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Sittin’ Here… Oblivious

August 2, 2020

“London again, showered again.  Sat next to Steve Winwood in United business class; pretty cool.  I was too lame to bother him. On way Kuwait again (sic)… snow in WDC delayed flight out two hours, cut into my lounge time here in jolly old England and I’m pissed.”

— VotF email to a friend, January 6, 2003

I am still amazed that my spouse was able to find a dentist in Brasilia willing to do a Christmas Eve root canal on such short notice.  I can’t imagine the discomfort I would have suffered over the next four months were it not for her resolute search and the benevolent oral tormentor it turned up.  Despite the four-plus hours of drilling and scraping, I counted myself blessed to have been able to spend a few days back with wife and kids over Christmas, especially given the uncertainty at the time about what the coming period would bring.  Even the over 20 hours of travel on either side of the visit home were a net positive in extending my temporary reprieve from the skulking desert.

As I slipped into my window seat for the second of the three legs of my return flight, I noticed the gentleman in the aisle seat next to me was reading Stupid White Men …and Other Sorry Excuses for the State of the Nation! by filmmaker Michael Moore.  I was curious about the book, which had garnered much attention and been a New York Times best seller throughout most of 2002, and briefly considered asking about it.  Instead, I gave in to my introverted, socially anxious nature and opted to quickly erect a protective bubble of feigned self-absorption carefully designed to discourage attempts at engagement.  Sensing a welcome, similar lack of interest in intercourse from my seatmate, I settled in for a relaxing journey.

Some hours into the flight, I found myself requiring a visit to the lavatory.  With each of us now quite entrenched in our individual determinations to get through the row-sharing encounter acknowledgement-free, and given the extra area of maneuver available thanks to our placement in business class, I stepped from window into aisle without need to request pardon or passage.

Biological necessities sorted, I figured to simply reverse my unobtrusive path back to my seat.  What I failed to notice however was that, fussy flight attendants apparently having chosen in my absence to offer beverage service, there was now a quarter-filled cup of clear water sitting on the armrest table I would squeeze by to reach my assigned station.  Cosmically preordained to cause embarrassment, my blue blazer contorted itself as I maneuvered to catch on the armrest in such a way as to ensure the unseen plastic cup would spill its contents as my momentum toward the seat snapped the disloyal garment loose.  Dropping into place, I was mortified to see water dripping down both sides of the armrest.

My first response to the horrifying debacle was a clear recognition of the need to offer effusive apology and express a willingness to immediately undertake the self-flagellation of my victim’s choice in hopes of bringing the nightmare to an end as rapidly as possible. In the seconds between becoming aware of my blazer’s treacherous action and the screwing of my maxillofacial muscles into an expression of utmost regret in order to begin the intended homily of shame however, I noticed my neighbor seeming to make a concerted effort to avoid eye contact with me as he dabbed at the moisture on his side with a napkin and mumbled something unintelligible but possibly relating to the correspondence between me and the title of the book he was reading.  Witnessing his impressive dedication to our established policy of non-acknowledgement, I flipped my mental “Fuck It” switch before sound could escape my lips and wordlessly reentered my bubble.

“Are you really him?” asked the young flight attendant of my seatmate about 15 minutes before our touchdown at Heathrow.  “Am I really who?” came the answer.  “You know… Steve Winwood,” clarified the attendant.  With a slight air of impatience but without falling over into rudeness, my fellow traveler began to question the attendant as to whether she could not simply check the manifest to obtain her answer before, seeming to think better of that tack, admitting that he was indeed whom she suspected.  As this interaction occurred and through the remainder of the descent, I chose to maintain an air of disinterest.

In the years since dumping water on Steve, I have variously fantasized about how different things might have been had I managed to see through the haze of my own inward focus early in that flight.  I have run through myriad imagined might-have-beens in which I casually recognized my opportunity and crafted just the right opening line to signal a discerning interest in Mr. Winwood’s art and experience worthy of extended mutual exploration.  Other times, I’ve pictured hours of ‘unaware’ flowing, multi-themed conversation – possibly steered via a run-through of my iPod library – culminating in a “surprise” reveal and invitation to future personal correspondence and regular pop-ins whenever schedules/locations intersect.

Being realistic, it is likely better that I wetted Steve with purified bottled water rather than with fanboy slobber, this especially given my relatively limited immersion in his sea of joyful output.  As things turned out, I can still purport immunity to the temptation toward undignified swooning over celebrity often exhibited by others.


From → Music, Travel

  1. Wow,what an interesting experience. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Splendid. Absolutely splendid. Spring water over saliva was probably the most thoughtful choice, but gosh, just imagine…
    And although I suspect I’ve shared this story before, my appetite has been whetted for a re-telling…
    I remember seeing Mr Winwood’s live show on the Refugees of the Heart tour (an under-rated album in my not-even-remotely-humble opinion). I was sitting between two bearded chaps well known to me and just a couple of years older. When, after a suitably respectful period (about three songs, as I recall) there was a small surge of patrons vacating their seats for the stage vicinity, I resisted as long as I could before, with an apologetic smile at my companions, I rose. Shrugging at my helplessness in the face of this musical tractor beam, I ambled stagewards. Close. A couple of metres. Close enough to feel the inevitable chasm that separates us from our heroes.

    • I like being up front in a club show that isn’t overcrowded, but always stay a bit back for surges and at larger venues. When it is a performer or band that is special to you though, I agree that the up close and personal experience can take on some poignancy. Did you sing along with Steve and maybe move or sway a little? I’m betting you did!

  3. What song is that title line from? Its killing me. Searches have come up empty (pages)

    • Oh no, sorry! I took significant liberties. I was listening to Traffic’s John Barleycorn Must Die on CD while I typed this post. “Sittin’ Here Thinkin’ of My Love” is the bonus track on the CD release I own.

      • Anonymous permalink

        I kept thinking it was a line from Empty Pages. So now I got that stuck in my head. 😉

        • That was me posting from the website and not from my wordpress feed. Which reminds me I really need to do something with my “blog”.

  4. That’s a wonderful story. So not the warmest of chaps then either?

    I was in the same café in London as Nick Cave about 12 years ago, as an utter fan boy I wanted to go up and gush but then I thought ‘nah, just let him enjoy his coffee’. I was pleased I did.

  5. Haha you did well. I’ve regretted pretty much every interaction I’ve ever had with a favourite musician! ‘Fuck it’ is the best policy.

    On the Winwood tack though… any of his stuff you’d recommend. I’ve only got John Barleycorn but I don’t know it very well.

    • I only have Barleycorn, which I love, and the first Traffic album, on which I love ‘Dear Mr. Fantasy.’ After that, I am a Winwood noob. Truth be told, my favorite Winwood by far is the Blind Faith record, followed by that Clapton/Winwood Madison Square Garden DVD up there in one of the photos.

  6. I enjoyed that Fury. I’m a big fan of the music Winwood makes. Your tale was perfect. I come away feeling I know the man better now
    (Thanks for dropping by the station. Later)

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