Most of the people I've told about this haven't cared a whole lot, but on my flight from Baltimore to Albany last weekend, I shared a plane with David Strathairn. If you don't know who he is, search for him ( www.imdb.com ) and recognize.
Suffice it to say he's not one of those actors that's gonna show up in Star magazine. I like him because he's in one of my favorite movies. He plays Whistler in Sneakers. If you haven't seen it, maybe a name-drop will interest you. He co-stars with Robert Redford, Sidney Poitier, Dan Akroyd, River Phoenix, Mary McDonnell, Ben Kingsley, and Timothy Busfield. And it's a fun-ass movie to watch over and over.
Anyway, I'm just chillin' in Baltimore, waiting to get on the plane, and he walks up to the trashcan nearby and sets his coffee down. I recognized him almost instantly, then surprised myself by doing the whole nervous thing. I couldn't believe seeing an actor actually made me nervous. I know famous people are just people at the core, but there's something so surreal about seeing someone in the real world that you've seen over and over in a fictional world.
Flying Southwest, he boarded with Group A, I think. I boarded later. Once I sat down on the plane, I found him from the back of his head and just sort of glanced forward every once in a while to see what he was doing. He proved himself a person by just sitting there quietly, reading throughout the entire flight. From the moment I first noticed him, I caught his occasional glance around to see if anyone had spotted him. I don't think anyone ever noticed him. I sort of felt bad for him, but I'm sure he preferred it that way, even though I think a small part of him wanted to be recognized for the skill he has within his craft.
On the flight, having struck up conversation with my neighbor, I saw fit to divulge my secret to her. She didn't know who he was either. Then, once we landed, I had to wait for people to clear out so I could get my bag from an overhead bin that wasn't right next to my seat. He too waited for everyone else to deplane. He wasn't taking any chances getting noticed. I grabbed my stuff and walked off.
As I headed for the rental cars, I listened to my voice mail for messages from Emily. I had to pick her up at the train station later, and wanted to see if her train left on time. In the process of paying attention to her message, I passed the turn toward the rental cars, so I doubled back.
And who do you think approached the turn just as I did? None other than David Strathairn. When he caught up to me, I lowered my phone, turned to him, and said, "Hey, how's it going?"
At first, I think he thought I was talking on the phone, but he must've felt me looking, so he raised his head, and returned the greeting--sort of a shy, unsure "Hi." But as he continued on to baggage claim, I saw him smile. I don't know if he was smiling because he knew I had recognized him, or because he thought he had said hi to me mistakenly while I was on the phone. I get the impression he knew I had recognized David Strathairn, the actor, in an airport, which made me happy that I might have made him happy.
I could've said any number of things to him about his movies, but I'm glad I didn't. I'm glad I didn't become the rambling moron. "Oh, David Strathairn! I'm your biggest fan! I loved you in Sneakers." I didn't say anything dumb like that, and he didn't have to think anything like, "Yeah right, douche bag. You're the biggest fan. Ummhmm. Oh, Sneakers, eh? That was 15 years ago, schmuck!"
The way things went, I was just some guy in an airport acknowledging and respecting the presence of a skilled artist. I like that.