The person sitting next to you

Maramis Choufani is the Managing Editor of the Las Vegas Tribune.
A little commentary on trains, planes, buses, and such.
By Maramis
Maramis Choufani is the Managing Editor of the Las Vegas Tribune.

Most of my travel these days is to see one or another of my children. Or my sister. Or an occasional friend or other relative. And due to the scarcity of train travel located in Pahrump or even Las Vegas (as
in none), I end up going by plane. (Unless I travel by bus, which is not too often.)
When I was growing up, my mother always reminded me not to talk to strangers. That was probably good advice for some children, but I was a little different. Some strangers in my life turned out to be very
good friends. Sorry, Mom.
While there were many, today I’ll focus on my favorite of all “strangers on a plane.” Since I spent the holidays (Christmas and New Year’s Eve) in Texas, at my son’s, it was inevitable that I’d have to fly. Going there I met all the usual kinds of polite strangers — those willing to put my carry-on in the upper storage space without my asking, and those who had a cheerful word in passing and such — but it
was coming back, at the airport in Austin, where I met the creme de la creme of airport strangers. And he was only 19.
He offered me the nicest of warm greetings to encourage me to sit next to him, as opposed to someone else, since there were plenty of available seats at Gate 19, awaiting our flight to Las Vegas. We instantly hit it off, this teenager and I, a woman who hasn’t seen her teenage years for over half a century. He had an interesting backpack with him that turned out to be the “king,” so to speak, of backpacks.
It contained so many items for dealing with emergencies, which naturally led our conversation to my having been a Girl Scout, and our motto, Be Prepared. I told him about the original Girl Scout handbook
that was written in 1911 and the very many things they taught Girl Scouts back in the day. He made a note of it in his Smartphone. The most noticeable thing that he had with him, however, was a boxed
pizza. (No, not for delivery; it had to last him for this trip and the connecting one on to Denver. After all, he was a teenager!)
As we talked, I learned about his adventurous spirit, both for travel and for mountain climbing. In fact, it was during this particular trip on his way back home to the capital of Colorado that was the first time ever he trusted his climbing gear to his checked-in luggage.
He was dressed like you might expect an adventurous, travelling teenager to be dressed, and he had long, somewhat golden hair that was wavy and hanging free. I noticed his teeth were absolutely perfect, just like his whole smiling face. As we talked — believe it or not — we discovered that we had a lot in common. No, I never got to be a mountain climber, but I did want to give it a try. I had a friend back
in the day who was an avid mountain climber (he had climbed the really big one — Mt. Everest, the highest point on earth), but I happened to be married at the time, and my husband did not believe that mountain climbing was for women — at least, not for his woman, his wife. So that was as far as my mountain-climbing adventure went.
He also, among his many other interests, plays the guitar. In fact, he’s a guitar major, I, on the other hand, own a guitar that I intend to learn to play one of these days.
Don’t ask me how we got on the subject of tattoos, but when we did, he showed me the beautiful one in progress that he just recently got.
There is still more to go, but that one eight-hour session was more than enough for his “first time at bat.” When it’s finished, it will be a close representation of the woodblock print, The Great Wave Of Kanagawa By Katsushika Hokusai. The main difference, aside from it being body art as opposed to wall art, will be the placement of the boat, which will be more noticeable on his body.
In the print, Hokusai conceived the wave and the distant Mount Fuji in terms of geometric language. … Mount Fuji, on the other hand, signifies stillness and eternity; it is the symbol of Japan and, as a sacred object of worship, holds a significant place in Japanese beliefs. My teenage seatmate, Weston, travelled to Japan, and in fact got lost in the woods while there (the getting lost in the woods part was something else we had in common), but his particular getting lost adventure yielded him the best part of his trip. He came across an elderly Japanese man who gave him the most amazing tour of an ancient temple that was deep within the woods. That might have been the beginning of his deep love of Japan and serenity, coupled with his already deep love for the waves and the water.
Which led us to the next topic of conversation: water. I told him about one of the most fascinating books I have read, “Your Body’s Many Cries for Water,” by Dr. Fereydoon Batmanghelidj (nicknamed Dr.
Batman). I can recommend it to anyone reading this column. Then we phased into history, philosophy, science, and religion, and of course I recommended my favorite book of all time, The Urantia Book. Weston had his Smartphone out and was jotting down all the new things he was learning from me while I was absorbing his essence as the most interesting person I ever met at an airport.
Then, as we were preparing to land (time flies when you’re having fun), he asked if we could take a selfie together when we deplane. I’m so glad he asked, because now I’ll have a photo of him as well. He might only be a footnote in my life’s story, but hey, “little things” like this make up life. I was beginning to feel like a surrogate grandmother to him when he told me that I was the most interesting person he had ever met at an airport. Wow! Were we a good random match or what?
And surprisingly, his boarding pass number turned out to be A-41, while mine was A-42!
I love talking to strangers—especially those sitting next to me.
* * * * *
Maramis Choufani is the Managing Editor of the Las Vegas Tribune. She writes a weekly column in this newspaper. To contact Maramis, email her at

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