Takeoffs and Landings

I met a man named Barry on a flight from Munich from London. I observed my children, as they used their British accents acquired at their English school in Germany to converse with him. I smirked at how they would seamlessly switch their little voices, depending on whom they were speaking to. Often, my daughter would use her Boston accent with her brother and me, but as we approached the school she was suddenly someone different.

Barry was interested in who we were, and how we found ourselves living in Europe and how my German living American kids sounded like Brits. We told him a short version of our story and how we were conquering our bucket list of EU destinations. He was extremely interested in travel, specifically one aspect: recording the tail numbers of planes during takeoffs and landings at the airports he visited. He showed me his log book of hundreds of tail numbers, times and cities.

Prior to retirement, Barry was a double decker bus driver. He drove the tippy-looking red ones we had excitedly rode all weekend as we took in the sights. I told him that I couldn’t believe how those buses moved so well across the dense, bustling city. “It must have been a hard job,” I said.

“Ah, it was easy!”, he laughed. Before driving London buses, he was a butcher. “THAT was hard work. What is your favorite meat?” he asked my son. “Sausage.” Of course, I thought. After all, his young years were being spent at biergartens.

Barry told me he had been to the states just last year; but only to the airports; he had been too busy with his work to take in any sights. “Wait. You don’t actually leave the airport?” I asked, a bit horrified at the idea of staying in a stale, cold air for days. “Not really; my friends and I stay at the airport hotel and log as many takeoffs and landings as we can. In Dubai I recorded twenty-six” I squinted my eyes and tilted my head, trying to make sure I was hearing all of this correctly.

“I guess you could say I am a tail chaser.”

“So, you just record… the takeoff’s and landings? And… you did not get out and see Dubai?” I asked.

“That’s right.”

I sat, mouth agape.

When we landed, Barry asked me to kindly pass his crutches from the overhead compartment and I carried his bag down the stairs to the tarmac. He was really unsteady, and I offered my arm so he wouldn’t fall since his friends were sitting many rows behind us. Airports are hard enough for mobile people to walk back and forth across and I wondered how he did it; why he would choose to? After all, there are hundreds of hobbies to chose from in this world. But there was a certain charm in this simple, curious pleasure of his.

We parted ways and I wished him happy tail chasing in Munich.

After meeting Barry, whenever I board a plane with the rush of irritated, impatient travelers, hitting my heels with their wheels (as if the plane will actually take off as we are walking on), pushing and stressing and huffing at delays and cancellations, I stop to wonder if Barry is near. If so, I am sure he is peacefully watching, writing my plane’s tail number in his notebook when we finally take off into the night sky.

Perhaps he will be watching other times, when we touch down from a long, bumpy trip, relaxed inside, eating a soft pretzel and beer, while my face is flushed, knuckles white inside my tin tube. Somehow, I will feel like someone is watching over me, someone cares to see me take off and land as most people race to exit the airport or hurry to board their flight. Of course I will never know if Barry chased one of our tails, as we came or went, but I like to imagine he has, at least once.

Barry reminded me that there are so many unique, fascinating people to meet on this planet, who simply want nothing more than to observe this life, to witness the takeoffs and landings, expecting nothing in return.

Author: Nitsa Olivadoti

Nitsa Olivadoti chronicles her thoughts and experiences from life abroad on her facebook blog Bridge the Divide, stories which are currently being complied into her upcoming book with the same title. Nitsa is fascinated with the voices of growth and migration and is the author of the Cicada Series: Cicada’s Choice, Cicada’s Consequence and Cicada’s Closure, novels based on her favorite Triangle: her Greek grandmother.

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