Four-hour road trip with a perfect stranger

(Editor’s note: Kathy Bohannon is a weekly contributor to The Newnan Times-Herald. Meet Kathy at the signing of her book Gardens of Savannah at Scotts Book Store in Newnan on Friday, Aug. 3 from noon to 1:30.)
I rarely meet a stranger, which worried my mom the entire time I was growing up. As dastardly as the term “stranger” may sound, I have become a good judge of character over the years and to date, have been able to sift out the kooks from the good ole folks.
Which is why I nearly took a four-hour road trip with a total stranger from Ethiopia.
He and I were seated on a short flight from Atlanta to Savannah. After we received instruction on how to attempt survival in a diving, uncontrollable aircraft, we were then told not to use the first class restroom. Suddenly I could think of nothing more I’d rather do than trot up there with the snoots and use their potty.
But mom raised me better than that. As a matter of fact I traveled first class recently and I wanted to walk through the plane reassuring my non-first class travel companions that the potty was no better up there and then ask would anyone like my packaged meal or extra bag of peanuts. Mom raised me to share and while I did enjoy the perks of first class, I didn’t feel very good about having more or being more comfortable than others.
On this flight my economy seat was right behind a faded blue curtain that safely shielded the paupers from cavorting with the elite. Resisting the urge to check out the front potty, I greeted the guy on the seat beside me.
He was just as eager to make a new friend. As the plane lifted we discussed our lives - his from Ethiopia and mine from Coweta County and Savannah.
The flight from Atlanta to Savannah is only 38 minutes, and in that short time we were non-stop chatting. It was so interesting to hear of Ethiopia and I was like a sponge, taking it all in, enjoying learning from someone who knew it first hand.

I discovered that he works for the same company as my husband but I would never recall his name since it had a clicking sound in it and I failed horribly when trying to pronounce it correctly.

As we were flying along, I was busy trying not to crash the first class potty party and he was busy peeking out of the window. “There is lightening,” he said, his tone serious, his accent melodious.

When the pilot garbled something about the storm preventing us from landing and we were going to circle until we needed fuel, I realized my new friend knew a lot about aviation. He said we would have a surplus of fuel and that was not at all a concern. The pilot reiterated everything else my traveling buddy said; we would try to land in Jacksonville but if not, we were going back to Atlanta. We ended up returning to Atlanta.

It’s amazing what high altitudes will do to people, and not being a seasoned traveler I was over it and ready to get off that darned aircraft. “I’m renting a car when we get to Atlanta,” I declared. “And drive to Savannah?” he asked. “Yep.” In no time at all he and I agreed we would rent a car and share the expense. We even high-fived over the great plan.

Our midnight arrival in Savannah was now a 2 a.m. arrival back in Atlanta. As soon as we landed I called Ninja Man to tell him of my plan. He wanted me to stay in a hotel overnight if the plane was going to be delayed, then drive home. He wasn’t crazy about my driving with a stranger but trusted my judgment. “I’ll take his picture in case I’m abducted,” I promised. “He will be the one with the black eye and broken arms,” I added.

Then the pilot informed us that we would refuel and make another attempt at landing in Savannah.

Though I already had permission to leave the flight, I agreed with the logic and my new stranger friend decided to stick it out too.

Five hours after we began we collected our luggage and went our separate ways. I was thankful for the distraction of the temporary friend and I thought about all I learned about life in Ethiopia and this young man who came to this country a year ago and how hard it was for him to do so.

Though we came from such opposite backgrounds there were few differences once it got down to the basics. We laughed at the first class curtain and made silly plans to peek around it. We were both quietly afraid as lightening and turbulence threatened the plane and we both had the extreme desire to just get back home.

I walked in the door at 5 a.m., exhausted but blessed that I had a traveling buddy who shared his stories and helped keep me calm in a scary situation. I have to admit it was disappointing to have not had four hours in a car to hear snippets of life in Ethiopia, but it was good to be home.

God has a way of providing even when we don’t ask. This time it was in the form of a nearly perfect stranger with a great story to share. Another day, another blessing.

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