I’m not normaly given to to her type, but I thought I could do far worse than chatting up some UCLA co-ed for the better part of the day. If nothing else, I figured a small framed-Asian beats the hell out of bunking between two super-sized honkies anyday.
She looked up from her book and I beamed, “I’m HERE!” The expression on her face said it all: “Oh, great, a middle aged loser clawing his way to middle management who thinks he’ll get some action despite his adult-acne. This is going to be a sweet ride.” Thank God that look of disdain passed quickly and she was mostly able to hide her disappointment.
After some light banter, we were airborne, and I let “Jenny” be. The very instant the pilot allowed it, down dropped her tray, and out came the smallest notebook PC I’ve ever seen along with a think packet of papers. I put my earbuds in, fired up the Ipod, and dove into Steve King’s The Stand.
I’m not ashamed to tell you my eyes certainly did wander throughout the flight. Boy did they ever! My eyes feasted over the next 4 hours as I helped myself to…to her…well, you know…
To her packet of papers which she was furiously thumbing, reading and re-reading, underlining, and scribbling upon, in between bursts of typing at speeds heretofore unmeasured my man. This chick was like some piano prodigy the way she tickled those ebony keys!
Over the ensuing 4 hours, she must have churned out 20 typed pages, and I was perfecting my “side-eye” technique in my endeavor to take in as much of her work as I could. About 30 minutes before we landed, I decided I could contain myself no more. “Jenny,” I queried, “What do you do?” I already had a pretty good idea. “I’m an analyst for a hedge fund,” she answered.
Now I was truly in love!
Jenny explained that she eyeballs investment opportunities, researches the upside, digs into the downside, and tells her team whether or not they should take a deeper look at it and possibly invest. She is, for all intents and purposes, the gatekeeper to the dough. If you don’t win her over, you don’t get to pitch the moneymen. My head danced with the possibilities.
We chatted about the types of deals she evaluates, and it turns out her firm invests significantly in…drumroll…the industry I specialize in: Radio. Well, as she termed it, they “hold the debt” in several of the biggest operators out there.
We exchanged cards, and I warned her that we would be talking again soon about how to put a few deals in front of her team. Who knows? They certanly could go nowhere, or we could get off the ground with the right amount of funding on a couple of things. Perhaps knowing Jenny will never pay off, but I file the experience of meeting her under the heading, “Can’t hurt.” I like to put it this way: I’d rather know an analyst at a west coast hedge fund than NOT know an analyst at a west coast hedge fund. Maybe you trip over hedge fund managers and analysts all the time. Not me. So I was thrilled to meet her, and especially one that has experience in broadcast acquisitions.
And all because Southwest makes you mingle; all because no one sits in the middle seat. I mean, what if the fat dude next to me would have taken the middle seat next to the cute Asian chippy (as logic would dictate actually)? I would have gotten the ever-valuable aisle seat, but might have missed out on meeting Jenny.
On second thought, I should give myself some credit here: Southwest and the fat guy don’t get it all! The other key component here was that I had the nuts to turn to the person next to me and see what’s up. I don’t blame myself for not finding out what the portly fellow’s story is as he slept for 90% of the flight, and his thighs were touching mine for 90% of that time…which was a super big turn off. If he would have stayed awake, I would have seen what his deal was too whether he liked it ot not.
I can’t stress it enough: Everyone’s got a story. Find out what it is. It could really benefit you. It could change your life. Or it could merely pass the time. The only way to find out is to, well, find out. Force yourself to “get out there.” You could be rewarded 10 fold.
The flight home from LA had a layover in Phoenix. The one hour hop to Arizona had me sharing the back row with Matt DuBiel, my biz partner…and Ann Marie Castillo…a “dancer” from LA heading home to help her family through a tough time. She has the stripper thing down cold: She desparately wants to go back to school. (Not sure what’s holding her back: She probably makes 75k a year working Thursdays-Saturdays. Lots of money and time to go back to school and get that degree.) In between professing her love of drinking and being drunk, and rubbing my body with her’s at every chance (Hey, I told her I had no singles…but I guess it’s force of habit for members of that profession), she was incredulous at our assertion that becoming an anesthesiologist or OB-GYN would require quite a bit of math acumen. “Even being a gynecologist who just does pap smears?” she pleaded. “Especially the kind who only do pap smears,” we flatly informed her.
The Phoenix to Chicago jaunt had me next to a lithe brunette. Of course you know what I did! I almost totally ignored her and instead talked White Sox baseball with the 60-something guy on the aisle. For a Cubs fan, it was pretty brutal. However, the payoff occurred about 150 miles outside of O’Hare when he revealed that his sister was a teacher at my high school. Mrs. Kennedy was a very cool lady, so I was elated. Mrs. K also was friends with my old man to boot, so it was really cool to connect with her (sorta) through her brother. I gave him my card and asked him to give it to his sis with my regards. If nothing else, she’ll know she at least equipped me with the know-how to get to Office Max and get a two-color biz card batch of 250 printed for $22.96.
They say it’s a small world. I intend to meet as many people as I can and make it seem smaller still.
Look out if you see me coming on your next flight on a cheapo discount carrier. I may ask you to read my palm like the doctor I flew with to Miami in January. Didn’t I mention that lady? After BS’ing she revealed she is some renowned doctor and was on her way to a conference. She’s in bed with a major pharma company. She also claimed she learned to read lifelines after working in the Chicago morgue…
Suffice it to say I’m apparently going to die suddenly when I’m about 70.
Hey, you win some and you lose some.
The names of many of the participants described above have been changed. If I start blabbing everything about everyone I meet, it might have a chilling effect and people will stop chatting with my nosey ass. That would make 4 hour and 55 minute flights to LA unbearably long and I’d be forced to finish the remaining 914 pages of The Stand.