Sunday, February 14, 2010

Olympic Serendipity

I remember once when my dad came from a business trip he told us Colonel Sanders sat next to him in the Toronto airport. The Kentucky Fried Chicken king, dressed in his whites, looked just like himself. And I remember how cool it seemed to me when dad told the story.

Now that I'm all grow'd up I'm a business traveller, too. And occasionally one meets some interesting people in airports or while flying, because they're usually just people like you and flying is sometimes the easiest, and usually the fastest, way to get around.

When our kids were little the Minnesota Timberwolves basketball team filled all the seats in front of us on a Northwest Airlines flight 20 years ago. Several years later it was a privilege talking with Kevin Garnet's mom in the Detroit airport while waiting for a plane. She was quite proud of her son who was flying her to Minneapolis to see him play, especially proud that his wealth and fame had not changed his values or character.

I ran into Lorie Line coming from a Louisville truck show back to Minneapolis and Tommy "Hit Man" Hearns on my flight from Atlanta to Detroit. One snowy morning 30 or so WWF wrestlers sat down all around me at the McDonald's inside the Indianapolis airport. I watched bemusedly as the bedraggled band (it was very early and they'd obviously had a late night) allowed themselves to be besieged by autograph seekers.

Yesterday as I was sauntering through the lobby of the Crowne Plaza at Historic Union Station I saw a young girl at a computer terminal there. She was wearing the same stylish outfit as the Olympians whom I'd seen on NBC the night before during the opening ceremonies. For some reason I supposed she was just a fan of the Olympics, wearing Olympic-looking garb because of the events now in progress. I did not know she was more than that. I smiled and said, "Did your plane land in the wrong city? I believe the Olympics are in Vancouver this year." I was just making a joke, trying to be funny.

She smiled and replied, "I'm on my way to Vancouver. I will be ice dancing Tuesday."

It dawned on me she was the real deal. As we exchanged cordialities, I saw that she really wasn't sitting there alone. She was in an online dialogue/chat with either friends or family, in French, naturally. ("Juste un moment. Un certain vieil homme ici veut prendre ma photographie.")

Nathalie Pechalat and her dance partner Fabian Bourzat are the 2009 France National Champions who won bronze medals in the Grand Prix against the world's best.

As I talked with her she seemed so young and delicate, warm and good natured. But evidently she's a determined competitor. You have to be at that level, and to win that bronze in the Grand Prix she skated through a tough ankle injury to do it. Gutsy is what I call it. And even though she looks sixteen, at 26 she is a veteran at this game.

You can tell a lot about the spirit of skaters by the music they choose to perform with. Nathalie and Fabian's musical selections have included Thank God, I'm A Country Boy, Les Marches des Gladiateurs, Cats, and It Don't Mean A Thing... Like how cool is that? Tuesday night we'll see what comes next.

I told Nathalie that skaters were my favorite part of the Winter Olympics. And I wasn't just making that up. I once had dinner with the ESPN film producer and crew that shot the ice skating World Championships for television and he, too, liked the skating competitions more than all those adrenalin-pumping extreme sports with their edgy over-the-top antics.

What's amazing is that these skaters and ice dancers have to do the most incredible tricks but in a manner that looks effortless. Think of the poise required when everything is on the line, and the whole world is watching. As for Nathalie and Fabian, I'm certainly wishing them the best when they reach Vancouver. Her aim is for the top of a podium.

Who's the most interesting person you ever met in an airport? Just curious.

To Nathalie and Fabian: Good luck in Vancouver. Let it shine!


Zorglub said...

:-))) "Un certain vieil homme"... you totally made that up!! We'll cross the fingers for them.
I love airports, at least it used to be magical. My dad worked at the Geneva airport when I was little. He made the most original collection: he collected the colorful matchbooks worldtravelers would leave behind in bars and restaurants at the airport. At this time, *everybody* smoked, right? They were beautiful, a true journey through the world of the 60's and 70's. Shame on my parents, they threw it away a few years ago.

ENNYMAN said...

Yes, I made up that one line... Just making a funny.

Airports are international intersections (some more than others) and that's cool about your dad's matchbook collection... and simultaneously sad. I wonder what you could fetch for that today on eBay.

Thanks for the note...

Maria said...

Thanks for this update! I work with the Crowne Plaza at Historic Union Station and love to read stories of things that happen at our hotel. I've linked this story from our Facebook page (

ENNYMAN said...

Cool. I was passing through there because co-workers were staying there, but it's a very nice hotel and I stayed there back in the early nineties. Perhaps even when it was just re-furbished? It's a very nice place and a worthy edition to Downtown Indy.
Thanks for visiting my own virtual space... and sharing it.