They don’t call it the friendly skies for nothing.
First, let me introduce my friend. I can’t reveal his name or where he works or lives – he’s sorta VIP at his firm so no can do. He’s a boomer. Successful banker. Really fun guy. Loves to refill your wine glass. Talks at high speed about everything from his golf game to his college frat days (brags that he was elected president of the frat because his car trunk fit the most kegs). He loves his wife, kids and black lab. Is well liked in his community. He loves closing deals at work and clinching first place in the member-member golf tourney. His kids are kind and humble. He even helps your intern-seeking kids learn more about his firm. Occupy? The only thing this guy occupies is his house and an airplane – and the car that shuttles him back and forth 8 times a week. He’s a great guy who asks how you are because he really wants to know. At his house it’s all about you. He offers, provides, and makes you feel that all is good in the world. Of course his big claim to fame is that he beats me every time at ‘name-that-tune’ which he insists we play whenever we’re over. But I still make fun of him for accidentally leaving on his front yard speakers and treating his entire neighborhood to Steely Dan for a weekend.
For such a nice guy, he admits that there’s one place where he’s not so nice. In the air. He’s up there more than he’s down here, and he covets the quiet time as his escape from everything. “I never talk to the people sitting next to me on plane; not even my wife! I keep to myself. I’m tired and I have my routine: email and a nap.” He continued, “as for my seat neighbors, they don’t bother me, I don’t bother them.” Yikes, I thought.
So when he called me a few months ago and excitedly told me this story ~ I knew I had a story too…
He was at the airport heading home after a long day of board meetings and whatever else VIP’s do. As usual, he walked to the front of the boarding line. Dreaming of his nap, he hurried to wrap up this cell phone call and shut down his devices. He headed to his window seat in first. Slipping off his suit coat and brief case, he stopped dead in his tracks when he saw him. His seat neighbor, a gray-haired, pony-tailed, ring-fingered, cowboy-booted, leather-dudded dude. As my friend judged this book by its cover, he growled “excuse me” and the dude graciously got up and let him into his seat. Accompanied by a few noticeable exhales, my friend organized his nest, making no eye contact or small talk – this would be a long winter’s nap for sure.
Immediately there was some commotion nearby. Now what? my friend muttered under his breath. Someone walked up to the dude and said, “I just want to say I’m a big fan.” Then another, “We saw you on the other flight.” Another asked, “May we have an autograph?” My friend managed a mini glance. Wait. Then gleaned a longer glance. No. Couldn’t be. He grabbed his phone and started searching: Safari > Google > Cheap Trick > ROBIN ZANDER – frontman for Cheap Trick. (This is one of my friend’s favorite artists of all time.) My friend froze. Think. Think. Sit back. Breathe. Seat belt sign on. Shut down electronic devices. Ready. Set. Take off. And as they climbed to 37,000 feet my friend frantically fretted over the most important pick up line of his life.
Then it came. He grabbed his phone again and started searching: iTunes > Music >Artist > Cheap Trick. There they were! His entire catalogue of Cheap Trick’s music was downloaded on his phone. He held his phone up, leaned toward his neighbor and whispered, “Not a Creep. Big Fan.” It worked. They talked for two and a half hours. Call them what you want – the odd couple, polar opposites, the least likely two people to ever get along, society’s extremes, conservative meets liberal – but these two had so much in common and learned new things about each other’s world.
They shared stories about work, backgrounds, climbs to the top, pressures, pleasures, vicariously experiencing that “other world” they only read about. Felix and Oscar harmoniously sharing first class, talked about Zander’s music influences (his dad was a jazz musician, listened to Benny Goodman), life on the road with the band (they still do 100 shows a year), Cheap Trick’s huge fan base in Japan, and the current state of the music industry. My friend said Zander was extraordinarily engaging and polite to everyone who spoke to him. Said you could tell he’s a frontman.
When Zander asked my friend about his work/lifestyle my friend didn’t skip a beat with this clever response: “it wasn’t easy, it was hard as hell, I didn’t get luck in a wishin’ well, never worked so hard, had so much pain, wouldn’t change for anything…” lyrics to Cheap Trick’s song “On Top of the World.” Zander put his head in his hands and went nuts. My friend said, “I’ve been waiting all my life to do that!” (I had no idea my banker friend was this smooth.) I asked my friend why he likes their music. “It’s catchy. It’s simple, pick me up music, not a lot of downers.” Zander was impressed that my friend watches Palladia rock concert TV. My friend was impressed with Zander’s intelligent business questions. They’re equals with mutual respect for each other. They exchanged cards and promised to stay in touch.
When they deplaned a VIP escort cart arrived to transport Zander. He said to my friend “want a ride?” My friend replied, “You’re very kind, but I don’t think you should be seen with a banker.” He told me later that he never once felt intimidated by the rock star, even though he’s a legend. Because bigger than that, Zander was a boomer just like him, with kids, a job, and substantive thoughts about life.
My friend said “It wasn’t about him. It wasn’t about me. It was about common ground, and that taught me a lot.” I wonder if my friend will look up from his seat a bit more now.
LISTEN TO THIS WEEK’S PLAYLIST: A Banker & a Rock Star