The man in front of me wore a checked shirt of blue and white. I wore a similar shirt, mine more white than blue, and no fewer than six other men on the small plane wore the same pattern in the same colors. The older men in first class wore solid blue.
The checked shirt man bobbed his head long before the plane launched into the sky. He bobbed his head as we cleared the coastal state and then still he bobbed when we made it over Lake Erie. The bob was the same the whole time, shallow and quick, always the same beat. Whatever he was listening to was consistent, song after song, either that or he was stuck on repeat and he bobbed to the same song in that same shirt in the seat in front of me for the entirety of that westbound flight. I wished I hadn’t been so annoyed by the constant motion. I tried to video the bobbing, but the phone was on 9% and the passengers behind me would have been able to see what I was doing. I preferred to be simply one of the men in the checked shirts on that flight, and not the man who videotaped the other man because of his insistent, steady bob.
Once I flew home from the Cayman Islands, which island I cannot remember. Two days before the return flight that island sun had burned my face so badly that I spent those two days that followed slinking around the shady side of the pool and icing my face down with the bartender’s ice. I went for a walk at night and carried with me a neatly folded paper towel so that I might wipe the clear puss that was weeping from my burnt face. I never said this story was pleasant, but the pre-flight history is important because my mood was sour when I boarded that plane, and increasingly it worsened as the man in the seat in front of me spoke loudly in a heavy foreign tongue. I had no headphones, but had I it wouldn’t have been certain that I dared touch them to my crisped ears. I could do nothing but sit and listen to his heavy exaggerated dialect, and the farther into the flight the more he spoke, the louder, loud enough for everyone to hear, no matter their seat. My face wept, my ears buzzed, my patience was not traveling well.
And so yesterday I sat on that flight home, back to this place, to the place we take for granted. You take it for granted and I take it for granted because we’re told by the world that our place is nice, but it’s not that nice. It’s nice for Wisconsin, those people from other places say. I’m back after a short visit to a bigger city where bigger things exist, but I’m reminded today that these bigger things are not better, that far away city no more important than this small village. It’s Memorial Day Weekend, and while this is typically a warm up for summer, this year it appears as though it really is summer. Enjoy it, bask in it, solemnly remember those who made this safe life possible, and don’t take any of it for granted. Not this place, or this time, or these warm days and this clear water. It’s special, and sometimes you need only sit in coach behind a checked shirt man whose iTunes was stuck on repeat to realize it.