Strange friends in strange places

“Just look at all these beautiful people I could get know!” a man exclaimed outside Gate 8, Terminal A of San Jose International Airport last night.

He waved his hands in the air, twirling in a circle and gesturing emphatically at the various individuals, families, friends, and colleagues who slouched around, eyes fixed online or in a book.

He gave a fist bump to an elderly man passing in a wheel chair. He made the rounds, shaking hands and introducing himself as he went.

A few minutes earlier, this enthusiastic gentleman been greeted joyously by another man, sitting a socially acceptable distance from me along the terminal wall. “Hey man, there you are!” He’d exclaimed, “Join me, have a seat!”

But Enthusiasm didn’t want to have a seat. He wanted to meet all the people.

Enthusiasm was quite drunk.

I’d assumed that my wall neighbor, a man with a balding head, an impressively robust beard, and a laid-back but thoughtful vibe, knew Enthusiasm. His manner of greeting seemed to indicate so.

But, I learned, Thoughtful didn’t know Enthusiasm. They’d met over a drink at the terminal bar – Thoughtful having taken his leave an hour before. “You’ve definitely outpaced me,” commented Thoughful, whose friendliness could have been natural or lightly beverage-induced.

Our flight was about to board as this interaction occurred, so I assumed I’d never see Enthusiasm nor Thoughtful again. I hardly thought I’d remember the moment at all.

But there was a problem with the plane. We spent the next hour in the terminal.

Enthusiasm was particularly taken with my wall neighbor on the other side – a young woman who seemed equally friendly, thoughtful, and skeptical about the interaction. She was a writer, as it turned out, with a passion for fiction. She seemed to view the world – or at least this small slice of it – as an explorer might: interacting, yes, but carefully observing.

So there we sat – Enthusiasm, Thoughtful, Explorer, and I, waiting for our plane to board.

Enthusiasm, whose occupation seemed to involve large scale HVAC planning, declared that today he’d been a Technical God. He’d been in town, he explained. to resolve a client’s technical difficulties. In an effort to describe to his airport audience the scope of this company’s air system, he effortlessly completed some calculations before gesturing so wildly he knocked himself over. He lolled about on the floor before finishing his story, which I’ll admit to having missed the finer points of, but it’s denouement was that he ultimately resolved the issue. He was a Technical God.

No wonder he was so enthusiastic.

Later, as Thoughtful described his work teaching High School English to young people who were primarily children of immigrant farm workers, Enthusiasm found himself continually falling over for a quick rest on my shoulder.

Thoughtful, a Canadian by birth and accent, pointed out that the number of children living in poverty in the United States is larger than the entire population of Canada.

Thoughtful advised Explorer that she shouldn’t settle professionally. If she wanted to write fiction, she should write fiction. Another job to pay the bills would only detract from that.

Enthusiasm went back to mingling with the terminal guests. Introducing himself to anyone who would listen.

I wondered if I ought to scorn Enthusiasm. Public drunkenness is generally frowned upon, public displays of social affection even more so. Should I be displeased that this man, too out of his wits to properly control his own motor function, continually rested his hand gravely on my should or found himself leaning against me when he’d been aiming for the wall?

Perhaps I should have found this behavior most disreputable, but to be honest, it didn’t bother me.

It was a very public setting, with little chance of things going too awry, but more than that, Enthusiasm was really just…enthusiastic. This 57-year-old man who found himself crawling around on the airport floor while professing his philosophical beliefs, simply wanted to meet people and to talk to them. He wanted to experience the moment through interaction with others. He wanted to know each person’s story – though he couldn’t seem to remember it for very long. He wanted to celebrate existence and co-existence, and he wanted those around him to feel the unbridled joy which had overtaken him.
In a world where many of us focus on our own narrow lives, breaking our vows of silence to strangers only for simple comments such as a pleasant good morning or a request for time, it was refreshing to see someone who so genuinely wanted to interact with everyone around him.Socially unacceptable, perhaps, but laudable all the same.

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