Back in January, Chase and I were flying from DC to Albuquerque, with a connection in Dallas. We had booked our flights at separate times, so unfortunately we weren't seated together. I also had the dreaded middle seat. Just my luck.
At the gate, I tried to see if Chase and I could be re-seated next to each other. The bad news was that it wasn't possible to seat us together, but the good news was that I could trade up to a window seat. "I'll take it!" I cheered.
As I settled into my newly assigned seat, the flight attendants came over to introduce themselves. My aunt is also a flight attendant, so whenever I fly on her airline, she sends a "hello" through the crew. During take off, I wasn't paying much attention to the people around me; I shoved in my headphones and tucked into a little Ender's Game on Audible.
Later, when the flight attendants were doing the drink service, they passed me some free vino. Normally I don't order alcohol on a flight, but if it's free and I've got time to kill...twist my arm. I took my headphones out and clinked (can you clink, if it's plastic?) glasses with the woman next to me.
"It's five o'clock somewhere," I said.
"You bet," she smiled.
We starting shooting the breeze, talking about anything from budget travel to how difficult it is to start out on your own after college.
We ordered another drink.
She asked about Chase, what he was doing with the Air Force, and about how we met (that's always a fun story to tell: "um, well I don't remember when I met him...I've known him all my life"). I explained that we had been visiting DC and admitted that we had eaten microwave soup and contraband bread from the hotel breakfast bar in order to keep costs low while exploring the city.
I learned that she had a family and that she had previously lived in Brazil. She talked about starting a family in South America and how one of her great points of pride was learning the language. She mentioned that her husband was in the restaurant business.
The time passed quickly and soon we arrived in Dallas. As I was gathering my things, she reached into her purse and presented me with an envelope.
"You remind me a lot of myself at your age," she said. "I want to give this to you, so that you and Chase can go out together for a nice meal. Treat it as a thank you for the great conversation and for what Chase is doing for our country."
I opened the envelope and saw a $100 gift card to Fogo de Chão. (Insert jaw drop here).
As it turns out, the woman's husband is the current CEO of Fogo de Chão (!!!!!). Looking back on our conversation, it all fit together--the life in Brazil and the husband in the restaurant business--I just had ZERO expectation that my flight could have ended this way.
I thanked her effusively and, after promising to send her a picture of us at the restaurant, we parted ways.
A few months later, when Chase asked what I wanted to do for my birthday, I suggested using the gift card that I had been so graciously given. Agreeing that it was a good idea, he made plans for us to spend a weekend with his family friends in Phoenix. While in Phoenix, we invited them to join us for dinner at the Scottsdale Fogo de Chão and use the gift card all together.
Fogo de Chão was a culinary experience! The fixed-prix dinner menu comes with an all-you-can-eat salad bar, a large selection of fire roasted meats, and some Brazilian side dishes. Each person is also given a little disk with red on one side and green on the other. If you would like the gaucho chefs to come by and offer you more of the meat, you keep the disk on green. When you've had enough, you flip it over to red. The salad bar alone was phenomenal! I piled my plate high with smoked salmon and delicious roasted vegetables. Chase went wild for the meat--I think he was the last to turn the disk over to red. ;)
When we returned home from Phoenix, I sent the woman a thank you note with a picture of Chase and I. She wrote back these kind words:
OF COURSE I remember you! I am SO pleased to hear that you and Chase had a nice time at the Fogo in Scottsdale! Dining at a Fogo is definitely an experience and it makes me happy to know you two now have a sweet memory to look back on [...] I sure did enjoy chatting with you on our flight together, Aimee. You and Chase are an adorable couple! I know it's tough being apart - I'll always be sending you positive energy!
So you see, this is the reason why I talk to 'strangers'. Sometimes the effect of your conversation is bigger than the actual conversation itself.
Maybe the other person says something profound that you remember for years to come.
Maybe the other person gives you new ideas, stretches your mind.
Or maybe, just maybe, that 'stranger' gives you the most kind gift without expecting anything in return.