Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Close encounters

"Ah, excuse me?"

I was sitting in the airport food court in Atlanta, checking my email on my iPad before my connecting flight to Santiago. As I had looked up to gaze across the bustling space, a man had caught my eye and now made his way over. He got out his boarding pass.

"I'm traveling to Arizona, the mountains, you know?"

Uh. Ok. I arranged my face into an expression of polite interest in an attempt to mask my growing discomfort as he came to stand RIGHT UP BESIDE ME. My hands tightened on my iPad.

"Could you tell me what the time is?"

... Because there are no clocks at the airport? But, to be fair, I'd been confused myself before when connecting through a location on a different timezone. I looked down at my iPad screen.

"6:48," I told him, wishing I was standing so I could take a step backwards.

"6.....48." He proceeded to write this on his boarding pass. I wondered if he realized it would be out of date in like ... a minute.

"People here are so rude," he continued. "I couldn't find anyone to tell me."

Yeah, well, buddy, if you went and stood THIS CLOSE TO THEM I'm not surprised they ran. The fact you ended up picking one of the few Brits in the airport to crush the personal space out of is particularly unfortunate. For me.

"I've just flown in from New Zealand."

Why were we still having a conversation?

"But I'm actually Italian. Most people can tell from the shoes!" He tapped me on the arm.

Forcing a smile, I looked down at the polished black footwear. I guessed it must be something notable and fashionable. I took the opportunity to move my bag under my table. Possibly his romantic-nation origins were an explanation for his extrovert behavior. My origins, however, dictated that I was sure such proximity meant he was about to rob me.

He looked down at the time scrawled on his boarding pass again. "And is this central time or ....?"

Why does that matter?

"It's east-coast time," I said uncomfortably. "EST."

He added this to his note. "E...S...T. How different is that from New York time?"

".... It's the same." I wrapped my legs around my bag, surreptitiously checked my pockets were zipped up and gripped my iPad harder.

"The same?!"

Longitude, dude.

"I'm going to the mountains in Arizona." He caught my arm again.

.... You mentioned and more to the point, you're totally creeping me out.

"Have a good trip." I made a show of turning back to my --tightly clutched-- iPad.

A hand was thrust in front of my face. My left hand tightened while I reluctantly reassigned my right to shaking the proffered paw.

"Goodbye!" The man walked a few steps back, repeated himself when I looked away so I could turn and see him salute me.

Then he was gone. I double checked my pockets and bag and resolutely refused to make eye contact for the rest of the trip.

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