My flight was delayed.
I was a novice traveler. The intricacies of airports and boarding times were foreign to me. All I knew was to arrive early and hope everything was running on time.
In the lone trip I took by myself just a year prior, I had not experienced a delay through four flights. That changed leaving for California a little over a week ago.
The plane was already boarded and en route to the airstrip where we would take flight. Normally the pilot will give pleasantries over the intercom, I thought to myself. The thought had no chance to linger before we heard the pilot’s voice.
“We are ready for takeoff and running on time. Unfortunately, the tower has informed us of a high volume of traffic in Dallas, which means we’ll have to sit here for around forty minutes. Feel free to use your electronics and flight attendants will come around with beverages.”
The rustlings of panicked passengers making phone calls surrounded me. A majority of the connecting flights were within an hour of the original landing time. All the flights leaving Dallas remained on time.
There are five different terminals at the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, and around 250 gates. By the time we landed, I had thirty minutes to change terminals and find my gate. I could make it, but I was still stressed.
In my best impersonation of a frequent flyer, I moved at a quick pace, luggage in tow. I was only one terminal over, two stops from the next skylift.
Doors to the skylift were closing as I lunged inside. The car itself wasn’t very crowded, and I managed to find a space against the wall where I could grip the handle for support.
My commute with strangers began in silence, until an older woman started a conversation with the young woman in front of me.
“Where are you headed?” the woman asked. A safe beginning topic in an airport. The younger woman looked to be in her mid-20s and had blonde hair that reached the middle of her back.
“Charleston,” she said simply. An older gentleman smiled beside me.
“I’m from Charleston,” he said.
“What are you going for?” the older woman asked.
“My brother’s graduating from South Carolina,” she replied.
“That’s one of my dream destinations,” I butted in.
“It’s a beautiful place,” the gentleman beside me replied.
“It certainly looks like it,” I said. “Pat Conroy is my favorite author. I have every book he’s ever written. That’s the main reason I want to go; I want to see what he wrote about so vividly.”
“I knew Pat,” the man said, as a smile formed on his face. “He was something else. An interesting character, but a great man.”
“No way!” I gasped in amazement. I was in awe at the situation. The man even slightly resembled my idol and was wearing the same clothes stereotypical of Conroy: khakis, nice button down, and a sports coat.
“Yeah, I was at The Citadel. Not at the same time; Pat was around ten years older.”
“At my high school, Lords of Discipline was on our outside reading list. I went to an all-boys Catholic school, Catholic High School in Little Rock, and that book was on the list because of the similarities. We stressed brotherhood, were an all-male student body, and wore a uniform. Shirts, ties, and khaki pants with the seniors wearing a senior ring.”
The skylift stopped for those exiting for gates A22-A49.
“I met Pat when he was doing research for the Lords of Discipline. I played in the band at The Citadel, and we’d play in front of Boo’s office for his birthday every year. That’s where I met Pat.”
“I’ve had this question for a while, I’m not sure if you’d know, but are all the references to cognac in his books because of Boo’s last name being so close to Courvoisier?”
“That’s a good question. I haven’t noticed that, actually. Could be. Boo’s last name was Courvoisie. But I will say that Boo only drank Bourbon.”
“I’m working on reading all of Conroy’s works and it’s just a theme I noticed.”
“I’ve read everything he’s put out, too,” the man said, ” but hadn’t noticed until you pointed it out. Of course, he is known to take artistic liberty with some of what he writes about.”
“Oh, I’m sure.”
“Like in Beach Music when he’s talking about the birthplace of the English language in Rome? Cicero? That’s all bullshit.” He gave a hearty chuckle and his smile hung upon his face. “I know because I’ve been! I looked for it! I called him up and talked to him about that one.”
The train slowed for those departing from gates C1-C20.
“That’s me,” I said.
“Me, too,” he said back.
“Where you headed?” we asked each other simultaneously. I answered first.
“Santa Barbara. Yourself?”
“Phoenix. It’s home now.”
The tram stopped and we walked out together.
“It was a pleasure talking to you,” he said.
“You too, sir,” I agreed. I was still in awe that I had met someone with a personal connection with my idol. Aside from the text in each of Conroy’s works, this was the closest I had ever been and possibly would ever come to Pat Conroy. I never caught his name. As we parted, I noticed he was wearing his Citadel ring on his right hand.