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ValueSpeak: Flying the friendly skies
Oct 01, 2012 | 1697 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print


It isn’t that Sam is unsociable.  It’s just that he’s . . . well . . . you know . . . an engineer.

Not the kind that drive trains.  Those guys are social animals (who wouldn’t want to party with a guy who has one of those awesome train whistles to blow?).  Sam is the kind of engineer who sits at a desk and uses mathematical theories and scientific principles to design things.

How sociable can you be when your brain is full of stuff like that?

And that’s where Sam’s brain was as he boarded the plane for Phoenix.  He had a briefcase full of work, and he was planning on some nice, quiet air time to get a few things done before he touched down in the Valley of the Sun.

Then Clayton sat down next to him.

 “Hi,” he said, “I’m Clayton and I’m 9 and I’m going to Arizona to visit my Grandma!”

The little boy’s enthusiasm was charming – and a little overwhelming.

 “Hi, Clayton,” Sam replied.  “I’m Sam and I was 9 about 48 years ago.”

See what I mean about engineers?  Everything is an equation.

The row-mates chatted for a little while.  No, that isn’t quite right.  Clayton chatted and Sam listened.  In just a few minutes Sam learned that Clayton attended a year-round school that was “off-track” for a couple of weeks, that he had an older brother and two older step-sisters and that he was especially excited to have some new coloring books and “bright liquid color” crayons.  Clayton didn’t even slow down when the flight attendant brought their snack.  He just kept chatting away while he munched, discussing everything and anything until he finally had to leave to use the rest room.

“OK,” Sam said to himself hopefully, “maybe he’ll settle down now and I can get some work done.”

He pulled out some reports and spread them on the fold-down table in front of him, trying to send a subtle message to Clayton.  But Clayton is 9, and 9-year-old boys don’t DO subtle.

Or do they?

After settling back into his seat, Clayton looked Sam right in the eye.

 “Sam,” he said, “you’re a pretty nice guy.”

That caught Sam a little off-guard.

“What makes you think that?” he asked.

Clayton didn’t hesitate.  “You talk to me,” he said.  “The last airplane trip I went on, the guy sitting next to me told me to shut up because he had to read.”  He glanced at the pile of papers on the table in front of Sam.  Then he looked back at Sam.

The fact is, Sam IS a nice guy.  Which is why he spent the rest of the flight talking – well, OK, mostly listening – to a talkative 9-year-old boy.  And then when they landed in Phoenix he stayed on the plane until the flight attendant was finished with her other duties and could take care of Clayton.

And you know what?  All of that work that Sam wanted to do on the plane eventually got done anyway.  Only it got done by a smiling engineer who had a new 9-year-old friend.

Of course, it’s entirely possible that Clayton set Sam up and used his “niceness” against him.  But even if he did, where’s the harm?  There’s always plenty of work to be done, and plenty of quiet, boring plane rides in which to do it.  But the chance to make a new friend doesn’t come along every day.

Especially if you don’t have one of those awesome train whistles to blow.

 (To read more by Joseph B. Walker please go to

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