Whenever I board a commercial flight to or from Salt Lake City, I have to run a gauntlet of faces. Because I fly economy, I'm always in one of the last zones to board.
When my wife and I boarded Delta 832 for Salt Lake City last week, the cabin was already crammed with people either trying to fight their luggage into the overhead bins or people who already were seated and just trying not to get whammed in the head.
Inching our way up the aisle gave those seated an opportunity to study the faces of the last unfortunates to board. I could pick out who The Tribune readers were by the looks I got.
It's one of the downsides of having my picture in the paper three days a week. While mine is not a face that lures women to their ruin, it has a few distinguishing features, particularly the mustache.
I can usually tell when the connection is made. It's almost like I can read their thoughts.
Passenger 1: "Hey, that's Kirby."
Passenger 2: "Is that the guy who makes fun of the church?"
Passenger 3: "Great. The plane is going to crash for sure now."
Passenger 4: "Good Lord, Hulk Hogan sure let himself go."
The vast majority of these recognitions end with a nod, wink, smile, fist bump or even a business card. Sometimes I really score. On Flight 832 my face got me extra cookies from a flight attendant.
When we landed four and a half hours later, me and every other guy accompanied by a woman headed straight for a concourse women's restroom and waited outside. It was there that a fellow passenger approached me.
"You probably get this a lot," the young man said tentatively, "but are you that guy who writes for the newspaper here?"
I confessed. As I said, there's not a lot of wiggle room with a face like this. I was too tired to think up a lie, so I admitted it and we shook hands. The guy just wanted to tell me that he read my rant online from Washington, D.C., and it reminded him of home.
Most of the time that's about all a reader and I have in common. Not this time. At that very moment, with nearly half a century between us, Brandon Willis and I were both waiting on the most important things in our lives.
Brandon worked for the Department of Agriculture in D.C. He and his fiancÃ©e (Victoria Winters, Wyoming) were heading home to Logan to get married on Saturday. My wife and I were heading home to celebrate our wedding anniversary on Thursday.
Standing there waiting and talking with Brandon, I remember the last couple of days of my own bachelorhood 38 years ago, mainly because I could see a lot of it right there on Brandon's face, a mix of scary happy at what was coming.
Hey, you can know in your heart of hearts that you're making the right decision and still be terrified of screwing it up. That's what I thought about while I waited for the clock to tick away the last minutes of my bachelorhood.
When the women came out, we shook hands again and said goodbye. We wished them luck. Brandon and Victoria were soon far ahead of us.
I'm a newspaper columnist. Not a very good one perhaps, but I got enough marriage miles on me that I should have been able to come up with some words of warning/advice for Brandon while we waited.
Maybe it's not too late. Congratulations, Brandon. If she's still worth waiting for 38 years from now, that's all that will matter.
Robert Kirby can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or facebook.com/stillnotpatbagley.