By COLLEEN LEDDY
David and I were headed for New York City by plane earlier this month for the Picturing America conference and also the Celebration of Teaching and Learning conference.
Almost as soon as we were out of the gate—literally, I started taking notes. Column material. That’s what David and I refer to any observations that potentially could end up being used in a column.
I had been selected to attend the Picturing America conference after filling out an application and writing an essay. It included free registration for both conferences, a $500 travel stipend, and four nights stay at the Hilton on 6th Ave.
Seventy people from around the country were chosen and I was thrilled to be among them. I figured I won some sort of lottery. The Picturing America posters are in more than 56,000 schools and libraries across the country. I figured many of those librarians—school and public—would apply for the amazing opportunity to learn how people from all over the country are using the posters.
Imagine our surprise when the 70 of us showed up for the conference, all thinking there’d be lots of other people attending. But, we were it—each representing our state, plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, several Indian reservations and maybe a couple other Guam-like places.
When I made the plane reservations, it was slim pickings in the seat department. My goal when choosing airplane seats is to find a row closest to the front of the plane, a window seat for David and an aisle for me. If they happen to be in the same row, that’s great. If not, we don’t mind sitting apart. I always hope that nobody will choose the middle seat, but it’s no big deal if it’s occupied.
And, on this flight, it was. The Man in the Middle was a friendly guy from Mexico who spoke broken English and smiled a lot. When he realized I was with David, he offered me his seat so I could be next to David. I declined, of course. As far as I’m concerned there is nothing worse than a middle seat—especially when your aisle seatmate falls asleep and you have to go to the bathroom. Now. I’ve gone to great gymnastic heights getting out of a middle seat without disturbing the aisle person, but I’m not as agile as I used to be.
It was getting close to take-off time when I noticed the seat in front of me, the bulkhead seat with lots of leg room, was empty. I asked the stewardess if I could move there if the passenger didn’t show up. She said yes, and a few minutes later gave me the signal that I could move.
First, I asked Man in the Middle if he would like to sit there. I figured sitting with David trumped the leg-room tradeoff and I’d have more room to spread. But, Man in the Middle didn’t want it. Just as I was getting ready to move, the guy in the window seat in the row ahead of me moved into the aisle seat.
I figured, Oh well, you snooze, you lose. But then I noticed the bulkhead row across the aisle was completely empty. Some family must have missed their flight. By now, the plane was beginning to pull away from the gate, so I quickly gathered my things and scooted over to the bulkhead aisle seat. I figured David would follow...but he looked at me as if I were nuts.
I gestured for him to join me, but he wouldn’t budge. It didn’t make sense to me. If he moved up to the row I was in, we could sit together, he could have his window seat and we’d both have lots of leg room. But I could tell he didn’t want to call attention to himself.
“Why wouldn’t you move up?” I asked him when we got off the plane.
“We were in our assigned seats. Why would I move?”
I attributed this reaction to his Midwest roots. Follow the rules. Be humble and happy with what you have. Don’t make waves. Don’t be a spectacle. But then I laughed out loud when I remembered the Mexican Man in the Middle. He didn’t even move into the aisle seat when I moved up. With the aisle seat empty, he flew the whole way right next to David. Now that’s an image fit for Picturing America.