It all started last year when I realized there wasn’t a thing I could do about turning 50.
I’d always thought of 50 as being old, but I wasn’t ready to be old yet. I decided that the solution to my problem was to keep pushing myself, keep taking on new challenges, keep learning new things. When my birthday arrived, it bugged me a bit, but I rolled up my sleeves (so to speak) and got on with my life.
Then one day my sister wandered into my office and said she was teaching some workshops at a leadership training conference in San Antonio in October and would I care to go down with her and do a couple of my own. She mentioned me to the guy in charge of that particular conference, and he was open to the idea. I talked with him also and decided to give it a shot.
As the time approached, I began getting nervous. I’m a writer, not a speaker, and I’ve never felt very comfortable in front of crowds. The advice I heard most often in regard to my fears was “Don’t worry, with the topics you’ve been given, you probably won’t have many people in your workshops.”
I prepared as well as I knew how, but I was also very much wishing I hadn’t been so hasty to say yes. But the plane tickets were purchased, the conference schedule had been set, and there was no easy way for me to get out of it, so I rolled my sleeves back down (metaphorically speaking) and went.
I met my sister a few minutes before we were picked up by a stretch limo. As the driver let us off at the airport, he said, “Have a safe flight.” It occurred to me at the time that this was about as inane a farewell as a person could give to someone about to fly. I mean, if I were driving, I’d have some control over my safety, but on a plane … I made a promise to myself not to open the plane doors in midair or do anything else likely to cause a safety issue.
I was stuck in a middle seat between some guy who slept the whole two-and-a-half hours and a young guy who was doing calculus. The young guy and I chatted briefly when our flight got off to an interesting start. The pilot taxied the plane to the end of the runway. We paused for a moment and then the engines fired and we accelerated — for about fifty yards. The plane then screeched to a halt and took a right turn. We taxied around in a loop and returned to the start of the runway. On the second try, we took off.
Anyway, the guy worked full time at a BMW dealership and was taking three evening classes in electrical engineering in hopes of a career with BMW. He was flying to Texas to spend the weekend with his girlfriend who lives in San Antonio. During the flight, I ordered a Diet Pepsi. I was given a can from Great Britain that had the volume in ML instead of OZ. The BMW guy asked me if it was smaller than a US can. I said, “Don’t ask me, you’re the math expert.” He assured me that, calculus notwithstanding, that wasn’t the case. Together we decided the can looked a bit smaller but we weren’t sure. From there we went on to a discussion on jobs and school and birding.
Our landing was bumpy and seemed very fast, but our flight was indeed safe. Perhaps the limo driver was a prophet. Or maybe the plane was just too blessed to crash — most of our fellow passengers were members of a soccer team from a Christian college.
We gathered our luggage and took the shuttle to the Hertz building. Somebody designed the system rather cleverly. The ride from the terminal to the rental place took about 10 minutes, up one street, over a little and back on another street to drop us off about 80 yards (and a fence) from where where we started. If the fence wasn’t there, I could have walked the distance quicker, even with my luggage.