The hour is late and the night is dark, perhaps darker than most nights. I have a long stretch of freeway to travel through unpopulated terrain while strapped into my seat, surrounded by leather, glass and metal, alone, at one with the steering wheel and windshield. The radio is tuned to soft music in the background which serves to entertain me at a subconscious level. The aroma of fresh brewed coffee I picked up at the onset of my journey stimulates my senses, and a familiar comfort fills the cabin of the car. I ease into my solitude for the drive. There is an almost welcoming sweetness in that solitude. I do most of my thought gathering and memory sifting on these long stretches. I drive at a steady pace changing lanes once in a while to either pass the random car on the right or to let the stranger in the car to my left overtake me. And that’s when it hits me as it has done on many a late night drive…there is that one car randomly traveling with me on the freeway for a really long time. Maybe it’s a semi truck with two dirt bikes on its way back from a day of fun, ormaybe it’s a college student in a dented car on a road trip. It could be a sedan driven by a traveling sales rep, or maybe a minivan with a driver and pet dog. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s someone like me returning from a late night of meetings or social obligations. Their occupation, profession or purpose on the road is irrelevant. The remarkable concept is that I am sharing the road with a stranger who has been traveling the distance with me. I don’t know who he/she is, but my heart lifts a bit when I realize that I’ve got company. Suddenly, it’s as if I have a freeway companion along for the ride. I smile. Much as I am engulfed in my own thoughts, the knowledge that the same car is still driving along, either behind me and in front of me adds a warmth to the comfort of my thoughts and surroundings.
It is that same warmth I experience when traveling by plane, especially on long distance flights with connections in foreign countries. I arrive at the airport with ample time to enjoy a cup of coffee while waiting to board the plane. When I board the plane and head toward my designated seat, my eye might catch sight of someone. “I’m sure I’ve seen her before,” I might think to myself, as I make my way to my seat, and then it occurs to me that she’s the same person who was standing in line two orders ahead of me at the coffee shop where I bought my coffee. I smile. She’ll be on the 11 hour flight to Europe along with me. Sometimes, as I make my way up and down the aisle of the plane, I might catch sight of her. She, like me, seems to be content with just “being there.” The plane taxis in to the European city where I have a couple of hours before I make it to my connecting flight. As I disembark from the plane and make my way through the crowded terminal, she passes me. A silent nod of the head and a smile acknowledges “We had a good flight,” before steering into our separate ways. Once again I board the plane to make my final connection to the country of my destination. In my designated seat, I look up to find her sitting a few rows ahead or behind me. At meal time, I smile toward her and shake my head as she picks up her drink and toasts the air as if to say “I knew you wouldn’t leave me.” One final time, the plane taxis in to the airport of my final destination. This time I actually witness her departure with a slight trill of the hand, a final silent nod of the head and a broad smile that acknowledges “Thanks for being there. Enjoy your stay.”
Somewhere, at a fork in the road, a freeway exchange, or airport terminal the stranger and I will part company, but not before acknowledging each others’ presence with a honk or headlight flashes, a nod , a wave, or shake of the head that says, “Thanks for the company and may our paths meet again.”