I’m not an easy flyer, and I know many of you aren’t either.
So imagine this.
I keep my head buried in my book, burying as well memories and misgivings, expectations and excitement on my upcoming re-location. But the fellow sitting next to me (I’m in the aisle, he’s in the window seat, with no one in between), in his early 40s, well-dressed with the requisite 2-day-old beard and unscuffed suede loafers, continually looks at his watch.
Over and over again.
Then he peers around his shoulder.
Back to the watch.
He sighs, pulls out his laptop, opens it impatiently, and checks out his watch, the laptop, then behind his shoulder. Obsessively.
I think to myself…YIKES. I’ve never been described as a busybody, but after 20 minutes of this, my heart is leaping into my throat, and I’m afraid that if I alert the air flight attendant, no words will escape from my mouth.
And what words would I use? “I think I’m sitting next to a terrorist”…?
I realize how extreme my fears are, and return to my book.
Until my seatmate begins to tap on his watch, then talks to it. Yes, he brings it up to his mouth and t a l k s.
Then he checks his laptop. Looks over his shoulder …and leaps up and rushes to the back of the plane.
I am petrified.
Where’s the attendant? What should I do? What would you do?
I take in a gulp of air, talk to myself soothingly, something like, “He’s an air marshal.” Then, “He’s a crazy guy who thinks he’s an undercover cop.” Then, “He’s a bad guy – get help!”
The bad guy returns, politely thanking me for standing up so he can slide into his seat. I decide to speak up.
“So, you’re working hard on some research, huh?” I stutter with eloquence.
The expression that washes across his face is priceless: pride, wariness, dismay that he needs to answer the questions of a middle-aged woman, apprehension, and joy.
“Yes,” he says.
Then he returns to work, tapping the watch, talking into it, checking his laptop, and now, marking a paper spreadsheet with colored pens.
I relax, laugh lightly at myself, until a male flight attendant stops at our aisle, staring at my seatmate and his appliances.
I hold my breath.
“You’ve got it,” the attendant says.
“Yup, testing,” replies the passenger.
“Soon!” the unshaven genius says, and then he ignores us both and goes back to work.
My heartbeat saunters to a crawl of embarrassment and mortification. The new world is sitting next to me, but I just want to slink into my book and stay there forever. Back to the day when watches were for telling time; when “terrorist” was a word rarely applied; and when Star Trek was about a time far far into the future.
But wait! Maybe that’s the next step. In a few years, a talking watch will be no big deal. The next step will be a tap and no need for an airplane – our electrons will be transported with ease.