By the time I got to JFK, my flight to Hong Kong had already left. I went up to the Cathay Pacific counter anyway and hopefully presented my flight information. They told me to wait and gestured to the group of people already sitting down: several Asian women, five Asian children of unclear parentage, and one white man. I arranged my belongings near them and watched the children frolic.
And so we sat, till about three in the morning, at which point Cathay Pacific informed us that we were on standby for the next flight. It was around this time that I began observing a new arrival to our group. He was another white man and his course of action after encountering problems with his flight was to call customer service.
Typical American, I thought, with no lack of amusement. I wondered if I should call customer service myself, except that my phone was safely back in Rochester, never to be used by me again.
“What’s the flight number?” the man asked the Cathay Pacific people at the counter.
He paced away, repeating the number to the Cathay Pacific people on the phone.
He paced back, on hold. “You’ve got a violin,” he said to me. We’ll play something after I get off the phone. I have a harmonica.”
“Okay,” I said, unfolding my limbs a bit and considering. Once again, I was faced with the sobering realization that I should memorize more music.
Several minutes later, the man came back, his phone no longer in hand. “Okay,” he said. “Are you ready to play?”
“Uh, sure,” I said, opening up my case. I tentatively plucked at the violin’s strings. “I have to tune,” I said.
“Okay,” he said.
“It’s going to take a while,” I said.
While I got my violin somewhere close to in tune, he settled himself down on one of my bags. “Do you know ‘Lying Eyes?’” he asked.
“Uh, yes?” I said.
He sang a few bars, confirming that it was the Eagles’ song and not some folk song I hadn’t heard of.
“I know of it,” I said.
So he started playing it, without any instruction as to key or starting note. I floundered around for a while, picking notes at random, until I found some that sort of matched his. I played quietly. The truth is, I’ve never paid close attention to the tunes of any of the Eagles’ songs. I had no idea what was going on.
“Do you know blues?” he said.
We tried blues.
I said, “I really only know fiddle tunes and hymns.”
He suggested “God Bless America.”
Eventually, we managed to play “Cripple Creek” (though he was lost) and “Danny Boy” (though I was semi-lost). Then he requested something melancholy and I played “Ashoken Farewell,” slow enough that he could figure out the chords and familiar enough that I actually knew all the notes.
We were in the process of trying to figure out one of his songs when the airline called my name. They took my bags, put them on the conveyor belt, and said that was it; the flight was full.
I followed the frolicking Asian children away and left the last American of my journey behind, probably preparing to call customer service once again.