I’m a writer.  If you haven’t figured this out by now, you don’t know Rob Jolles.  I didn’t say I was a great writer; I’ll let you be the judge of that, but I do like to write.  I’ve been doing it my whole life.  The absolute best times I like to write are when I’m on a plane.  The white noise of the engines, along with the inability to be distracted by emails, or phone calls really helps me focus.  That’s why last week’s trip on the New York shuttle was so unusual.

I was on the isle, and on the other side of the isle was a Road Warrior amateur.  I couldn’t believe how out of place he was.  For instance, he did not immediately shut off his phone when told to, nor did he shut down his laptop as quickly as he should have, and he had the audacity to not put his tray table up right before take-off.  I enjoyed hearing the flight attendant scold him for it.  When his little display of civil disobedience had been caught, I heard a vague, “Ha-ha!” in the voice of Nelson from the Simpsons sound off in my brain.

No, this guy was a rookie, and what’s more, after quickly sizing him up, I wanted nothing to do with him.  In short, if he didn’t have the wherewithal to put up his tray table before take-off, what possible value could he provide to me?  I was getting set to move into my writing zone, and he was getting set to figure out how to buckle his seat belt.  It was a mental mismatch.  If he were a fish I caught, I would have thrown him back.

But then something happened.  After he got nabbed for his tray table the knucklehead thought he could do a little work on his laptop while we waited patiently in line to takeoff.  It was pathetic so rather than wait for him to get blasted again, I saved him the trouble and told him to put it away until we were airborne and they gave us the signal.

He thanked me, and I rolled my eyes when he wasn’t looking.  He asked me what I did for a living, and I rolled them again.  “I have some writing to do in a few minutes, and I’m getting into a zone” I barked in a perturbed voice to myself… but I answered him and threw out the obligatory question or two back to him.

He wasn’t such a knucklehead after all.  The more I talked to him, the more interested I became.  This wasn’t a knucklehead – this was a doctor… a doctor who had invented a promised approach to helping people with pancreatic cancer.  When I told him I was under the impression there was no cure for that type of cancer, he smiled and said, “there is now.”

He wasn’t just a doctor, he was a serial entrepreneur.  He had patents all over the place, had also developed a new treatment for prostate cancer, written a book on the procedure, and promised to send me one after I eagerly gave him my card.

He wasn’t just a serial entrepreneur, he was fascinating.  He just finished taking a lengthy boat mechanics certification program with his autistic son, (who passed I might add), so they could work on the boat he was now living on in Sarasota, Florida.

This guy may have had trouble figuring out when to turn his phone and computer off, and how to stow a tray table, but he was a person of quality.  When he took my card, he made me promise that when I received his book I’d keep it in a safe place.  As he put it, “That book might save your life, or the life of someone you hold near to your heart.”

I wonder how many people we size up in business, on a plane, on a train, at the PTA, in our houses of worship, and in so many other venues with little to no real information.  Maybe they look, or sound like someone we used to know, or maybe they don’t put up their tray table when they should.  I know that I for one will be keeping my assumptions in check, and my eyes and ears open.  You just never know…

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