I don't travel by airplane a whole lot and, when I do, it is rare that I am traveling alone. But when I do travel alone by plane, there is the dreaded reality of sitting next to a total stranger. Or, if I'm truly unlucky, I have a middle seat and have to sit next to two total strangers.
I'm not the most socially outgoing person when I am among strangers. So if you're a total stranger sitting next to me on a flight, don't expect conversation. I'll keep to myself. I'll read, maybe listen to music, perhaps do the crossword puzzle in the in-flight magazine, or just sleep in an effort to assure there will be no conversation with the person sitting next to me.
But there was one flight back in 1996 where I talked the ear off of someone. I was on a Southwest Airlines flight from Orange County to Oakland. I was a summer associate at a law firm in the OC, and was coming back to the Bay for the weekend. It was a full flight, but I was lucky: not only had I gotten an aisle seat, but as we got closer to the time they'd close the doors, one of the few empty seats on the plane was the one right next to me.
But then, right before I figured the plane doors would close and we'd get going, into the plane walked a gentleman I recognized. Oh. My. Oski.
IT WAS STEVE MARIUCCI!
Mooch had been named Cal's head football coach in January of that year. So I found myself hoping he would take the seat next to me. AND HE DID!
Coach Mooch had barely settled into his seat when I started the conversation: "Hey, you're Steve Mariucci, aren't you?" He said, "Yes, I am" and actually looked surprised that someone knew who he was. I introduced myself as a Cal season ticket holder (I was a Young Alumni season ticket holder back then!) and expressed my happiness that he had taken the job.
Mooch wasn't exactly a total stranger to me. When I worked at KALX as an undergrad, Mooch was Bruce Snyder's offensive coordinator. In fact, Mooch was the OC in the 1991 season, when we went 10-2, beat Clemson in the Florida Citrus Bowl and finished the year ranked in the top 10. I attended many a media luncheon with Mooch and had talked to him before. (Of course, he didn't remember me!)
We started talking about Cal football right away. Pretty much at the beginning of our conversation, he told me that he'd been in the OC recruiting. He mentioned (not by name) one of the players he saw during the trip was a really good defensive lineman. When he mentioned that, he added, "in fact, Coach Holmoe is with me, too. But I made him drop me off and return the rental car." He then paused and said, "I don't think he's going to make this flight."
And, he didn't. Just as sure as his defenses would later miss the tight end, Coach Holmoe didn't make it on the plane before the doors closed. Oh well.
I knew there was a reason Mariucci made me drive that day!
Mooch and I talked Cal football for nearly the entire flight. I remember him telling me how excited he was to get the job, how good he thought our offensive players were, and how he appreciated all the support he had received from the Cal alumni and fanbase when he was hired. In an example of "the more things change, the more things stay the same," one of our main topics of conversation was ....QUARTERBACKS! Pat Barnes was the undisputed starter at that time, but Mooch talked about all the guys who had a chance to be the backup.
The only time we were really interrupted was when the elderly woman sitting in the window seat (who had apparently been eavesdropping) chatted up Mooch for a few minutes. (She had no idea who he was and didn't know squat about college football.) I was actually a bit annoyed that she struck up conversation. CAN'T YOU SEE WE'RE TALKING CAL FOOTBALL HERE, LADY?!?
I am hard pressed to think of a better flight I have had in my life.
So, CGBers, what brushes with fame have you had on airplanes? Or any good stories about people you've sat next to on flights?