Last Christmas came early for me, and this year I’m hoping for a repeat.
It happened unexpectedly, as the best gifts always do, on a flight to Columbus, Ohio to visit family for Thanksgiving.
I flew solo on one of those small planes where the left-side seats are single file and the ceiling is too low for me to straighten my spine. The lack of a first-class section on this shuttle allowed me to be the second seat in, close enough to the seated flight attendant that I couldn’t help but make eye contact with him.
I won’t mention the airline or departing city by name, because what happened next is almost certainly against airline regulations. While I’m not flying back to Ohio for Turkey Day this time around — we alternate between sides of the family, so I’ll be Boston-bound — I’m hoping for a stroke of luck that will lead me either back to the same flight attendant or someone feeling similarly generous.
After making his announcements, closing the cabin door and buckling in, the flight attendant made friendly small talk with me and the guy sitting between us. We’d be arriving late and he’d be driving through the night to a lakeside cabin, he told us. I can’t remember exactly what he looked like or much else of what we discussed, though I’m picturing comedian James Corden — the one who does those Carpool Karaoke videos — as an appropriate stand in.
It wasn’t long before the flight attendant, who I’ll call James, started making his way through the aisle with the drink cart. He offered one to me and the man in 1A on the sly.
I’ve flown enough to have this happen before. Or maybe it doesn’t happen to everyone, just people who are decent towards the flight attendants. The last time I flew, an attendant gave the couple across the aisle from me free Bloody Marys after they established they pulled for the same college football team. I’m grateful when it happens, of course, but it’s nothing to write a column about.
But it didn’t end there.
James plied us with more drinks when he returned, handing me a beer after I’d downed a gin & ginger ale and giving me another brewski before I emptied the first. More than happy to keep him company anyway, let alone buoyed by the drinks, we kept trading stories. Before he made his way through the aisle again, he showed me where the beers were kept — a small compartment that pulled out by the trash — and told me to help myself.
It must’ve taken me 10 minutes to build up the courage to stand and grab a beer. I didn’t even want one at that point, and I had permission, after all. It felt like crossing a line, and at the front of the small plane I knew just about every passenger could see me. But knowing I’d likely never have a chance like it again, I rose and helped myself.
In the Jewish tradition of Passover, we say “dayenu” to mean “it would have been enough.” My family likes to apply the term out of context, and this was certainly one of those times with repeated dayenu moments. But it didn’t end there, either.
As we started to descend over Ohio, James asked if I liked whiskey. I assured him I’d had more than enough — probably four or five drinks at this point, and we’re only talking about a few hour flight — but he persisted. When I said yes, he filled up a plastic bag with fistfuls of airplane bottles and wished me a happy Thanksgiving.
I don’t need to consume 18 drinks to make it through the holidays with family, but I still welcomed James’ generosity and wished I could repay it. My family refused to believe my story until I pulled out the bag, and my sister and I shared some once we made it to our hotel. By that time hopefully James had made it to his cabin safely with his family and settled in for a nice Thanksgiving.
Last year I gave thanks for him, among many other things I’m grateful for in my life, and this year I’m hoping to run into the Santa of booze again.