Evidence of a Shrinking World

I don’t believe I know an exceptionally large number of people, but I meet them in airports with uncanny regularity.

Scene One

A number of years ago I was traveling with a co-worker from New York to Washington, D.C. for a press check. While we waited to board at the shuttle terminal at La Guardia, I was greeted by a group of software developers coming off an arriving plane on their way to a meeting in our offices. Leaving the gate in Washington, we ran into another co-worker who I knew but my companion did not. "Geez, you know people everywhere!" she said.

Scene Two

In the fall of 1999 Andrew and I were waiting at the gate for a flight to Paris. I noted that a woman who was having a loud argument with the gate staff at the check-in counter looked like someone I used to work with -- someone who was just the type to scream at airline staff. As we watched, the woman stalked away from the counter to the pay phones and was then heard complaining about her seat. No, surely my old co-worker would have a cell phone.

We got on the plane. Having booked late, Andrew and I were seated in middle seats several rows apart amid a large group of college students going for a year abroad. I put my head in my book and successfully ignored the cacophony around me until I heard my name. "Oh no," I thought, "it WAS her."

I looked up to see someone entirely different in the aisle – the woman who had booked my trip to Turkey the year before. She was on her way to Paris with her daughter for a week’s vacation.

Back to my book.

I heard my name again. "Oh no," I thought. "This time it really is her, I recognize her voice."

I looked up. "Hello!" I managed not to say, "so it was you being so difficult outside." She was on her way to Paris on business, and her husband was traveling there on a different flight ("ah hah," I thought, "that’s who she called, and they must have booked late if they couldn’t travel together, so no wonder she couldn’t get the seat she wanted").

By now the college girl next to me had noticed and commented on my "popularity." I assured her that I was quite amazed myself. The flight took off and after the seatbelt sign went off Andrew came up to my row. We chatted for a moment and he went away. I turned to the girl next to me and seeing her quizzical look I assured her that I knew he was on the plane.

Scene 3

Park City, Utah, Martin Luther King weekend, 2001. Andrew was downhill skiing at The Canyons. I’d done some crosscountry at White Pine Touring Center and retired to the out-door hot-tub at The Canyons to wait for my massage appointment. I was reading in the tub when I heard the door to the spa open and glanced up to see a group of people in street clothes come out onto the patio. One of them was pointing out the features of the spa to the others. Through the mist rising off of the tubs, I recognized two familiar faces.

"Albert!" I called out. My client at American Express looked up, peered through the mist at me waving, then came over, followed by his associate Andrea. Albert and Andrea handle corporate meetings and events, and they were taking a tour of a potential event location. They’d been at an event all weekend over at Deer Valley. We were in the midst of a busy project and had exchanged extensive email on Friday, but none of us had mentioned to the others that we were coming to Utah over the weekend.

Later in the week I received a message from Andrea to "spa girl." I billed them for 15 minutes for our pool-side meeting.

Scene 4

A month later I sent Andrea an email telling her I’d be away for several days around President’s Day weekend. She asked where I was going. I replied that I’d wanted to find a place that she wouldn’t follow me, and since the Amex corporate meeting was in Paris the previous year, I figured that was safe this year.

"Are you serious?" she replied, "My boyfriend and I were talking about going to Paris this weekend." But they had decided not to.

The following morning Andrew and I arrived in Paris and were making our way hazily through the gauntlet of baggage claim and crowded arrivals hall toward the exit. I hear my name. A little unbelieving, I look for the source and find, no, not Andrea, but Mary Kate, one of her associates at American Express. She was there for a corporate event at EuroDisney.

I would not say that I travel all that much. I know many people who travel for business all the time and don’t meet people they know.

Maybe I do know a lot of people . . .