So I’m sat on a plane being a prick…actually, let me elaborate—I’m sat in first class between PDX and Chicago’s O’Hare airport enjoying those precious inches of leg room, pondering on recent print victories, thinking about invoices I need to fire off for work from months ago and thinking about my great time at Nike WHQ. I was marinading in a state of self-satisfaction, just pondering as to how exactly I found myself in that situation but with an unhealthy lack of humility—that’s prick behaviour. While I was hardly bellowing about my marvelous state-of-living, I must have been exuding an aura of smugness. Had I seen me I would have clenched my fists in rage, but I was too busy pleasantly dazed in the moment for any semblance of introspection.
On steps a rangy six-foot-something middle-aged man who takes the window seat to my right. Looking like your friend’s chatty dad, he’s wearing a Columbia branded shirt and the semi-uniform somehow manages to be both crumpled and clinical with a dress-down medical look. Clocking the feature on breast reconstruction in the copy of Wired that’s currently subject to my pre-takeoff browse, small talk escalates like a forest fire into loftier matters of subsidised healthcare, pharmaceutical company interests, sustainable agriculture and the rise of the right. At six in the morning I’m finding it a challenge not to be that person you cringe at during an eavesdrop—the one who can only muster “Really?” and “Wow!” as they attempt to steer a conversation back to their comfort zone.
The branding on my co-passenger’s shirt distracts me. As he explains in a measured manner as to why diesel beats hybrid electric vehicles on a number of levels (mileage, cost and convenience being just three that I recall), the Columbia name reminds me of Tom Penny’s boots. My mind drifts in and out of the conversation and I’m tactically nodding. What he’s saying is interesting, but my already-tattered attention span has been chipped away by a night of barely sleeping, interrupted by flight anxiety, precautionary lamps (just in case I got too comfortable), the periodic sounds of unloaded crates on the street below and a recurring infomercial for Shake Weight—a dumbbell program that’s got a faint masturbatory edge to it.
He’s still explaining those vehicular benefits and I’m slipping into slack-jawed yes-man mode as I ponder cold weather apparel and Columbia’s new heated boots. Was it AG who decried Timbs for something? Was it for racism or ubiquity? Didn’t he rap about switching to North Face or Columbia instead? I’m aware that I’m pondering crap, but it’s in full fragmented flow right now and I’m fully aware that it’s happening, yet I still need to maintain a conventional conversation too. We’re onto the cost of medicine here and without a hint of ego, my co-passenger mentions that he’s a physician at a children’s hospital. It’s not bravado or one-upmanship—it’s necessary to the topic, as his specific knowledge of pill prices would be a little unnerving otherwise. I’m still mentally attempting a multitasking operation and now the fuzzy DITC footwear recollections are interspersed with low-level panic regarding the effects on my sleep patterns of a substantial layover that’s looming.
“Of course, it could be worse,” says my co-passenger, “at least it’s not Tanzania!” I’ve heard Tanzania’s not a lot of fun but my mind still wanders. I need to update my blog the next day. I need to prepare to write a lookbook I’d pledged to get started on. I’ve got some materials to transcribe in order to create some urgent press releases. I need to fire off some emails. I am a busy man. Then my window seat friend tells me how he volunteers in Tanzania, helping with medication in small villages. Again, he explains this matter-of-factly with no trace of arrogance. He’s not fishing for a high-five or a “Good for you! There should be more like you out there.” He mentions it as if it’s a human duty to help those significantly less fortunate. At home, he rarely sees a child death at the institution he’s based at—you see, humans are hardy creatures.
In Tanzania it’s not rare to see a few children die a day, but he gives out a medication that pregnant women with HIV can take that to protect a baby from the virus, even if it often makes the HIV-infected father suspicious that his wife may have been sleeping around to have given birth to a non-HIV son or daughter. Apparently Tanzania’s complicated like that. I’ve stopped pondering WordPress and monies owed by this point. My nameless travel companion once spent a week talking a wealthy former president of the country into donating a few thousand dollars and participating in a fund and awareness raising exercise, but he wanted payment, first class flight tickets, plus running shoes and uniforms for him and his entire entourage which rendered the whole exercise pointless. Still, my new friend is off to Brussels to talk to potential investors in his holiday time before heading to Tanzania again.
As we descend, he politely asks me what I do for a living—in response, I lie about my occupation.
These should have been released. Made for the Winter Olympics in Vancouver earlier in the year and featured on the Vanity Fair site, the Nike SFB Heater heated up for five hours when you clicked the maple leaf adorned button. Presumably costs kept them in the promo-only zone. They were featured on Vanity Fair’s site.