September 4, 2014
Time to go. Realizing the potential of the work ahead of us, Thomas and I discussed a lot of the conversations from the day before. Eventually we gathered our belongings and headed to the airport to head home. Omaha’s airport is not too big. It’s not O’Hare or BWI for that matter. While we were in the security check line, the TSA agent told another line to stop until they were called up. After she checked Thomas, she asked if we were all together, most likely to keep the continuity before she zigzagged back to the other line. I was allowed up next. She asked the person in line behind me if they were with us. In my mind I questioned why would she assume to ask this. I had an idea… To confirm my suspicion I turned around. Behind me was a young black man. Therefore, to her it was possible that we were all together, which I guess it could be - we weren’t.
Since we were all making assumptions, my quick observation of this young man was that he was probably an athlete, a football player at a local college perhaps. He had the look, the build, flashy earrings and that super jock swag. Since we had some time before we boarded, we sat down to eat. The eating area consisted of a coffee bar, a general pizza-overall food bases covered spot and a sports bar. Around the fringes of this trifecta of food and drink, were tables and chairs. Where we decided to sit was on the other side of the bar side. You can always find the boys at the bar, especially if there are TVs with sports center blasting. It was the typical scene. Guys lined up, strangers became friends over drinks and teams. But eventually it seemed like all the attention was directed towards the young man that was with us/not with us. One of the other guys was now standing right next to him, really engaged in talking to him.
We board the plane and the young man is on our flight to Midway. As the last few batches of passengers board, you have to squeeze in where you can. I pick a seat towards the back, a few rows in front of the young man. More passengers load in and I hear a man ask as he sits, “Where you headed? What brings you to Omaha?” I wasn’t intentionally ear hustling but once I heard the person’s response, I knew I would soon be able to confirm my theory. The passenger was the young man. Needless to say, the question asker was thinking exactly what I was and began a line of questioning about sports, does he play football, etc. He had indeed played college football, tore an ACL, played a year professionally, hurt himself again, and played on the Canadian Football League for some time. It was very interesting to hear him say several times that “it is what it is.” He was genuinely grateful for the experience he had. He realized he was lucky to have been good enough to play professionally, to do something he enjoyed that came easy to him.
Now he is a refinery inspector and travels for extended periods of time on the road. The beers purchased on board were taken care of by his new friend and seatmate. It was on him. I imagine this is his treatment everywhere he goes. We sure do love our sports.
*Funny note: The flight attendant made her safety announcement. At the end she thanked everyone for listening. She than stated to those who were not listening – “Good luck!”
Back to the nest and like the young man, I was grateful. I took a look at the program for the conference and saw my face. Unbelievable.
Special thanks to Priscilla Geigis and Lewis Ledford for the invitation to speak, Suzanne Ridder for taking care of our conference needs and the countless conference attendees that I had the pleasure to meet and look forward to working with in the future.