The Observant Traveling Blogger

My opportunities to travel by air are rare nowadays, but my trip to and from Dallas last Saturday was a reminder that there’s nothing like an airport to provide blog fodder. I can’t think of many places where the people-watching gets any better.

Flying from and to Midland is always interesting because of the certainty of encountering a few people you know, and the likelihood of meeting someone you don’t. Saturday was no exception, as we visited with the following folks*:

  • An oilman returning from his second home in New England
  • The former head of Downtown Midland Inc. who is in the process of starting up her own educational resources business
  • A mother and her adult daughter from Fort Stockton, heading for Dallas for a day of mall-crawling
  • A Midlander who divides his time between family ranching interests in the Glass Mountains and a local prepaid legal services franchise. He was networking to beat the band, without much success. It was amazing to see how many people had somehow managed to forgot to bring any business cards with them.
  • A physical therapist who tried to help me with some back pain some years ago

The configuration of Southwest’s new 757s has extended the people watching possibilities beyond the terminal. The slightly staggered row alignment now makes it easier to observe the people across the aisle without their knowledge, unless they have the peripheral vision of a chameleon or Marty Feldman. (One must, of course, be able to deal with the likelihood that one is also the subject as well as the observer.)

I took an aisle seat and was rewarded during the return flight by the opportunity to watch a gentleman doing battle with his MP3 player.

The fellow was obviously not in the primary “rip, mix, burn” demographic, appearing to be in his 70s, and he was not enjoying his digital music experience.

The cause of his vexation was a tiny Philips music player with a nice bright color screen. I watched him fiddling with the various buttons and scroll controls; every so often he would jerk the earbuds from his head, wrap the cord around the player, and hold it in his lap, apparently cogitating on his next move. He would wait a few minutes, then unwrap and replug and re-fidget. Occasionally, he would deal the player a hefty whack with the palm of his hand, as if to rouse it from a digital coma. (Personally, I admired this aspect of his troubleshooting technique.)

During his ceaseless inspection of the controls, he turned the screen toward me and I captured a mental snapshot of a portion of the content. The album that was queued up was by Jennifer Lopez. As the flight continued, I noticed that the display never changed…he was apparently in possession of a music player with a perpetual J-Lo setting.

I tried to intuit what he was thinking. “Pretty funny, those *(^*(& grandkids — giving me a music player with nothing but Jennifer Lopez on it. Just wait ’til Christmas; we’ll see who’s laughing then.”

As the flight progressed, he grew increasingly agitated, and I noticed that the screen never changed. I couldn’t decide if his ire was over the fact that the player contained nothing but J-Lo, or that it was frozen and he couldn’t listen to even that content. He finally wrapped the earbuds around the player and stuck it, screen still shining, in his shirt pocket, and went to sleep.

I now believe that he had managed to press the lock button that keeps most MP3 players from being inadvertently turned on or off. I hope he solved the problem by some means other than depositing it in the nearest trash receptacle upon exiting the plane. Although, if it really was perpetually stuck on J-Lo, that was probably the only reasonable solution.

*I could name all of these people — except for the therapist, whose name I’ve apparently blocked from memory — but I won’t, in respect of their privacy. But it causes me to wonder if there should be some kind of requirement for bloggers to wear special ID tags when traveling so that those around them will understand their peril.


  1. it causes me to wonder if there should be some kind of requirement for bloggers to wear special ID tags when traveling
    …Or a shirt that says “I have a blog and I’m not afraid to use it.”

  2. Jim, given the level of blogging awareness around here, that shirt would only get you hauled off to another room for a hand-search by airport TSA guys.
    Catez, your dad seems like a pretty sensible guy to me. 😉
    Rachel, I didn’t share half of what actually went on…especially about the guy who’d had a few too many beers and was trying to figure a way to get to the front of the boarding line. We gave him some “help” in his quest. 😉

  3. Clearly he had only one JLo song on there and it was something he sorely regretted putting on there but, like the “random” on my iPod, it was the only song the dumb thing would play. JLo, another song, hey! let’s play JLo again! Poor guy…I’ve had digital music days like that.
    I like the shirt idea too – but also agree that it’s more likely to get you extra TSA attention than anything. Think Midland is bad? Try DC. They’ll pull you in for extra searching if you’re blinking a lot while trying to dislodge dirt from your eye. Not that I know first hand, or anything, but seriously getting wanded then patted down and your luggage searched while standing there with your eye watering madly (and turnning redder by the moment) is tons of fun. Spectators seem to enjoy it as well. Not that I know first hand or anything though. Seriously.

  4. Beth, maybe that eyeblinker person was actually spelling out “death to the Great Satan” in Morse code, and that’s why she — um, that person — was singled out.
    But, of course, you don’t know Morse code, do you?

  5. Oh, and the random play issue on the iPod made me think of the column in the Wall Street Journal a week or so ago in which the randomness of the iPod’s shuffle mode was explored. I had never given much thought to just how difficult it is to generate truly random numbers. It’s a quite interesting exercise.
    Well, depending on how you define “interesting.”

  6. Clearly you define “interesting” as “someone who enjoys jabbing themself in the eye with a spoon”. But yeah, if you define it that way, coming up with truly random numbers is very, very, very interesting. One might even say fascinating. If you redefine fascinating to include spatulas.
    (Nope. Not still bitter 15 years later about the ol “write a program to generate true random numbers” assignment in college. Not me. Uh-uh.)
    As for morse, what was that 5th amendment again? 😉

  7. Your people watching skilz are fantastic and a little intimidating. Makes me wonder how many times I’ve been portrayed on someone else’s blog, for any number of stupid things I’ve done, like the time I carried a spear home from Africa…try clearing security with that. 8-}

  8. Beth, you’re not fooling me a bit. You love that stuff!
    Makes me wonder how many times I’ve been portrayed…
    Oh, don’t be silly. Nobody’s watching you like that.
    Although, you know that thing you do with your earlobe when the air gets a little bumpy…? 😉

  9. By contrast, I remember the good ol’ days when I was allowed on with a bag full of bats — the wood and aluminum kind, not the flying carriers of fear and disease — as long as I promised not to beat anyone senseless.
    Said promise lasted until I got hit with the beverage cart one too many times, but fortunately the statute of limitations on assault is shorter than you might think.
    It’s hard to whisper on the internet.
    Angry Softball Guy

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