I met Gina in the waiting area of a departure gate in Salt Lake City Airport’s terminal 2, prepared for an hour of airline boredom. The female traveler seated to my immediate right was occupied with a magazine featuring colorfully-illustrated food dishes and recipes. I couldn’t help but notice the page on which she was focused and commented off-handedly about my fondness for a version of that particular menu specialty I had recently prepared in my own kitchen. Thus began what became a passionate and animated discussion surrounding our shared love of food and food history. A native New Orleanian with Italian roots, she ended up writing down a series of recommendations for my stay in that city, and we eventually made our way down the companionway to the waiting aircraft, chatting like lifelong friends. I spotted her once again in the baggage area at New Orleans, and she waved happily to me across a crowd of busy travelers.
Seated with some friends at a picnic table beside the fabled Battenkill River and my favorite covered bridge in southwest Vermont recently, I noticed a lone fly fisherman eating his own lunch at the only other table in that green and lush historic setting. After a shouted comment or two, Kevin introduced himself as a visitor from Australia and joined us. In minutes he and I had discovered a half dozen shared interests, from the Battle of Britain and the varying capabilities of the Spitfire and Messerschmitt, to the development of the Rolls Royce Merlin engine, and the merits of fly fishing on various Montana trout streams. Since then we have established an email connection between our respective continents and I have gotten to know his wife Jennifer as well.
I struck up a conversation with a tall, good-looking father of three young children at a Burger King restaurant in Central Utah, after observing the loving way he entertained his obviously-mixed-race young family as they finished their meal-on-the-run. On the pretext of asking him why he wore no wrist watch (a recent phenomenon in this age of “handheld” devices which I have been exploring), I learned that he was a surgeon, and as his Korean-American wife joined us, we found a special connection arising from my wartime experience in her homeland, and my continuing efforts to build cultural bridges between our two countries.
Shirley and I were enjoying an old-fashioned “comfort food” meal in a 1950s-era diner in Manchester, New Hampshire just a month ago, when our attention was drawn to and held by a group of four 30-something women at a nearby table who were regaling each other with flying hands and nearly-continuous laughter. Although too distant to make out their exact words, it seemed obvious to me that some third-party person guilty of some kind of buffoonery was the victim of their salacious but delicious ridicule. As we were leaving, I told Shirley that I was going to “have a word” with them. “Don’t you dare!” my horrified wife warned. But I couldn’t restrain myself. “You ladies are having altogether too much fun” I said as I interjected myself into their conversation, “but I would really like to meet the poor lady you are talking about”! My sly, but sympathetic comment threw them into more gales of delighted laughter, and I dare to believe they would have invited me to join them if circumstances had been different.
And I can’t forget Earl, the dedicated Black taxi driver who picked us up at New Orleans International and delivered us to our downtown hotel, talking to us about his beloved city. “When will you be leaving?” he asked before letting us off. We told him the day, but warned him “Oh, but that will be at five AM in the morning”. “That’s okay. I will be here to pick you up at that time if you like.” And he was, even though he had to borrow his wife’s cab, since his was not available. It was not just about the “fare”; with Earl it was all about keeping his word. He was one of a memorable handful of African-American cabbies, hotel porters and restaurant waiters, who went out of their way to make us feel welcome and “cared for” while guests in their home town.
In keeping with a long-time habit of writing down the things that happen around me almost daily, I have become particularly aware of how regularly my life is enriched by, and how thankful I am for the goodness of everyday people.