I walked up to my seat 73A and said:
“Hey guys, I have the window seat”.
An older gentleman sitting at the aisle seat replied:
“Sure, you may have it.”
The overhead bins were full and my backpack didn’t quit fit so I flipped it vertically to lie on its narrow side. That did the trick. The gentleman said:
“Wow, you must have studied geometry.”
To which I smiled and replied: “In fact, yes, I have.”
And that started conversation between me and him and his college aged son sitting in the middle seat. They were on their way from San Francisco to Budapest for a family vacation. One of the things we talked about were books and I was pleasantly surprised that they both have read or knew about the same books. Steven (the older gentleman) is very funny. He said his goal in life is every single day to make somebody laugh at least once. He definitely overachieved his goal for the day on that flight.
After 10 hours we landed in Frankfurt at 10:45am and I had 9 hour layover in Frankfurt in front of me till my flight to Riga at 8:20pm. So I asked them whether I can hang out with them while they were waiting of couple hours for their flight to Budapest. They happily agreed. As we were making our way from concourse Z to their gate in concourse A (Frankfurt airport is huge! But no… there aren’t concourses all the way from A to Z.) Steven stopped by gate A56 which apparently was their original gate and confirmed with the lady working at the gate that gate A7 is indeed the new gate for their flight to Budapest. She said:
“Oh, that’s what it is? Now I know and can announce the gate change!”
And so she did. We continued walking along the walkway and soon the lady from the gate passed us. As she passed us Steven made another joke and she said:
“You know, Germans have a saying that if you see somebody or run into them three times then you have get coffee together or something.”
After more jokes and people watching Steven and his son departed to Budapest. I made my way back to a lounge area that we passed by.
This time connecting to the airport internet was not as dumb as last year. You provide an email address and voila 30 minutes of free internet. Just half a year ago when I was in Frankfurt airport you had to provide a cell phone number and then you would get access code as a text which you had to enter in the page. Well, I wanted to get the internet in the first place because my cell didn’t work abroad..
Before departing San Francisco I posted on Facebook that I will be in Frankfurt for 9 hours. Maybe by a lucky coincidence there would be somebody who also has a long layover.
And indeed there was. A friend of mine sent me a message saying that his friend Alexander has a long wait till his flight to Bogota. I found the Departure schedule and there is a single flight (luckily) to Bogota which is at 2:30pm from gate C14.
Also I find out from another friend that there is an “Stranded At An Airport, Tango Meet-Up” group. Fascinating! I immediately sing up, but I can’t post immediately because I guess first somebody has to approve my membership.
I made my way over to concourse C via skytrain. As I’m sitting in the skytrain and I make an extended eye contact with the person sitting across from me. He stares back at me and then smiles. I analyze to myself what just happened and I realized that I had kept the eye contact longer than usually, most likely because I’m just so tired that moving my eyes to something else requires an effort. (Plus it probably didn’t hurt that he was a cute guy in his twenties or thirties. 😉 )
I get out and make my way over to Gate C14 (did I say that Frankfurt airport is big?). Along the way I convince three different officials that even though my boarding pass says B11 I want to go to C14 to meet up with a friend while I’m waiting for my flight. I didn’t think this is possible, but I guess you never know if you don’t ask.
I arrive at C14 and its full of people, there is no way I will find Alexander. So I just sit down and look around. I notice the guy from the skytrain is sitting at the small cafe at the gate. He looks like somebody who could be from Bogota.
Pretty soon a guy sitting next to me starts conversation with me. We had a great conversation about traveling. Steffen from Dresden is on his way to Peru to climb mountains and travel for 3 months. What is even more fascinating is that after school (or while still in school?) he spent 2 years travelling in South America and after that he took another year off. During his travels he learned a lot about life and people. It opened his mind and he saw a culture where people are more relaxed, chill and enjoy life even with having very little. As opposed to Germans for whom its all about work, work, work, and punctuality. When he was looking at a map to find a hotel people would help him out and invite him to stay at their guest room in their home. He said:
“Traveling is very safe. It is more dangerous to cross a street in Germany than traveling”.
After he came back he had no problem finding a job because he is a mechanical engineer and there is always need for them. He spent 5 years working hard and now is taking three months off to travel.
Even though I didn’t meet my friends friend Alexander it was well worth coming to gate C14 and having the conversation with Steffen. After Steffen boarded I headed back to the concourse B where my flight would be later in the evening. I was getting hungry at this point.
As I was walking back the guy from the skytrain appears in front of me, we made an eye contact. For a split moment there is this awkward hesitation of do we keep going or start talking. Talking wins and we start a conversation. It turns out that he also has a long layover! He is waiting for a 10pm flight to Buenos Aires (which is the next flight at gate C14). And whats even more random, he is a professional Tango dancer returning from his three month tour around Europe. This is surreal! I remember about the Tango facebook group that my friend told me about, he hadn’t heard about it. I say that I was on my way to find food and ask if he wants to join me. He had just eaten but he joins me anyways.
The lady from the gate A56 was right, the third time is a charm and you get coffee together.
We eat, drink (me coffee, he beer), talk about dancing among other things. And then we dance.
We go the hallway next to the gate C14 (away from the cafe in the gate which plays music not suitable for Tango). He puts some music on his iPod, gives me one earbud and keeps the second. In salsa or west coast swing this would never work. Even though I’m not a Tango dancer I’m able to somewhat follow and not make a complete ass of myself. I’m sure it was entertaining for passer-bys to see two people dance in silence. We go some compliments! 🙂 He gave me some tips and by the fourth dance it was much better. What a great re-introduction to Tango! Now I want to learn how to dance Tango well and visit the Tango capital of the world – Buenos Aires.
We hung out till about 6:30pm (when I started to make may way back to terminal B for my flight to Riga.) He had a lot of fun on his three month tour around Europe teaching Tango, but he said he can’t wait to be back in Buenos Aires where Tango dancing is still the best in the world. That’s where it all started. When in Buenos Aires he dances every night till 6am. They know how to party! In San Francisco most things close at 2am!
At my gate B11 I saw there are some tables that have plugs in them. Most were busy but there was one bigger table where just one person was sitting. I came up and asked whether he minds if I share the table; he didn’t. Another great conversation ensued, but details of that story will have to be told some other time.
In summary, this was absolutely the best layover ever.
Contrast this with just half a year ago when I had the exact same flight from San Francisco to Riga and the same 9 hour layover in Frankfurt. The whole time I spent alone and interacted with maybe one person – the waitress at a restaurant whose phone number I used to get the confirmation code to sign up for free internet.
In the past couple of months I have been practicing starting conversations with strangers. It is still uncomfortable, but after a day like this I have the motivation to keep practicing. Before I would have just pointed at my window seat and from the context the person sitting in aisle seat would have understood to get up and let me in. Now I confidently and loudly say that its my seat. Its just one sentence but what a difference it makes!
Plus I got another confirmation that sharing publicly what you are up to (declaring on FB that I have 9h layover) leads to great adventures.
July 19th @ home in Mārupe, Latvia
P.S. I’m still learning how to do this blogging thing and how to write, so any feedback about anything is very welcome. Either in the comments or at dianajzk at the google’s mail service 🙂