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The View from My Window

I am back from Norway with much to tell about Scandinavian hospitality and graciousness. The wedding I attended was lovely, my friend the groom radiated joy in a way I have never seen him do before, and the weather took an unexpected turn towards the mild and sunny. Other than my recurring insomnia and astronomical prices, the trip was pretty much perfect.

Including the flight home of all things. I mean, who in his or her right mind enjoys a 16-hour haul in economy class? As it turns out, I do, or at least I did yesterday. When I was very young, I was socially fearless. My mother tells me that I never met a stranger to the point that she worried about my safety. Then life—adolescence in particular—beat that fearlessness out of me. Over the last 10 years or so, I’ve been slowly regaining it, and now that I’m nearly middle-aged I feel I have fully recovered the little girl within.

And so yesterday, when I boarded SAS flight 943 from Copenhagen to Chicago, I got on board fully armed with my sleep pillow and my Sony e-Reader. I was ready to move into my protective shell of sleep and scholarship (the book was about changes to arctic civilizations being wrought by global warming), when a rather burly man sat beside me, ordered a drink right away, and twisted in his seat to loudly commiserate in Swedish with four fellow travelers.

“Oh boy,” I said to myself. “I’ve got a live one here.”

At the hour mark, about the time my neighbor had to climb over me for the second time to hit the lavoratory, I came to the conclusion that with eight hours remaining, I was in a “beat them or join them” scenario. So I extended a conversational olive branch to my burly Swede, only to learn that he and his colleagues have been spending three of every four weeks for the last few months in a small town in northern Indiana. His company is setting up a plant outside of South Bend,  Indiana, and they are on site to train the locals and get things going. Niklaus has a one-year-old at home and has already missed her first steps and first birthday party.

These were no rowdy holiday-goers, they were homesick family men cutting loose a little. I could identify with that, and got drawn into the conversation with a few of them. By the time the third (fourth?) round of Absolut and Cokes arrived, the guys included me in the order and insisted I join him. It would have been churlish to refuse, and so I joined in the Swedish plane fest until I could feel my rather enjoyable buzz take a turn towards public drunkenness.

Perhaps not unrelated to my social lubrication, I also found myself having an out-of-character chat with a steward. He had been part of the cabin crew on my flight to Copenhagen, standing out because of his Scottish accent, resemblance to someone I could not quite put my finger on, and notable name (more on this in a second). On my second trip to the loo (all those Vodka and Cokes….), I found him standing at the back of the plane where I waited in line. It seemed a good opportunity for a chat.

I recognize you from the crew on my flight to Copenhagen. Is this your beat?

It is, yes. But how can you be sure it was me?

Because, unless you have a twin, I just am. You remind me of someone. I stared rather rudely at you for hours trying to figure out who.

And who would that be?

An author I used to work with.

Is that a good thing?

Very much so. He was handsome too. [That last bit would be the vodka talking; we both blushed .] But let me ask you, did I read your name-tag right? Are you really David Cameron?!

[Wry smile, then he winces.] I am, yes. But I’m not a fan of his politics, I’m afraid.

Of course you aren’t! You poor bastard. [OK, I do not normally talk this way. But but but, (1) there was all that vodka; and (2) this translates a bit different in the UK, trust me; and (3) no nice Scottish guy based in Scandinavia votes Tory.]

[He laughs out loud.] You don’t know the half of it. I think we might be related!


We chatted a bit more, and for the next 5 or 6 hours, the other (handsomer) Mr. Cameron referred to me as “my friend” and made an extra trip or two to refill my tea, which he noted was nice to see among a plane full of Scandinavian coffee obsessives. When I disembarked in Chicago, I was greeted with “until we meet again, my dear.”

There it is: the key to better service on long-haul flights revealed: slightly drunken and boderline vulgar name-calling.

And finally, the highlight of my trip. Roughly half-way into the flight and my drinks, I looked at the screen and saw that we were flying over Greenland, just south of Kangerlussuaq. The weather was unusually clear, and I could make out sea, ice, and land. I knew that this might just be the best view I ever got of a place I’ve avidly read about for nearly 20 years, and I agonized over being on the wrong side of the plane to get a good view.

Once I mentioned this to Niklaus, he rallied the buzzed Swedish troops on my behalf. They insisted I get my picture—lifting me physically across their row like a kid in a mosh pit, handing me my my camera once I got across, and negotiating with a Swedish lady to briefly give up her window seat for my shot of a life-time.

So here at last is the view from my window:

Above Kangerlussuaq

I will cherish this forever, for itself and for the story behind it. Swedish Party Flight 943: Skal!

3 Responses to “The View from My Window”

  1. Amanda says:

    Aren’t you glad you went! Sounds like a blast. If you ever want to go to Greenland, let me know and I’ll be your wingwoman.

  2. Jessica says:

    Oh Amanda, be careful what you offer! I need a wingwoman or man and Matt has no interest in this particular itinerary.

  3. Amanda says:

    Hey, I’m NOT kidding. You let me know with enough leave time to save some $$ and I’m there.

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