A few days ago I was working a flight from Paris back to the US. I was in coach, and we were packed to the gills. We had already completed the first drink service for the entire cabin, as well as the 2nd round with lunch. Now I was pulling the 300 pound cart to the front of the cabin for the 3rd and final round of drinks and tray pick-up. As I put on the break, a man in the third row waved lightly to get my attention and pointed the the tray of the girl next to him. I thought he said (something to the effect of) “take her tray”.
I did that thing where I reply with perfect politeness on the surface, but you can read between the lines to see that I think you’re being annoying; perhaps I am even scolding you. I said something like, “Of course, Sir. But I haven’t done so because we’ve been busy feeding everyone else in the cabin as well. Now that we’re done with that, that’s what we’re back for – to take your trays. So just hang on one minute and I’ll get to you.” He said “Ok” very politely. So I clear the trays and serve drinks to the first two rows, then get to him and I say, now with a fresh smile, “Now, what may I get for you sir?” And he points again to the girl’s tray and says, “May I please have a dinner?”
Somehow we had missed him, and he had been sitting there very patiently, and I had completely misunderstood him. I felt terrible! And he had been so gracious about it. It was clear that he was a veeeery nice man. I apologized sincerely and gave him a few glasses of wine to make up for it. He seemed happy with this, but I felt like I couldn’t do enough. (It also happens that my colleague said “Oh good, I already meant to tell you we should give him drinks because [he had some drama] at the beginning of the flight too.” Apparently, he was having a rough travel day all around.)
I tried to give him a little extra attention (without fussing) and as he walked off the plane at the end, we spoke a little. Turns out we were both catching the last flight to DC (I didn’t get on and spent the night in NYC, by the way…so goes the life of a commuter.) and he said “I’m giving a speech in DC tomorrow, at the National Geographic Society. I’m a photographer,” to which he invited me. First off, I love National Geographic! I also love photography, and any person associated with the two has to be someone fascinating.
Photos by Reza
Turns out the man was a quite big-time photographer (and humanitarian) named Reza. He was introduced by his friend Sebastian Junger (best known as author if The Perfect Storm, though he’s done much notable journalism work), and as soon as Reza began a slide show of some of his images, my friend and I were stunned – as we had certainly seen his work before. For 90 minutes he told the stories behind individual photos, and they were all more interesting than any I could have made up.
Here’s a man who spends most of his year in the mountains of Afganistan or with famine-sufferers in Somalia. No wonder he isn’t too bothered by getting his dinner late, or us having run out of choice, nor initially being so-wrongly scolded. This is a man who surely has a fierce grasp on the important things in life. Somehow, that makes me feel all the more guilty.