an extra’s perspective

Last Thursday night, I boarded a flight from LA to Baltimore. I was coming from Seattle, where I had been meeting with veteran civil rights activists and community organizers, mostly young African American and Latino leaders from big cities. I was on my way to the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, where I would have conversations with William Kristol and Charles Murray, among others. The LAX-to-BWI flight was my chance for a little sleep between meetings.

Two young people recognized each other as they walked down the jetway to the plane. They had attended the same high school in Baltimore around the same time. The woman asked someone to switch seats so they could sit next to each other. That was bad news for me, because she ended up eight inches behind my head. But it was good news for them. They had so much in common–as I learned during the next five-and-a-half hours. Apartments not far apart, in the general vicinity of Culver City. Jobs in the media industry. Recent breakups. Jewish ancestry. Several drinks later, they were sharing their deepest hopes and dreams. As dawn broke over the east coast, they left the airplane holding hands.

It makes you think about how neat and happy stories feel to the people on the margins, those who are meant only to swell a progress, start a scene or two. The Fatted Calf was not so happy to learn of the return of the Prodigal Son. For every tearful reunion at the top of the Empire State Building, there are dozens of people in the elevator who are just trying to get on with their day. I didn’t begrudge this new couple my night–it was more important to them than to me. But I wished their romantic comedy could have begun elsewhere than in seats 16C and D.

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