July 22, 2024

Frequent Flier: Taking Flights Into the Unknown

The company I founded originally sold long-distance calling cards. The problem was that we couldn’t figure out where to sell them. I struck a deal where I could stuff them into airline-ticket jackets. So I printed thousands of cards.

I told my wife we were going to hit the jackpot. But instead, people opened the ticket jacket, got their tickets out, and threw my long-distance card into the nearest trash can. No jackpot for us.

We also used to advertise in some of the in-flight magazines. Way back before 9/11, I would talk my way onto a plane before passengers boarded. My goal was to flip the pages of the in-flight magazine to my company’s ad. I was a desperate man. I think the crews felt sorry for me. Could you imagine if I tried to talk my way onto a plane today? I’d be handcuffed and hauled away.

Everyone who flies a lot has had some mishaps. I remember being sick on a flight. I was fortunately in first class and the crew let me stretch out on the cabin floor. I was miserable with an upset stomach. Fortunately, people didn’t seem upset with me, which was good. I was too sick to defend myself.

I went to Tokyo years ago. I was trying to develop some business, but didn’t speak a word of Japanese. I didn’t meet anyone who spoke a word of English. I literally had no one to talk to. It was almost comical. I don’t know what I was thinking. I was so desperate to talk to someone I called a friend back in the United States in the middle of the night, just so I could have a conversation. And yes, the business trip was a bust.

I also learned early on that’s it’s O.K. to ask questions when you don’t know a country well. I was in Brisbane, Australia, with my wife. It was our honeymoon and we wanted to see the outback. I looked at a map, and figured the distance we needed to travel by plane was about three hours. I knew nothing. We boarded a small plane for what turned out to be a seven-hour flight. Our fellow passengers lived in the outback and they were traveling with livestock. My wife gagged for about half an hour. It was not a honeymoonlike flight.

I’m a pretty friendly guy and don’t mind talking to seatmates. I can usually find something to talk about, and I’ve met some very interesting people and made some good business contacts.

On a flight to Seattle, I was sitting next to a lovely woman who asked me what I did. I told her I was in the communications technology business. Then I asked her what she did. I figured maybe she was a banker or in marketing or something. But no. She told me she was in the X-rated entertainment business, and she wasn’t in production. Rather, she was a star.

I am usually never at a loss for words, but I was embarrassed and really didn’t know what to say. I mean I’m not sure I wanted to know how she got into that line of work.

I mumbled something and then she proceeded to tell me how she was college-educated, made great money as an entertainer, and was buying a lot of stocks and bonds. She also told me she could retire in a few years. I went from embarrassed to really interested in her financial savvy. It remains one of the strangest conversations I’ve ever had with a fellow passenger.

By Boland T. Jones, as told to Joan Raymond. E-mail: joan.raymond@nytimes.com.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=7739d599218a42e6ca97c50ed114941d

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