Friday, August 31, 2012

A Passport Encounter Makes My Day


My flight from M√ľnich landed in Philadelphia about noon yesterday, en route to Phoenix.  I had started my journey home early in the morning (waking at 5:45am, Germany Time) and I had been awake most of the flight, though I did take a couple of short naps. After sitting for many hours on a plane, I typically enjoy taking an invigorating brisk (i.e., fast) walk from the plane to wherever I need to go, often skipping the automated walkways completely because they are too slow.

First stop yesterday, after the restroom, was the passport immigration check. There was a pretty long line which was filtered into many shorter lines of eight or so people each. When I was about in the middle of the  shorter line, I noticed the person who was with the immigration agent in front of me. He was there with his wife, who was holding a baby, and the look on his face and his body language was one of total disgust at having to be put through the passport check process. His wife also had a frown on her face, though she did not have the totally negative body language that the guy had.

When they left the agent shook his head and raised his hand as if to give the guy the finger, though he did not actually do that. For some reason, I thought to myself that I should try and get him to smile when I got up there. It is unfortunate that people who are just trying to do their job have to put up with the bad moods of others. The next two people in front of me, however, did not smile at all, though they were not grumpy like that one guy was. That then made me think that, well, maybe I wont be able to make him smile after all, and I mostly forgot about trying to do that.

It was now my turn. The agent asked me where I had been, how long I was gone and what I had been doing.  I told him I was in Germany for about 10 days to attend a conference and visit some relatives.  He then asked me what I did, and I told him I was a professor at Northern Arizona University, after which he asked me what I taught. I told him geography -- that is when things changed. He said he has come to like geography since he started his current job. I said that our students are typically a bit older than some other majors, because they usually discover geography later. He laughed and said that he was too old to go back to school. I wasn't trying to recruit him, but I laughed as well.

And after I left him I thought to myself, wow, that was pretty amazing.  I hope the rest of his day went well, because that encounter sure made my day.  It really is those small and unexpected encounters that are the most memorable when we travel.