A plane ol' memory

One memory came ambling out of the deep this morning - when smoking cigarettes on international flights was allowed. In particular, I flew from the U.S. to Taipei, Taiwan on Korean Airlines back in the early 1990s. As twenty-ish-year-olds often do, I met some like-minded peers in LAX who were doing the same journey. But when I found my seat, I got instead paired up with a fellow who to this day seems more fictional than real. The backstory came up to the surface with this morning's memory. He (Ron) was a Canadian who'd crossed the border into the U.S. during the Vietnam War to enlist as a Marine. When I shared a flight with him, Ron was an off-duty oil-rig firefighter. He described at length how and at what personal cost he'd earned a fresh pile of cash battling fires in the ruined oil fields of Kuwait. There exist awesome row mates on long flights, although the opposite is generally the rule. Ron was the undisputed King of Awesome, even though I was too young to realize it at the time. Stories dripped off him like the mud in those iconic pictures of Red Adair. Or maybe he was blowing smoke. Either way, once we left Hawaiian airspace on our way to Seoul, he and everyone around me did exactly that. Smoke after smoke after smoke. That now seems an improbable policy - 12 or more hours of second-hand smoke re-circulated through the cabin with only a metaphorical dividing line between the "smoking" and "non-smoking" sections. Remind me to pitch Steven Soderberg this as the pre-quel for "Contagion". Still, I'm now wondering if Ron's still out there. Early Googling's coming up empty. I remember he was headed to a bar/resort he owned in Quezon City, in the Philippines. Other details will come, I'm sure. Because until this morning, I hadn't thought of that story - and that endless chain-smoking conversation with the ultimate long-flight partner - in years and years. Here I am - just another September, readying myself for another trip to Asia.

Until the next page turns...here's hoping your seats don't need to go into a full and upright position for any remaining part of the evening.